Updated: Aug 15
A diagnosis of cancer is life changing in itself, but in 2020 other variables have been added to the mix to make treating and managing my care something else all together. Not only did I never think that I would be dealing with this diagnosis, but I also did not think I would be managing my care, during a pandemic while homeschooling my children and taking care of two other young children, and having to explain the current racial tensions in this country. Not only is it paramount that my physical health be in tip top shape, but my spiritual and mental health must be centered as well.
In order to make it through this year I had to make some key lifestyle changes to not only manage my diagnosis but address my mental and spiritual health too.
WHAT I EAT
PLANT BASED After my diagnosis, I made it a priority to switch to a more plant based diet. Although the goal is eat only fruits and vegetables, that transition will take time and I am giving myself grace with that. In the mean time I am eating a lot of vegetables and fruit that is healing to my diagnosis. That means eating a lot of leafy green vegetables, staying away from tropical fruits so that my insulin levels do not spike, and ensuring the food is organic.
Organic foods are free of hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, synthetic herbicides, and fertilizers. Fruits and vegetables that are certified organic by the USDA start with a 9, while other foods have the USDA Organic seal.
In my cancer research I have seen a lot of promising and cancer healing effects of a ketogenic diet. "The ketogenic diet is a very low carb, high fat diet. The premise is to greatly reduce carbs and replace it with fats. The reduction of carbs puts your body into the metabolic state of ketosis. At the point your body becomes proficient at burning fat for energy. It also turns fat into ketones in the liver, which can give energy for the brain. The ketogenic diet can reduce blood sugar and insulin level, and shifts the body's metabolism from carbs and towards fat and ketones." 1*
Now in a normal year I would have been able to manage a major diet shift. Changing a diet in this way requires planning, consistency, and the mental grit to continue undeterred. But and however, I know my limits and I DO NOT HAVE THE ENERGY TO CHANGE MY DIET IN THIS WAY RIGHT NOW. I am blessed to have prepared foods which are healthy and plant based but are not a part of the ketogenic diet. I barely have time or energy to just heat up my food, so I know I cannot manage buying and prepping these meals right now.
However this does not mean I will not do a keto diet in the future. As things become less stressful on the home front (aka when all three of my kids return to school) I can reexamine a change then. In the interim, I am making small changes where necessary by researching the foods that are needed and making sure to use the recommended fruits that are allowed so when the time is right I am in ketosis.
WHEN I EAT
My best friend put me on to intermittent fasting a few years ago, which is to eat my meals within a certain window of time. The goal is to get your body in fat burning state. You can eat in whatever window you want, the goal is to find what works for you and be consistent. For me, I prefer to fast in a 18 hour window and eat in 6 hours. When I can, I fast in a 20 hour window and eat in 4 hours. These short eating windows help reduce the stress of meal prep and eating because the whole process can be exhausting. It all depends on what I have going on. If I have the energy I will even expand my fast even further.
In 18 hours your body reaches a deep state of ketosis. In 24 hours your body is in Autophagy (the state in which your body is cleaning out damaged cells in order to create newer, healthier cells). At the 48 hour mark your body is in peak growth hormone. In 54 hours the body produces minimum insulin, and in 72 hours there is complete immune regeneration. 2*,3*
I would love to do these more prolonged fasts but with the stress of EVERYTHING I have been eating alot so the extended fasts are not an option for me at the moment. I believe the most I did recently was a little under 2 days.
HOW I EAT
Prior to my diagnosis I used to rush and cook my food on a medium to high heat when heating on a stove top and I also relied heavily on the microwave. A key component of getting through a cancer diagnosis is having a cancer warrior/survivor in your circle. My survivor friend has provided many helpful tips, four of them being to 1) Cook my food slowly 2) Do not use the microwave 3) Discard my old teflon coated pots and pans, 4) Stop using plastics.
Through trial and error I discovered that slow cooking is the best way to heat up food. This is a major lifestyle change for me as I like to rush and hurry up and eat. Now before my stomach starts to grumble I take careful thought and consideration into when I want to eat so I am not rushing the process.
I stopped using the microwave in my house all together. This doesn't mean it doesn't get used at all because when my kids are hungry and there is cold Mac and cheese in the refrigerator, the microwave it is. But to be honest, our microwave now mainly serves as a timer when food is heating up in the oven.
Safer Pots and Pans
My cancer survivor friend also advised me to throw out my old teflon pans and pots. Healthier options are cast iron, aluminum, and stainless steel. In the end I chose stainless steel due to the availability and maintenance. After research I chose the Made In company, an American Made company that sources its materials from the United States, Italy, and Germany.
I have greatly reduced the amount of plastics in my household. I went in my cabinets and purged most of my plastic drink wear and dishes. Mason jars, stainless steel cups, the pyrex brand, and relying on paper plates and utensils have been the new normal. I still use plastics when its comes to my prepared meals as this is the container it comes in. However, I heat the food in my stainless steel pots and I pour whatever drink I have in my mason jar.
In my physical health prime I did rigorous body building competitions as well as other endurance races. It was a love/hate situation as I loved the results but I loathed the process. The idea of waking up super early in the morning and going to the gym (which ignited my social anxiety) to lift weights and do high intensity workouts wasn't fun. But on the other end I enjoyed the relationships I made and I looked smoking hot. As I started to expand my family, my regular gym routine changed, and when I became a stay at home mom it all together stopped and had to be re worked again.
After diagnosis I realize the importance of physical fitness but post surgery recovery and my mental health made the old routine an impossibility. Instead I relied on a tried and true favorite as a child (walking) and a lovely new age friend (yoga) when I can.
Both walking and yoga are great ways to incorporate a mediation while moving the body. Also, the gentle cardio is welcome to my body as well. When I have the energy I do lift as cancer cells do not attach to muscles like they do with fat. But my lifting is super light and highly modified when I have the mental bandwidth to engage.
Before my diagnosis I briefly used the assistance of a therapist mid 2019 to gain coping tools for my career transition, living with my in laws temporarily during a renovation, and other issues. As soon as I was diagnosed I revisited this avenue of healing. An important suggestion through my nurse oncologist is to solicit the help of a therapist that uses cognitive behavioral therapy. "CBT focuses on challenging and changing unhelpful cognitive distortions and behaviors, improving emotional regulation, and the development of personal coping strategies that target solving current problems" 4* "This therapy can help identify and cope with specific life challenges as well."5*
Although I stopped my therapy sessions days before quarantine, I re-started them as the protests were in full swing. The grounded assistance from my therapist is helping to manage my depression and anxiety. Speaking, venting, and finding solutions with a professional has been a key tool to ease me mentally.
Another life hack from my cancer survivor friend is to use CBD oil. CBD comes in a few digestive forms but my preferred method is oil. That way I avoid the added sugars that may be in the gummies. Due to the extreme amounts of stress I use a high dosage and place it underneath my tongue for immediate results.
It is not just a hokey suggestion as it has real healing benefits. When I am overwhelmed I breathe deeply 12 times to help calm my anxiety. The influx of oxygen re-centers me and helps to create an uncomfortable environment for the cancer cells as well. I started breathing deeply multiple times a day but I make sure to do at least 3 times a day.
I do not have the same focus I had pre-diagnosis. My concentration levels are not as strong ,so I rely on guided forms of meditation to start my day. I use an Abraham Hick meditation that focuses on getting the body to a healthy state as well as meditations to reduce fear and invite calm. Youtube, Gaia, and the Liberate app (a mediation app created by people of color) are key for my mental wellness.
Light Hearted Entertainment
Laughter, educational pieces, and pure entertainment that speaks to me has helped to change my body chemistry many of times. Whether it is Ru Paul's Drag Race, learning about royalty, checking out my favorite gossip bloggers, or netflixing it up, entertainment has helped turn my mood around plenty of times. I have to admit that I tend to get lost in these shows sometimes and it can turn negative as it distracts from important issues that demand my attention. When I notice I am getting addicted I do a technology fast to reset and prevent me from relying on those forms to make it through.
Reduction of Social Media
Phones are a slot machine of entertainment and as such are highly addictive. It's all well and good until I find myself aimlessly looking at the same thing on said social media account several times or I am taking in a high dose of intense energy as was the case during the police brutality protests. Due to the unrest in the air I had to make a strict rule (which I should have done a while ago to be honest). For me 20 mins in the day and 20 at night is all I should do (whether or not I can do this consistently has yet to be seen...lol). This allows me to actually engage in the real world and accomplish the things I tell myself I have no time for but really do if I reprioritize my focus.
In a later post I will speak specifically about my standard of care.
1* Healthline - The Ketogenic Diet: A Detailed Beginner's Guide to Keto
2* Healthline - Authophagy: What You Need to Know
3* Instagram @mostlyketovegan
4* Wikipedia https://g.co/kgs/m6UrqE
5* Mayoclinic: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/cognitive-behavioral-therapy/about/pac-20384610