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 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 foods I appear to be able to put out of my life — pretty much entirely — is donuts and raw oysters.

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 what do we really mean by “enough”? 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 to our parents pantries. The first meal I served a guest in my first home away from parents’, was beef stew with dumplings. 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 had the advantage of being a meal I could cook 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 to do. In 2006, with a second (DCIS) 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 than a non-organic one if you’re trying to ward off breast cancer). So I refined my cooking further by dropping most processed foods and turning to organic meats, dairy, 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 nutrient dense recipes: no meats, no dairy, no processed foods, all organic veggies and fruits, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and vats of supplements.

As the year after my third breast cancer passed, I was forced to assess what I was doing because 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, 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. Then I began to stray because — and I mean no offense to the good doctor — the recipes were all tasting alike. In short, I got bored eating the same flavors over and over again. I tried different recipes looking for ones with some pizzazz, and the closest I got was his Thai Curry recipe which takes hours 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 prepare. That was the door through which I began to escape Dr. Fuhrman’s regimen.

And then came a nail I didn’t expect to 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. 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 wasn’t strengthened by the study, except it looks good within the body of the text to see 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 more 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.

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 chicken and fish;

• 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 several ounces 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: sometimes I want it and sometimes I don’t;

• I like fresh fruit and veggie juices which hubby makes for me four or five times a week;

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

• I like salt and olive oil so they’re part of my diet;

• I tend to eat mostly vegetarian meals; and

• 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 (I’s still young, I know) there’s much more in my rear-view mirror than 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 in that is as close to God as I get.


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