Regime Change

One of the first changes I made after discovering I had breast cancer was to my diet.  At first I was blown away with the amount of information, not just on the internet, but in well-intended emails which arrived in my inbox.  If I only ate more celery, carrots, flax seed, avocados, broccoli…..the list went on….I would be cured.  I probably would have done the same thing had it been a friend of mine, thinking I was helping, but I actually had to tell people to stop.  I was so stressed by the whole diagnosis, trying to get my head around what was about to happen, I couldn’t cope with the ‘quick fix’ solutions which were being offered.


I wanted my liver to be in good shape, in preparation for all the toxins which were about to be put into my body – general anaesthetic, chemo and radiotherapy.  I thought I ate pretty well, but everything I read stressed the importance of cutting out dairy, sugar, meat and alcohol.  At the beginning I think I went a bit overboard.  I even tried only eating alkaline foods – the theory is, cancer cannot survive in an alkaline-only environment – but saying no to fresh in-season organic tomatoes seemed crazy.

I lost weight very quickly, but the nurses at the hospital stressed the importance of having some protein to keep me strong in terms of energy and in building muscle mass.  In the end, after a slightly extreme beginning, I made a no sugar, dairy, meat and alcohol rule in the house but I could eat anything (within reason) out of the house.  My daily diet usually included porridge (with lots of seeds, nuts and fruit) in the morning, and then vegetable soup for lunch, then something with beans or pulses for dinner. The other thing which happens of course with chemotherapy was my appetite was pretty low, but I would make an effort to eat regular small meals to keep my strength up.

According to my friend Andrea, an expert in Chinese medicine and healing foods, chemotherapy makes the body cold, so you should only hot foods.  Conversely, radiotherapy heats up the body, so it’s important to eat cold or cooling foods, to create balance in the body.  This is one rule I stuck to throughout the treatment.

There is tons of advice out there about miracle cures, as well as the properties of various foods, but I found it too difficult to make extreme changes to my diet – mainly I just didn’t have the head space for it.  For me, cutting out meat, sugar, dairy and alcohol made it much easier on my liver to process all the other toxins my body it was having to deal with.  I drank loads  of water too, of course, and following the hot/cold rule made a lot of sense.

On a final note, I find it interesting that French hospitals take nutrition very seriously, whereas friends of mine in the UK had no nutritional advice – quite the opposite – the rule was, ‘carry on as normal’.  More worryingly, a friend’s mother in the US was told that she should absolutely not make changes to her diet during her treatment.  It’s almost as if the Anglo-American conventional medical culture is positively hostile to any form of natural healing.



In the Soup

A recurrent theme throughout my cancer treatment is soup.  Its nutritional properties take on an almost magical feel not only for healing, but the way it is often delivered.  A close friend of mine, Andrea Scholdan, is the Queen of Soups in Austria, and runs a ‘soup kitchen’ in Vienna, called  Andrea is a qualified doctor, who worked in a hospital for twenty years as a urologist.  She had always had an interest in nutrition, and later on her life studied Chinese medicine.  One of the key elements of Chinese medicine is the balance of hot and cold in the body.  So for instance, chemotherapy has a very cooling effect on the body, so it’s important to eat warm foods, in order to help the body recover. Soup is also full of vitamins and is very easy to digest, so is the perfect food for the liver.  The liver is working so hard to try and rid the body of any toxins during the chemo, that the soup makes the process easier.   Andrea visited me during the first stage of the chemo, and created diet sheets for me to help me support my body, and to keep me strong.  She also did me the honour of shaving my head, as my hair started to fall out, but that’s another story…

pexels-photo-539451.jpegSoup always appeared throughout my recovery.  My sister Ruth also visited several times, leaving her busy life in Rome to come and make huge pans of vegetable soups, with an Italian twist, which she put in the freezer as meals for when we were too tired to cook.  One day, I was feeling particularly low, mentally and physically, lying on the sofa, unable to eat.  Tristan, our builder and friend, came over with soup for me – a secret family recipe he said – it revived me almost straight away.  He continued to bring the soup for the next month or so, just leaving it by our kitchen door.  My friend Victoria wooshed into my house with gigantic pans of soup, made from organic vegetables from the local health food shop.  She put it into jars, told me to relax while she cleaned the house. People’s generosity and kindness blow me away.   Continue reading “In the Soup”