Cancer Patient-ing Like it’s My JOB. Part 1 of 3: Diet & Supplements – Green Juice, Birthday Cake and Lots of Pills
[This is Part #1 of a 3 part series — Part 1: Diet & Supplements – Green Juice, Birthday Cake and Lots of Pills; Part 2: Exercise – Basically a Love Letter to Peloton; Part 3: Misc. “Alternative” Items – Oh, That’s Just Mom’s Sound Healer]
People often ask me, “Do you do anything in addition to your conventional medical treatment?” The answer is a resounding “yes.” And also, “how much time (and open mindedness) do you have?” The list is long, so I am going to break up my response into 3 parts.
Before I begin, a few important disclaimers:
- I have far exceeded all survival expectations for my diagnosis and I attribute this entirely to my targeted therapy medication (thanks medical research!) and a hell of a lot of luck. I don’t know why I’ve gotten so lucky, but I don’t credit any of my “extras” and I certainly do not endorse them as substitutes for traditional oncological treatments.
- Many of the additional things I do reflect my immense privilege: access to a wide range of experts, ability to afford sometimes expensive things, time flexibility, and the support of my family. Part of me hesitates to share all of these “extras” when I know many will not be able to replicate them. It bears repeating: I do not consider any of the items I discuss in this series as necessary for a patient to do as well as I have. In fact, I know several patients with a similar diagnosis to mine who have lived as long or longer than I have while doing nothing extra beyond the conventional treatment protocols.
- I am not a doctor. None of this is medical advice. I am only sharing my personal experiences as interesting data points for others to consider as they contemplate what additional practices they may want to incorporate into their own wellness plans.
PART I: Diet & Supplements – Green Juice, Cupcakes and Lots of Pills
I’m not sure 24 hours had passed between getting the news of my diagnosis and the first time I got the unsolicited “sugar feeds cancer” lecture from some asshole. Then came the juicing proselytizers, the vegans, the alkaline water pushers, the Keto Klan, cannabis oil saviors, countless supplement sales pitches, and on and on. The advice is endless and overwhelming. Over the past 7+ years, I’ve tried many of these things.
After choking down awful “smoothies,” juicing mountains of greens, denying myself birthday cake when I didn’t know if I’d see another birthday, almost fainting from the “keto flu,” and many other unpleasant experiences, here’s where I’ve settled:
- Food — I started ahead of the game here. I’ve been vegetarian most of my life, and “almost vegan” for the past 2 decades. I eat a healthy diet with lots of fresh produce, whole grains and plant-based proteins. I don’t avoid sugar, but I do try to be moderate about it. The cookbooks/websites that I use most often are: https://cookieandkate.com/, https://ohsheglows.com/, and https://www.thefullhelping.com/. I enjoy eating this way. After initially panicking after my diagnosis and trying a variety of more extreme protocols, I’ve decided that I do not subscribe to any strict regimens. They don’t make me feel good physically or mentally. The only “diet-like” practices I do are: (a) I drink a mug of hot lemon water before I begin eating every day, and (b) I practice a modified version of intermittent fasting “IF.” The lemon water calms my stomach and is supposed to help the liver (which has to process my intense cancer meds), and IF is supposed to help with blood sugar regulation and cellular repair (“autophagy”). Mostly, I’ve simply found that I enjoy both. It took me a while to figure out an IF schedule that worked with my medication (since taking it on an empty stomach makes me hurl), but once I figured out a rhythm that worked for me, I really appreciated the mental relief of not tracking anything but time windows (I use the “Zero” app for that).
- Supplements — Impressively, this category is even more confusing than food. Supplements can be pretty straightforward (Vitamin C!) to, um, “exotic” (Cow urine tablets! Scorpion venom! — yes, seriously). To navigate, I solicit expert help. I found conventional doctors unhelpful here. Most don’t know much about supplements and for many the knee-jerk response is “don’t take anything.” I don’t like that; it reminds me of a maxim I was taught when I was a lawyer: “bad lawyers just say ‘no,’ good lawyers help you figure out how.” It took a lot of networking to find someone I trust who understands both conventional medications and supplements. The expert I see is at https://pinestreetclinic.com/, but there are other experts out there (e.g. I’ve heard of other patients getting similar guidance from other places like https://blockmd.com/). After reviewing my labs and medical reports, the expert puts together a supplement regimen for me. I will not share it here, because it is highly customized to me, and it also gets adjusted periodically. I will say it includes mostly fairly common things like Omega 3 and probiotic supplements, along with a smattering of less common things like immune boosting mushroom supplements. I have not yet gone the cow urine or scorpion venom route.
- Cannabis Oil — This really fits under the “supplement” category, but I get asked about it so much I decided to give it its own space. There is a lot of discussion online about using cannabis oil to treat cancer. It’s almost entirely anecdotal thanks to laws prohibiting rigorous medical research. As states have begun to loosen regulations, the range of products has proliferated. In the cancer space, a lot of the discussion focuses on a concoction called “full extract cannabis oil” which is extremely concentrated. Since it is still a federal crime to partake and this is a public blog, I will neither confirm nor deny whether I have personal experience with cannabis. I will say this much: I have consulted with several experts to help me navigate this confusing terrain, including https://harrymcilroymd.com/ and https://sativaisticated.com/medical-cannabis/medical-cannabis-patient-consultation/green-health-consultants/. I encourage anyone who is curious to seek out expert guidance.
To conclude Part I, I hope it is obvious that there is no one universally “right” diet or supplement regimen for cancer patients. If you are a patient and interested in adjusting your diet or supplements, there simply is no shortcut to doing the homework, trial & error, and expert consulting. For my readers who are not patients: if you aren’t an expert and/or haven’t tried whatever you are sharing with someone else → don’t. It is not considerate to share unvetted information “just in case it is helpful.” I know we’d all love to think that cancer is caused or can be cured by simple foods and supplements, but that just is not the case (there are literally millions of examples of people who do all the “right” things and still get cancer, and people who do all the wrong things and never get it). The last thing a patient needs when they are scared and vulnerable is some specious, victim-blame-y, bullshit (however, the stress that causes actually can harm their health.) I am grateful to have found a balance that seems to suit me. Here’s to never skipping cake on a birthday ever again.