One of the difficult aspects of cancer for me was the task of telling my loved ones that I had this dreaded disease, especially my Mother. This happened shortly before her 88th Birthday and I was fully aware that her first response to this diagnosis would be something like wishing that she could change places with me. That’s how my Mother is, and I believe most Mothers are.
Over the next few days as we picked ourselves up from the shock, I mentioned to her that humour was good for the immune system, so our job would be to find something funny about this situation everyday. Actually I said “it is your job to find something funny every day and tell me about it.”
My Mother has a reputation for resilience and facing reality square on and she is never one to step away from a challenge. So next evening before bed-time, I got a call from Mother. “Trudy,” she said,” I told you many times that you shouldn’t have been eating all that organic food these past 25 years. Now look at what has gone and happened.” We laughed out loud about all my idiosyncracies and fussiness and rules around food. And I blessed her sweet heart for rising to this challenge.
The subject of food, however, often comes up, when people who know me discuss the whys and wherefores of cancer. Things like, how could this happen to you, when you always ate so well? Some people look at it as unfair, as a betrayal of what they had been taught about lifestyle and cancer. I did not. And this is why.
There simply are no guarantees, no matter what we do. There is no formula that can protect us from suffering, accidents, heartbreak, disappointments and ultimately death. I ate what I ate because I believed that it was the best I could do to up my chances for a healthy and good quality of life, while I was alive. I also ate the way I ate because I believed it was good for the small farmers, the environment and sustainable community and because the food tasted better. I never believed that if I ate “only the right things” and in sufficient quantity that my good health was guaranteed.
The funny thing about statistics is that it gives us a snapshot of trends in a large population but it doesn’t address the individual, me or you. I do believe the research that shows the best defense we have against serious illness is to follow the guidelines of eating our fruits and vegetables, moving our bodies, mending our fences, not smoking etc. and when we do all that and still get sick, it doesn’t mean it’s not true. It just means we don’t have all the answers.
In my case, I don’t believe that my body let me down. I don’t believe that there was something else I could have done or should have done that would have protected me. I don’t know why I got cancer. I think it was the luck of the draw. And what I have been told, over and over again, from my medical team is that the best thing I’ve got going for me is my overall good health. (You have to see the irony in that statement) :-) So the good food didn’t “save” me from cancer but it did keep my body in good running order so that I am now better equipped to deal with the treatment. The good food isn’t a guarantee and it won’t “save” me from recurrence or death but it is still the food that I will continue to eat, except of course when I don’t.
Like now. And I find this hilarious. Just this minute I went to the fridge and poured myself a glass of coca cola with an ice cube. And around four o’clock today I will boil water and add a package of the unhealthy type of Ichiban noodles and relish every bite. Why? Because in the week I receive my chemo therapy, most healthy food tastes terrible. What my body seems to want is white rice, white noodles, pop-sicles (not the fruit kind) coca cola ginger ale, que pasa taco chips, certain chocolates, gummy bears, toast. Imagine! I haven’t had a coke since I was 15 and that’s what my body wants now.
With thanks to Camellia, my oncology nurse, I eat what I can eat without guilt. She instructed me to “eat whatever you can eat that first week, and it doesn’t matter if it is taco chips.” And so I do. And by day two of the second week it is a “blueberry bran muffin kind of day.” On that day I feel normal, myself. I even made a pan of those muffins last time. And so on that day I go back to eating the food I always preferred and that is good for me too.
Having cancer has meant for me amongst many things, letting go of all those “absolute” ideas I had about food. Now I am learning to chuckle at the odd combinations of food that my body wants. And to relish the “good food days” when tastes and smells return as old friends.
So now we laugh at four o’clock noodles seeing it as a metaphor for letting go of old notions about absolutely everything.
And someone else wrote me, “What I want is to know your own experience of illness.” Why the interest? People on their ailments are not always interesting, far from it. But we all hope for a – must I say the word – recipe, we all believe, however much we know we shouldn’t, that maybe somebody’s got that recipe and can show us how not to get sick, suffer and die. Nan Shin, Diary of a Zen Nun: Every Day Living