Fight(ing) With Food or, Do I Fight Cancer with Food, or Am I Fighting with Stuff On My Plate?

“Hey, wait, I’ve got a new complaint”

-Kurt Cobain/Nirvana, Heart-Shaped Box

Yes, I am going to complain about another one of those pieces of advice on how to reduce risk of cancer.

I recently stumbled over a couple of articles touting the positive impact of plant-based diets on cancer. One of the articles extolled the virtues of veganism, encouraging the reader to go one step beyond simple vegetarianism. But this article held a tad of controversy; as one clicks the various links to the studies sited within, one will see the vegan diet actually increases the chance of colorectal cancer. Another article simply focused on eating “colorfully”, as carotenoids may be directly anticarcinogenic. I was especially interested in this article, because it says this is especially helpful to breast cancer patients who are NOT ER positive, as in more helpful for those of us that are triple negative or HER2+. It seems most info/advice for breast cancer out there pertains to estrogen positives, rightly so, as it is the most common form.

These two articles sited various nutrition or oncology resources, and were written using language explaining how the properties of the vegetables work in the body to fight cancer. They are certainly more persuasive than the headlines on those stupid women’s magazines my mother read each week during my infusions, and that I would read after she finished, while waiting for the last drop of liquid poison to get into my port. Reading those quotes while sitting there, and while standing in line at the grocery store, and just about anywhere on anything about food and/or health, really began to irk me.

These proclamations are NOT news. I’ve noticed the pervasiveness of the “eat this for a better heart/to prevent cancer/to lower cholesterol” articles for ages. Enough already—we get it! (Yes, I know that the underserved populations do not always know this info, but they are not the target audience; preaching to the choir will never change that fact).

Hey, I like vegetables. I constantly ate carrots as a little girl, to emulate my hero/boyfriend, Bugs Bunny. And I never once went to Acme to buy an anvil to drop on anyone’s head, proving that it is possible for little kids to learn the good habits, and not the bad things, from cartoons and other violent forms of entertainment (don’t think old time cartoons are violent? Watch them again upon reaching parenting age).

No I have not eaten the perfect anti-cancer diet, but I daresay my diet is better than lots of people without cancer. I vacillate between blaming myself– “I got cancer because I hate tomatoes, if I’d just learned to eat them, I would not be in this mess” and—“this is ridiculous, I ate enough garlic/spinach/walnuts to prevent cancer, the study must be wrong”. But I know I am not the only one with this feeling, one of the comments on the vegan article says “well then I never should have gotten damn cancer”. This comment breaks my heart. Just another example of the way the body can betray a person—do everything right, and still get cancer. Just another person perhaps thinking “yeah, what about me, is this my fault”.  Makes me want to drop an anvil on someone’s head.

I know this is just another case of me allowing myself to be irritated by something that was not put out there specifically to irk me. I know this info is out there to encourage people to take better care of themselves, and that these studies and headlines never guarantee “eat this food and you won’t get cancer!” I know that much of this internal struggle has to do with my desire for control…my wish that there is something, anything, I can do to prevent going through cancer again. But there isn’t, and I’ve somehow twisted this in my mind, making myself believe that the headlines and news articles are lying to me, and to people without cancer…filling them/us with false hope, when the truth is that cancer just isn’t all that picky about what person it strikes.

All of this has made me develop a hateful relationship with food. I now force myself to eat tomatoes by cutting them up tiny as possible in my salad, which I eat more of now, even though I prefer my veggies lightly cooked. I no longer cook my food in plastic in the microwave, in fact I avoid using the microwave whenever possible. But then I get angry and am overcome with the desire to eat fried chicken smothered in cheesecake for dinner (not really, I am exaggerating for effect, I eat those things separately). I mean, screw it….I’ve had cancer, might as well eat what I please!

So, now I have food issues, where none existed before. I just…never know what to eat, so I don’t. So to end this post how I started, I present the song lyric from above, but the misheard version, which sums up my feelings some days as much as the real version!

“Hey, wait, I’ve got a naked plate”

Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box mondegreen (misheard lyric)

P. S. I LOVE misheard lyrics, check out books by Gavin Edwards, great titles like When A Man Loves a Walnut, and for the holidays Deck the Halls with Buddy Holly. The books have great illustrations of the misheard lyrics; my personal favorite drawing just has to be for “slow motion Walter, fire engine guy”, which really means “smoke on the water, fire in the sky”.

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