I thought I’d start posting my Huffington Post blogs on here as well, so in case you haven’t seen it, here’s the latest one:
Oh dear. I’ve had a very mild, tickly cough for about a month and yesterday it escalated into a full-blown, nasty choking, phlegmy cough. During the night I developed a painful sore throat and woke up this morning having largely lost my voice, so I am now on the antibiotics. So much for having a super-sonic immune system with 39.7-level white blood cells! Pah!
So, the nutritional therapist. I had a 1 1/2-hour consultation on Friday with Liz Butler, founder of Body Soul Nutrition, with a view to getting some advice on what I should be doing to keep my cancer away, and finding out whether any of my eating or lifestyle habits could have developed a better environment for the cancer to grow in the first place. One of the things she said was that many people have their cancer treatment and then go back to living their lives exactly as they did before – continuing to eat the same things, maintaining the same stress levels and doing the same amount of exercise, thus preserving the same body conditions in which the cancer initially thrived. It’s vital, according to Liz, to make drastic changes, both emotionally and nutritionally, to keep the cancer cells from growing again.
Her main recommendations were that I cut out dairy altogether and avoid sugar as much as possible. She also gave me some nutritional plans and talked to me about how each meal should be ideally composed, i.e. 50% vegetables and fruit on each plate, 20% starchy carbs (but only whole grains – no white rice, white pasta, white bread etc), 20% protein (eggs are allowed – phew!) and 10% fats (including nuts, pulses and butter, which is the only dairy allowed).
All of the above seems largely doable, apart from the giving up of dairy products and sugar, which is difficult for me to envision for the rest of my life. Two weeks, as I proved before, is easy peasy, but a life with no pizza (cheese), tea and coffee (milk), cheese and biscuits, cake, chocolate and many other tasty things is hard for me to get my head around. On the positive side, she did say I’m allowed red meat (once or twice a week, max), as long as it’s the best type of meat I can get my hands on – i.e. organic, free range etc (because the lower quality the meat, poultry or fish, the more likely it is to have been injected with antibiotics, hormones, etc).
One thing to stress is that the nutritional therapist didn’t say I have to give up all these things entirely – she said it’s fine to have a little of what I fancy, when I fancy, i.e. a couple of squares of dark chocolate every couple of days or a slice of cake or a dessert once a week, which is also fine. But I will struggle more with dairy because I eat a lot of it.
I decided for my last chemo I would be good to myself and let myself eat what I wanted, because often you feel so miserable and your tastes change so much, I didn’t want to punish myself like last time. So I’ve been eating something sweet most days, though not going overboard. And Christmas is coming up, so I’m not going to punish myself then either. But it’s important during radiotherapy to eat well to minimise the side effects, so I will definitely start being a little more strict in January.
I plan to take Liz’s advice to the extent that I can manage, cutting out dairy and sugar as much as possible but essentially allowing myself what I want in moderation. I am still very much aware that the oncologists don’t recommend any specific dietary changes and they certainly don’t recommend giving up sugar and dairy, and there is no proof or concrete evidence that doing so would guarantee my cancer never recurs, but at the same time changing what I eat to some extent will at least allow me to have a little more control over the situation. Nevertheless, I thought I might as well start as I mean to go on…
I started off well. Saturday morning, I had my first ever black coffee, and I quite enjoyed it. (I forgot to mention she told me to give up caffeine, but I may have to do things gradually!) Then I had a ginger steeper (fresh ginger in boiled water) at Leon. For lunch at Giraffe, I ordered a fresh fruit smoothie and a brown-rice sushi salad consisting of spinach, smoked salmon, mango, avocado and various seeds. But because I didn’t quite have the 50% veg/20% carbs ratio quite right, I ordered a separate side helping of sauteed veg (green beans, peppers and the likes – delish). Which brings me to Nutritional Problem #1: eating better is way more expensive. The better quality and the more organic the meat or the veg, the more the price increases. And the more veg portions you order to try and get the right balance, the more you end up paying. And Nutritional Problem #2: The better you want to nourish yourself, the more you have to plan what you eat, where you eat, when you eat, etc.
And then it all went down hill. As mentioned in Tuesday’s post, Saturday night I went to Bubbledogs and ate two hotdogs. I am not convinced the pork sausage was the most organic meat in the land (largely because I do not know its origin) and I can take an educated guess that barbecue sauce and ketchup both have a fair amount of added sugar. That said, at least I didn’t have a pudding, and the jalapeños on the Mexican dog would have been good for me. But I did have a glass of champagne.
Sunday, it went further down hill, with a bacon sandwich on white, a cheese toastie and sausage, chips and veg for dinner. And Monday, a decent lunch of Eggs Florentine (bit of spinach, decent amount of protein) and a handful of Niki’s fries, then fish and chips on the train home (free first-class food, I could hardly refuse, could I?) I suspect the quality of the fish on East Coast Trains may not be the best in the world, which brings me to Nutritional Problem #3: It’s particularly hard to change your nutritional habits when you’re away from home. But, like I said, I’m not being strict on myself at the moment as a) I’m still under the wicked spell of the last chemo and within the three-week cycle, b) I’m sick and c) it’s the season to be jolly, tra la la la la la la la la.
Thank you all, though, for adhering to my request not to send me any more junk food. Alice very kindly oven-roasted me some assorted nuts in fennel and honey and they are amazing – I’ve been munching my way through them as only a gannet would. I since found out that honey is on the no-no list of sugary foods (Sorry, Mr Curado, I misinformed you), but I’m happily munching through them anyway (see points a, b and c). Thanks also to Beth for the lovely tin of personalised soup, as pictured at the top of the page (don’t ask why “Bobr”).
So, that’s (the very much abridged version of) what the nutritional therapist said. I still have a lot of reading and researching to do, and I confess I am slightly skeptical that following all this advice will keep the cancer away for good, because I have always eaten so healthily and it’s most likely my cancer was caused by a gene fault (just not the one I tested negative for). However, I have to do something to take this into my own hands, and improving my diet seems to be a good place to start (she says, while slurping through a cream-heavy tin of chicken soup…)
Five down, ONE TO GO! Hoooraaaaaaaaaay… I just have to get through the next 10 days or so of horrific pain and self injections but at least the nasty hospital bit is done and there’s only one more session to go – I’ve practically flown through it!
Here’s a couple of pics of me enduring the ice torture with my giant frozen baseball foam hands and feet, which seemed appropriate for election day!
Unfortunately my little finger on my right hand doesn’t seem to have thawed out properly after an hour and is still tingling and red and painful so I’m holed up in my room with an electric heater and the radiators on full blast hoping my pinkie won’t go black and drop off in the next few hours.
In other news, the sugar challenge is going well but I really feel like I could use something sweet right now…
The Big Sugar Challenge
DAY FIVE (Monday)
Pre-breakfast: Four steroids and a banana.
Breakfast: Grilled bacon sandwich with grilled tomato on grain bread. One cup of tea.
Lunch: One mushroom, tomato and cheddar omelette with a bit of salad and balsamic vinegar. One cup of tea. Four more steroids.
Snacks: An apple, kiwi etc smoothie with a little spinach, broccoli and other bits of vegetabley goodness (I’m not sure where the boundaries lie between fruit juice and a natural smoothie…) Another cup of tea with milk.
Dinner: Roasted chicken stuffed with Philadelphia cream cheese (no sugar… am I allowed this?) and wrapped in bacon with a fresh basil leaf. Boiled potatoes with butter and steamed veg. A bowl of blueberries.
Snacks: More cashews and raisins and a cup of tea with milk.
Well done so far to Mum, Dad, Beth, Michelle, Ed (?), Emma, Lucy, Flavia (?), Elspeth (?), Niki (?) and anyone else I’ve forgotten for joining in the sugar-fighting efforts!
P.S. In the below pic you may notice an empty glass dish on the wooden table. I can assure you this was a FRESH FRUIT SALAD and NOT ice cream! I would never lie to you… 🙂
Tomorrow I am having chemotherapy round five. To prepare for the ice torture, I stood outside in a field for a couple of hours last night until my feet felt like icicles. Now hopefully it won’t feel too bad when I have my hands and feet deliberately frozen tomorrow. I have also started taking the steroids again, which has left me feeling sick and even more hungry, making the no-sugar challenge that tiny bit harder.
Day three of the no-sugar diet was a little tough as I went out for a big lunch with family and friends at one of my favourite local restaurants, The Farmer’s Boy, followed by a bonfire complete with cake stall in the evening. Going on any kind of diet can make social situations such as dinner parties and restaurant meals more difficult as you become the picky one who can’t eat most of the things on the menu. It is debatable whether I was allowed to have an enormous battered haddock and chips for my lunch, but I reasoned (with myself) that there is no sugar in it and it was all freshly prepared, so it was probably fine. Chips unfortunately don’t taste quite as nice without ketchup (which contains loads of sugar and is thus on the NO list) but lashings of vinegar did the job instead.
At the end of the meal, the bill came with a few mint imperials. I put one in my mouth as a natural impulse and immediately spat it out on realising I was on a no-sugar diet. This was a bit like the time I did a sponsored silence when I was 8 years old and managed to last for a couple of hours in complete silence before shouting out “Daaaaaad!” from my bedroom in the final two minutes and then cupping my hand to my mouth in disbelief when I realised what I’d just done. So, slightly cheated there, but I didn’t actually eat it.
At the bonfire in the evening, I had to contend with a cake stall that comprised of fresh ginger muffins, coffee cake, Mum’s incredible miniature Victoria sponges, cakes with chocolate icing and smarties on top, parkin… the list goes on! (Thanks Kimm and Howard, for hosting!) But we both managed to say no to all the sweet goods and even my father declared he would start the no-sugar diet today.
DAY THREE (Sunday):
Breakfast: Bowl of porridge with berries, cinnamon and a banana. One cup of tea.
Lunch: Small bit of salmon mousse with cucumber, a large bowl of artichoke soup with tomato bread and butter and a huge battered haddock, chips, mushy peas and vinegar (no ketchup!). One cappuccino. A highly regrettable, momentary lick of a mint imperial.
Snacks: Two cups of tea with milk. A handful of raisins and cashew nuts and one solitary strawberry.
Dinner: One hotdog with some onions, two extra sausages (compliments to chefs Howard, Tim and Dave!), half a burger in a bun (STILL NO KETCHUP – a travesty). One cup of tea with milk.
Snacks: Some more handfuls of raisins and cashew nuts. One green tea and one camomile tea.
Not the healthiest day of my life, but still no sugar!
How is everyone else getting on?
I woke up on day two of the no-sugar challenge with a headache, though it’s hard to say whether it was from the lack of sugar or just a general effect of the chemo. Nevertheless, it was gone after a quick cup of tea – I don’t know how I’d cope if I had to cut out the caffeine as well. (I may try it after two weeks).
I didn’t have any major sugar cravings for the rest of the day but I did feel constantly hungry and finished off all the remaining sugar-free items of my Graze box – i.e. a possibly unhealthy amount of dried fruit, nuts and seeds, but I guess it’s better than the chocolate I would’ve eaten otherwise.
In the evening I went to a public bonfire and had a fairly unhealthy large hog roast sandwich, though at least it was sugar-free. It was difficult to say no to the parkin (a traditional Yorkshire cake made of treacle and oatmeal) though. I’m told it keeps for a good while so I’m saving a piece until Nov 16.
Mum has found some novel ways around her no-sugar diet. She came home on Saturday afternoon and declared she had signed up for it, to support me, but there was a catch:
“I’m going to give up chocolate, sweets and cake,” she said, sheepishly, “But I’ve decided I’m allowed scones. There isn’t much sugar in them anyway and I don’t have butter or jam with them.”
Fair enough, I said. (I inherited my love of sweet foods from her and she is known to hide large amounts of chocolate buttons in secret places about the house.)
When I arrived back home from the bonfire later that night, I found she had adopted some interesting alternatives to sugary drinks.
“I read the label on the Horlicks packet, just to check whether that had sugar,” she said. (Of course it has plenty of sugar). “And it did. So then I just thought I’d check the label on the Options [hot chocolate!!] packet to see if that sugar… And it did…”
“So what did you have instead?!” I asked, thinking ooh… maybe peppermint tea?
“I had two spoonfuls of cottage cheese [with pineapple chunks] from the fridge,” she replied.
So there you go! Next time you feel like reaching for that Mars bar, just try cottage cheese instead! The perfect substitute, brought to you by Pricey’s Mum.
DAY TWO (Saturday)
Breakfast: Porridge, berries, a banana and cinnamon. Two cups of tea with milk.
Lunch: One boiled egg, a slice of grain toast, fresh buffalo mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and red peppers, lettuce and tomatoes. One punnet of black pepper pistachios. One cup of green tea.
Snacks: Two punnets of berries and dried fruit. One handful of nuts and raisins. One tea with milk. Half a glass of red wine.
Dinner: One enormous hog roast butty and a cup of Bovril at the bonfire (which turned out to be just a beef OXO cube…)
Snacks: A bowl full of grapes. Another tea with milk.
Back in 2005, in my final year of university in London, I attempted a complete detox. This meant going from drinking several cups of tea a day and eating a lot of chocolate and sweets (pretty much all day long to get me through exam revision and freezing cold temperatures at my Wolfson House halls of residence and the King’s College library), to living off fruit and veg.
The sudden cold turkey was a terrible shock to my system. As many of you know, I am pretty obsessed with food. I go to bed thinking about what I’m going to have for breakfast, wake up thinking about lunch and then obviously spend the rest of the day thinking about dinner. So, when I took away all the amazing stuff I usually ate (toast, pitta breads, cheese, meat, rice, potatoes, not to mention the chocolate, tea, coffee, sweets), the obsession was amplified to the power of 10 and I literally could not stop thinking about food.
Instead of finding something else to occupy my mind, I ate everything in sight, as long as it obeyed the list of “Yes” foods. This meant that I ate 6 bowls of pure-vegetable soup in one day, 5 bowls of porridge with honey, oodles of cups of fruit tea and plenty of extra veg. My 5-a-day became 25-a-day, and my concentration went out the window.
They say if you can get past the first 24-48 hours of a detox, you’ll suddenly feel like the most energetic, spritely elf in the world and will start bouncing around like a 3-year-old. Unfortunately, I didn’t get further than about 13 hours, at which point I vomited everything up, popped a few pills for my splitting headache and promptly gave up.
So I’m pleased to say that it’s been a little easier this time. Nothing like a bit of chemotherapy to prepare the system for all kinds of shocks! Here’s my food diary so far: (And I realise this is probably incredibly boring for some, so don’t feel the need to read on if you’re bored already).
DAY ONE (Friday)
Breakfast: One slice of grain toast with margarine and marmite. One cup of tea.
Mid-morning beverage: One flat white (espresso + milk)
Lunch: One of slice of serrano ham, 1 hard-boiled egg, 1 slice of grain toast no margarine, a pile of lettuce and vinaigrette (may have to check the label on that for next time), a pile of mozzarella balls, roasted red and yellow peppers and sun-dried tomatoes from Morrisons deli counter.
Snacks: Two bowls full of salted microwave popcorn (with no added crap) and two cups of green tea. And two slices of taster cheese from Morrisons. One normal cup of tea.
Dinner: Two homemade Jamie Oliver salmon fishcakes, minted peas, basil, tomato and chilli sauce and mashed potato. The rest of the packet of microwave salted popcorn and another cup of green tea.
Snacks: A handful of nuts and raisins.
I didn’t crave sweet stuff much at all today, but funnily enough I kept craving salt, hence finishing the entire 4-person bag of salted popcorn.
I realised later on that the salad dressing I used at lunchtime had a tiny bit of sugar in it, so I may have ever-so-slightly cheated there, but I’m switching to balsamic vinegar from now on.
So far, so good…
Can I survive two weeks without sugar and processed foods? That is the question.
What on earth would prompt me to even consider doing such a thing? I hear you ask. (And if you couldn’t care less, then don’t read on.)
Ever since I was diagnosed with cancer, I have had nutritional advice thrown at me from all sides. (Apart from the oncologist, whose main advice is that I can eat pretty much whatever I like, provided my diet is fairly balanced and healthy.) My mother has read many a book on nutrition – eating during chemotherapy, eating for breast cancer, etc. And I have heard, for the first time in my life, about Functional Medicine – the study of why we get diseases such as cancer and how we can prevent them, rather than just looking at how we can cure them.
I have been looking for a Functional Medicine specialist who I could see in London for the past few months, and it has been a difficult task because there are relatively few of them in the UK, partly because the concept of Functional Medicine was only created 22 years ago. A couple of days ago, I got to searching again, and found a practitioner in the UK called Elizabeth Butler, who runs Body Soul Nutrition and focuses specifically on nutrition advice for cancer patients.
While reading Liz’s blog, I came across the following article: Have Your Cake and Eat it! and decided to take on a personal nutritional challenge while waiting for an appointment with Liz to discuss how I can keep cancer at bay for the rest of my life by obeying certain nutritional advice. That’s right, I am giving up sugar.
So, the challenge, which I have already accepted, is to go for two weeks, which started this morning, without sugar or processed foods. See below for my self-imposed list of yes and no foods.
Added sugar in coffee and tea (but coffee and tea themselves are allowed)
Microwave meals or other processed meals
Nuts, seeds, dried fruit
Meat, fish, poultry
Pretty much everything else that’s not on the NO list.
A few things to be aware of:
* The challenge ends at 07:00 on Friday 16th November.
* There will be regular updates on my progress in this blog.
* I am aware that I am to have chemotherapy on Tuesday and this is probably a very, very, very bad idea, but I figure it can do me no major harm, plus I stop craving half these things during chemo anyway.
* If I relapse at any point, I will let you know but I will pick myself up and carry on.
* I know it’s Friday afternoon and the weekend’s about to start but, as with everything in life, there’s no time like the present.
**THE IMPORTANT BIT: How YOU can help!**
1. Please don’t send me any more sweet stuff in the post! (But thank you so much for everything you’ve sent me thus far).
2. Feel free to join me in this endeavour! I know plenty of my (mainly female) friends have done this or thought about doing this in the past, so here’s an added incentive to try it now, while we can all go through the pain together!
(So far I have think I have recruited Beth, my Mum is thinking about doing it after she finishes the flapjack she’s just made (which is delicious and I’m sad I can’t help with it, but at least I had some last night) and Michelle, once she finishes off the banana loaf she’s just about to make…). No pressure, girls – just a public name-and-shame, that’s all! 😉
Finally, thanks to Saz for the wonderful package of thoughtful presents below, received earlier in the week. Fortunately most of it has already been consumed so I won’t be too tempted by amazing chocolate for the next two weeks!