A man writing and thinking about different foods

Nutrition and Blood Cancer

As someone living with a rare, chronic leukemia (diagnosed in 2007 with hairy cell leukemia), I have always had the question of how did I get it in the first place? When I was first diagnosed, I was asked if I had grown up on a farm, to which the answer was no, I did not. I was told that while it wasn’t proven, it was suspected that pesticides played a part in my diagnosis.

How can I prevent a recurrence?

So when I completed treatment for my first bout of HCL, I asked what I could do differently to prevent recurrence. I thought that dietary changes could maybe lower my risk of pesticide exposure. Or maybe I was lacking certain nutrients that may help boost my blood counts. But I was told by my healthcare team at the time that there was nothing I had to do differently. They told me to just go back to the life I had been living before diagnosis.

Living a healthy lifestyle

So I tried to generally live a healthier life, but I didn’t fully know how to do that. I made dietary changes for a while that I thought were good, but I went off track with diet more than I stayed on. I was in remission, but I continued to have bouts of fatigue that made it difficult for me to work 2 days in a row.

I needed frequent rest days. Eventually, the cancer came back.

Help from nutritionist

After I completed treatment for a second time, I sought help from an integrative doctor and nutritionist. They looked at my labs and lifestyle much differently than my oncology team had. I found out that I had food sensitivities and mineral deficiencies that were contributing to my feelings of illness. I learned that I was allergic to eggs and had been eating them almost daily. Who knew? Any ill feelings I had were always blamed on the leukemia, but egg consumption had definitely been playing a part. I also discovered that I’m sensitive to dairy, and these sensitivities were contributing to inflammation in my body.

I was given dietary guidelines and supplement recommendations that were specific to my individual needs. When I followed their recommendations, my quality of life and general feelings of wellness improved dramatically.

Better tools to handle the next recurrence

Yes, the cancer did come back for a third time, but since I was learning and supporting my own specific needs in addition to following the protocols of my oncology care team, I had a much easier time navigating my healing journey. And I was able to function more normally during months of treatment. My metabolic profile remained steady and normal during treatment as well. And finding healthy recipes and health guidelines has become much easier with more social platforms to refer to.

When navigating blood cancer symptoms, convenience often becomes number one, so I haven’t been perfect with diet one hundred percent of the time. And the changes I have made have been gradual over time. It was too overwhelming for me to do a dietary overhaul in one day. So I chose one change to make per week or per month. Over time, my health outside of the cancer diagnosis has improved immensely, along with hopefulness for a healthy tomorrow.

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