Is this healthy eating????

August 4, 2010

I have always eaten reasonably healthily (with the possible exception of my student years!) but for the last few years – particularly since I started on the marathons – I have been very interested in nutrition and healthy eating. Therefore, when I first got my cancer diagnosis, my reaction was to find out what I ought to be eating to help me best fight the nasty aliens. In truth I was probably already eating the optimal anti-cancer diet with lots of fruit and veg, wholegrains, lean proteins and healthy fats.  But I was taken aback when every health professional I met during those post-diagnosis/pre-treatment days told me to forget about so-called “healthy eating” and focus on getting as many calories for the least amount of food, particularly lots of fats and proteins, such as high fat-milk products. I honestly didn’t get what they were talking about and was really quite shocked!

But it all became startlingly clear to me immediately after my first chemo treatment! Since that day, getting those calories in has become an ongoing daily challenge. Even more so because 1. I’m not supposed to lose weight and 2. you apparently need MORE calories than usual to fuel recovery (I had imagined it would be less since I am MUCH less physically active than usual).

There are a number of different side-effects to chemo that all affect my ability to eat and the combination of different problems is what makes it a real challenge. So here is a little overview…….

Lack of appetite.  I think all of us have a mental picture of chemo patients throwing up all the time. However these days they are able to control the nausea with medication. I take 3 different kinds of anti-nausea medication just before I get the chemo and for 3 days following. In addition, I have another anti-nausea medication that I can take on an ad hoc basis if necessary. So for the most part I don’t feel actively nauseous, but for the first 7 days of the cycle I feel what I would call “almost nauseous” all the time. Thinking of food is disgusting and the thought of certain foods can make me gag. In addition, I can’t eat very much at a time. This eases off during the second week of the cycle and towards the middle of the second week it is a lot better and I can eat a lot of things that would have made me sick the week before – even a small glass of wine!

Dry mouth. I also have a dry mouth most of the time, though it peaks around day 5 and 6 of the cycle (where it is so bad that it is actually painful) and eases off towards the end of the cycle. If you have never had a dry mouth/throat it is difficult to imagine, but interestingly it bothered me a lot during the first treatment cycle, but I have kind of got used to it (unlike the appetite issues). I also have a very good mouth spray (Zendium Saliva) which helps a lot. But basically it makes it very difficult to eat anything that isn’t soft/fluid.

Sense of taste.  This is difficult to describe, but basically things taste different than usual – and this one is a constant and doesn’t improve during the cycle. Therefore, some foods that I used to like, taste really disgusting now! Drinking plain water is difficult because it tastes horrible, so I mostly drink sparkling water which is better (full fat milk is best!). The taste issue took a drastic turn during this latest cycle when I developed a really disgusting taste in my mouth which was so bad it was making me feel sick all the time. This has eased off now, though hasn’t completely gone. I’m hoping it was related to the fungal infection (see below) I had and isn’t going to be a regular feature…

Digestive problems. My whole digestive system is struggling and I suffer from every kind of digestive issue that you can imagine from one end to the other and everything in between (I won’t go into details here, I’m sure you can imagine!).

Other mouth issues: The mouth is particularly susceptible to infections because of the lack of saliva and generally because my immune system is suppressed. My gums are soft and sensitive and so far I have had a throat infection and this weekend I got a fungal infection in my mouth. This doesn’t really help the eating situation!

You are probably getting the picture now of how difficult this is! I cope through a process of trial and error and being inspired by others experiences. It’s complicated by the fact that I can go off something that previously I enjoyed from one week to another. If I eat something when I am feeling “almost nauseous” then my brain sometimes starts associating that food with feeling bad and I can’t eat it any more. This is a particular issue with foods/drinks that I consume just before/after/during getting my chemo.

The good news is that despite all this I am managing to consume the calories I need and in fact I have put on a couple of kilos! The bad news is that I can’t even say that I am looking forward to this being over so I can enjoy a good meal – the very thought of it makes me feel sick!

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One Response to “Is this healthy eating????”

  1. Neil Says:

    How were the blood tests?

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