To begin this blog post, I want to make sure readers are aware that I am not a dietician or a medical professional in any field. I am simply the mother of a young woman diagnosed with breast cancer who has the ability to do online research like anyone else.
I do my best to dig into sources of information to make sure I am not being led astray by the latest articles touting a miracle cure or the certainty of a prevention model for anything, let alone cancer. And what I find are so many contradictions that it’s enough to drive me to drink…but apparently not a glass of wine because although it’s great for my heart (and unlike cancer there is enough heart disease in my bloodline to scare even the bravest of souls) there are studies out there linking alcohol to SO many types of cancer it feels like it’s a game of what will get me first.
When my daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, one piece of online advice I saw multiple times was that she should avoid sugar because it “feeds the cancer.” My first thought on that since I was going to be making meals for us during treatment was, “Alrighty then! No more sugar for her!” Sugar is a problem for several different diseases like diabetes and obesity so of course it must be the same for cancer. Made sense to me.
And then I started to dig.
Several reputable cancer websites have “Myth and Fact” pages, and they all say that there have been no randomized control trials that demonstrate that eating sugar contributes to either getting cancer or of sugar hyper-feeding cancer once the mutated cells start dividing. Yet this myth is powerful enough that I know of a least one acquaintance whose doctor put her on a no-sugar diet when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. It sparks agitated discussion on social media with participants expressing themselves very passionately on either side of the argument. There are pages and pages of peer-reviewed research studies looking at the relationship between the two, so a lot of money is being spent to find the proof. And I think I understand why.
Just as there must be a reason, there must be something different we can do to tame the beast once it has moved in, right?
In the grand scheme of things, there have been limited changes in how we treat cancer in the last 25 years. Yes, there have been advances in targeted and hormonal therapy but for the most part treatment usually includes one or all of the big three: chemotherapy, radiation, surgery. My daughter’s plan had all of these, and the physical impact on her young body was enormous and she continues to struggle with side effects three years later, and for some of them will for the rest of her life.
If there were something, ANYTHING, that could have allowed her to skip chemotherapy, that could have allowed her to make changes to her lifestyle that would have killed her cancer cells without the ordeal of medications so toxic that the nurses administering them were dressed in the equivalent of hazmat suits, I’m fairly confident she would have chosen that route.
But according to the peer-reviewed articles I have seen, there isn’t.
I think we can all agree that what we eat can have an impact on our health and there are studies with robust science behind them that bear that out. But each cancer case is like a snowflake in that no two are exactly the same. One person may have cut out sugar and is in remission while another may have eaten perfectly their whole life and die of the same disease. One person may smoke cigarettes for 60 years and not get lung cancer while the marathon runner does. And one healthy, balanced 27-year-old woman may be diagnosed with breast cancer while all of her friends are living their lives without the trauma.
Maybe one day the link between sugar and cancer will be definitively proven and if it is, I will accept that and act accordingly. But for now, I’m going to eat birthday cake with my girl because for now we both get a gift on her special day.
She’s still with me to share.
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