I intend to live the rest of my life in a way that reduces my risk of having a recurrence of cancer, I never want to go through this again. Even more than that I never want to go through this again, I never want to put my family through this again. My biggest fear is not dying of cancer, it is getting sick with cancer and putting my children through that and then dying of cancer. I’ve seen what fighting cancer “to the end” looks like (unfortunately), and I cannot imagine my family, especially my children, going through that.
Somethings I know I can do are easy(ish) for me; things like maintaining a healthy weight, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, getting lots of activity. I am thankful that I chose several years to start living this way, because it would be hard to start now after I’ve already been through so much. Eating well and exercising doesn’t feel like a sacrifice to me now, but there was a long time that it did and it would be hard to go through that on the heels of cancer treatment.
There are so many things that they say you should or should not eat to avoid cancer, either a first incidents or a recurrence.
Before I actually got cancer, with the exclusion of cigarettes and sunscreen, I didn’t pay much attention to these things. It seems everything causes cancer one day and cures cancer the next afterall. I even had a motto to justify my use of artificial sweeteners, “chemicals before calories”
There are multiple things that I cannot find a very clear answer on whether or not they could increase my risk of a recurrence, including generally healthy things like avocados and soy and flaxseed. It’s hard sometimes, people send me articles, I read them and my heart starts racing with fear that something I’m joyfully eating (I know that’s an odd term, but if you’ve seen me eat avocado you would know it’s true) is going to make the cancer come back. Then I start googling, and find articles that say the exact opposite. I can find articles that say soy and avocados and flaxseed (and various other things, but those are the ones that come to mind) increase risk of cancer, and that they have protective benefits. What’s a survivor to do? I know people that avoid eating these things, I choose not to. I think having a healthy diet is important, more important than having an anti-cancer diet, especially considering what is and is not anti-cancer seems to change so often, so unless I find compelling evidence that something healthy that I eat regularly can increase risk, I will continue to do that.
But then, what about the things that are proven to increase risk of cancer: Smoking. Alcohol. Charred, red and processed meat, sweeteners.
Alcohol is the only one of these that is hard for me. I do not smoke anyway, nor do I eat meat. In my continued efforts to have a healthier and healthier diet I have decreased my taste for sweetened food, whether it be sugar or with artificial sweeteners, so my occasional use of such items no longer concerns me the way it should have when I was dumping Splenda in my coffee on the daily.
But alcohol is a challenge! I’ve never been a heavy drinker, but I definitely used to have a few drinks every weekend, maybe 2 to 5 depending what we were doing and who we were with, and occasionally on weeknights if I was feeling particularly stressed and wanted to chill a little or wanted to feel extra relaxed while watching Netflix with my husband. I really miss such thoughtless drinking and the relaxation it brought to my life.
On Facebook it is obvious but I am not the only non-alcoholic that craves the warming relaxation that a drink brings, how much this is part of our culture! In my mom groups I swear half the posts and with #MomNeedsWine or something like that, and my friends’ posts are often about wine and other alcoholic concoctions.
I do still drink on occasion, but instead of having 2 to 5 drinks a week, I probably have 1 to 3 drinks a month, and always at social events with friends. I no longer even keep wine at home, so I am not tempted to have a glass to relax in the evening-I have herbal tea instead and save the occasional drink for other times. I don’t need to drink to have fun, but it helps and I wish I could do it more. I even worry about those occasional drinks though the general consensus seems to be that three drinks a week or less does not increase risk, and I drink far less than three a week. But still. There is a very compelling research that alcohol consumption increases risk, and the more alcohol the higher the risk.
However I do think there needs to be some balance between enjoying life and reducing my risk.
The question is, how much balance? Because at the end of the day, if I have a recurrence, then my quality-of-life is not going to be so awesome! Of course I know that I could do “right” and still have a recurrence (or vice versa), but I also know that if I do things that I am well aware increase my risk of a recurrence, and then it happens, I will always wonder if I could above avoided it. I will always question if that occasional glass of wine, diet cola, order of French fries, lazy day where I don’t work out (of course I know that one glass of wine, one diet sode, one order of french fries, one lazy day will change nothing-but even occasional things add up) was worth it and will have to live with that question.
I’m not writing this post to say I know the answer to these questions, because I don’t. I’m not writing it to ask the answer, because I know that nobody has it. There is a lot of gray area in terms of what does and does not reduce risk, and a lot of people need to make a lot of different decisions for their own reasons. I know women who had very similar diagnoses to mine who do not do the hormonal therapies I do, even though the therapies greatly reduce risk of recurrence. However, I am confident they have their own reasons for making their choices, and would never put someone down for that.
I guess my purpose for this post is to share with you all another way that cancer impacts me. People seem to expect but now that I’m done treatment, I’m done, and I gwt to go back to normal. Unfortunately it doesn’t work that way. I will never again be able to live my life without worrying that I have cancer, that its only a matter of time, that something I’m doing might be giving me cancer again. The innocence and ease of so many things about the way I lived my life are gone. My life is still good, my life can continue to be good, but I will never be entirely “over it”, I will never be able to live my life as someone who hasn’t had cancer, and there will always be things (like the article I found today that said that eating avocado increases risk: I eat an awful lot of an avocado!) that bring the fear and trauma back.