Tuesday, June 12, 2012

a box of health and love.

Many of you already know that my father died of cancer (lymphoma) and my mom had cancer last year (breast cancer) from which she has thankfully totally recovered. Going through cancer with both of my parents was difficult and scary. Probably the hardest part about it, besides the awful treatments and physical side effects, is just the sense that this out-of-control force has entered our lives.  Cancer just cannot be trusted.  I learned this the hard way when my dad's prognosis was so promising, the treatments were almost sure to work, but then his tumor didn't respond as the doctor's predicted, and he died 11 months later.  So as you can imagine, even when my mom's doctor gave us a very promising prognosis for my mom's cancer, I just had that same feeling, that feeling that cancer was sneaky and unpredictable and scary, and it just made us all very anxious.

 I will admit I'm terrified of cancer.  If one of my kids gets an unexplained bruise or a swollen gland, my blood runs cold.  A few years ago, I had a lump in my breast that needed checking, and I had to wait a week before I could get in for a mammogram.  I spent that week in a state of total panic, certain I was going to die and leave my children motherless.   It turned out to be nothing, but I'm still scared that cancer is lurking somewhere in my future.

Then my mom's youngest sister, my Aunt Ellen who lives in Northern California, also developed breast cancer this year.  Now that means that cancer is potentially genetically a part of my family, that my mom's other sister, my siblings and I, and all of my cousins are at risk.  My Aunt Ellen has already had surgery and has a very promising prognosis, but she has been very motivated to get proactive about fighting cancer and making sure it never comes back into her body again.  Ellen is an incredibly smart, savvy, progressive thinker, and it does not surprise me that she has made it her current life's work (she just retired from a long and successful career as a teacher) to understand cancer and all that she can do to fight it/ avoid it.

Makes sense, right?  Faced with that powerless feeling that cancer evokes, Ellen has taken control of everything she can.

Here is something incredible to think about:  "Everyone of us has cancer cells in our bodies, but not all of us will develop cancer."  There are things we can do to keep these cancer cells from turning into tumors and disease.  There are some things within our control.  

Last week, I came home and found a totally unexpected box from Ellen sitting on my porch.  Inside was a long letter that began:  "Your Anti-Cancer Care Package has arrived."  Ellen has completely changed her diet since her diagnosis, has done a lot of research, read a lot of books, and then compiled much of what she has learned into an information packet for me and my siblings and all of our cousins.  This has been an ambitious (and expensive) undertaking, and we are so very lucky and grateful.

My care package contained, along with a packet of recipes and information: 

All-natural, chemical and aluminum free body products:  lotion, deodorant and soap.

organic dark chocolate and organic green tea, both recommended as part of an anti-cancer diet
Chemical-free and preservative-free shampoo, conditioner and shower gel that smell amazing.

Organic Red Lentils (and she sent a delicious sounding recipe for Red Lentil soup with veggies, coconut milk, and lime juice that I will post once I make it.) 

berries and cherries are recommended as anti-cancer foods.  This all natural fruit spread is awesome.

Tumeric:  Combined with black pepper, this spice is recommended to eat every day on an anti-cancer diet.
After reading the books Anticancer:  A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan, and Cancer Fighting Kitchen, by Rebecca Katz, my Aunt Ellen recommends the following diet.

Fill your diet with:
A diet that is primarily plant-based and full of whole foods...
Organic meats, dairy and eggs, in moderation
Organic produce, at least the "dirty dozen."  *
Green tea, 2-3 cups a day
Fresh, organic juices, especially pomegranate, blueberry, citrus, and carrot
Coconut water
Nuts:  almonds, almond butter, walnuts and pecans
Starches:  brown rice, quinoa, multi-grain breads
Beans:  lentils, garbanzos and split peas
Fish:  salmon, sardines, halibut and shrimp, all wild caught whenever possible
Oils:  olive, flaxseed, coconut.
Sweeteners:  Agave nectar, stevia, maple syrup and honey
Sweets:  Dark Chocolate, at least 70% cocoa
Alcohol:  minimal alcohol, but a glass of red wine 3-4 days a week may be beneficial

Foods to avoid at all costs:
sugar, corn syrup, sodas, diet sodas, sweetened drinks, processed meats, refined foods (white flours, rice), highly processed foods, sunflower oil, corn oil, and safflower oil.

Lifestyle reminders:   Your chances of developing cancer are lessened if you exercise, meditate, and get enough rest in your life, and avoid alcohol and stress.  Use natural and organic cosmetics free of parabens and phthalates.  Use white vinegar or natural cleaning products.  Use glass or ceramic containers when reheating foods in the microwave, and never plastic. 

* Dirty Dozen.
If you cannot buy exclusively organic produce (I know.  It's expensive), you should at least buy organic for these 12 foods  Non-organic versions of these foods are especially laden with pesticides:
1.  apples
2.  celery
3.  strawberries
4.  peaches
5.  spinach
6.  nectarines
7.  grapes
8.  sweet bell peppers
9.  potatoes
10.  blueberries
11.  lettuce
12.  kale

By the way, this list scares the hell out of me because I eat large quantities of 11 of these (all but celery). 

Thank you, Ellen, for the box of love and knowledge, and for all of the thought and care that went into it.  I feel lucky to have such a smart and supportive family, and this box has given me a lot to think about, a lot of good reminders about the notion that we do have some control over our health.  We don't need to just sit back and worry about when cancer will strike, but we do have ownership over our bodies.

I keep thinking this:  I have one life!  Just one!  How could I not do my best job taking care of myself and my family? 


love is written here said...

love that she sent this to you, so sorry she is struggling (sending you love Ellen!) and want the recipes. the dirty dozen scares me silly too because we eat a lot of organic but we eat such volume of produce, it isn't conceivable to buy it all organically.

Christy cook said...

Thank you so much for sharing. I'm trying to change my lifestyle to set an example for my daughter.

Brooke said...

This is one of my very favorite posts. Thank you to both you and Ellen.

Angela said...

Love this and sending lots of positive & healthy thoughts to each and every member of your family. I buy organic dirty dozen foods religiously (95% of the time) & also pretty much all organic or all natural cleaning and health care products but occasionally start to slip when money is tight or one reason or another but this is SUCH a great reminder about why it's so important. Thanks for posting.