Food As Medicine

Have you ever looked into the role food plays when living with cancer?

Early on in my cancer journey, I struggled with eating. Of course, cancer will play havoc with your appetite but for me in these first weeks after my diagnosis, I knew it was psychological. Shocked, scared and stressed, I struggled to manage even the smallest of meals. After voicing my concerns with the nurse, I was advised to eat calorie dense foods such as ice cream, chocolate, meal replacement shakes, full fat milk and cake. To substitue double cream for milk in my tea and coffee. Sounds pretty tempting right?

But, noooooo…….wait a minute!!!!

A chance comment from a fellow cholangiocarcinoma warrior I had connected with on social media changed EVERYTHING about how I decided to tackle my cancer. This young lady was advising me of the changes she had made and one of these was cutting out all sugar as cancer cells use this as their main fuel source.

What followed was months of intensive research into the role food and nutrition play when dealing with a cancer diagnosis. This is a very complex subject with many conflicting information even from those advocating and promoting the benefits of good nutrition. I have waded through just about every book, YouTube video and relevant, popular websites imaginable as well as from several Facebook groups created for cancer patients that encourage a natural approach to healing by ditching processed foods, high sugar, red meat and dairy produce in favour of a vegan, plant based diet. Raw vegetables, fruits, some grains, green tea, herbs and spices feature heavily in most of what I have looked into and now I totally understand why so many cancer patients, myself included, turn to food as an additional weapon in their fight with the Big C.

Photo by Alexandr-Podvalny at Unsplash

By the way…..unless you are incredibly fortunate, don’t expect information or even encouragement from your oncologist in regards to nutrition. You are more likely to draw a blank expression or even discouragement as they focus solely on you getting enough calories and not losing weight. Not their fault or because they don’t care, they are just not trained in this area.

Like I said earlier, this is a huge subject and for me to whittle it down into a few paragraphs as an overview is near impossible……believe me, I have tried!

You will, though, find on my Useful Links page, some links (no surprise there) for amazing websites that have years worth of knowledge and information on this subject, including Chris Beat Cancer, How To Starve Cancer and Eat To Beat. I encourage you to delve into all these sites as they are incedibly informative. They are ALL excellent.

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” – Hippocrates

Probably my favourite book has been from world renowned doctor, scientist and angiogenesis expert, Dr William Li. He wrote the highly successful book, Eat To Beat Disease (click on link to find on Amazon)

The book is pretty heavy going but not difficult to understand. You may find it easier to hear him speak first before diving straight into this read. He can be found on countless YouTube videos and I promise you, you won’t be dissappointed. Just to get you started and to save you searching, I’ve popped two below. The first is actually from back in 2010 and gives an overview of his work/approach but I have also added one from an interview/talk he gave to The Cholangiocarcinoma Foundation. It’s an hour long but goes into much more detail and also features a Q&A section at the end.

I hope you find some useful information to ponder on.

I would like to take this opportunity to say that although I personally think making diet changes plays a huge role in tackling cancer, whether that is to boost immuntiy, target cancer stem cells, use alongside standard treatment to maximise it’s effectiveness or purely to increase energy levels and feel better, I do appreciate that not everyone wants to eat this way, especially if eating itself is a struggle. For myself, the last couple of months have been incredibly difficult and I was lucky to manage even a few grapes some days, which left me feeling incredibly weak. In an effort to regain some energy, I did eat certain foods that probably aren’t ideal but you have to do what’s best for you or the person/loved one you care for. Do whatever is best for you!!!

Much love and strength,

Megan x

Set Back

Hey everyone.

*Warning…..not a positive post I’m afraid, but it’s been a difficult couple of weeks.

Last Monday, I received the news that my CA19-9 tumour marker has shot up to 1262 and I have only now been able to write about it as my mind has been all over the place. This is because this number is only 30 away from my initial reading on diagnosis back in August of last year (2020)

I had a small rise back in January but other than that, my tumour marker has consistently reduced since diagnosis, which was so encouraging. No wonder I was so shocked with this latest result.

What is a tumour marker?

Some types of cancer produce chemicals that can show up in the blood on a blood test. These chemicals are called tumour markers. These will have different names depending on where the cancer is.

CA19-9 (carbohydrate antigen 19-9) is associated with the following:

  • Bile Duct Cancer
  • Colon Cancer
  • Stomach Cancer
  • Pancreatic Cancer.

CA19-9 is used as a diagnositic tool in diagnosis and also used to monitor treatment. The normal range for CA19-9 is 0-37. Throughout treatment, these are used to give an indication of how successful chemo/radiation etc has been. If the munber reduces it could be that you have responded well to treatment and could show tumour shrinkage. A rise could mean that the tumour is growing or treatment is not successful. Sometimes, levels may stay the same and this could mean your disease is stable. (This is a positive even if a little dissappointing at the time)

Although I had expected to (but hoped not to) see a rise of some kind now that I’m on my 3 month break from chemotherapy, I definitely did not think there would be such a sharp rise. Throughout my journey, I have been keeping a record of both tumour markers and tumour size so that when I’m feeling defeated, I can refer back to it and remind myself how far I have come. You can see from the diagram below why I may be feeling slightly alarmed right now.

I had been assured that during my break from treatment, I would be “closely monitored” and should there be a deterioration in my condition, there were options available. With this reassurance, I had felt confident in the care I was/am receiving but unfortunately, I have not heard a thing.

Maybe it’s purely fear but I feel pretty let down right now. I’m not one to constantly phone with every ache and pain, far from it, but I made a couple of calls last week regarding the pain I am in……advice: “try some paracetamol.”

Nothing like being made to feel as though you’re making a fuss over nothing to lift the spirits!

After receiving the news regarding the sharp rise in tumour marker, I genuinely thought I would be getting a call pretty quickly to arrange options.

I haven’t

As a result, I am losing confidence in the team I was so happy to have overseeing my care.

Down times well and truly suck BUT I know better days are to come……

Scan Success

If you have just been diagnosed with cancer, chances are you will have already had a scan or a couple to confirm diagnosis.

Scans are used to detect and monitor cancer and are used periodically throughout your treatment.

You may be required to have any of the following scans:

  • Ultrasound (It was this scan that initially showed a shadow on my liver)
  • CT
  • MRI
  • PET

They are an essential tool in diagnosis as well as determining how effective treatment has been, whether that is medical (chemotherapy, radiotherapy, immunology etc) and/or if you have chosen to take a more natural approach using nutrition, supplements and treatments such as hyperthermia and IVC.

Last week, I received the results from my latest CT scan. The anxiety and fear waiting for these can be utterly crippling, regardless of how positive you may approach your cancer battle.

(Sc)anxiety IS A THING.

Maybe you’re awaiting scan results right now?

I have had a few now and honestly thought I would be able to manage my feelings in regards to the impending results. However, as time drew nearer, I began to feel (and act) irritable, my usual upbeat manner all but diminished as the fear of what I would hear consumed me.

Am I doing enough to support my healing?

Am I deluded in thinking I can beat such an aggressive cancer?

What if I have missed something?

These questions and a LOT more went through my mind in the days running up to that phone call. The self doubt and fear was overwhelming.

I’m fortunate to have a lot of emotional support and everyone assured me that the results would be great, that I am a warrior and have done so much to help myself but I just couldn’t believe it. It had been a month since my last chemotherapy cycle and even for me, who would prefer to take the natural path as treatment, i was worried that without it, there would be a huge growth, especially as my cancer is classed as “poorly differientiated” which means fast growing.

I was informed early on that the gemcitabine and cistplatin, which are standard, first line treatment for bile duct cancer, has limited success. Like all chemotherapy treatments, they cause damage to healthy cells as well as the cancerous ones and also the organs, sometimes to such an extent that the patient dies from organ failure rather than the cancer itself. For someone who also has the heart condition Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, the damage chemotherapy may cause does play on my mind. Chemotherapy floods your body with free radicals which in turn, obliterates your immune system. The problem with this is you need a healthy immune system to help your body repair itself so it can help fight cancer.

Because of all this, I couldn’t WAIT to finish chemotherapy at the time but waiting for these results, I knew that the fear of my scan results showing a growth in my main tumour or metastasis elsewhere in my body would see me desperate to start back on it as soon as possible.

Maybe it was the blood tests I had prior to my last chemo cycle that showed an increase in my CA19-9 that had induced this fear….I haven’t been back for more since.

Eventually, the phone rang and the Dr informed me the scan showed mixed results. I shook so violently that I had to hold the phone in both hands.

There were more “spots” on my lung although this could also be down to having Covid in December

(Update: After a follow up phone call from my oncologist, they no longer think this is the case as i already had spots on the lung before i tested positive for Covid. They will continue to monitor these nodules)

BUT

My main tumour had SHRUNK by 2.5cm!!

Oh, the relief!!!!

This means that my main tumour is now 8cm. Still huge but it’s an overall reduction of 5.5cm in a matter of months.

Also, for the first time, there was a significant reduction in the enlarged lymph nodes.

How will I feel after the next scan? I’d like to think I will feel upbeat and positive but something tells me I will probably go through the same cycle of emotions as that’s exactly how it goes in this game called cancer.

And that’s fine. It’s normal.

Ebbs and flows.

How does waiting for scan results effect you?

Disclaimer. The content on this website is not intended for medical purposes. I have no medical training or background and posts are purely my experiences since recieving my cancer diagnosis. Information shared on this website is based on the research i have carried out. Always consult with a medical practitioner or other qualified health provider.

My “Chemo Holiday”

So, last week, I finally completed my first block of chemotherapy and was all set to begin my “chemo holiday”. This 3 month period is to give my body a rest from treatment and to recover. I had planned to post on the evening of my final chemotherapy cycle, full of excitement and relief, as it was something I had looked forward to since Christmas. The gemcitabine and cisplatin I receive, which is standard treatment for Cholangiocarcinoma, was beginning to take its toll and I longed to have time to heal my body in order to feel strong and healthy again.

I was lucky to tolerate chemotherapy pretty well. My main issue was a reaction to the steroids given before the chemo itself, resulting in puffy eyes and face. Other than that, some fatigue was as bad as it got, which given the amount of toxicity pumped into my body each time, I count myself very lucky.

*Note: If you experience a reaction to the steroids, you can ask them to administer it at a slower rate. Nurses gave me 8ml over 8 minutes (sometimes 10) and that seemed to lessen the effects.

The last couple of chemotherapy sessions were slightly harder going than before but as I was recovering from Covid-19 that’s hardly surprising.

So, when the nurse removed the last cannula I’d thankfully see for a while (my veins have all but given up!) I genuinely thought I would hop, skip and jump out of hospital. THIS was the day I had been waiting for. 

Feeling The Fear

But, over the next few days, I began to feel fearful of what could potentially happen during these 3 months.

What if my main tumour increases in size?

What if it spreads further than my liver and left lung?

Having made so lifestyle changes in order to support my treatment,improve my overall health and of course, beat cancer, the realisation that should there be a progression in my cancer during the next few months, I would probably have to accept that my chances of a longer life really are dependent on chemotherapy. This terrified me (and still does) as the damage chemotherapy causes could lead to organ failure and my immune system becoming so beaten down that i am left weak and at risk of all kinds of infections.

I have put so much time, effort, money and hope into the alternative and natural approach to treatment that the fear it may all be for nothing became overwhelming.

It took several days of reminding myself why I decided to tackle my cancer from all angles and thankfully, the fear began to subside and my faith restored. I realised it won’t all be for nothing as i have, 6 months on from my diagnosis, felt healthier than ever before, especially in comparison to the last 10+ years.

This, as i am learning, is yet another example of the ebbs and flows of this journey. Cancer does this to you. One minute you think you’ve got a grip on it all and next, you’re crippled with fear.

*Edit…..Two weeks on from this post and I’m feeling well and more focused than ever to use my “holiday” as an opportunity to heal. Not only to recover from the effects and damage undoubtedly caused by the chemotherapy and not only in an effort to deplete my body of cancer cells currently invading it, but to heal emotionally, from past traumas and the stress a cancer diagnosis has on you.

I see myself stronger, both physically and mentally. I see myself well.  

I can now, finally, look forward to making plans (once Covid restrictions are lifted)

……now, would somebody please pass me the sun cream?

I would love to hear your experiences during a break from treatment.

Are you or someone you know on a break from treatment?

What impact did your treatment break have on you?