Hijacked

Stories from a Life I Didn't Plan

Tag: Long-term Dietary Changes

A Year After Beginning Chemo

I couldn’t help but think of where I am a year after beginning chemo, while also remembering the beginning of that chapter in my life. Over the weekend, the anniversary of the installation of my chemo port came and went and today is the six month anniversary of the end of chemo. But, yesterday I found myself a bit melancholy thinking about how one year ago I had my first chemo infusion. I remember I was scared, my port incision was still very tender, and the sensations I experienced during that infusion were unpleasant and unfamiliar. Similarly, my emotions were somewhat raw and I wrestled with the “Why did this happen to me?” and “Oh my goodness, I had cancer and I am having chemotherapy!”

Although I may still remember with sadness and disbelief that cancer and chemotherapy were once a part of my life, today I am thankful to be looking back at the cancer detour and hoping to never find myself on such a path again.

The anxiety of my upcoming CT scan sometimes looms large in my mind, but I try to remind myself that worrying won’t change the results and that a positive outlook is good for everyone concerned. Today, I rescheduled my scan from Friday, November 11 to Monday, November 7. I was fretting that the report wouldn’t be ready for the oncologist when I saw him the following week.

So, getting rid of that worry simply took a phone call. If only all of our problems could be rectified just that easily.

I feel a bit of a hypocrite worrying, especially since I read my students a book called, What Do You Do with a Problem? In the book, the author says that problems are beautiful and hold opportunities. If that is the case, then I can honestly say that cancer and chemotherapy were opportunities I could have lived without!

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor¹

On Tuesday, life took a major shift from cancer patient to cancer survivor when the oncologist cleared me back to regular, everyday life. With the exception of taking care to not put too much pressure on the mediport site, I can do just about anything I used to do. And, Monday, it is back to work. So, little by little, I am venturing out into the world and resuming some of those normal activities that were restricted until this week.

Grocery Shopping

Naturally, on the way home from the oncologist’s office, I stopped by the supermarket to pick up some fresh fruit that I could enjoy without have to peel to eat. Unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables were restricted from my diet until given the green light after chemo, so I was anxious to get some of my seasonal favorites. Surprisingly, instead of finding going into the grocery store exciting and freeing, I found it a little overwhelming because of the number of people in the store. I bought minimal fixings for salad and quickly exited the store. Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed eating lettuce, raw carrots and unpeeled tomato.

However, the following day, I set out at a different time, in a less crowded location, and found delight in selecting berries, grapes, apricots and nectarines–none of which are going to be peeled. Meals have been fruit heavy since then, to the delight of my taste buds! Although I may continue to seek off times to shop, as much as possible, until I overcome my discomfort with the crowds, I am enjoying picking out fresh fruits and vegetables to reincorporate into my diet.

Living Strong, Living Well

This past Monday, I began the Living Strong, Living Well program at a nearby YMCA. The professor from Stanford University who facilitated the orientation session emphasized that the program’s focus was wellness, so we were not obligated to state what kind of cancer we had had or anything to do with our treatment or the disease. Instead, she asked us to share what we hoped to get out of the program and something we valued.

These instructions fit in perfectly with my goal in joining the program, which was to transition from cancer patient to cancer survivor, and to no longer be defined by the disease that gripped me, but by who I am as a person. It was incredibly freeing to introduce myself and to say what I wanted to gain through the program and what I valued. Not to have to tag on anything about the diagnosis, the emotional roller coaster that started after receiving a cancer diagnosis, or the agonizing months of treatment was a redefining moment and one more step in seeing myself as a someone who is healthy and thriving.

Back to School

In preparation for my return to school for the last eight days of instruction before summer break, I needed to touch base with the long-term substitute teacher who has been in charge of my class and my first grade teaching partner before Monday. It was bittersweet heading back to school yesterday to meet up with them, but the anxiety I felt before arriving, and the immediate coughing fit that overcame me upon my arrival, quickly disappeared as I was warmly greeted by colleagues and students.

From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor

Maybe someday my hair will grow long and thick like it was in 2009

I must confess I still find it difficult not to protest when people comment that I look good and that all the rest I had must be the reason. Because my work colleagues have not accompanied me on the cancer detour, and in fact have not even been told by me what illness I had, they do not know what caused my weight loss, that the reason my hair looks almost exactly the same as before is because what didn’t fall out quit growing, or that the months of chemotherapy could hardly be described as restful. While the inward battle of emotions rages, I try to maintain a benign countenance and politely respond to their well-intentioned comments. Admittedly, I am extremely over-sensitive, but, as with all other things, I hope this too will pass. And one day my hair might grow back long and thick!

As students rushed up to greet me with hugs, I fought the urge to pull back for fear of contracting some illness. For months I have dutifully avoided human contact to prevent infection, so I am still adjusting to the fact that my immune system can now battle disease and I no longer need to take such rigid precautions. I may have to continue to remind myself of this fact over the next few weeks, until it becomes an automatic reaction to enjoy the embrace of others without trying to pull back.

Meeting Up with Friends

While on chemo, I rarely went out for meals because of the risk of infection. If I ventured out, it would normally be to sparsely occupied places where I could maintain a safe space from other diners. Now that I am transitioning from cancer patient to cancer survivor, I can meet up with friends in public without having to estimate if I am far enough away from any diner who might be coughing or sneezing. While I do not find coughing or sneezing pleasant to be around, I am happy that I am able to meet up with friends over a meal  to reconnect after these months of virtual isolation during chemo.

Although meeting up with friends is a welcome change, my long-term dietary changes remain in place. So, I remain ever mindful of my menu selections in order to promote continued health. I am not finding the dietary shifts difficult or limiting, but instead find something of a rewarding challenge in selecting something appetizing that is also healthful.

More of Daily Life

As time goes on, driving longer distances, sitting on a crowded beach, and other normal activities will also mark the shift from cancer patient to cancer survivor. But for now I am satisfied to gradually resume quotidian normalcy.

Which of these daily activities do you think you would most enjoy resuming?

1 Hewitt M., et al., eds. From Cancer Patient to Cancer Survivor: Lost in Transition (National Academies Press, 2006).

Chemotherapy Dietary Restrictions

Before beginning treatment, I met with a physician assistant who reviewed lists of dos and don’ts, including chemotherapy dietary restrictions. I had no idea there would be so many things I would be avoiding and easing out of my life when I began this cancer detour.

Little by little I am implementing both short-term and long range dietary modifications to improve my health and overall chance of beating this disease.

Chemotherapy Dietary Restrictions: Short-term Modifications

While on chemo I try to avoid anything that would cause foodborne illness. Foods I avoid are unpasteurized or moldy dairy, unpeeled raw fruits or vegetables, undercooked meat (yes, that means sushi), and unpasteurized honey or juice. Thankfully, I have much practice with many of these measures because of the time I spent in Ecuador. In addition, I have to minimize foods containing antioxidants because these tend to promote a healthy immune system while chemotherapy is trying to undermine it, with the goal of killing cancer cells in the process. In my quirky way of trying to understand it and keep it from being something too mind-bending, I sometimes find the 1970s song, “Killing Me Softly” comes to mind.

But, seriously, if you know of anyone with a compromised immune system and would like to know more, check out the American Cancer Society Nutrition for the Person With Cancer During Treatment: A Guide for Patients and Families.

Dietary Restrictions: Long-term Changes

In addition to the short-term measures to keep me healthy while on chemo, I have taken on some major long-term dietary transformations with the goal of improving my overall health and avoiding a recurrence of this dreaded disease. The relationship between diet and cancer has been studied extensively, so if you are interested I suggest you do a search for more info. A good place to start is the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.

My very conservative oncologist suggested I adopt a Mediterranean or Asian style diet, avoid anything out of a package, and try to simulate the ancient ways of eating. Since I do not hunt and am not yet ready for vegetarianism, I have to be more than a little creative and have come to haunt Pinterest looking for healthy recipes made from quality ingredients. One of my dietary shifts is to eat less meat, especially anything processed like deli meat, sausage, ham, or bacon; and eliminate from my diet bottom dwelling seafood, such as shrimp, oysters, scallops, etc., which are all believed to contribute to certain cancers.

As a great carbohydrate lover, leaving behind the packages of pasta and bread has proven a greater challenge than omitting so many meaty choices. Thankfully, my mother has been willing to support me in this dietary revolution and explore the offerings at the local mill to find tasty whole grains that would add healthy carbohydrates into my diet. We have had fun taste-testing some of the obscure finds like spelt, which has become a favorite with its nutty flavor and satisfying texture. A vegetable spiralizer has offered plant-based substitutions for pasta. Tasty zoodles, or zucchini noodles, have become a healthier, but scrumptious pasta alternative.

Lamentably, I have found no solution for my sweet tooth. So, I consider tasty, baked goods my chief dietary vice because the pastries and goodies I crave are definitely processed and made from packaged ingredients. Over time as I adjust to this new eating lifestyle, I hope to reduce my sugary indulgences.

Chemotherapy Dietary Restrictions: New Favorite Recipes

You may be thankful that you will not be bumping into me at a potluck bringing some strange, unappetizing dish to share, but I have pinned nearly 600 healthy, yummy-looking recipes on my Greens, Fingers, Bites, and Sides and  Hearty Dishes That Look Yummmmmy! Pinterest  boards that I am anxious to try. A few of my favorite recipes I that have tried so far are Baked Honey-Marinated Cod, Greek Marinated Chicken, Baked Teriyaki Chicken, Herb and Citrus Oven Roasted Chicken Recipe, and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Balsamic ReductionI love trying the recipes and consider it an adventure in discovering new, savory foods.

What are your favorite healthy, clean eating recipes you and your family liked? I would love for you to comment below or email me using the contact link in the menu bar or on the bottom of the page. Frankly, I can use all of the creative eating ideas I can get.

While cancer may be my detour with its various short-term chemotherapy dietary restrictions, a healthy diet is an integral part of my journey of life.

 

 

 

 

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