Diet And Cancer - Inextricably Linked

Diet. If there is one thing that you can pretty much be assured of when you get cancer, it’s that at some point, someone is going to tell you about a diet that will definitely help. Definitely help. Why? Because it helped their uncle’s cousin’s best friend’s mixed martial arts teacher’s roommate. That’s why. Well, how can I refute that stone-cold proof?

I was no stranger to diets

Despite the fact that there were a myriad of second-hand and oft-rumored diets that made the rounds when I was sick, I still wondered if diet could actually help when I had lymphoma. Long before I had cancer I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune illness, so I was no stranger to diets. In fact, if there’s one class of illnesses that has more diet fads than cancer, it’s an autoimmune disease – so I was already starting out from a skeptical position – why? Well, by the time I got cancer I had already tried the no artificial coloring diet, the no sugar diet, the no wheat diet, the no gluten diet, the no carbs diet, the no tomatoes diet, the no nightshade diet, the no salt diet, the no citrus diet, and the no food diet. Needless to say, none of them worked for my rheumatoid arthritis so me and diets were, let’s say frenemies at best.

When I got lymphoma, I knew I’d be inundated with diet “suggestions” again, and the world did not let me down. Ginger, lemon, almonds – I heard it all. Some very considerate people even baked or cooked for me, using ingredients they had heard were “good for cancer.” It was extremely thoughtful, and I’d never embarrass them by impugning the efficacy of such a selfless act but the fact of the matter is none of them worked. Why? Well, I think the reason is twofold.

I didn't want to eat

First, when you are going through chemo, the last thing you want to do is eat. I had thought this was common knowledge, you know, since nausea and puking gratuitously seems to be a staple in every single show, movie, and book about cancer ever made. In fact, when thinking of things that come to mind when someone says the word “cancer,” “eating” is somewhere down around “running several marathons,” and “brushing my long luxurious hair.” Three big red Family-Feud-style X’s for that answer, please, Mr. Harvey.

No one talks about the big, huge meals they are looking forward to enjoying after they start chemo, and rightfully so. You just are not in a place where you can eat, much less want to – with the mouth sores, nausea, and general exhaustion, and malaise. As if that wasn’t enough, chemo steals your tastebuds as well. So much so that I had to slather everything I ate with gallons of Frank’s Red-Hot sauce just so that I could taste anything at all. With no taste and no appetite and risk of upchucking it all anyway, why would I want to limit what I can eat even further?

I didn't need to stress about anything else

Second, it’s just another thing to keep track of in an already stressful situation. Now, this may surprise some of you, but having lymphoma and going through chemo can be a little demanding. Yes, believe it or not, living with the potential of death staring you in the face every day as you fight to find the energy to simply get out of bed can be detrimental on your mental wellbeing. It takes all of your focus and strength to get the most basic of tasks done, and many days you can’t even achieve that.

I have no problem admitting I went days without showering during chemo – not because I enjoyed the rich, heady, musk I would develop around day three, but because showering took so much energy that many times I simply couldn’t muster it. Now, add on top of that having to worry about only eating certain foods and also procuring those foods, and that’s just stress that you don’t need, even if you have help.

Do these cancer diets really work?

So, I guess the next logical question is do any of the cancer diets really work? Well, it’s difficult to say. There are studies on both sides of the argument, but really the best way to see if something works is to try it. Keep in mind that this precludes anything dangerous or experimental, and you should always consult your oncologist before changing anything significant. Barring that, though, the best way to see if a diet will work for you is to try it. For me, I was recommended two diets – the “lemon” diet and the no sugar, low carb diet. The lemon diet was pretty straightforward – eat a bunch of stuff with lemons in it and it will help with the nausea. I had lemon squares, lemon chicken, rice with lemon sauce, lemon salmon with parsley, lemonade, and just plain sucking on a lemon when the queasiness hit. Did it help me? Well, I’m not really sure. Sometimes it did make me less nauseous but that also could have simply been from the shock of my body getting a hit of pure sour lemon and going, “ahhhhh, this is sour, what the Hell!” Who can say? As for the no sugar, low carb diet, well, for me it didn’t help my cancer but, ironically, it did help my RA and I was in a place where I was gonna take any relief given to me, no matter what illness it was for.

Diets and cancer go hand in hand, almost as much as diets and autoimmune illness. In the end, I wish I had a better answer for you than to tell you to try it (safely). Unfortunately, the only way to know what will make you feel better is to give it a go but remember what I always say – “if it works for you, then do it.” Talk soon.

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