For as long as I can remember, I have always put a lot of pressure on myself to be the 'est': tallest, funniest, smartest, youngest, well, you see where I am going with this. By the time I was in grade 4, I was four feet, eleven inches - needless to say, tallest was not difficult through my formative years. In my double cohort graduating high school class, I was voted funniest female and I was not afraid to put that on my resume for the few years that followed (funniest? Check!). By the time I was 24 years old, I had earned three degrees - well, at least three pieces of paper say I'm smart(est). And by the time I was 26, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, something that not many other 26 year olds can achieve (Youngest? Also Check!).
While I spent the first 26 years of my life putting pressure on myself to
achieve all the important 'ests', I was not prepared for the pressure that I was
about to feel as a cancer survivor. I'm not sure how many times someone has
asked me the reason that I was diagnosed with cancer; microwaves? deodorant? the
birth control pill? too much meat? not enough meat? too much stress? did you
swallow a bottle of cleaner as a kid? did every female ancestor in your family
have breast cancer before you? the gene mutation? tap water? And with this
barrage of questions comes a certain pressure that no one intentionally puts on
me but it weighs heavily none the less. Along with these questions come a deeper
questioning; 'Now that you've had cancer, you don't still use a microwave, do
you?', 'You're not going to eat that chocolate bar, are you? You know what sugar
can do to you, especially now that you've had cancer, don't you?', 'What? You
don't eat organic EVERYTHING? You are a failure at being a cancer
I consume so much of my day with questions of 'What would a good cancer
We are faced with so many questions about what to eat, what not to eat,
supplements to take, pills to avoid, and interactions to consider that it
becomes so overwhelming and the result many times is a guilt induced binge-fest
on everything that we know is bad for us. I gained a whopping 33 lbs with cancer
and chemo. Wait, aren't you supposed to lose weight when you're going through
chemo? Ya, that's what I thought too. But with breast cancer, it's different.
When they start playing with your hormones, when you eat anything that you can
keep down regardless of nutritional or caloric value and when you limit your
physical activity because the thought of walking to the bathroom exhausts you,
you pack on the weight. Oh, and because I am in a medically induced menopause,
the cancer drugs that I'm on now help pack on the weight, too. Yes, if you're
wondering, I AM living the 20-something dream!
Many times, when I would obsess over eating the right thing or avoiding the
wrong thing, I would feel so overwhelmed and helpless that I would find myself
wondering 'What's the point?' and I would eat myself into oblivion. Anytime I
would start to research post-cancer foods or cancer survivor diets, I would find
opposing viewpoints; coffee is bad because of the caffeine/coffee is good
because of the antioxidants; bananas are good because of the potassium/bananas
are bad because of the potassium. Avoid sugar. Avoid fat. Eat enough
fat. Avoid carbs. Our body needs carbs. Become a vegan! You need meat... Holy
crap, it is so overwhelming. Actually, just out of curiosity, I just googled
'too much broccoli' and articles actually popped up. Seriously?
When our life has just been flipped upside down, we have been hammered with
toxic chemicals, we are beaten and battered, we are many pounds heavier than we
were, and we have no energy with no promise of any in the near future, where do
we go? Where do we start?
Back in January, I started to realize my addiction to pop (soda for my
American friends). I loved pop, a lot. It was that 'thing' that I could never
give up. Take away chocolate, and candy, and pizza but don't ever take away my
pop. In all the research that I had been doing, with all the different food, and
all the opposing viewpoints, I couldn't find one article that said that pop was
a good thing or that its contents were beneficial in anyway. At that point, I
decided to try to make it a week without a pop; a little 7-day challenge if you
will. I didn't think I would last three days but one day turned into two which
turned into four which turned into a week and ten months later, I haven't had a
drop of pop. I mean, I still dream about it, and most mornings I wake up hoping
that it was just a nightmare, but to this day, I haven't had any since I gave it
up. This gave me a little momentum and I started trying this little challenge
with other aspects of my life.
I started upping my veggie intake. I like vegetables, luckily, but I have
never been a big vegetable eater (well post-mom's cooking). I decided to try to
eat 4-6 servings a day - I challenged myself - and it worked and now I just
naturally gravitate towards the vegetables, I even crave them. Don't get me
wrong, I still like all the bad stuff but I make sure to get my vegetables in to
me and then if there's room, I go for the bad stuff and to be honest, there
isn't usually room. I also tried eating less processed foods. I am no pro at
this but I definitely limit what I consume when it comes to prepackaged meals in
a can/frozen/vacuumed-packed container.
Two weeks ago, I got on a juicing kick and decided to do a three day juicing
detox. I know, right? Why would anyone not eat for three full days and only
consume homemade juice that isn't the most delicious tasting liquid in the
world? Well, I thought after going through chemotherapy and still currently
being on cancer drugs that it was a good idea to detox, to give my digestive
tract a break from the ups and downs of chemo and cancer (a long overdue break).
Day 1 was so hard and if it hadn't been for Keith, I think I would have quit.
Day 2 was just as hard but at least I knew that I could say 'tomorrow is the
last day' and Day 3 was easiest although we did spend a lot of that evening
planning the food we were going to eat the next day. Actually, we had planned to
order pizza because we were both craving salt and couldn't imagine anything
saltier. And then, when the time came, oddly enough, we both just wanted salad.
I know that sounds like I am making it up, or that I am getting paid by a
juicing company to say that, but honestly, we both just wanted nutrients. It was
like our body had rebooted and once we could eat again, once we could
have the salt, and the sugar and the garbage, we didn't even want it.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting that. Bonus!
But, this challenge approach has not all been about what I consume, it has
also been about exercise. I rely on public transit and I walk a lot but I am not
someone who exercises for the sole purpose of exercising. I also found that
after I felt a little relief from the residual chemo fatigue, Tamoxifen was
right there to pick up where chemo left off - I am still tired from cancer.
Needless to say, I haven't had the most energy in the past two and a half years.
But regardless, I decided that on October 1st I was going to join a gym and go
for five days a week for the whole month. I could quit on November 1st if I
wanted to but I had to make it through the month and I had to go five days a
week. When I go to the gym (I have been a member at a few gyms over the years) I
am not someone who likes to ease into it. Every day that I have gone, I've burn
800-1000 calories (an hour on the elliptical and then weights). The first week
was the hardest. I was so warm for hours after my workout because my circulation
was going crazy and then I would freeze for another few hours. I was sore all
the time. I was so tired. I didn't think I could last the week let alone the
month. I just kept telling myself that I want to enjoy things like baseball
again (which I haven't played since cancer), and I am getting married at some
point in the future, and I know about the correlations between being overweight
and the recurrence of breast cancer, and an hour on the elliptical gives me time
to think about the good stuff - the endorphins just encourage good thoughts.
Well, wouldn't you know it, I'm still going to the gym 52 days later, five days
a week and I am down 17.5lbs. At the 15.5lbs mark, I had officially lost the
last of my chemo/cancer weight. Did that ever feel good! F-U cancer, and the
horse you rode in on.
I am going in next Tuesday (the 3rd) for the last of my three surgeries. I am
getting my expanders exchanged for implants. So that means six weeks of no
elliptical or weights. I am nervous about the break in my routine but let's be
honest, no pop is much harder than being on the elliptical for five hours a week
and I'm ten months deep with the 'no pop thing' so I should be able to get back
to it mid-January.
I know what it's like to feel like you need to make a change but feel
powerless. Consider giving yourself a seven day challenge. Start with something
achievable (which is different than easy). Giving up pop was achievable but it
was not easy. Eating more vegetables was achievable but not always easy. As a
cancer survivor, it is so easy to feel the pressures of needing to change your
entire life over night but instead of trying change everything and succeed at
nothing, try changing one thing at a time; you'll be surprised how long seven
days can last.