Saturday, August 25, 2007

More nutrition news

Before you ask, my back has felt better this week. Lots better. So, so far I am not calling back for an MRI. I'll let you know if that changes.

Now--the LA Times today has a really terrific article about nutrition and cancer. It talks at length about foods purported to lower cancer (or recurrence) risk, and the strengths and flaws in various studies. I'm happy to see many of the recommendations of my nutritional oncologist, Rachel Beller, validated in the article. She really seems to base her approach on solid research and evidence, which of course appeals to me.

Among the key points for me:
  • In one study, breast cancer survivors who ate 5 servings of fruits/veggies a day and exercised regularly achieved a 44% decrease in the rate of recurrence. That's great! Those who only ate the veggies, OR who only exercised, did not get any benefit.
  • Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts), tomatoes, spinach, apples, and blueberries are among the key foods that have been shown beneficial.
  • The benefits come from the whole foods themselves, not supplements of just one nutrient or chemical at a time.
  • Excess weight is the #2 risk factor for cancer, behind only smoking.
  • A scary factoid: for Americans, 52% of "vegetable" consumption comes from just 3 sources: iceberg lettuce, potatoes, and canned tomatoes. Yikes!
So, Rachel has me getting the vast majority of my calories these days from veggies and fish (or tofu), with fruit and yogurt close behind--and the items on the list are definitely staples. And I'm playing volleyball for hours a week, and walking Kibble as well (though less than he'd like). Everything is as organic as possible, so that there aren't toxins and chemicals competing with the positive effects of the food. I'm almost down to my goal weight, which removes that as a risk factor.

It is hopeful and amazing to think that there could be a cell sitting inside me, with the potential of turning into another tumor (or of starting a cascade of cells tumbling in metastatic unison to become something really ugly), but what I'm doing could stop it. It's like Schrodinger's cat: I do one thing, and I get cancer. But I do another thing--perhaps the thing I'm doing by following Rachel's advice--and I live 50 more years cancer-free. That cell just sits there, and thinks about it, and then shrugs and stays healthy.

Anyway, everyone: Lose weight if you need to lose it, eat good things, and move your body! Let's all give the giant middle finger to cancer!

Friday, August 17, 2007

Another 3-month check today

Hello, and long time!

No news is good news, in my case. I have celebrated my summer-after-cancer by travelling to Europe, tending the garden, playing with my dog, and having fun with Noah. I have played hours and hours of volleyball--generally with more energy and skill than before treatment. Basically, I feel great.

Of course, cancer is evil. I could be feeling this great and still have something wrong. Today, I had my latest 3-month check (and it's a year since I ended chemo!!). The physical exam was clear. I haven't yet gotten results of my blood test, but I'm sure I would have heard if they were bad. There's just one little thing: I've had a nagging lower-back pain for about the last month. It could be travel, different beds, volleyball, our own wearing-out bed, or even the way I slump as I sit here in the computer. But once you've had cancer, everything is cancer.

So the oncologist has a "one-month rule": if a pain persists for a month, we take it seriously. We do an MRI and check it out. Well, I'm almost at a month with my back, but it's felt better for a couple of days. Metastases don't get better, so if the pain goes away (or even eases a lot), then it's unlikely to be a metastasis. But if I am still feeling like this in a week, I'm supposed to call back, and we'll be doing an MRI.

I'm not too worried, but it's all relative. I'll be paying attention to my back for the next week, and trying hard not to be a hypochondriac at the same time. A good friend of my sister-in-law's was just diagnosed with metastatic melanoma in his spine. Started as a backache. He had it checked out, and now things are pretty serious for him. So it's easy to freak out a bit.

Otherwise--there have been some interesting cancer stories in the news lately. Many people have asked for my reaction to the news that a high-vegetable diet does not help prevent recurrence. My diet (which I'll post here soon) is not that. It's a basic high-fiber, low-fat diet that tends to have lots of veggies, but only prescribes the standard RDA kind of approach.

(I saw my nutritional oncologist yesterday, too, by the way. I'm back strictly on the plan for a while, to lose a little more weight and be more disciplined after our European culinary free-for-all.)

And I really found this piece, in the NY Times, poignant. Also scary. It's written by a guy (a cancer survivor) visiting an ex-girlfriend and former fellow survivor, now terminal patient. While searching for the link for that, by the way, I also encountered this somewhat treacly story (though, to be fair, I actually agree with it) about finding the positives from a cancer experience.

OK--I'll be sure to update y'all with the verdict this next week!