A Winding Journey

Recently I read a blog by another “breast cancer bandit” — someone who’s turned away from “standard western care” — who is forging a new life for herself, and by that I’m not kidding: she’s changing a LOT about how she spends her time, what she eats and doesn’t eat, how often she exercises, who she’s friends with, the supplements she takes, and I’ve got to assume it works for her.

Me? I’ve changed a fair amount of what I eat and don’t eat, my exercise, supplements, and the like. But I’ve changed in a more moderate way. I can say this with certainty because I just had a small, but very tasty, helping of brie and crackers… the antithesis of a nutrient dense approach to long term survival.

The truth is, I rarely eat cheese and crackers, but I eat them. I rarely eat sweets, but I eat them, too. The only food I appear to be able to put out of my life — pretty much entirely — is red meat, and even then I’ve snagged a bite off a lamb shank I’ve cooked up for hubby (very flavorful and so tender it melts in your mouth).

The thing about this woman’s blog — the woman who’s changed her life a LOT — is that she’s quite insistent about the changes that need to be made to beat the dreaded cancer. I’ve been giving that a lot of thought, wondering why I don’t feel so compelled even though I, too, turned away from standard western care.

Let me be clear, I don’t want to pick on this girl, or negate her life changes. There are women who will benefit by what she’s written. But there are woman, like me, who will wonder if we’re doing enough and by “enough” what do we really mean? And that’s how I came to write this entry.

I grew up in the white-bread 60s, when TV dinners were lapped up as if they were gourmet meals, and Hamburger Helper made its way into our parents pantry. The first meal I ever served to a guest, as an adult in my first home away from my mother and dad’s, was beef stew with biscuits. Back then, I thought it was classy. My mom had taught me how to make it and since this was during the “hippy” years, it was one of the few meals I knew how to make which could be cooked up in one pot: an essential when you’re living in a garage with a single-burner hot plate.

As I got older, my tastes and cooking skills changed and (I hope) improved, although I didn’t turn to organic foods until after my first diagnosis of breast cancer in 2000. Back then, I thought buying organic would be all I’d need. Then, in 2006, with a second breast cancer, I realized I had to be more picky about which organic foods I made (let’s just say I learned that an organic pizza isn’t any healthier for you — not really — than a non-organic one if you’re trying to ward off breast cancer). So I refined my cooking further, dropping most processed foods, and turning instead to organic meats, dairy, sugars, grains, fruits, and nuts. By the time my third breast cancer came ’round, I panicked. All my adjustments hadn’t eliminated the underlying problem. I turned to juicing and eating only nutrient dense recipes: no meats, no dairy, no processed foods, all organic veggies and fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, vats of supplements.

As the year after my third breast cancer passed, I was forced to assess what I was doing because, quite frankly, I wasn’t enjoying much of anything. The juices are fine. The veggies and fruit are great. The grains can be delicious. But so little of it was familiar. The question became a looming one: am I up for changing my entire life so the last 10, or 20, or 30 years are cancer free? And, stunningly, even to me, the answer is no.

After my third diagnosis of breast cancer I was convinced I’d stay with a nutrient dense diet and everything that meant. We got all the CDs and books of Dr. Joel Fuhrman, and we watched and read them all. I made recipes from his website as well as his books and I stuck with it for about three months. I began to stray because — and I mean no offense to the good doctor — the recipes were tasting alike. In short, I got bored, eating the same flavors over and over again. I tried different recipes, looking for ones that don’t taste alike, and the closest I got was the Thai Curry which takes forever to make. Cruelly (for Dr. F.) I had found a recipe for Thai Curry years before which contained all nutrient dense ingredients and which took about 1/4th the time to make. That was the door through which I began to escape Dr. Fuhrman’s regimen.

And then came a nail I wish I hadn’t hit: I read the doctor’s October 2012 post about Breast Cancer Awareness. He started with an excellent point: how many of us aren’t really aware of breast cancer? I’ve resisted “breast cancer awareness” — and the focus it gets — in October, too. It’s as if I’m a breast cancer survivor in October, and during the other months I guess everyone forgets.

In any case, I liked Dr. Fuhrman’s opening comments so much that I read the whole article, in which he references the results of a clinical trial in support of what he was writing. Then I did what most readers probably don’t do: I read the study he referenced and, in so doing, I found that Dr. Fuhrman had cherry-picked his “datum”. The point he was making in his essay wasn’t strengthened by the study, except it looks good within the body of the text to see a reference to a study which contains the word you’re using. And that’s pretty much what he’d done. With that I lost at least half my belief in what the man has to say. Well, I have to admit: the fact that he charges for use of his website, and tries to sell cancer patients healing products, makes him seem to me a profiteer, preying on those of us looking for assurance that we’ll be alive until we die a natural death (as if we know when, and how, that might come).

So I spread my wings a bit. I started to think about what diet made sense to me and which I could stay with over the long term. I’m still in the middle of this, but here’s what I’ve found:

• I have very little problem not eating red meat, but I still like some chicken and fish… maybe once a week, sometimes less so

• I love cheese enough to keep it in my diet, but I’m generally able to moderate it so I don’t eat more than an ounce or two a week.

• I’m not usually drawn to eggs, but now and then they’re what I want (maybe once a month…or less).

• I still like wine, although my taste for it varies now: sometimes I want it, sometimes I don’t. I follow my body’s directions.

• I like fresh fruit and veggie juices, which hubby makes for me 4-5 times a week.

• I don’t react well to proceed foods, so I avoid them as much as possible.

• I like some salt and olive oil, so they’re part of what I cook with, although used in smaller quantities than previously.

• I tend to eat mostly vegetarian meals, and often vegan.

• I eat more salads than I have traditionally, but I’m still having to force myself to make them.

That’s what I’ve come up with so far, other than the fact that I’m obviously not a girl who aspires for radical change in my creature comforts. For all I know, the girl with the extreme diet is in her early 30s and hoping for a long and happy life with kids and all the rest. At 63 (still young, I know) there’s much more is in my rear-view mirror than there is ahead of me. This doesn’t make me sad or frightened. It’s the way things go. There’s nothing to resist or worry about. It’s all going to come to an end one day, and I want to be one of those who gets to say: “I had a really great life!”

I know there are those who will disagree with, or won’t understand, my admittedly half-ass-sounding approach. But to me, it’s a reflection of who I really am, and the comfort I find in that is beyond words. It’s as close to God as I get.


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