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Cancer Diagnosis and Diet Changes

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This week I’ve been attending Expo West, the world’s largest trade show, featuring all things green, natural and organic. After two long days of walking up and down aisles full of organic food and beverage booths, visiting with health and beauty products and vitamin and supplement vendors, I’m reminded of a time when most of these products were not on my shopping list.

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I felt like I was inside one of those snow globes where you shake the globe and the particles inside fall into random patterns around anchored stable objects. While my house and everything inside were in the same place, nothing about the way I lived my life would ever “shake out” the same again. Like most of us who are diagnosed, I began reading about what causes breast cancer, how to get through treatment and how to prevent recurrence. Much of what I read suggested I had been eating the wrong foods and using the wrong body care products. I was horrified to learn my lifestyle could have contributed to my breast cancer. Why didn’t I know that white foods like pasta, rice, potatoes, bread and sugar, along with high-fructose corn syrup and high glycemic foods, convert to sugar and contribute to inflammation in the body and can trigger cancer, heart disease, diabetes and stroke? I’m an educated well-read woman, but it took breast cancer for me to raise the bar on my “know better, do better” radar.

In the beginning I was defensive about my pre-cancer food choices. What’s wrong with pasta and salad? Plus, the thought of making drastic changes to my diet was somewhat overwhelming. Where would I start? I’ve talked with many women who tell me they’ve chosen to enjoy life over monitoring everything they eat, and I understand that. Change is inconvenient and often expensive, but because I wanted to do everything I could to have a long life with James, I felt it was worth it. However, I had no idea how difficult that change was going to be.

For starters, my post diagnosis diet was comprised of things James didn’t like to eat such as fruits and vegetables. My new diet also included more chicken and beans and less red meat. James lived on brown and white foods: coffee, red meat, anything chocolate, milk, potatoes and vanilla ice cream. His remedy for everything from a headache to heart palpitations was to ask me, “When was the last time you ate red meat?” While I’d hoped James would see the health value in my new diet and join me, it didn’t happen. As a result, we fixed two different meals: one for James and one for me.

As my new, even healthier than before diet took shape, I became the person at the table who only ate certain things and could only eat at certain restaurants. I know many people didn’t understand the logic behind my new way of eating and might have thought I was trying to be difficult, but I was eating to live, not living to eat. If for some reason you have a special diet, you already know eating out can be problematic.

Many franchised restaurants serve salads that are shipped to them with preservatives already sprayed on wilted, brown lettuce and mushy tomatoes; their chicken and beef contain growth hormones–not good for estrogen positive breast cancer–or they serve white bread, rice, potatoes and pasta, which turns to sugar and can feed cancer cells. In addition, cream sauce is ladled over everything, and cancer loves milk/cheese/mucus products. While everyone else at the table ordered red meat, mashed potatoes and chocolate cake, I ordered grilled chicken and salad with olive oil and balsamic vinegar on the side and asked for whole grain rolls… Forget about that one!

Believe me, I know how difficult it is to make drastic, overnight changes to your lifestyle, but what if you started with one change a week? The first week, perhaps you skip the afternoon soda and protein bar, chocked full of sugar, and eat fresh fruit and a handful of walnuts? Perhaps the second week you substitute bagel and cream cheese for spoon-sized shredded wheat, fresh blueberries and almond milk. Even small changes in our diet can make a big difference in our health and who knows? We may influence those around us to incorporate some of these changes as well, especially important if we want our children to develop healthy eating patterns.

While Expo West was eye opening and educational, it was hard to go back to my tacky motel and order junk food from room service. It’s a good thing I put lots of free samples in my bag, which reminds me… My favorite new discovery at Expo West is something called Metromint, 100% water with hints of pesticide-free mint, essence of cocoa and zero calories. I bet I stopped by Metromint’s booth half a dozen times for a bottle of their water. It’s not only refreshing, but makes you feel like you’re drinking something sinful. They also have goodberry mint, lemon mint and orange mint water among others. Yum!