Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Eating to Live

This blog post was originally posted on the Kicking Cancer In The Kitchen blog on June 12, 2012. Here's the link -

The two women who created this site are cancer survivors themselves and they are pretty amazing. Here's a little background;

Kendall and Annette are two young cancer survivors who not only survived but learned to thrive throughout their cancer journeys: from diagnosis through intense treatment and beyond. They know what it's like to be stopped in your tracks by what seems to be a death sentence. And they know what it’s like to wake up from the scared-shitless, post-diagnosis stupor and wonder: “What the heck do I do now?!” However, they didn’t want to just slog their way through cancer; Kendall and Annette also wanted to look and feel as good as possible while doing it. And they did.

When I connected with Annette over Twitter and found her (and Annette's) website, I was thrilled to write a blog about nutrition post-cancer and here it is.

Ever since I was told 'You have breast cancer', I have felt the pressures of needing to be some sort of health nut. I get it from co-workers, from friends and most interestingly from strangers. Recently on a flight, I was told that I needed to lose weight, now that I've had cancer and all. And then this complete stranger followed that up with 'but I don't need to tell you that.' I know how important exercise and eating properly are, you'd have to live under a rock to not know of their importance, but it doesn't mean that because someone tells me I should do it that I can change my entire life overnight.

I have read studies, been to presentations and been told by a variety of doctors about the importance of exercise, especially post-breast cancer. I know that a lower BMI plays an extremely important role in lowering your chance of recurrence and I know that eating a balanced diet helps keep your body in check, running smoothly, and allows it to flush out the toxins much easier. Even though I know all of these important facts, I continue to find it difficult to always make the right choices. Sometimes convenience, accessibility, and laziness supersede everything else previously mentioned and although I know that in the long run, it is not beneficial for me to make these decisions, sometimes it is the instant gratification that wins.

Many people feel like they have the answer as to why I got cancer and regardless of if my team of doctors are baffled, these people seem to have an insider's take on MY cancer. I've been told that I got breast cancer because I was on the birth control pill, because I had too much stress in my life, because of the hormones in beef, because of fast food, and the list goes on and on. Everyone has an opinion on cancer, I've come to expect that, but what I find frustrating is that there is an expectation of 'health-perfection' put on cancer survivors and it just isn't easy to make the right choices all of the time.

I am still feeling the effects of chemo (although I am 9 months post-treatment) and the Tamoxifen keeps me in a relatively fatigued-induced trance. I have just gone back to work in the past couple of months and at the end of the day, the thought of making a time consuming healthy meal followed by a walk to even the corner is overwhelming. I have to admit, sometimes, Pizza Pops and couch-laying become my reality at the end of the day. I try not to make it a habit, but it does happen.

Along with the fatigue, the eating poorly, and the lack of exercise comes a lot of guilt. I feel guilty for the amount of weight I have put on since my diagnosis (due to the steroids, the lack of energy, the 'I-don't-care-what-I-eat-as-long-as-I-can-keep-it-down' mentality, etc.), I feel guilty for not making the healthiest of food choices, I feel guilty for driving a mile for milk instead of walking it. But, I have found that feeling guilty makes things worse. As soon as Guilt joins the party, he becomes that guest who overstays his welcome and he encourages more poor choices and then I develop the 'what difference does it make' point of view and one bad decision turns into another.

So, I have tried a new approach. If I don't have the energy to walk to the store, I don't, but when I do have the energy, I try to get off the bus one stop early so I walk a little bit farther. And when I do have the energy, I take the stairs instead of the elevator. When I drive to the grocery store, I park far from the door; an extra 30 steps is not going to kill me. I'm trying to achieve tangible goals that may only make a small difference now but they are goals that I know I can stick to. I am trying to work my way up to longer walks and at some point in the next few months, I want to incorporate going to the gym. I've decided to start out going to the gym two or three days a week at maybe a half an hour each day - that way I'm not setting myself up for failure. If I try to go for an hour and a half every day during the week, I know I will give up after only going for two days.

As for eating, it's coming along too. Did you know that you are supposed to have 8-10 servings of vegetables a day? EIGHT to TEN!! Now, that isn't realistic for me but again, I have to admit, there are some days when I don't eat any vegetables. That's not realistic either. How is our body supposed to function without the proper nutrients? Sometimes, when I am trying to plan dinner, I mentally go over what I've eaten already during the day. On days when I realize that I haven't had any vegetables, sometimes I cook up a huge bowl of broccoli and cauliflower. Quite honestly, I find it quite delicious after not having veggies all day. My body has started to crave vegetables now that I'm making them a priority. How cool is that?

It's not easy and it's not a quick process - not putting certain expectations on myself may be the most challenging part of this whole process but because I feel like so many other people already have so many expectations of me, I don't need to add the pressure of having my own. I'm trying to make lifestyle changes instead of short-term weight loss effective changes that will result in binge eating in a couple of months once I inevitably fall off the wagon. I'm trying to look at it from a perspective of eating to live rather than living to eat!

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