Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cancer On 120 Grams of Protein A Day

When I was pregnant, my diet wasn't good. The What To Expect When You're Expecting, superior-type granolas would not have approved! But I was very scrupulous about my daily vitamins, extra folic acid, and calcium. Almost the day after I had my baby, however, my discipline toward supplements dropped off to nothing. With the pressure of gestating a human off me, I felt free to slack off.

Even before my cancer diagnosis I had returned — somewhat happily — to a new regime of taking supplements for so-called brain health, mostly vitamins and some amino acids (like tyrosine and GABA+). When I was diagnosed, I snagged an appointment with Mr. Sought-After Nutritionist, Ph.D. Sought-After added some things to my regimen, namely taurine, glutamine, CoQ10, and melatonin.

Taurine is one of the things in the energy drink, Red Bull (ew).

Glutamine powder, mixed in a small amount of water, supposedly grows a barrier on the gut and helps with neuropathy (tingling in the extremities). I know that when I was on chemo if I missed one of my thrice-daily doses of glutamine, my burned-from-the-inside-out feeling got worse. I never had any mouth sores nor any neuropathy, which are common side effects of chemo. Glutamine has the texture of that same grit they use to polish your teeth when you go to the dentist, but very little taste. It doesn't stay in suspension very long, so it helps to down it fast from a tiny Dixie cup. My brother called it booger juice, but it really didn't bother me to use it. Its benefits were so noticeable.

CoQ10 supports the soft tissues and protects heart health. High quality CoQ10 is not cheap. I had to avoid it and my vitamins the day before, the day of, and the day after a chemo infusion so as to not interfere with the cancer treatment. My heart used to be healthy before they gave me chemotherapy and I'd like to think it's still all right.

Melatonin had kind of a heyday about 15 years ago or so as an insomnia fighter. It doesn't cause drowsiness. It seems to work by sitting on estrogen receptor sites and cuts down on estrogen in the body. Estrogen keeps women awake at night, and it fuels tumors.

I also added DIM, another supplement that has a role in estrogen processing. It's not cheap to use it, either. Luckily, our health plan offers a discount on this particular supplement.

My new regimen also included a low glycemic diet, which indicates no tropical fruit or white flour. No salads made of leaf lettuce — too dirty for a person with a compromised immune system. Add 8 oz of a processed tomato product every day — lycopene fights cancer. Eat 120 grams of protein daily — all kinds, all sources, including red meat twice a week.

This last one was much harder to do than you would think. For example, 8 oz of red meat only has about 64 grams of protein. You still have another 60 to go. Eat a pound of steak, then? Maybe not. Check the nutrition information on a food label some time and you can see how difficult this really is. I'm pretty sure I mostly did not ever get up to 120 grams of protein every day. I bet I got half of that. It's a pain in the neck to keep track of. I can only drink so many whey protein smoothies before I feel annoyed about it. A great protein source is that Fage Greek yogurt — 15 grams in a serving! The word is out about Fage. HEB was totally out of it when I went there the other day. But even so, you still have about 100 grams of protein to consume, somehow.

I'm talking in past tense because, with the horrid chemo out of my life and that crisis now over, I feel pretty slacker-ish again. When will I ever learn? A fellow cancer patient recently admitted to me that she, too, is often AWOL from her supplements. How much better could she feel if she would just get on board and stay there? As you can see, there is a lot of self-reprimanding we do. We have to be model patients, after all. We have to do our cancer the right way. Everyone's looking. I'm supposed to still be on all of this stuff, all the way through radiation.

I wistfully nibbled only a little salad when I was on chemo, dreaming of the day it was no longer off limits to me. I'm a little surprised that I'm not enjoying it now the way I thought I would. I nearly forget to buy lettuce when I shop now, having steered clear of it for six months. Organic leaf lettuce has gone up since I last bought it, I was kind of shocked. I'm also still skipping eating bananas, melon, and pineapple. After you eliminate something from your diet, it's harder to return to it than you think.

My taste buds aren't wrecked anymore, with chemo over, and that metallic taste is gone. But I still feel like I'm not really experiencing food the same way I did before I began to be treated for cancer. My late therapist described the condition of depression as, "The salt is gone out of life." I still feel like the salt is gone out of eating. It holds so little pleasure, not in its anticipation, nor in its reality.

Some of this could be attributable to our household's new, gluten-free regimen. But that is another story.

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