Snapshots from One Fluffy Chix Fight Against Breast Cancer
What do you eat to prevent breast cancer, or cure it if you are unfortunate enough to be fighting it? Will proper nutrition help you beat it? And just what is “proper nutrition”? What role does a low carb lifestyle play in nutrition and breast cancer? The answers to these questions are not clear-cut or easily determined. In order to discuss these questions, we must first understand a few things about the nature of the beast. We must also understand the difficulties involved in writing nutritional policies for use on populations with breast cancer.
Are You Killing Yourself Through Nutrition?
It’s taken all the background discussion in Part I to finally get to the nuts and bolts of nutrition and breast cancer. In Part I we learned about my diagnosis of breast cancer, and discussed what a breast cancer warrior faces upon said diagnosis.
This reluctant sisterhood of breast cancer survivors and previvors is filled with scores of women (and an increasing number of men) who have fought, and continue to fight, a difficult battle. They often lose so many of the traits we associate with femininity (or masculinity): breasts, hair, eyebrows, lashes, sexual desire, and the connection with our inner selves, along with our sense of attraction. What an overwhelming set of circumstances, along with needing to learn an entirely new language pertaining to your girls and the likelihood of survival! Whooooo dogggeyyy!
Often, learning the terminology of breast cancer is as difficult and confusing as knowing how to eat to beat it, or rather, how to eat to give you the best likelihood of success. When your life is hanging in the balance, it is EXCRUCIATING to fly in the face of popular nutrition advice and to exert the courage of your convictions. What if you’re killing yourself by nutrition?
Breast Cancer 101 factoids and vocabulary, along with learning exactly how to eat “properly” for your particular type of breast cancer, is a big part of mounting a personal attack on the beast. (Oh don’t poopoo me, doctor. I know you disagree that eating to your specific type of cancer affects the outcome. But even if it did turn out to be placebo effect – as a breast cancer survivor, throw me in that briar patch!) Learning the nutrition that best suits your body and health is part of taking back control, or as I like to say, snatching control from the jaws of the beast.
It’s often difficult to get nutritional advice that deviates from the standard “balanced diet” food pyramid pogrom. Studies focused on nutrition and breast cancer are in their infancy. We have a dire need for in-depth, controlled studies that test specific aspects of nutrition on cancer. And the importance of eating correctly for your individual needs starts earlier than we’ve previously thought – as far back as in your mama’s womb!
For the most part, the Wizard (my oncologist) simply referred me to Weight Watchers. It’s a good program, no lies. But I didn’t have the money to pay for a weekly meeting on top of everything else. I also sensed in my gut that I need to be very miserly with the carbohydrates, more so than the Weight Watchers programs defined. I knew I’d had blood sugar issues for years.
A majority of the nutritional studies available today could turn out to have different results in living humans because results in test tubes and lab rats are frequently different from results from studies performed on live human subjects. Such research is expensive and difficult to get funded, because we are dealing with life and death – and well, humans. Not to mention nutritional studies take an inordinately long time to complete.
There are so many variables to consider when discussing and funding controlled research trials on humans.
Besides being expensive, there are ethical issues to consider when involving human subjects. I’m tellin’ you right now, if you start killin’, or harming, the people participating in your study – you will have the plug pulled by the FDA.
You also have to ask, “Why would someone want to fund a study about nutrition if there is no way to receive a “payback” or monetary return?” Drug companies, who fund most studies, are uninterested in nutritional studies that aren’t associated with ROI (return on investment). In general they tend to prefer spending money on patentable items, not on vitamins, minerals, or non-GMO broccoli and onion sprouts.
Funding for expensive nutrition studies often falls to the consumers and philanthropists – you and me. And I don’t know about you, but I’m skinned. I don’t have two dimes to rub together, so it’s doubtful I will be able to make a significant contribution to nutrition research and cancer on my own. But pennies add to dollars, and dollars become significant when their power is compounded.
Completing studies, and integrating treatment protocols to be included within the medical community’s “best practices” also takes a long time. There are multiple steps, and that substance you’re testing today must undergo three tiers of studies as determined by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) AFTER it has passed the test tube, petri dish, rat levels of testing:
- Stage III Studies (beginning studies, conducted on people who are expected to die and have no other hope)
- Stage II Studies (deemed safe enough to progress to a second tier, conducted on people who don’t have a very bright outlook but who aren’t necessarily goners yet)
- Stage I Studies (the highest level before FDA approval, considered relatively safe enough to unleash on the human population)
Assuming you have the go-ahead from the FDA, or for your study to continue to the next stage, you then have the expense of recruiting human subjects to volunteer, and remain 100% compliant with the study design. Then you have to analyze results, accurately report your findings, get them peer-reviewed, published, and blah de blah de blah de blah.
So you can see it’s not an overnight process with quick, cheap success rolled up with instant gratification. Is it any wonder NO one wants to talk about what to eat when you have cancer? You’re generally told to follow a well-balanced diet and avoid sugar. The end. Buh bye. Call us when, or if, your fingers and toes start peeling off in 1/16 inch thick sheets. Don’t call if you only want to know if it’s ok to eat a hunk of cheese melted on top of your broccoli.
Commandment #2 – LOSE WEIGHT
What few doctors tell their patients, but what the Wizard made explicitly clear, after the NO SOY Commandment, came Commandment 2:
(Click on Image to Enlarge)
All caps. Bold. Underscored. Obesity, or weight gain, after breast cancer diagnosis is strongly, negatively associated with survival rates and survival timelines. The dirty little secret out there is that most people think you automatically lose weight when you get cancer and go into treatment. They assume the chemo will destroy their appetite and that the up-side of cancer will be this hot, svelte (albeit breastless) figure. Nah. Sorry.
The dirty little secret is that for the majority, breast cancer treatment typically results in a 10-25 pound weight gain- 10 to 25 pounds people! Now days, we have phenomenal drugs that mask nausea, allowing you to eat. Typically, there are massive doses of steroids given over an almost 3 month period, and everyone and their brother knows that steroids increase insulin, which increases your appetite, driving you to stand with the refrigerator door open and graze. Many of us get pain pills. What may kill one person’s appetite might drive the other to make a run for the border. Hello Taco Bell? I’d like a box of 12 tacos, please. K thanx.
There is a lot of food sent to your home. Paula’s gooey butter cake or pink sugar cookies might show up on your doorstep, thanks to that sweet neighbor who doesn’t understand, but wants to show you support and love. And hells, you can’t waste food, right? I’m living proof that lots of steroids plus carbs equals weight gain. Over the period of my formerly high carb life dealing with asthma, I’ve lost track of the hundreds (that’s right, you heard me – hundreds) of pounds I’ve gained from steroids combined with high carbohydrate diets.
But when you have a hormone receptor positive cancer, weight gain equals increased insulin production, increased inflammatory pre-hormones, increased circulating hormones such as estrogen, and testosterone that breaks down into estrogen presumably culminating in an escalation of cancer; ultimately death. So if you find you have hormone positive breast cancer? Don’t be fat. Don’t gain weight.
I remember the day I looked in the mirror like it was yesterday. Chemo with all the steroids was finished. I’d forged ahead and crossed surgery off my to-do list, along with all of its companions – drains, bandages, the 24/7 sport bra action that made my back ache like an abscessed tooth, breast pain, phantom pains in other areas, and the wicked scars.
Like many of the “sistahs”, I’d weathered the hair loss with humor and jocularity. When the eyebrows became a casualty of war, things got a little tougher to joke about. Drawing on eyebrows works for a lot of women. Most look absolutely fantastic with that Marlene Detrich drama action rockin’ their eyebrows. I’m not one of the lucky ones! Although, I did learn to “fool the eye” and trompe l’oeil the heck outta my eyebrows. I would even draw in “stray hairs” so if you squinted or were lookin’ at me from a distance you might be forgiven for believin’ I still had red eyebrows. (For some reason I could never make the brown eye pencil look anything but red on my face!)
But I was hopelessly locked in the 80s with my Brooke Shield’s eyebrows and my Elaine-from-Seinfeld poofed hair. Fat, eyebrowless and bald was no way to spend my summer vacation. Swearsies. But when I lost my semi-long upper eyelashes and discovered that despite a 40 pound weight loss, my face remained round and plump – as full as the moon from steroids – I just lost it.
I had no boobs. I hurt all the time. I wasn’t sleeping. I had a constant drip that aggravated my asthma, because you lose all your nose hair with chemo, in addition to hair loss everywhere. I had to watch my food like a hawk in order to lose weight. And now I looked like an escapee from the Hare Krishna Center with my moon face, bald head and nekkidy eyes. I entered an intimate and exclusive relationship with eyeliner and eye pencil.
I told my sissies, as I whined to them daily, that I didn’t even recognize myself anymore. Who was that deformed, stooping, hump-backed creature staring back at me from the mirror? I cried so hard that day. My self-esteem was in the total crapper. It sucked. Clearly I was disobeying a primary rule of Super Hero Cancer Fighting Tactics: No Stinkin’ Thinkin’ Allowed.
And I endured, just like thousands of women today, and from days past, fighting their personal battle with this crafty opponent.
Nutrition Does Not Have a One-Size-Fits-All Diet Prescription
Often I felt the only control I did retain in life was the choice of what I put down my throat. And what many in the medical community still fail to grasp is that like breast cancer, nutrition doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all prescription either. Let’s use me as an example, since we’re on a roll. If you give me, a metabolically impaired person, the same amount of carbohydrates you give a skinny, metabolically healthy, person, I will gain weight. Period. The end. I don’t care if those are “fast acting carbs” or “low glycemic carbs”. At some point, when I exceed my personal carbohydrate threshold , I will gain weight.
Put me on a juice fast, or start shoving “complex” carbs down me in the form of “healthy” *wink. wink. nudge. nudge. say-no-more.* grains, brown rice, quinoa, and dried legumes (peas and beans), and watch me inflate faster than the giant Stay Puff Marshmallow Man soaking in caramel sauce. My insulin levels will go bananas. Fat cells will cleave to my ginormous behonkus with undying adoration. And I will kill myself. Slowly. Painfully. Over time. Death by nutrition. Cancer will win.
For me, personally, the only answer to the question “What do I eat now that I have or had cancer?” could only be to eat a controlled carb diet filled with good sources of adequate complete proteins, healthy healing fats, and 5-9 servings of low glycemic vegetables per day emphasizing cruciferous vegetables and leafy greens.
Here’s How I Lost 45 Pounds During Cancer Treatment!
I had healthy proteins and good sources of fats. I craved meats, especially rib eye and hamburgers. Luckily we’d stocked up on rib eyes during the “good old days” when steak only cost $2.99 – $3.48 per pound!
Although I would load my plate down, there were a few days each chemo cycle when I could not personally stand to eat more than a few bites at a sitting. So I would persevere with small bites through the day from the same plate. I’m convinced the appetite suppression came along as a benefit of eating a low carb diet. Had I been pounding down the bread and pasta, no doubt, things would have been different.
I know the low carb diet kept my blood sugar low and insulin in check. How did I know this? Well, my post-diagnosis binge I call my “Make-A-Wish-Diet”, where I ate anything carbacious and wholly unhealthy, contributed to a weight-regain of 46 pounds. Yep, I’d been down that same weight loss path in Groundhog Day Weight Loss where you lose and gain the same pounds over and over. My A1c immediately following this period was in the diabetic category at 6.7.
Three months later, after going back to a low carb diet, and to what I knew in my heart of hearts to work for me as a metabolically impaired individual, my A1c had come down to 5.3. An amazing little feat of strength if you ask me!
An A1c is shorthand for Hemoglobin A1c, which is a test that measures a form of hemoglobin that loosely correlates to a 3 month average of plasma blood sugar readings. It’s considered a good diagnostic predictor or definitor of diabetes. Odd huh? Since some folks actually refer to breast cancer as a “Diabetes Type 3″.
Some days, like the days immediately following chemo and the Neulasta shot (a bone marrow building shot that gives you flu-like bone pain), bone broths a la Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon from Nourishing Traditions and the Weston A. Price Foundation were the only thing I felt like swallowing.
I would throw in a couple of broccoli florets, or a handful of spinach or kale, some ginger, garlic, a few green onions and mushrooms, and sip on it through the day.
To this day, I look forward to bone broth and bone broth soups as a means of delivering healthy amounts of nutrient rich minerals.
Although many foods and drinks consumed while taking chemo are now anathema to me, I still adore the broth and prefer it to cream based soups!
When I Had An Appetite – I Ate Those Nutrient Dense Calories!
Other days, especially in the week preceding the next chemo, my appetite would perk up and I knew that was the time to really push the nutrition. I pushed fats and proteins, along with the cruciferous vegetable family which just had to “represent”.
For maximum anti-cancer effects, the cruciferous vegetable family (or “crucifers”) partied with the alliums like it was 1999. Broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, turnips, kale, Swiss chard, greens, and collards mingled with lots of red onions and garlic for the ultimate nutritional party.
Although not a crucifer, I stole all of Popeye’s organic baby spinach for good measure. Sorry, dude!
Geek Warning! Danger! Will Robinson!
I’m gonna geek out on your for a second, and make my apologies in advance, for using Wiki as an absolute authority for my geekification and nutrition nerd activities.
The cruciferous vegetable family is also known as the brassica family. They’re rich in a potentially anti-cancer substance known as indol-3-carbinol. Indol-3-carbinol influences estrogen metabolism and supposedly down-regulates estrogen into weak estrogen metabolites or “pieces-parts”. Please note my use of might and may here! More studies are needed. Right? Yep.
Sulforaphanes, another potentially powerful group of anti-cancer compounds, are also present in large quantities in cruciferous vegetables. There is some bit of evidence that when these groups of compounds combine with organic cancer-fighting compounds in the onion and garlic family, also called the allium family, anti-cancer effects are melded and multiplied. And when you combine the alliums, the cruciferous vegetable family, and tomatoes? Well, not only does great taste abound, but anti-cancer properties could possibly start a revolution against cancer.
Please cue theme music, Everybody Was Kung Fu Fightin’. (Again, a thousand pardons for the over abundant use of Wiki and the words “might” and “could”.)
Just for good measure I decided to risk eating a lot of Italian parsley, basil, and cilantro for their potent anti-cancer properties. I chose to go out on a limb and ignore that they could possibly increase my ER/PR+ breast cancer per this informative site Food For Breast Cancer. Sometimes that site can contradict itself. And I think that’s because we have contradictory studies out there in googleworld.
Of Nuts and Seeds:
I added a few nuts and seeds in there, especially nuts low in polyunsaturated fatty acids and high in omega 3’s or monounsaturated fatty acids, like walnuts, macadamia nut, or almonds (for those of you who aren’t allergic to them). You know, the world is filled with cracked nuts, and I’m a little cracked myself. Like begets like. And ok, already! Sheesh! I had a few berries and a tiny Granny Smith apple or a bit of under-ripe pear, here and there, if I was hungry for them.
The whole goal of eating to fortify myself, while trying to beat breast cancer, was to eat whatever I could that would keep insulin levels low, blood sugar lower, and inflammation low. Oh, and don’t forget the Wizard’s First Commandment: Avoid anything and everything soy.
Did you know almost every snack cracker has soy in the ingredient list?
The food prescription I followed bears zero resemblance to the USDA food pyramid. My sock monkey boys actually believe the USDA food pyramid is a ponzi scheme, whose sole reason for existence is to keep a steady stream of fat, sick people dying in droves – but not before swelling the coffers of big medicine via the costs of treating obesity-related illness. Of course, I’m not a conspiracy theorist and try not to argue with them. As our granny taught us, you can’t argue with crazy.
For most people fighting cancer, fighting to live cancer free, or to live a proactive anti-cancer lifestyle, the food prescription should look like a whole foods diet based primarily on those types of foods I talked about in the paragraphs leading up to this one.
What Thah Hayull Do I Know? I’m Just Some Fluffy Chix from Texas!
But heck, what do I know? I’m just some fluffy Texas Chix who got a very aggressive breast cancer, found it a little late in the game, but who thankfully managed to lose 45 pounds during treatment on a low carb, intermittent fasting style diet.
I managed to respond favorably to chemo, surgery, radiation, and now anti-cancer hormone therapy that shuts down estrogen production (as long as the cancer doesn’t learn to outsmart that drug and become resistant to it). I’m just a fluffy chix who is now dancing as fast as she can with her hopefully steady fellow, NED (No Evidence of Disease).
Don’t take my dietary word for it. Don’t even pay me any mind if I say, “Hey y’all watch this!” Cuz as you know, often those are the last words you will ever hear come out of a Texans mouth. (Thank you Jeff Foxworthy.)
I do not have a degree in nutrition, nor in science. I’m not qualified to give dietary advice. I only have an n=1 breast cancer experience where my Grade 3, Stage IIIC, ER/PR+ Her2/Neu- breast cancer had a greater than 50% response rate to chemo (an atypical response) where the primary tumor shrank over 50% in size from pre-chemo to post-chemo.
If you have breast cancer (or any type of cancer), first of all, God bless you.
Consider yourself hugged from someone who’s fought in those trenches.
Talk seriously with your oncologists and let them know of your low carb diet. Make them discuss it with you. In the end, that will be your best source of information. Tell them about any supplements or over the counter herbs or drugs you’re popping, sippin’, sniffin, or smokin’ (that includes ESSIAC tea)!
If you’re a freewheeler, slightly pushy chix like me, google with discernment and talk it out with other survivors and breast cancer patients. Talk to your infusion room nurses and the oncology nurses! Those guys are brilliant, patient, and soooo compassionate. They will tell it like it is on the down low. Nutrition and breast cancer is a complex subject, as you can tell! You might need some people on your team to help you figure it out.
And please! Check your girls. Monthly. I’m serious. You only have one shot at life and you only have one Survivor Island. Have that mammogram. Get your well-woman exam yearly. And turn a deaf ear to all the conspiracy theorists who want to sell you their latest cancer cure or cancer cure book. Cuz they will swarm you quicker than white on rice. Follow your doctor and do the therapies they prescribe.
Eat properly, lose weight, exercise, sleep 7-8 hours per night, cut out the booze, dump the toxins and poisons in your house, yard and immediate environment. Break up with phthalates and BPA. No one needs those! And maintain positive social relationships and practice good mental hygiene (no stinkin’ thinkin’ allowed, please). Those are THE most important ways to protect you. Precious you.
And don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad. Mkay?
The Best Way to Eat to Beat Breast Cancer
You want to be part of the fortunate “seven” – not unlucky number eight, in your group! The best way to eat-to-beat-breast cancer is to eat so you do not get it in the first place. Although I don’t think you “give yourself” cancer by your actions, or through the foods you ingest, you do contribute to your body’s abilities to kill mutating cells that could become cancer, given half a chance. Follow those anti-cancer principles such as exercising, reduce stress, eliminate toxins in your immediate environment, ditch the daily booze, make friends, pray and meditate daily.
Join CarbSmart for Part III in a three-part series on Eating to Beat Breast Cancer. If you missed Part I, simply click on the link and be magically transported through the wonder of Al Gore’s internet to catch up with us here.
In Part III, we will receive the links to a few studies on nutrition and cancer to get your oogling-googling self started.
These are fairly recent studies that might help you make an informed decision about nutrition. Some of the studies are conducted on people, others are cohort studies (not so reliable), still others are performed on rats and on tumors growing in a petri dish (even more suspect). And just what in the samhill IS in rat chow, anyway?
But at least you will get a glimpse into the difficulties of determining the truth about diet and breast cancer.
Don’t forget to send those dollars to help fight breast cancer. Every dollar counts.