Kevin Berry is an 13-year mantle cell lymphoma survivor, in his third remission. He works on Human Spaceflight programs, is a freelance writer and editor, and supports newly diagnosed patients through his ministry, Taking Vienna. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and adult children.
This is the second in my series of lessons learned from nearly 13 years of living with cancer. The first, Guilt Is Good
, focused on "negative motivation" to encourage folks to get checkups, hoping for early discovery and intervention.
Quick recap of the life of Kevin: I'm the victim of a rare cancer called mantle cell lymphoma. I'm now on my third round of it, after two bone marrow transplants, and nearly a dozen other types of treatment. Thanks to receiving the best medical care in the world, backed by top-notch benefits, keeping right on the edge of medical science, I'm in remission for the third time, feel great, am exercising, working and completely enjoying life.
In my first offering, I address friends and family that don't
have cancer. In this one, I'm dispensing wisdom-like opinions for both survivors and the lucky ones who haven't had the adventure. Today, we're talking diet and lifestyle. Specifically, making small changes that might have big benefits.
Disclaimer: I'm not a medical professional, nor a dietician, nor a personal trainer. What I am is a well-education science nerd slash rocket engineer with a medically kept family and LOTS of motivation to stay healthy. So please take my advice as opinion, not fact.
The changes I'm talking about aren't new wave, odd, eat only weird stuff kind of changes. In my opinion, if you can change your diet by 25 percent, you will make HUGE strides towards fighting off cancer and living a healthier lifestyle. Let's look at that. Say you, like most of us, eat four times a day: three meals and a snack. That's 28 meals a week. Start small and change just one of those 28 the first week, another the second, and in seven weeks you'll meet the goal.
What change? Easy ones. Say you and buddy go to Fast Food Paradise for lunch. Instead of the Meal Deal, each of you get the burger. But split a small fry. You'll get enough. Diet soda? Sure. But fill it FULL of ice. If they have the little "soda only" button, put in a bit. Refill? Add more ice, more plain soda, don't top up the foam. You'll wind up drinking a lot less syrup each visit.
How about portion size? Don't put the food on the table. Leave it in the kitchen. Take a smaller than normal portion, and when done, sit and chat a bit. If you really want more, get up, walk over, take a spoonful, and sit back down. Repeat if desired. But I bet you won't!
Easiest of all? Antioxidants. Take a look at the list of 20 highest anti-oxidant foods. (This is what hooked me). Good Stuff Good For You
Beans and blueberries. Really. No matter which list you look at, I happen to like almost ALL of it. I add a cup of blueberries to my morning cereal (see below); I eat beans all the time anyway; I love nuts. Artichoke hearts? Great for you. Yum.
Something harder, but worth it, are organic foods. You can't do it all organic, so pick your battles and financial impact. Milk must be done. You, and your kids, don't need any more hormones.
Produce? We focus on the leafy vegetables, and try to also pick canned organic where possible. It costs, though, so just try your best.
Processed foods? That's where I scored my biggest percentage gain. I ALWAYS ate some sort of low-sugared cereal, but they still had some sugar, preservatives, etc. Now? Breakfast is shredded wheat. Read the ingredients. Wheat. Just that. I add in frozen or fresh fruit, sprinkle on a bit of Stevia, skim organic milk, and eat till I burst. There are five of my 28 meals scored (weekends I tend to vary from this).
Some of my snacks were always snack mix, I love it. Now I use lots of nuts, dried cranberries, maybe some organic pretzels. Low-butter popcorn. And yes, sometimes (often) I eat ice cream. I tried switching to organic and using a little bowl, but so far that's a big fail. I still have a pretty bad jones for real ice cream in large portions!
Cut down on the amount of meat, especially red meat. Again, you're only looking for a 25 percent change, not a radical diet. Go organic on the meat, red or white. Plus, the price will automatically downsize your intake.
Exercise is easy to increase a little bit, if you don't have a physical impairment. At the store, park far away instead of fighting for a close spot. You say you never have time for a walk, but you always seem to have time for the store. Add five minutes by parking out of the fray. Take the stairs at work. ALWAYS take stairs down, up to six flights. Gravity works.
And, if you think the tips above are too hard, please read my section on motivation in the previous post. Short version: a quick trip with your favorite patient to the infusion center might make shredded wheat and organic chicken seem a lot more attractive.
Now you've got step two of my theory, along with another heaping helping of motivation. I hope you might change just one meal, this week, and then take it to the full 25 percent.