I wish I hadn’t written this book. But I had to write this book because my wife, Susan, was diagnosed with breast cancer. That in itself doesn’t make her special—she is just one of 14.1 million people who were diagnosed with cancer in 2012, or, to put it another way, every day in that year, 22,000 people found out they too had cancer. Sadly, 8.2 million people died from cancer in 2012. What makes Susan special is how she fought her deadly disease.
In 2009, I had gone back to college to advance my career in the field of economics. I was required to retake academic writing classes. I protested, but that didn’t work. I was required to retake the academic writing classes. But as I went through the different courses I met a couple of professors who saw something in me and encouraged me to pursue writing. Later, after I completed the required courses, I enrolled in a few creative writing classes.
When Susan was first diagnosed with cancer, I asked Lisa Alvarez, one of my creative writing professors, about doing a blog to make it easier to keep family and friends up-to-date on my wife’s medical condition and how she was holding up. Professor Alvarez thought a blog was a great idea and helped me get started. After I began researching cancer and cancer treatments, the purpose of the blog quickly changed. Thousands of studies on cancer and cancer treatments exist, and I even ran across a few on the link between diet and cancer. The problem was that I knew there was an agenda behind many of the studies done on certain foods because billions of dollars are on the line for many agribusinesses. I also found that good information was scattered across many different media that most people don’t have the time or know-how to find. However, this was one of the biggest challenges of my life—I had to make the time, and, fortunately, because of my profession, I had access to research that most people don’t. As one of the managing directors of Premier Capital Partners, a research and investment firm that represents publicly traded companies, one of my jobs was to research up-and-coming companies that offered innovative products or services. So, I made it a point to look for companies involved in the newest cancer studies and the latest drug trials. Then, I expanded the scope of my research to how foods, exercise, and mental attitudes could help fight cancer.
As I gathered all the research papers from the multitude of studies being conducted around the world, it dawned on me that, with all the information I had, I might really be able to help Susan extend her life or even win her fight. It was kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle because I had to figure out how to put all these different pieces together.
I think most husbands view themselves as problem solvers. But when you are told your wife has only three to five years to live and that her cancer is incurable, you wonder, how can I solve that? Fortunately for me, the puzzle pieces quickly started to fall into place. I could see the picture more clearly as each bit came together: I knew I couldn’t do anything medically other than to try to understand the drugs Susan was treated with and how they would affect her then and in the future. But when it came to food and lifestyle, there was plenty I could do to help Susan. Like that old saying “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” I figured that’s exactly what we would do—throw every straw we could find on the back of her cancer and pray that it would break, that all that straw would weigh enough to tip the scales in her favor.
I talked to Susan about this. She was a little skeptical at first, but given what she had been told by her doctors, she was willing to try.
* * * * *
The more research and reading I did, the more it became apparent that lifestyle and diet play huge parts in our ability to fight disease. In some cases, these are as important as drugs and medicine.
At first I used what I found to help only Susan. But my efforts soon morphed into helping others as I began posting my findings on the blog. Nearly every person I talked to had a close friend or family member who had cancer or who had had cancer. With the blog, in the last few years I’ve told hundreds of people about Susan’s amazing journey and her incredible will to win the fight. Almost everyone who has heard her story was truly moved, and often moved to tears. Many of them told me I should write a book about her.
I thought, Why not? That way I could share what I had learned, and doing so might help others avoid ever having to go through the life-and-death struggle that accompanies a cancer diagnosis.
So, here we are, and that blog is the genesis of this book. I decided to use the journal format of the blog in order to preserve the real-time telling of Susan’s journey. It’s a sort of a road map others can use to follow the story of the bravest woman I know as she journeyed from hopelessness to hope. You can use it to learn what you can do to fight or prevent cancer. May you be as awed as I was at the account of how this one woman fought cancer one step at a time, one day at a time, and one bite at a time.
(Cancer statistics are from the International Agency for Research on Cancer/World Health Organization, 2012.)
And Now We Fight
Adventures (Part I)
By Nicole Weaver — Mar 4, 2012, 7:19 p.m.
Mom and I had a fun little trip to get a few things before her chemo treatments start tomorrow. We got her some warm, snuggly sweats to wear and beanies and scarves to keep her head warm. I had some gift cards, so it worked out perfectly. True to Mom and Nicki fashion, we managed to get lost in an area we have lived in for over a decade (impressive, I know). AND…to cheer Mom up and help her destress, I took her on a critter-petting excursion at the local pet store. They had little baby bunnies, robo hamsters, a freaky chameleon who we named “Spock,” and, of course, baby lynx kittens. If anything can take the edge off, it’s a mutant, six-toed, baby lynx kitten.
Mom said she had a lot of fun and it helped get her mind off things, which is what matters most. So, I am making sure to plan lots of adventures for the next few weeks, so stay tuned.
By Jeff Weaver — Mar 5, 2012, 8:50 p.m.
It begins. Today was Susan’s first chemo cycle. We got off to a bad start because Susan had not done her MUGA heart test due to scheduling conflicts. Consequently, the nurse would not start treatment because of the risk Adriamycin/Cytoxan (A/C) poses to Susan’s heart until Susan’s oncologist gave the go-ahead to proceed without the test. These drugs have very severe side effects, and heart damage is a real possibility. In fact, A/C can only be used for one cycle (four treatments) because of the risks.
Just to make matters worse, Susan’s oncologist wasn’t there, and the oncologist nurse couldn’t contact her by phone either. So, the nurse had to get the on-duty oncologist to sign off. However, the duty oncologist didn’t want to take the risk or responsibility because Susan wasn’t her patient. After much discussion, they finally got things straightened out. An hour later! All this didn’t help Susan’s stress level or the anxiety she has about taking the A/C drug.
I sat next to her and noticed how tense she was, so I thought a little humor might help take the edge off, but I was wrong. She replied in a no-nonsense manner and gave me that “enough, buddy, or you’re getting it” look, so I behaved.
The oncology nurse finally brought over the clear, harmless-looking bags of A/C and a bag of saline solution to wash the drug down, so to speak. Before the nurse started the treatment, she put on rubber gloves that went up to her elbows and covered Susan’s arm with a towel. She told us this stuff is really toxic and they can’t let it touch the skin.…Really! I thought, this is nuts because they are going to pump that stuff into Susan’s veins.
It was all I could do to sit there and watch as the nurse inserted a big, long, fat needle into Susan’s vein in the back of her hand. I hate needles, and I get all freaked out seeing stuff like this, but it was worse for Susan because she is so tiny that the needle hurt her really badly and the drug burned like mad. She asked the nurse repeatedly if it was supposed to hurt that much. The nurse said it was okay and that there would be some discomfort. If you ask me, it was a lot more than discomfort. And why the hell didn’t the nurse use a vein in Susan’s arm, like for every other patient in the place?
I have to admit that the moment the nurse shoved that needle in I realized this was really happening and, even worse, what we were facing for who knows how long. I felt really bad for Susan, and I wanted to do something to help her, but at that moment there was nothing I could do.
As for Susan, well, after saying something to the nurse about the pain and burning, she didn’t complain any more, but I could tell by her clenched jaw and how she squeezed her eyes shut now and again that she must be hurting. While she was getting her treatment, we talked about stuff, and for the life of me I can’t remember what, even though it was just a few hours ago. And, no, it had nothing to do with being a husband who doesn’t hear anything his wife says. I am guilty of that now and again, just not this time.
When the treatment was finished, it was off to the pharmacy to get her meds. Josh was there to meet us. In the waiting area, Josh sat next to his mom, and I sat across from them. Josh looked kind of stressed and was pretty quiet, so Susan leaned over and whispered something in his ear and a big smile crossed his face. It is so typical of her to put her family first, and she wanted to make sure he was okay. I did manage to capture the moment in a photo. It was a very touching sight.
Susan will have the MUGA test tomorrow and then her CT and PET scans Wednesday and Thursday. We have our fingers and toes crossed that they show no further advancement of the cancers.
One thing Susan has to do is get a shot every day for eight days. Since she won’t give herself the shots, and Josh said “hell no,” and driving twenty-five miles one way to the hospital every day is out, I guess I’m going to have to do it. This could be worse than the darn chemo!
Food, Spices, & Herbs
All the foods Susan and I eat either directly or indirectly have some cancer-fighting component or property. Our goal is to help her fight and hopefully defeat cancer. I see that she gets all of the essential nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. And to maximize the effectiveness of the food, it matters how the foods in a meal are paired and it matters when certain foods are eaten. Some vitamins and other nutrients are better absorbed when eaten in the right combinations, and the body has different nutritional needs at different times of the day. Do a simple internet search for pairing food to maximize health effects and you will find a lot of very useful information.
Here are a few important facts to know. Calories matter for all people because if we consume too many calories we will gain weight regardless of the claims made in favor of different types of diets. Awareness of calorie consumption is especially important for cancer patients because research shows that just a four-and-a-half-pound long-term gain in weight results in a 40 percent chance of recurrence. And how much of the three major sources of energy—carbohydrates, proteins, and fats—make up a diet really matters. For example, the energy provided by 1 gram of carbohydrate or 1 gram of protein equals 4 kilocalories (kcals; we call them calories in the United States), whereas 1 gram of fat supplies 9 kcals. This is why you need to be careful with fat intake because fat is very calorie dense; you can’t eat the same volume of fat as you do of carbs or proteins.
Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel for the body. Carbs are what the body uses for physical activities, brain function, and operation of our organs. All cells and tissues rely on carbs to function.
Proteins have a couple different functions in the body. Their main role is to act as a structural component of cells and tissue. Protein helps repair damaged tissue and serves as a source of fuel if enough carbohydrates or fats are unavailable.
Fat is a concentrated source of energy and is essential because it is the body’s first source of fuel when carbs aren’t available. This is why the body stores fat rather than uses it right away. The dietary fats we consume are the major fuel source for our body while at rest. Around 30 to 70 percent of the energy our muscles and organs use when we are inactive comes from the fats we have eaten. Plus, only fats can absorb the essential vitamins A, D, E, and K.
So, how do you decide how much of each macronutrient group to eat when trying to figure out what is right for you? Each person has different energy needs depending on activity and body weight as well as overall health. Susan is at 1,800 calories or fewer a day, with 65 percent coming from carbohydrates, 20 percent from protein, and 15 percent from fats. If this calculation is not something you can do on your own, consult with a registered dietitian—not your doctor, unless he or she is trained in nutrition. Just a side note here: after Susan was diagnosed with cancer and we knew diet could be a key component in her fight, we decided to change our family doctor to one who uses food and lifestyle as integral parts of patient care. Nowadays food as medicine is seeing a revival of sorts, and more and more doctors are revisiting the idea of using food as a treatment option.
Planning a diet in this way takes a lot of work and is very hard to do. One thing that really helps us stay on track is a free phone app that tracks this information and that is supereasy to use. The app, MyFitnessPal, allows you to set goals for carbs, fat, protein, and calories. It also has a barcode reader that makes it easy to input foods by hand. It includes a wide variety of foods in its database. It shows us most of the nutritional content of the foods we consume. I think it was a key factor in our success.