Nutrition, vitamins, supplements, holistic elixirs, and exercise are all key components to kicking the living shit out of cancer!
The day after I was diagnosed I called my friend Grace van Berkum, of Gracious Living Lifestyle and Oasis, who is a Holistic Nutritionist, and asked a question that I'm sure she hears often from her clients ... "What do I do?"
At that time, the doctors hadn't run any tests beyond the initial mammogram, ultrasound and core biopsy, so we didn't know (yet) that there were two other tumours in the breast, or that my cancer was triple positive (hormone sensitive), or that it had spread to my liver.
All we knew was that I had one tumour and would require a lumpectomy and radiation - a scenario that changed quite drastically over the next four weeks.
With that said, I'm pretty sure that Grace's advice would have been the same regardless.
And that advice was to go vegan keto.
And that's what I did!
I had played around with plant-based eating in the past, and also with keto, so this wasn't an entirely foreign concept to me.
BUT, this time there was a reason beyond simply wanting to lose a few pounds. So I was bound and determined to be diligent with it. No slips, no cheat days ... just 100% whole plant-based eating!
Grace told me that I needed to ALKALINE ALKALINE ALKALINE my body, which meant lots of dark leafy greens and veggies.
And I needed to cut out all dairy, meat, alcohol, gluten and sugar - even natural sugar (as much as possible), which meant no starchy vegetables, legumes or fruit (only berries).
[ Apologies in advance, but this is a long one. I've met a few ladies who have asked me to share this info, so I've gone into some serious detail for them. ]
THE MOST IMPORTANT MEAL OF THE DAY
The first thing Grace referenced was Ergogenics hemp protein + greens powder.
She said that while many of the other plant-based protein powders were great, I needed something a little more hardcore. And something that didn't have any added sweeteners.
Next she told me to get liquid chlorophyll to add to the shake.
Chlorophyll is the green pigment found in all green plants.
She said to be sure to find one that was non-GMO and preservative free - and if I wasn't crazy about the "earthy" taste of the protein powder, that I could find an all natural mint flavoured chlorophyll. And after some research, I went with Health First.
I blend those up with ice and distilled water from my Berkey, and voila! My breakfast of champions - for eight months and counting!!
About a month or so ago, I added a few more ingredients.
One of them being organic coconut kefir from Healing Spirit Nutrition, for the probiotics - because chemo definitely took a toll on my poor ol' gut.
The other is Organika's enhanced collagen powder.
Collagen is the most abundant protein in our bodies, and it has many important functions, such as helping to strengthen muscle, bone, cartilage, skin, hair, connective tissue, and much more.
I realize that Collagen isn't plant-based, however, I've used many of this particular companies products over the years and am confident that they are all ultra clean, organic, and ethically sourced. So I was 100% ok with the decision to add this to my shake.
And in just two weeks I noticed a huge difference with what little hair I had. It didn't necessarily grow all that much in length, but it started to thicken out nicely, and has continued to so - which I am super happy about!
FOOD & NUTRITION
I went 100% plant-based in the month leading up to and the two months after starting chemotherapy.
However, and if I'm being perfectly honest, I didn't eat nearly enough.
I wasn't (noticeably) sick from the cancer OR the chemo. But I'm telling you, the day they told me that I had cancer, I lost my appetite. Literally!
With that said though, after my first CT scan in November showed significant shrinkage (just three months into chemo), my appetite slowly started to return and rear it's hungry little head!
But until then there were a lot of days when I would have my morning shake, and then I'd have it again for lunch because the thought of food just didn't appeal to me at all. And for dinner, I'd force down a small salad.
For anyone who is right now, where I was then - please don't do this! You need to EAT!
I lost so much weight in those first few months. And while my frame (and vanity) could tolerate that kind of weight loss (as I had a few pounds to shed), my system couldn't - or wouldn't for long, at the very least.
I was warned by my oncologist and his nurse that if I continued to lose weight, I would very likely start to feel the effects of chemo. And that all of this hard work that I'd put into "eating healthy" would be out the window because I wasn't consuming enough nutrients for my body to stay strong.
So I started looking into the nutritional side of things just a little more. I had already read and researched a lot (like A LOT), however, most of it had been about "cancer diet" in general.
But there are so many different types, stages and grades of cancer - and breast cancer for that matter. Never mind all of the different drugs that cancer treatments entail. And not every kind of cancer requires the exact same nutritional diet.
Obviously everyone should be eating healthy whole foods, however, there are certain foods that promote or inhibit different outcomes, depending on your particular situation.
My breast cancer is stage 4 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (IDC), triple hormone positive (ER+ PR+ HER2+), that has metastasized (spread) to the liver.
And my cocktail was Taxol (chemo - which I completed on March 5th) and Herceptin & Prejeta (hormone blockers - which I will be on, intravenously, every three weeks for life).
Investigating the nutritional end of things can be a slippery slope. I mean there is soooo much information out there. But you can't just take the first thing you read and run with it. You have to make sure you're collecting the information from reputable sources, and even then cross-referencing is never a bad idea. And, of course, you should always consult your Oncologist, Naturopath and/or Family Physician as well.
Some of what I found in my reading was that I needed to incorporate a larger amount of naturally sourced omega 3's, and I kept seeing root veggies like yams, squash and sweet potatoes show up as well.
All in moderation of course!
So, towards the end of October, I added fresh water fish (get in my belly salmon!) and one or two yams/sweet potatoes to my weekly menu. This not only added some yummy density to my meals, but, after eating only vegetables and leafy greens for two months, it gave me the feel of a cheat day as well.
Another change I made was to treat myself to sushi after every 3 week follow up with Dr. W (my Oncologist) ... guilt free!
Sushi is my vice. More so than almost anything. If there was only one thing that I could eat for the rest of my life, sushi would be it. Well that, and Old Dutch salt & vinegar chips. #drool
But that aside, the rest of my diet consists almost exclusively of plant-based (mostly low carb) whole foods that are consumed raw, cooked, and juiced.
Lots (and lots and lots) of leafy greens and cruciferous & other veggies, and some nuts & seeds as well.
As for sweets - you'd be surprised at the delicious treats you can make while sticking to a plant-based, no sugar diet.
I'm lucky in that I really enjoy cooking. I play around with different recipes and tailor them to what I need as far as a meal or dessert goes.
Now don't get me wrong, there are certainly days when Thai takeout would be so much easier, but I just have to remind myself of the bigger picture. Being healthy and (someday) cancer free is so much bigger than the house pad thai from Green Basil!
p.s. Meal ideas and recipes coming soon!
This one is simple ... go for a walk!
If you have the energy to do more, great! But if not, then at the very least get outside for a walk everyday!!
30 minutes will do, but if you've got an hour in you, then do it!
The fresh air and vitamin D (if it's sunny) will do wonders. And keeping that circulation going is paramount to minimizing, managing, and possibly even avoiding altogether, some of the potential side effects like bone pain and neuropathy.
Up until around Christmas time, when the three month polar vortex from hell hit Toronto, I was out almost every day for a walk. And not only did I not experience bone pain or neuropathy, but I felt energized after each walk!
As for January and on? Well, that's kind of another story. I did get out as often as I could, but it was so frikkin' cold out! And I do feel like my body hit a new level of "tired" after the Holidays. It wasn't complete exhaustion. I just felt super-pooped.
And getting hammered with snow and ice every couple of days didn't do much to encourage me to venture outdoors - even though I knew that that daily walk was super important.
So in this particular case it's probably best to do as I say, not as I do! ;)
Thankfully it's mid March now, and while spring hasn't sprung (temperature wise) quite yet, it is certainly more tolerable - so I'm back out there everyday. Breathing in the fresh air (without my eyelids and nostrils sticking together) and being grateful that while the weather was absolute crap, my winter wasn't as terrible as I'd prepared myself for it to be.
VITAMINS & SUPPLEMENTS
As for vitamins and other supplements - I knew that I needed to be selective with these, as there are many that could potentially interfere with chemo.
While supplements and nutrition are not something that most traditional doctors know much about (sadly), I made sure my oncologist understood that I was going to integrate some holistic measures alongside treatment.
He agreed to this, under the condition that I run everything by him first so that he could yay or nay it.
And, much to my surprise, he did actually Yay more than I thought he would.
He was, however, very clear that I could not have anything immune boosting, as I needed to let the chemo tackle that.
So no antioxidants, which meant no vitamin c, e, k or a.
Additionally no tumeric, which blew my mind as everyone knows that it's a huge cancer-fighter. But I guess if it can fight cancer, it can fight (interfere with) the chemo as well.
Vitamins and elixirs that were approved - which I took every day while I was getting chemo, and will continue to take now that I'm done:
Magnesium Glycinate - 200 mg before bed --> This regulates many body processes, including muscle and nerve function. It also supports the making of protein and bone, and therefore helps to alleviate/minimize bone pain (which is a common side effect of Taxol).
B12 - 1000 mcg before lunch --> This is very important for me given that my diet is mostly plant-based, and B12 is found mainly in animal products. It is known to help with anemia prevention, bone health, brain health (by preventing loss of neurons), heart health, and hair & nail health - to name just a few.
D3 - 1000 IU (1 drop / 25 mg) before lunch -->This helps with overall general health, especially throughout the winter when we don't get as much sun.
CBD Oil - 25 mg before dinner --> I very strongly feel this helped me to avoid some of the doozy side effects. When I had my intake meeting for this, I was told that CBD oil helps with bone pain, joint pain, and neuropathy (all three of which are common side effects of Taxol), as well as anxiety. And that in order for it to work properly long-term, I would need to take it everyday, like a vitamin, so that it builds up in my system.
Chaga Elixer - 1 drop twice a day --> Made by my friend Steve (a local Herbalist) from Farmacia Health Bar. Chaga is a super-mushroom chalked full of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. And while it is an antioxidant (which is on my No-No list), I made an informed decision to take it anyways, based on the following healing properties that it could potentially provide; slowing the growth of lung, breast and cervical cancer (reference), causing tumour cells to self-destruct, while not harming healthy cells (reference), and aid in minimizing (or preventing) the side effects of chemotherapy (reference)
And now that I'm done chemo, and have met with and been advised by an Integrative / Naturopathic Oncologist (Dr L), I will be adding the following vitamins to the above list:
CoQ10 - 100 mg twice a day --> This supports cardio health which is super important for me, given that Herceptin (one of the hormone blockers that I will continue to receive every three weeks) can cause weakening of the heart muscle.
Melatonin - 20 mg before bed --> This doesn't just help with sleep. I was shocked to find out from Dr L that it can also help with tinnitus, as well as eye health, immune support AND, when taken alongside Tamoxifen (another hormone blocker (pill) that I'm about to start taking next week) it could even provide an anti-cancer effect!!!
Acidophilus + Bifidus (probiotic) - 20 billion active cells twice a day --> This is an anti-inflammatory and will help with brain fog (aka chemo-brain, which I am very much looking forward to being rid of).
D3 - 2000 IU --> Dr L suggested I double the dose that I've been taking up until now.
Magnesium Citrate - 150 mg twice a day --> Dr L suggested I switch from taking glycinate to citrate. This should help with my hot flashes (as I'm in chemo-induced menopause #FunTimes) and also with my BM's, which have been all over the place (sorry for the TMI).
My goal with ALL of this is to not only wipe out the few remaining lesions that are left on my liver, but also to make sure that my body is healthier and stronger than ever. The more alkaline my body is, the less conducive it is to hosting diseases like cancer! So ultimately, I'm working to create an internal environment that will simply not permit cancer to return ... EVER!
Oh, and in case you were wondering, I had no 'major' side effects at all throughout my six months of chemotherapy.
No bone pain, no neuropathy, no sever exhaustion, and no nausea - to name only a few, as the list was long.
I do have a little tinnitus, my vision is kinda blurry, my energy level dropped little by little as the treatments piled up, my skin, nose, eyes (and a few other bits and bobs) are super dry, and my multi-tasking abilities are no longer something to write home about. All slightly annoying, but definitely not unmanageable symptoms.
All in all, as far as chemo goes, I really can't complain.
And I accredit that, in large part, to the above list of healthy measures that I incorporated alongside traditional treatment.
*** DISCLAIMER: Every person and every case is different, so what works for me, may not necessarily be what works for you. While I do believe in pairing holistic measures alongside conventional treatments, there are many herbs, supplements, vitamins and even foods that can and/or may interfere with chemotherapy and other traditional forms of treatment. So PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE always consult with your Oncologist, Naturopath and/or Family Physician before adding any of the above mentioned approaches to your regimen.