Monday, August 1, 2011

Cancer is a B-I-T-C-H!

Many people fear cancer, and at the same time think that there is nothing they can do about preventing it. Statistics say that 1 in 3 people will have cancer in their lifetime. You have a better shot at getting cancer than most things that people are afraid of dying from: dying in a car accident 1:7000, being struck by lightning 1:350000, death by plane crash 1:3000000, death by shark attack 1:280000000.  

I was one of those people who thought there was little that I could do to prevent cancer, aside maybe from not smoking. For the past ten years I have been partying like there is no tomorrow, filling my stomach with whatever I felt like eating, and running myself into the ground. It took losing both grandmothers to cancer within seven months of another to make me realize that at one point in my life there will be no tomorrow. I am now on a mission to extend my life, and the lives around me, as long as possible. It only took reading three chapters into the first book (Foods to Fight Cancer: Essential foods to help prevent cancer by Richard Beliveau, Ph.D. and Denis Gingras, Ph.D.) to make me realize how simple it can be. Research shows that 1.) it takes 5-40 years for cancer to become noticeable on tests, 2.) there are obvious risks associated with the choices that you make about what to put into your body, 3.) there are certain foods (some ordinary to the western diet and some not) that are natural cancer fighters, 4.) the nutrients in these anti-cancer foods can actually reverse the growth of cancer. Time and research also shows that the cultures that incorporate these foods into their diets- Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mediterranean- have a lower incidence of cancers. 

My maternal grandmother, Grandma, was sick with various cancers on and off my entire life. My father actually told me that when he met my mother (30 + years ago) she had thought her mother was dying. I was just 27 when she passed. It was common for my mother to say that Grandma was back in chemo or going for another surgery. Grandma never really made a big to-do about it, at least not to us. She continued traveling; fighting in court defending her opinions, spending time with her friends from high school, and staying active in church. I just assumed she would keep on fighting like she always did. She fought it as long as she could. She didn’t want to have a live-in aid. She could do everything herself. Towards the end she was so tiny and frail that it was amazing that she was still fighting. She battled cancer for almost three decades.

My paternal grandmother, Nani, was always good at getting information out of you or anyone she came in contact with. She would listen dutifully, and no matter what give her opinion. Sometimes I knew what she would say, and sometimes she completely surprised me. But she always wanted to know and was always there to listen. No subject was left untouched, even the completely uncomfortable, embarrassing, and annoying things that you don’t want to be talking about with your grandmother.  Sex, PMS, making and more importantly saving money, dressing to stay warm, and most importantly taking vitamins.

Right up until she was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer I thought Nani was “healthy”. She looked 10+ years younger than she chronologically was, got around great, took plenty of vitamins, etc, etc. In fact, it all started with strengthening heart palpitations, a condition she had for a long time, which was deemed no more than an annoyance. Following that was blood clots in her legs; something I was told by my nurse friend was common in the elderly especially during the winter. [Last winter was a particularly harsh one, and my Nani was no stranger to lounging around] Well a month, several hospital trips, and numerous tests later, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreatic Cancer that had metastasized to the liver. I was never made aware of a time frame, but from my general knowledge at that time I knew that a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer was a death sentence, and a rather quick one.

Even as she was nearing the end and did not have the strength to talk, she was still listening. As we sat around her in her room at my father and step mother’s house, all reminiscing and laughing, she laid there raising an eyebrow, pursing her lips, and cracking small smiles at the stories. More than anything she loved her family and wanted to be a part of all of our lives. I know how sad she was to be leaving us prematurely, because we are equally as sad that she will not be physically present for all of the birthdays, holidays, weddings, and stories to come.

After losing both grandmothers within seven months of each other to cancer, I took a long, hard look at how I could become more “healthy”. Healthy seems now to be a relative term. When Nani was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, we all took on different tasks; my father managing the doctors, tests, medications, and my Nani’s personal affairs. My sister researched alternatives to chemotherapy and other treatments that might help my grandmother. I started researching foods that would keep her strength up for enduring chemo and also be comforting to her. This was where my understanding of food started to change. I researched foods that were high in iron and B-vitamins, potassium and vitamin C. I came up with meals that would be healthy for her and also that were easy enough for my father to prepare if I wasn’t there.

While sitting with Nani as she got her weekly dose of chemo, I came across a book of recipes catered to people going through chemo and radiation therapies. While trying to find the book on the Internet, I found the books that would cement my belief that we can all eat to prevent cancer. These handful of books showed me how there is a delicate balance that lies within your body; that there are foods that promote cancer... and there are foods that fight it at every stage of its growth. Our bodies are supposed to get nutrients from our food. We are not supposed to ingest chemicals, concentrated vitamins, preservatives, processed and refined sugars, or genetically modified foods.

The typical western view on eating has nothing to do with getting nutrients and creating a balance. We eat food that will give us energy to support our crazy busy lifestyles. We eat fast food for the obvious reason, we buy prepared foods full of preservatives and chemicals because we can pop them in the microwave, and they can stay in our freezers for months and on our shelves for years. Instead of eating the foods that naturally have the vitamins in them, we spend billions as a nation on vitamins. 

With plenty of thyme (and time) on our sides, we can make small changes that will have profound effects. It is very important to eat a wide variety of whole foods, as every fruit and vegetable has multiple vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients (cancer fighting nutrients) that are important in creating a balance and making sure our bodies get all of the different nutrients they need. As with anything, sadly there is no guarantee, but at least you can say you gave it one hell of a try. 

More to come…

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