Part I1 – When Your Body Doesn’t Cooperate.
In Part I of this blog, I wrote about spending my life and career completely invested in the view that if I ate healthy, incorporated cancer fighting foods into my diet and exercised regularly, I would most likely not have major health issues. This assumption was completely upended when I was diagnosed with cancer. My view of what was healthy had to change.
My pelvic radiation treatment created serious GI distress. I had to give up my notions of whole grains, green foods, fruits and veggies. I couldn’t tolerate any of them. My “health foods” became anything I could tolerate. Most of the foods that I could eat were bland and white; white rice, white bread, white pasta and potatoes. These are foods that in my pre-cancer life, I would rarely have eaten. I had to come to terms with the change in my definition of healthy food. I needed any food that my system would accept.
After my treatment was finished, my task was to try to rebuild my body. This path was filled with twists and turns. I would try a food and I may or may not be able to tolerate it and I would have to start all over again. Again, the notion of “healthy food” was challenged. I was coming to accept that I was going to have to permanently rethink my old notions of prevention and accept that doing the best I could was good enough.
Chemotherapy and radiation can take its toll on a person’s ability to tolerate food. The treatments target the rapidly dividing cells in the body. Cancer cells are in this category and so are the cells of the nose, mouth and digestive tract. Treatment can damage the taste buds and salivary glands in the mouth. It can also alter the bacteria in the digestive system This can lead to changes in sense of smell, and taste. Foods that normally tasted fine can taste bitter, salty, metallic or too sweet. One of my clients recently shared with me that any packaged broth tasted like metal to her. This is most likely a result of her chemotherapy treatment.
Establishing a “new normal” after treatment can be really challenging. Not only does it involve the physical tasks of recovery and learning to live with the changes that have taken place in your body, but it can sometimes require you to rework you thoughts and beliefs about health and what is healthy for you . My experience both with myself and in working with my clients is the need to relax our standards and expectations. Frequently, we are the ones that hold up the standard of perfection to ourselves. If we can’t get back to where we were before we had cancer, then we are at fault. This isn’t fair or realistic but we do it to ourselves anyway.
In my work, I spend a good deal of time helping people to figure out what is best for themselves physically, in their relationship with food and their expectations of themselves. This ALWAYS involves practicing kindness to self and relaxing the beliefs that may once have been the cornerstone of their lives. I struggled with my own concept of healthy eating and I had to learn to accept that health meant something different to me post cancer than pre-cancer. It is a challenge, but it can be done.