Before I left work a colleague stood beside my desk, flipped her hair and stated ‘no sugar, no white flour’. She definitively added ‘sugar causes cancer’. I wanted to give her a big hug and tell her how she had solved all my problems. How me and every other person with cancer are all just being a bit dramatic with this whole surgery, chemo, radiation thing, we just need to change our diets and we’ll be fine. Instead of needing to go to doctors and second opinions I should be really sitting down and figuring out how I did this to myself. Instead I quietly responded “I think it’s a little more complicated than that”.
Acupuncturists, cancer leaflets, the internet and random girls at parties are full of advice about diet and cancer. All claiming that you can somehow control cancer with food with the not so subtle implication that this was my fault.
If I didn’t eat vegetables, hadn’t exercised in years and regularly ate fast food, I would be devastated right about now. I would be changing my diet and believing that if I did everything right that I won’t be in this predicament again.
It’s a little more complicated than that.
I am acutely aware of my nutrition. I have been vegetarian for over a decade and a vegan for 4 years. In lieu of buying nice shoes or bags, my main vice is buying organic at Whole Foods. I get ridiculously excited by eating preservative-free, unprocessed, nutrition-filled food. When I am not eating it I obsessively stare at pictures of healthy dishes online. I am the person who anxiously awaits food documentaries and sees them in the cinema to support them. I drink kale shakes. I considered going to vegan culinary school because I wanted to teach cooking and nutrition. I hike, walk and teach yoga. I am far from perfect, I occasionally eat Oreos, chips and vegan cupcakes, but my diet was not asking for cancer.
In the middle of the night I do wonder if it was my fault. I toss and turn thinking that perhaps there was something I did or did not do well enough.
I think back on the last 15 years, I never took any medicine for cramps, never took a sleeping pill, or a slimming aid or herbal supplements because I didn’t trust them. I did occasionally take a pain killer for hangovers but was that enough to cause this? I wear natural deodorant, but I didn’t 5 years ago, did that cause it?Did I drink out of too may BPA ridden water bottles? Use too much saran wrap in the microwave before we knew it was bad? I picked up an alternative medicine book recently that said cancer was a stuck emotion. As I try to go back to sleep up pops a list of things I feel guilty about.
I don’t wash off my makeup most nights.
I had a diet coke addiction for many years before combating it with hypnosis.
I still use the microwave.
I never researched the side effects of metal fillings.
I sleep with my cell phone.
I’m not organized.
I took the pill when I was a teenager
I lived in Florida.
I’ve felt bitterness.
I don’t know if any or all of these things could have caused cancer or if I should just take the test and find out if it was genetic. According the the alternative medicine book if I don’t process my guilt about this correctly, stuck guilt could make the cancer come back.
Not eating sugar is really not an option because that would cause an inadequate supply of glucose to my brain. Not eating sugar does not make cancer go away, instead it can cause anything from mild dysphoria to permanent brain damage or death. I do believe in eating healthy whole foods, I do believe in feeling empowered through food choices, but unasked-for half-baked advice about something this complicated is just not helpful.