On Monday 3rd October, I was back on the chemo ward to commence cycle 5. I had a good week last week, which helped me to start this next cycle with a positive attitude. It was wonderful to catch up with my former colleague (and fellow Home and Away lover) Louisa, for coffee last weekend. I also did something that I haven’t done in a while – I went out for a family meal. Going out to a restaurant might seem like a really small thing to do, but this is something that I have found hard to do during treatment. It is hard to explain why going to a restaurant made me feel anxious, but all I know is that this getting better, because although I was apprehensive on the way there, I was able to really enjoy my trip to Nando’s!
My veins and blood behaved well again this week, and the doctors decided to reintroduce a drug called Avastin (Bevacizumab) because I have healed well from my surgery in August. Avastin is given at the start of each cycle for thirty minutes before the other chemo drugs are administered. More information about this drug can be found on the Macmillan website. Chemo went smoothly and the session just seemed to fly by. I did find myself more tired than usual on Monday night, but sitting on the sofa watching Neighbours and Home and Away was the perfect fix for this!
I have decided to talk about diet in this blog because this has been such an important part of my treatment for ‘Cyril.’ Over the past few months, I have focused a lot on diet and healthy eating. The Marsden have been very supportive with this and I have been having regular appointments with the dietician, who gives excellent advice. It is essential to remember that there will be days during treatment where you have little appetite. I’ve often had to focus on keeping my eating pattern as ‘little and often’ which can make such a difference when it comes to managing meals.
Before I was diagnosed with ‘Cyril,’ I was known to be a fussy eater (I apparently got so fussy that my sisters felt my huge intake of eggs and spaghetti meant that the nickname ‘Egg head, spag bod’ was perfect!). I turned vegetarian at the age of seven because of a story that my eldest sister told me when making my packed lunch for school one day. She called me over as she was preparing my turkey sandwich and explained to me that the marks on the turkey slices were blood, and this blood would spill out as I ate my sandwich. The story ended with her saying, ‘Every bite you take, the mother turkey will be screaming for its child!’ So when I went to school the next day and opened my sandwich I burst into tears and refused to eat it. The teacher gave me a school dinner, and when I went home I declared to my whole family that I would no longer be eating meat, chicken or fish. When asked why this was, I recounted my sister’s story, which obviously got her into a lot of trouble…. She did try to rectify her mistake by telling me that I could still eat tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches (something that I loved) because tuna from a tin is ‘artificial’ and actually a vegetable. Me being me, I naturally fell for this story too! However, I was eventually told the truth and subsequently tuna and sweetcorn sandwiches were also off the menu.
When I was in my second year of university, I lived with five wonderful girls and we often made meals together. I started to get a little bit of food envy and chicken seemed to be on my mind quite a bit. One weekend when out shopping with my aunt and sisters, they came up with a plan to get me eating chicken. Before starting any shopping, they all decided that we would have lunch at McDonald’s. They ordered an extra chicken burger and insisted I try some before any shopping could begin. Very reluctantly I took a few bites – I’m sure I probably moaned and cried, but I have two older sisters so often very little choice in these sort of situations! After that, I started to try fish, more chicken and shellfish. This was probably a good time to branch away from being vegetarian because soon after this I moved to Lyon for a year. On my 21st birthday in Lyon, I sampled my first steak. I remember explaining to the waiter that I wanted it ‘well done’ as from my little meat knowledge I knew that was the least ‘meaty looking’ option. When it arrived, I tucked in and to my surprise, finished the whole thing! Later that evening, my sisters, who were visiting, explained to me that the steak I ate was definitely far from ‘well done’ and that even they wouldn’t have eaten it that raw! Since then, I have tried more meat but have never become a meat lover and still feel a little uncomfortable at the thought of eating it. Photos from this night are shown below. I was sure I photographed the infamous steak but I can’t seem to find it!
Since being diagnosed with ‘Cyril,’ I can honestly say that my diet has completely changed, and I know that doing this has played a part in helping me get through treatment. I have never eaten so well! Everything I eat is completely fresh, but I do allow myself the occasional treat. Just after my chemo began, I had my first appointment with the dietician who gave me lots of alternatives to meat. I followed these tips and felt very reassured when she told just before my operation that I was going into surgery well nourished! She is also happy with how I am doing with my weight and eating post-surgery.
So, I thought I would give a bit of a summary about what I eat on a daily basis.
One hour before I have breakfast, I drink a mug of milky tea (made with full fat milk). I was advised to have this before breakfast to give myself time to digest it. For breakfast I will always eat eggs (usually three because the dietician reassured me that there is no limit to how many eggs you can have in one day), kiwis (if you eat kiwi with eggs they help you take more protein from eggs) and fried bananas, which I have become a little obsessed with!
For lunch, I have things such as homemade soup and pizzas, pasta with fresh sauce, mozzarella, tuna or wild salmon salads. This is usually followed by fruit. For those of you who know me well, I eat any type of fruit. When I was a teenager, the dentist told me I that I was eating too much fruit and that this was the cause of numerous fillings. I have recently become a fan of custard apples (recommended by the manager of the nail salon I go to), which have an excellent nutritional value. I highly recommend them.
For dinner I will usually have fresh fish, chicken or quorn (this is good for the people like me who don’t like eating meat) with a carbohydrate, also recommended by the dietician. If I don’t feel particularly hungry, I opt for things like dal (made of lentils), rice and salad because although a lighter meal it still has lots of health benefits. I have also taken to eating fresh artichokes and kohlrabi, which also have fantastic nutritional value. Then after dinner, I’ll usually have some more fruit.
Between meals I snack on nuts and dried fruit (although you should not eat too much dried fruit) and toast with cashew butter instead of peanut butter because this is a much healthier option. I also ensure that I have my two litres of fluid every day. Any juices that I have are fresh. Where snacks are concerned, I do also treat myself to the occasional bits of chocolate, crisps and cake, but I actually that find since changing my diet, these are things often taste too sweet for me. It is also advisable to avoid shellfish and raw fish whilst on treatment due to the risk of infection, and you should be careful with having takeaway. I am looking forward to my first sushi meal post treatment, and hopefully at some point next year I can’t wait to have sushi at Fu Sushi in Tel Aviv with my wonderful friend Dominique! The photo below was taken a couple years ago when we found this amazing restaurant in Tel Aviv.
Since my diagnosis, I have been drinking two fortijuces every day. Fortijuce, which is made by Nutricia, is a ready to drink weight management nutritional drink supplement, which is high in calories and energy. I will be having them throughout my chemo because the dietician feels that they are helping me maintain my weight. They are particularly helpful on days when I feel that I have little appetite, usually the days after my chemo, because I know that I am still getting what I need.
The hardest time I have had so far with my eating was after surgery, which I know is totally normal. At the time I listened to my body and only ate what I could manage. There were times after I had been discharged from the hospital when I could only manage eating fruit for dinner. Slowly but surely, my appetite has improved and I am able to eat more. Without a doubt, I can say that eating healthily has been, and continues to be, a major component of my treatment and in keeping my energy levels and weight at the right level. This healthy diet is something that I will continue throughout my Avastin maintenance treatment and beyond.
Jaclyn Smith, a successful actress and entrepreneur who had treatment for breast cancer explains why these changes happen to a person fighting cancer in a thoughtful and beautiful way. She says, ‘Having cancer does make you try to be better at everything you do and enjoy every moment. It changes you forever. But it can be a positive change’ The quote rings true with me because there are already positive changes for me during my journey with ‘Cyril’ and my healthy diet is certainly one of them.
At this point, I also have to say a massive THANK YOU to every person who has cooked for my family and I over the last four months. It has been such a special and helpful gift and a constant reminder of all the people who are thinking about and encouraging me to get better. Every meal has been healthy and incredibly tasty!