Thursday, May 16, 2013

Pour Some Sugar on Me

I’ve written before about how much I love weddings. I’ve described the sentimental parts that I enjoy so deeply and the little things that make the event so personal and personable. However, I haven’t yet mentioned the single most fun (and sometimes, ugly) five minutes of almost every wedding for me – when I’m out on the dance floor with my family and friends dancing my heart out to Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me.

So let’s talk about sugar, shall we? In doing so, I am going to break one of one of my most important life rules – Don’t bother the rest of the world with stories about your dreams or your diets. In this space, I’ve made a few exceptions about my cancer dreams and today, I’m making an exception about diets.

Let me just get it out there to start – I L-O-V-E love sweets. In fact, I’d call myself a bit of a seasoned expert of all desserts chocolate in my area. Name a restaurant and I will give you the best chocolate dessert on the menu. PF Changs? Great Wall of Chocolate. Joe’s American Bar & Grill? Charles River Pie. One Bistro (one of Brian and my favorite local restaurants)? Chocolate molten cake. Chilis? Skillet chocolate chip cookie. Legal Seafood? Chocolate bon-bons.

Want to know the best kind of cupcake at my favorite bakery in Boston (Sweet)? It’s the one that is basically an undercooked brownie in the shape of a cupcake with whip cream on top. The outside has a soft crisp covering and the inside is just slightly gooey. It’s perfection. As for the “every day” cupcake? Stop and Shop tops Shaw’s and Roche Brothers in my mind. And cookies? Nothing will ever beat Otis Spunkmeyer's buttery pile of sugar and chocolate chips that I used to consume by the dozen in high school. But of course, to each her own cupcake and cookie.

Now that I’m drooling, onto the main part of this story.

Last week, I attended a work meeting with a prominent physician at an academic medical center in the area (let’s call the doctor a“he” and let’s call him “Dr. Domino”). I was there mainly to take notes (yes, I am very important), and for over two hours, I listened and tried to make eyecontact while I typed my little fingertips off.

As Mark and I were packing up to leave the meeting, our conversation with Dr. Domino turned to his research. Dr. Domino knew nothing of my intimate relationship with Sir Can, I mean, Can Cer, and before he took a breath of airlong enough for me to tell him about it, he had already launched into greatdetail about research he has been conducting in the cancer field.

For now, let’s just say that the information hit close to home…like very close to home. As a scientist, Dr. Domino was giddy about a clinical trial that has just begunabroad for a treatment that he believes may reduce breast cancer recurrence rates by 60% for some women. I liked the sound of that but I also had to grapple with the internal commotion that came with the reality that at thisphase in my treatment, one of the seemingly promising main strategies being tested is no longer available to me. So as he listed off statistics about all the women that the study could save, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and the room spun around me a bit. Of course I want all of those women to be saved. But the other sharp edge of that sword is that right now, it must meanthat they’re dying. Well that shits.

In Dr. Domino’s fascinating mini-lecture on his cancer research, he mentioned a patient (not a breast cancer patient) who had defied all odds, stabilized his tumor growth, and survived years when he had been given only months to live. By taking an inexpensive cocktail of drugs and by cutting sugar out of his diet (and maybe, by doing some other things that Dr. Domino didn’t mention), this patientwas controlling his cancer. I froze. Sugar? Did I just find myself back on this topic again?!?

Finally, I was able to work in a little joke about my own condition and I was able to ask Dr. Domino a question that has been festering in my mind since last August – Should I cut sugar out of my diet to help decrease my chance of recurrence? Dr. Domino looked me straight in the eyes and as clear as the fear he probably saw deep in them, he told me, Yes.

“Wow,” was all I was able to muster up in return. But inside, I knew that even before Dr. Domino had tacked on the “s” to “Yes,” I had already decided that me and sugar were about to part ways. For now, at least.

I won’t lie, that meeting shook me to my core. I drove home with my mind firing in a million different directions. I was terrified thinking back to all of the desserts I had consumed since my first surgery. A few months after the tumor was out of my body, as my fear of the cancer subsided, so did my motivation to limit my sugar intake. So almost every night for the past several months, I’ve eaten ¼ of the Edy’s slow-churned ice cream that I wanted (in other words, I wanted the whole container and I limited myself to ¼ of it). As I beat myself up about this, another more rational part of me kicked in. It’s fine. Some ice cream isn’t going to kill me.

On the drive home from that meeting, I talked to Rachel and she was as supportive and understanding as she always is. I told her what I wasgoing to set out to do – end my love affair with sugary foods – and as I did so, I felt something indescribably precious and empowering. I felt control. And hope. And a really strong fire inside.

No doubt cancer has put my control-freakish-ness to the test. One of my most difficult conversations with Dr. Bunnell highlighted this humongous weakness of mine. In my first appointment after I finished chemo, I asked him what I could do to help reduce my chances of my cancer coming back. He told me that exercise has been shown to make a difference, and every morning as I drag my tired butt out of bed, I remember that.

Dr. Bunnell also explained some other obvious things – not to smoke or drink a lot of alcohol. When I asked him about sugar consumption, he shifted up a gear on his super-smart-scientist-information-mobile. I lost him as he sped away with a trail of dust. When he was done talking about somestudy involving diabetic cancer patients (I think), he came back around to me again. Then I asked for the Executive Summary. So it doesn’t matter if I eat sugar? No, he answered.

At the time, I really liked that answer. Because I really love ice cream and cupcakes and Great Walls of Chocolate. I love to lick the frosting out of the container by the spoonful, so I liked that the ChiefMedical Officer at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute basically told me that I could enjoy all of those delicious things, and since then, I have. Until my conversation with Dr. Domino.

Let me reiterate what I always try to make clear – this blog has never been and will never be one based on science. It’s based on one thingand one thing only – what’s going on in my own wacky mind. And so thisparticular blog is absolutely not anargument that all cancer patients should eliminate sugar from their diet. In all honesty, if I consider Dr. Domino’s advice next to Dr. Bunnell’s, I basically think I have a 50-50 shot of making any difference with this change. But here’s the bottom line – I’m not doing this so much for my body as I am for my mind. As I’ve always said, the mental part of cancer has always been the hardest part for me.

Dr. Domino said that I could call him and he would talk tome about specifically what I should and should not do when it comes to my diet and other practices to reduce my chance of recurrence. I am definitely going to take him up on his offer after we have concluded our work project for him. My first question for him will be whether I need to limit natural sugars (like those in fruits). I’m so curious about that, and I’ll provide an update once I talk to him.

In the meantime, however, I have cut a significant amount of sugar from my diet. And an absolutely amazing thing has happened. I feel better. So much better. Let me explain.

A week without sugar has not made me feel physically cleansed or more energetic or anything like that. In fact, I haven’t noticed much of a difference in the way my body feels. I have, however, noticed a big change in my mental and emotional state. And I’ve figured out why – with this change, I feel in control of something and I love that. I miss that.

If my therapy lady saw this entry, I wonder if she would think that I have taken several steps back; that I am clinging to something I think I can control even though I can’t. That I’ve created an illusion. Maybe I have. But I don’t care. If that illusion makes me feel better, then I’ll take it. Actually, not only will I take it, but I will cherish it. Kind of like I cherish hope.

And so in the end, this musing is not about sugar. It’s about control and hope and power. Every minute, every meal, every time I decide to pass on licking the frosting off a second piece of cake or grabbing a pieceof candy from the secretary’s candy bowl, I feel like I am doing something to help my chances of survival. I know I should be embracing uncertainty. But shouldn’t I also embrace something that I know makes me feel so much better? Even if it’s just an illusion?

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