I changed my diet and I think it helped me immensely. However, MDs I have talked to about the changes I made seem to think what I’ve done is silly and useless. There is little mainstream medical support out there for changing your diet. So keep that in mind. None of what I say here should be considered medical advice. It’s just what I did.
The first thing anyone asks me, after they learn about my diagnosis and my current state of health, is “What are you eating?” There’s a belief out there that we can turn anything around by eating differently, perhaps adding some herbs here and there. I can’t prove that it’s true, but I suspect it has a lot of truth in it. It just makes sense that what you eat affects the state of your body’s health. I believe that everything we consume, be it food, water, television, video games, sports, books, will either build us up or tear us down. Tearing down is a natural part of life, our bodies would suffer if we weren’t able to eliminate the old, the tired, the toxic. When you’re healthy and strong, there’s lots you can put in your body that isn’t particularly good for it but your innate health will keep you going. But I wasn’t healthy and my body reacted badly to poor food. I felt rather fragile, my digestion was iffy and so I tried to only put into me what pleased my body’s needs and health. It’s not like I’d eaten poorly before; still some foods, like processed meats, I eliminated entirely. Some foods, like fresh fruits and veggies, I increased and some (like brussels sprouts) I reluctantly added. In the early days of my diagnosis, I came across some studies on the web pointing to salt as being a causative factor for pancreatic cancer. Now, I love salt but even I was amazed at how fast I got salt out of my diet. Fear can cause wondrous changes. What I have eliminated from my diet: processed foods, additives – food coloring, preservatives, etc – non-organic meat and dairy, sugary foods. My bottom line is to eat fresh and in season where possible, be observant and choosy when it isn’t. And just one more thing: I haven’t named what I have used. Early on, someone who had the same diagnosis asked me to share with her what I’d done – and I did. She emailed me back and said she’d gone out and bought everything; she has since died. Obviously what worked for me didn’t work for her. I believe that each of us responds to and needs different things, so it follows that what worked for me might not be at all right for you. I don’t believe there’s any one thing, any silver bullet out there for everyone. We need to find out what works for each of us individually.
Update 10/2013 Just finished reading Eating on the Wild Side by Jo Robinson. She has done an amazing job summarizing current research on food. What she found was that a lot of the bitterness has been eliminated from our food and, it turns out, we need it for our health. For example, a substance called naringin, mostly bred out of grapefruit, slows tumor growth and lowers LDL cholesterol. The book lists the best selections for health from different foods. It’s listed in Resources
I think the most important change I made on the physical level was to eat organically. I hadn’t been eating a lot of organic because it’s so expensive. But with some strategies from the Anti-Cancer book, I have been managing to eat organically and still stay within my food budget. I doubt it’s a magic pill, but to eat better and cleaner just made sense (and there’s some research on the horizon that is finding organic food is actually more nutrient/antioxidant rich). I figured anything that would reduce the toxic load on my body had to help. Certainly my poor liver would thank me. My strategy, at least in the beginning, was to protect my liver first and foremost – it is a common site for pancreatic cancer metastases. I thought supporting my liver would give me a better quality of life and might even prolong it. There are two people that helped me learn what foods to eat during the first years of my diagnosis. The first is Dr. David Servan-Schreiber who wrote the book Anti-Cancer; it became my cancer bible. He was my guru during this period and many of the things I will mention here are covered in depth in his book. Dr. Servan-Schreiber had a brain tumor and dove deep into the research about cancer and cancer prevention. He has been my guide through this cancer forest and has distilled in his book the essence of how persons with cancer can help themselves. In his book are valuable lists that include which vegetables and fruits carry the heaviest pesticide load and which are safe, which household products to avoid, which foods are best for different cancers, what level of exercise is best for certain cancers, anti-cancer shopping lists. This is a treasure trove for those of us with cancer. From him I have learned to buy only organically grown (and pastured) meat. The same with eggs and dairy. (Dr. Servan-Schreiber died in 2011 but he felt he had given himself another 20 years by following his own suggestions. I hope he realized how many people he helped. I owe him a deep debt of gratitude). If I only had one book to rely on, I would choose this one. Since you have hung in here for this long, here’s Dr. Servan-Schreiber discussing his perspectives on YouTube. It’s almost an hour long but worth the time:
The second doctor whose advice I follow is Dr. Richard Beliveau. He has very specific recommendations on what food to eat, in what quantities and how often. He lists 20 foods, generally around a ½ cup serving, that are eaten three times a week.When I first saw the amount, it was overwhelming. I didn’t know how I was going to eat it all in a week, so I bought everything recommended, lined it all out on my kitchen counter and put aside one day’s food. I had seven little boxes with the food for each day in it (some needs refrigeration, some doesn’t). After awhile, I got the hang of it so I don’t use the boxes anymore, but it got me through that initial phase. Dr. Beliveau has two books: Food to Fight Cancer and Cooking with Foods That Fight Cancer. This is what I’ve worked out over time. For example, Dr. Beliveau recommends one-half cup of legumes three times a week (1 1/2 cups dried). This makes a great pot of lentil soup with some left over to sprinkle on salads. I’m not crazy about wine or chocolate (I know, who is this woman?) and I have never made the wine recommendation but 20 grams of chocolate isn’t that much. In the list is algae every day (another name for seaweed). Don’t panic, it isn’t that bad. If you put a few pieces of dried kelp (for example) into whatever you’re cooking, it quickly softens, doesn’t add much of anything to the taste of the dish (maybe a little saltiness) and can be pulled out before serving, cut into tiny pieces and put back into the dish. No one noticed, not even me, and I knew it was there. Also there was the issue of Brussels sprouts. This may not be your least favorite veggie, but it is mine. There’s not one way I have fixed them that has appealed to me and I probably don’t make my weekly quota but I try. I have found cutting them up raw and putting them in salads helps. I’ve also added them to juice with other veggies and fruits and did not taste them at all – but still get the nutrient power they offer.
Whatever I found on the list I didn’t like, I could find a work-around for. So here I get on my soapbox; most of my friends think I’m a little crazy on this subject. Let me say a little something about GMO foods. I don’t eat them; eating organically, you will avoid them by default. There is a lot of talk, a lot of bad statistics being thrown around, and a lot of confusion about them. Many say that we’ve been doing this for thousands of years. Well, yes, we have. We have crossed lemons with oranges, plums and apricots, tangerines and grapefruits, the list is very long. But not vegetables with genes from insects, bacteria, fish; this is a whole new order of change. Since there are so many conflicting opinions (and facts) about this, my decision is based on common sense. I understand that the bar for the FDA to approve GMOs is a 90 day test, done by the company that is applying for the approval. Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it for me. I think it will take at least a human generation, probably two, to really know if our systems will tolerate these foods. I’m not willing to be a guinea pig. If they aren’t organic, I don’t eat beets, soybeans, corn. That includes the oil that’s made from them, the additives made from them (e.g.. maltodextrin), and in the case of beets, sugar made from them. Sadly most papayas from Hawaii are GMO (news flash, 2014. Hawaii has banned GMO papaya). Most canola oil is GMO. Surprisingly, so is zucchini and yellow squash (that’s a hard one for me to figure out. It’s not like there’s a shortage and they needed to grow more. Are you pining for more zucchini?).
I also drank a lot of freshly made juices, including lots of greens. I already had a juicer so I would fix up something fresh, drink it down and feel perfectly splendid. There are SO many books on juicing (I just went to Amazon and typed in “juicing for cancer” and got pages of books on this). I used a lot of beets, celery, apples, spinach and kale, carrots, broccoli, ginger (and yes, Brussels sprouts). I haven’t actually followed any books on this, just used the food that Dr. Beliveau and Dr. Servan-Schreiber recommended. Also at this point I should probably mention “Crazy, Sexy Cancer.” Kris Carr is a young woman who was diagnosed with cancer and produced a documentary about her search for a cure. Juicing had a prominent role in her journey. Her DVD is on Netflix. I’m not suggesting this as a path. I actually think juicing is a tad overhyped, but the way I did it helped me get my daily quota of veggies and fruits.
During the first years of my diagnosis, I had a very strong cravings for beets and avocados. I ate a lot of them, probably an avocado a day, and a bunch of beets and greens every other day. I just read a study that said cravings for food did not correlate with healing; still, that doesn’t seem logical to me or fit with my experience and I’m waiting for further studies. I have a feeling our bodies are wiser in this regard than our belief systems about food. I suspect that if a body is demanding something, it very well may be something it needs (later on I did read that beets and their greens are very good for detoxing the liver). Also during the first two years, I drank a LOT of kombucha and kefir. They were often the only things that didn’t make my digestive system rebel. I could keep them down easily; they didn’t seem to put too big a load on my digestion and they kept me going. Kombucha has a reputation as an anti-cancer drink, but I don’t know if that’s true or not. I do know that it supported me greatly and I still drink it every day.
I took, and still take, a lot of specific supplements. Many are traditional cancer fighters, some boost immunity, some ease the burden on my digestive system. I believe herbs ARE medicine and like any medicine, they need to be prescribed by someone trained in their properties, uses and interactions. I have thought long and hard about sharing what supplements and herbs I took and continue to take. But I decided against giving you specifics because (1) what works for me might not work for you, and (2) because herbs are powerful and should never to taken lightly, or combined wrongly. They need to be recommended by someone trained in their properties. Fortunately for me, I know a master herbalist and she helped me pick and choose what my body needed. However, in my experience, master herbalists are hard to find. Going into an herb store and asking a question might get you good advice or terrible advice (I have overheard things suggested that made my hair stand on end). If I hadn’t known this herbalist, I would have gone to a Naturopathic doctor (ND) for recommendations. To the best of my knowledge, they are the only licensed professionals trained in the combined knowledge and skills of prescribing herbs, supplements and homeopathics, drug/herb interactions and supportive nutrition. So, bottom line, I think supplementation is a good thing. It just needs to be tailored to your specific body, your specific disease and done in coordination with any procedures or medications that your doctor(s) is prescribing.