Because I received treatment for breast cancer at UCLA, which is a research hospital, I have received a few “invitations” to participate in studies, which usually means answering questionnaires that cover focused areas of interest. Last week, I received what I consider the most interesting of such invitations. The title of the study is “Stress, Inflammation and Breast Cancer” and the researchers are examining stress and tumor characteristics in women with a history of breast cancer. This means the researchers are curious to see if there is a connection between women’s perceptions of stress prior to diagnosis, inflammation markers (measured in blood or tissue samples), and cancer cell growth.
In Two in the Middle (the book), I share the process Natalie, William and I went through to find a better sense of balance in our daily lives. I reveal the moments when we felt bold and brave, and also the moments when we felt clumsy and scared. Finding a healthier path for life – which includes all aspects of our days, i.e. work, school, and home, takes courage because it involves making choices, some of which fall outside our familiar habits. Change is challenging. But change is incredibly exciting when it leads to a better place. I also reveal the lessons we learned from what I called “the breast project.”
I believe stress and inflammation in my body did indeed open a door to cancer cells. I wish I had known twenty years earlier what I, ironically, learned two years before my diagnosis, i.e. the ways in which to correct digestive and other physical imbalances in the body. I also suspect that there is a correlation between the symptoms of inflammation I suffered for years and the repeated doses of antibiotics I was prescribed over the years (beginning with tetracycline in adolescence for mild acne that could easily have been treated with a healthier diet and a big dose of reassurance, to prescriptions for a series of urinary tract infections, and finally two double doses of antibiotics during dental procedures two years before my cancer diagnosis). Antibiotics can save lives, but their overuse can lead to serious health problems.
Simple dietary rules I’ve learned can make a huge impact on insulin levels and inflammation, and help discourage cancer cell growth. Let me share with you some golden advice from Dr. David Servan-Schreiber’s Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life, a book I’ve quoted in an earlier post I wrote about packing school lunches.
He writes, “People who want to protect themselves from cancer should seriously reduce their consumption of processed sugar and bleached flour. This means getting used to drinking coffee without sugar. It also means making do with two or three desserts a week. (There is no limit on fruit, as long as it is not sweetened with sugar or syrup.) Eating multigrain bread (made from wheat mixed with at least three other cereals, such as oatmeal, rye, flaxseeds, etc.) is also essential in order to slow down assimilation of the sugars coming from the wheat. You can also choose bread made with traditional leaven (sourdough) instead of the more common chemical baker’s yeast, which raises the glycemic index of bread. For the same reason, ordinary white rice should be avoided and replaced by brown or white basmati rice, for which the glycemic index is lower. “
After I began to suffer from digestive problems caused by the antibiotics, I was told by doctors to only eat white rice, white bread, and to avoid vegetables such as broccoli (which is one of the healthiest vegetables). Although previously not Natalie’s favorite veggie, we discovered she LOVES it when I simmer it in half water-half soba sauce (found in Japanese markets; look for ones without MSG).
Now here is another vital piece of advice from Dr. Servan-Schreiber, regarding the timing for eating sweet foods:
“Avoiding candies and snacks between meals is essential. When cookies are consumed between meals, there is nothing to block a rise in insulin. Only their combination with other foods—especially vegetable, fruit fibers, or good fats (such as olive oil or organic butter)—slows the assimilation of sugar and reduces insulin peaks. In the same way, some foods, such as onions or garlic, blueberries, cherries, raspberries, or spices like cinnamon, reduce the rise in blood sugar.”
I tell Natalie’s friends, “It’s okay to eat a little sweet. But eat your sweety after your healthy food. Your body will feel better. You’ll feel better.” See my post, “Pamela’s Simply Rich Chocolate Cake,” which includes the recipe for an easy, delicious and not-too-sweet chocolate cake.
Here’s a photo of the lunch I whipped up in a jiffy last Saturday: Pasta al dente with walnut pesto and sautéed cherry tomatoes. Blueberries. Figs with a dash of balsamic vinegar. (Pasta cooked al dente has a much lower glycemic index than overcooked pasta.) Because we didn’t put a tablecloth on the table, Natalie studied the map under the dishes and asked us this geography question: “How large is Mongolia compared to other countries in the world, i.e. where does it fall in geographic size?” William and I tossed out a few guesses. The answer: It is the 18th largest country in the world.