Has nutrition, diet, and exercise become a more important part of your daily life?
I was asked this question recently. There is no short answer to this question, however, if I needed to give one it would be no. Now, let me explain why that would be the most direct answer I would be able to give.
Shortly after my medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) diagnosis, I made many changes to my lifestyle. I added more fruits and vegetables to my diet. I cut out many of the sugary foods I was consuming, I started drinking only lemon water or tea. I removed caffeine and pork from my intake. And that’s just to name a few.
The exercise part of changing my lifestyle was a harder one to change. Simply because I was in a tremendous amount of pain after surgery. I was also limited in the movements I was able to do, or the length of times I was able to walk.
I remember one walk vividly in my mind in particular. My husband and I decided it would be a good idea to walk around our neighborhood for a little while. I think the plan was to walk about 2 blocks or so. Doesn’t sound all that far that does it? Well, I managed to walk to our destination, but hardly made it back. I almost collapsed right there on the sidewalk. We were only about half a block from our house, but I seriously considered sending my husband ahead and getting the car to get me back home.
Somehow, I dragged myself to our house, up the stairs, and onto the couch, where I promptly ingested painkillers and fell asleep. I was so exhausted. After that, I don’t know if you want to call it PTSD, but I would avoid walks, or any exercise until I knew exactly how my body would react to it. In some ways, I think I still avoid exercise to some degree to this day.
When one receives a cancer diagnosis, many well-meaning people will come to give unsolicited advice about cures they have come across. Many of these include changes to one’s diet and exercise. In the first few months, I have tried following some of these ideas and suggestions. Some of them were slightly out of my comfort zone, which was the reason I never tried some of them.
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After almost a year of trying to live a healthier lifestyle, I came to the conclusion that it seemed futile for my particular cancer. Sure, there are a few cancers that do react to changes in lifestyle, especially environmentally driven cancers. In my case, however, I underwent surgery, 30 radiation treatments, while also changing my lifestyle. All of this, just to find reoccurrence in the same area which was operated on as well as radiated. To say I was disappointed, scared, and angry about this development, would be an understatement.
I believed I had changed my life so much. I changed how I ate and which beauty products and medications I used, which seemed to have done nothing to keep my cancer at bay. I felt as if I had stopped living an enjoyable life in order to prolong my life, which now looked to not be the case.
At this moment, I decided to do my own small experiment on my body. I had just spent a year denying myself some of the things I would have loved to enjoy in and taking medications and home remedies I could barely stomach. Often times I couldn’t even keep them down at all. I have developed a sensitivity to the smells of these remedies, which still makes me nauseated whenever I come across them.
So, I started to stop some and eventually all of these things and see how my body would react. With surprise, I noted no actual change in any of my cancer markers or growth in my tumors after my second surgery took care of the recurrence.
All of this, made me come to the conclusion I could enjoy life to whatever extent I want. Meaning, if I wanted to eat ice cream, then I would eat ice cream. If I wanted to be vegetarian for a while, I would eat like that for a while.
So, in order to answer the question, yes, diet and exercise did become more important in my life for about 1 year after my diagnosis. However, after this, I decided to not spend so much time focused on this area of my life.
Other MTC patients have shared their very different experiences with me, where both diet and exercise have become a major part of their life. It just hasn’t been the case in my particular situation.