My Chemo Diet (tips, tricks, & more)
Updated: Nov 27
DIAGNOSIS & PROGNOSIS Background:
May 2016: Hysterectomy reveals metastasis on ovaries
May 2016 : Diagnosis Stage IV Colon Cancer (Mucinous adenocarcinoma)
Primary in Transverse Colon and another secondary in ascending colon.
Prognosis : 2-3yrs- maybe 4 with chemo.
June - Nov 2016 : Folfox Chemo through a port-a-cath inserted under the chest wall (used to give intravenous chemotherapy)
Feb 2018 Return of cancer
March-May 2018: Folfox + Avastin Chemo
June 2018: HIPEC surgery to remove Peritonium, Omentum (stomach lining), & gallbladder. (Seven tumors found during surgery - 5 of these were non-malignant)
Aug 21 Return of cancer. Port-o-cath had been removed and began 2 weeks of chemo tablets. Bad reaction to tablets lead to 2 weeks in hospital.
December 2021 - 2nd HIPEC surgery. Spread to Sigmoid and subsequent resection
Let's Dive Straight In.... Radical Alternatives - Should You or Shouldn't You?
When I was first diagnosed, well intentioned friends (and strangers) were always quoting this book that had a secret recipe for curing cancer..... or that person who defied the odds and cured themselves of cancer through very strict detox diets, herbal remedies, etc. etc. Good for them! As a counsellor and spiritualist, I'm a firm believer in alternatives to everything. However,- yes there's a "but " ..... I'm also a realist.
Just because someone defies the odds and happens to have used alternative therapies, does not indicate that they 'found the secret cure to cancer'. And just as conspiracy theorists like to claim that pharmaceutical companies are out to get rich off the cancer industry, the same could be said for shonky new-age alternative therapy enthusiasts. The vitamin industry is holding its own against big Pharma when it comes to raking in the profits. That's got to be a bitter pill to swallow!
But let's be clear...... I'm not an expert regarding medical, nutritional, or alternative therapies. Not even pretending to have any great knowledge when it comes to cancer related diets. And I have a healthy scepticism for anyone proclaiming to "have a cure" for this invasive disease.
My main goal during my own chemotherapy was to help my body eliminate the harmful effects of chemo while I was undergoing treatment,. and maintaining a modicum degree of feeling "well" while I was unwell. Taking care of things while I was undergoing treatment also ensured I'd bounce back quickly when it was all over.
I want to share with you what worked and didn't work for me. Bearing in mind, we are all different, and my recommendations might not have the same effect on you. At the end of the day, all advice you're given necessitates that you let your 'gut instinct' guide you.
I do believe that during chemo, a healthy diet and exercise program may assist you greatly in managing some side effects. And when I say "healthy diet", that means full of fresh fruit and vegetables, high in protein and fibre, devoid of processed foods. The same diet you would recommend to someone who doesn't have cancer and simply wants to live better.
After doing a bunch of google research into detox diets, I was honestly left confused by all the contradictory information! But I'm happy to share with you the information that I found most vital, what worked for me, and what perils I discovered along the way.
The bottom line is...... once you decide to go ahead with chemotherapy, alternative treatments - especially strict detox diets - can actually cause you a great deal of harm.
Strict Detox Diets
When I was first diagnosed with cancer, many friends who were fans of alternative therapy, sent me information on the well renowned GEARSON DIET. After a lot of digging, it seems Gerson himself doesn't proclaim to be able to cure cancer (or any other disease for that matter) with his diet. Gerson admits that "There are many variables and factors involved in determining whether a person will successfully recover from chronic and serious diseases such as cancer. These factors can include: age, family history, occupational or environmental exposures, dietary and lifestyle habits, inherited traits or genetic weak links and pre-existing conditions. There are also many factors influencing a cancer prognosis. For instance
type and stage of the cancer,
how much time has elapsed since the initial diagnosis,
whether it is a recurrence, and
previous chemotherapy, radiation or surgery.
Gerson himself warns that in certain cases, patients may need a surgical intervention or other conventional therapy before starting, or while doing, the Gerson Therapy.
Gerson goes on to say .. "In some cases, the disease process is too far advanced and the immune system is too weakened to respond fully to the therapy. Some diseases are not treatable with the Gerson Therapy (see Contradictions and Cautions for the Gerson Therapy). The Gerson Therapy isn't to be used as the sole form of treatment. Ultimately, it isn’t possible to predict with 100% accuracy who will be able to reverse their condition using the Gerson Therapy. Successful recovery is on a case- by-case basis".
Gerson Diet - Why you SHOULDN'T During Chemo
In IAN GAWLER'S book, You Can Conquer Cancer, he heartily promotes Gerson's juice diet regimes and use of coffee enema's as a detox tool. However, Gerson states emphatically that if you are currently undergoing chemotherapy, under NO circumstances are you to do the coffee enemas, and must limit detox juices to 7 per day. (I hadn't noticed this important fact mentioned in Gawler's book.) As a side note, the Cancer Council Australia does not promote Gawlers books in any way .... and for good reason.
In most cases, chemotherapy works in direct conflict with a detoxifying therapy such as the Gerson Therapy. When a patient receives chemotherapy, a significant percentage of each dose remains lodged in the body. When the Gerson Therapy coffee enema begins to work, it can very quickly dislodge toxins - including chemotherapy residue - from the cells into the bloodstream. Patients with such a large amount of toxins being released into their bloodstream often cannot detoxify the body fast enough. The result is that they may be prone to liver failure. At the very least they can become very sick.
As for Ian Gawler, and his very popular book You Can Conquer Cancer, his ex-wife Grace Gawler, who designed his original diet, has stated that the book has been changed many times since it's origins, and the diet being proposed now is nothing like her original plan. She also says that Ian Gawler later becoming a vegetarian had nothing to do with his cancer recovery ... it was a personal lifestyle choice.
Grace Gawler, who now runs a counselling support service for cancer patients, said she had seen many patients suffering malnutrition after following a strict vegan diet, and to say Ian's recovery was influenced by a vegan diet is wrong and very misleading.
Before we leave the subject of well-known books sprouting cancer cures, I'll also address "Chris Beat Cancer" which has gained considerable momentum.
In 2003 Chris was diagnosed with stage III Colon cancer. He refused chemotherapy and radically changed his lifestyle, including a complete turn-around on his diet, and in 2022, he is still reportedly cancer free. Chris went on to write several books about curing cancer, promoting his not-so-extraordinary cookbook, and an enormous array of multivitamins. On his website he invites others to share their stories of recovery without chemo and here's where it gets interesting. Every diet story is different! For instance someone juiced a kilo of carrots and chewed vitamin C. Another had mistletoe infusions. The range of stories was mind-blowing and proved one thing...... there is no one dietary secret that can be attributed to the cure of cancer nor keeping the cancer at bay.
How about we look at emotions then..... Chris was also in a high stress work environment, and had a lot of negative emotions in his life. Those are major contributing factors to disease in the body. He cleaned those up too. I'm a firm believer in the mind-body connection to disease, and have no hesitancy in attributing my cancer to long held toxic emotions following a 30yr dysfunctional marriage.
Bottom line....... if you've got the strength while undergoing treatment, make emotional healing a part of your overall "treatment plan". Not kidding.
But I digress.... You came looking for advice regarding a diet for your chemo days so finally here it is...
Tips From My Own Chemo Diet
First of all, I repeat..... I'm not an expert. This information is based on what worked for me (or didn't work). I had stage 4 bowel cancer which had spread initially to my ovaries. My stomach, lungs and liver were clear (although I did develop a fatty liver from chemo, and later needed more surgery for spread to small bowel). What works for me may be very different for you depending on your condition.
I recommend getting the advice of a dietician specialising in your specific cancer and/or you should talk to your oncologist about adding any supplements or alternative remedies to your diet. When I added extra supplements (out of fear that the chemo was robbing me of nutrients), my system actually suffered (more on this below). I found that my regular daily diet was very good without needing to add supplements. Also, I saw a dietician who specialises in cancer and she told me my diet was already healthier than anything she was about to suggest! The 'meal plan' she offered me was something akin to a public hospital menu. Hmmm? Seriously ... Yuk. However, I would still suggest you see a dietician if you have no real knowledge of heathy lifestyle food choices.
Best advice.... go carefully. At the end of the day, you'll do well learning to follow your own gut instincts and listen to what your own body tells you. Here's a few simple tips from my own experience and research:
The dietician recommended supplementing my diet with protein powder to boost my nutrients. Protein helps build muscle which can become severely depleted during chemo. While not being strictly vegetarian, my intake of protein was poor. On days when I had a strong metallic taste, I sometimes didn't eat at all.
She recommended AdVital, an Australian product which is high in proteins, vitamins and minerals. The best part of this product is that it's tasteless and has no aroma, making it easy to sprinkle over food or add to casseroles and juices.
When the metallic taste was strong and it put me off eating, I added Advital protein supplement to my juices/smoothies to keep up the protein.
Protein from Meats
A friend of mine who was an oncology nurse told me it was important to build protein in the body prior to any surgery. Protein in my diet generally consisted of pulses, grains, seeds etc (vegetarian) and very little in the way of chicken and red meat. However, chicken, fish and red meat have proteins that are different to grains, and necessary to build the body's defences, so I included more fish and chicken in my diet in the months prior to any surgery.
I won't go into detail about supplements because I'm not really a believer. They're artificial forms of nutrient that should otherwise come from food. In fact, during treatment for cancer, supplements can work against you! However, initially I was mindful that my body needed help during chemo so I started with Spirulina. Again I caution... just because it worked for some people during chemo, we are all different and you need to become proficient at listening to your own body.
Spirulina - I had heard about the amazing health benefits of Hawaiian Spirulina so couldn't wait to add it to my daily diet during chemo. For instance, it's 60% protein and an excellent source of vitamins A, K1, K2, B12 and iron, manganese and chromium. A rich source of health-giving phytonutrients such as carotenoids, GLA, SOD and phycocyanin. 2800% more beta-carotene than carrots. 3900% more iron than spinach.
After my 6th chemo session I begun taking 1 tsp daily. Up until this point my bowels had been moving well, but after 2 weeks taking Spirulina, I was suddenly chronically constipated for 2 days, then immediately suffered terrible diarrhoea for two days. It may be a coincidence, given that both these conditions are a chemo side effect, but on instinct I decided to stop the Spirulina, and my bowels returned to normal immediately.
* NOTE: There is a belief among oncologists that chemotherapy can be rendered ineffective to varying degrees if the patient ingests antioxidants. They believe this because one of the ways chemotherapy works is by introducing free radicals into cancerous tissues to destroy them. After more research, it appears that Spirulina has four times the antioxidant ability of blueberries!!
Again, all the information on the web can leave you confused, and there is still no real data from either alternative specialists or medical practitioners that confirms the effects of anti-oxidants. Despite my own perceived troubles with Spirulina, there was plenty of positive feedback from other cancer/chemo patients who reported feeling great while using this supplement!
Bottom line.... if you're going to try Spirulina, make sure you find Hawaiian Spirulina, as it's the purest form. And listen to what your body is telling you! (I have provided an Australian link to an on-line store for this product, but I did find mine at a health food shop locally)
Turmeric - People have long used the golden spice known as turmeric for culinary and medicinal purposes. Prior to one of my surgeries, the Anaesthetist asked if I was taking turmeric. She proceeded to angrily tell me that Turmeric contains cur-cumin, which also has blood-thinning or anticoagulant properties. This can leave surgery patients at great risk if they're health fanatics who use excessive amounts of Turmeric! It's a random fact, but I thought it wise to add this snippet of knowledge here.
Experts suggest that rather than replacing an entire food group with juice, it should only be used as a supplement to round out your diet. But I did supplement my diet with juicing on days when I simply had no appetite, or when the metallic taste was so strong that food became unpalatable. Juicing at least felt like I was getting some nutrition, and I added protein powder to the juice for an extra boost. Juicing is especially good if you're struggling to eat/chew your food due to mouth ulcers during chemo!
Juicing Rules -
Try not to juice fruits. Fruit juice converts to sugar very quickly in the blood stream. Instead, eat fruit whole and juice your vegetables. A carrot or apple in the vegetable juice will sweeten it slightly. Green leafy vegetables are great juiced and you'll find plenty of web sites with juicing recipes. I loved smoothies made of yoghurt, prunes and bananas which helped with my fibre intake, not to mention the health benefits of a good probiotic! Put this in a wine glass to 'class it up' and you're good to go!
If you're going to take up juicing to get your boost of nutrients, start your day with 1.5 cups fresh Celery Juice (that's about 160z). Have this first thing in the morning before eating or drinking anything else. Celery leaves are high in vitamin A. The stems are an excellent source of vitamins B1, B2, B6 and C with rich supplies of potassium, folate, calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, sodium and plenty essential amino acids. Additionally, nutrients in the fibre released during juicing aid bowel movements. (Please read the information in the start of my blogs with regards to the dangers of detoxing, and limit juices to 6 - 7 per day).
Cold Press juicers are best as they help retain nutrients.
In June 2018 I spent one month in hospital after major surgery when cancer showed up again. Now it had spread to my small bowel - I underwent HIPEC surgery and had my stomach lining and gallbladder removed.
After returning home from hospital, I started on a morning ritual of 5 cups of carrot juice per day. I'd read about a woman with stage 4 bowel cancer who claims to have kept her cancer away for many years now. She has a healthy diet but attributes her cancer success to the carrots. I figured "what the heck". There are many healing properties in carrots that's for sure, especially in terms of boosting the immune system (necessary after all the chemo and surgery). All the juicing turned me a lovely shade of orange after a couple of months, and while I did look and feel great, carrot juice is incredibly high in fibre, so daily diarrhoea was very intense, causing me to abandon carrot juice completely. Sometimes we have to learn the hard way...
Really, all I needed was time, and my body healed from the surgery with rest, and love - and eating a regular nutritious balanced diet every day.
Fibre is vital for colon health. Chemo (and bowel cancer) can make you constipated or give you diarrhoea. I've already talked about some of the ways I adversely affected my bowel movements with supplements, so here's some healthy alternatives to keep bowels moving smoothly and avoid constipation:-.
CONSTIPATION . If you still feel constipated, boost your fibre with pure psyllium husks (or Metamucil, which is made from psyllium ).... 1-2 teaspoons in a class of water every day is easily digestible. But only take it if needed.
Celery is known to be a 'bowel scraper'. I start with 1 cup of celery juice on an empty stomach. 3-4 stalks (including leaves) makes a cup. It can taste bitter so add a green apple if you like.
Too much fibre in your diet can actually cause constipation!
DIARRHOEA If you're contending with diarrhoea, eating white rice will help. Water is particularly important if you get diarrhoea as you need to watch dehydration.
FRUIT & VEGETABLES - Try for 5 serves of fruit and vegetables per day.
Stay away from stone fruit as much as possible as they're higher in sugar. Some of the highest fibre fruits and vegetables are :-
Apples, bananas, oranges, strawberries, pears, kiwi fruit, prunes all have around 3 to 4 grams of fibre. (Eat the apple peels - that’s where the most fibre is! Did you know you can also eat the skin on a kiwi fruit! It more than doubles the fibre content and isn't as bad as you think)
Raspberries win the fibre race at 8 grams per cup.
Exotic fruits are also good sources of fibre: A mango has 5 grams, a persimmon has 6, and 1 cup of guava has about 9.
Dark coloured vegetables. In general, the darker the colour of the vegetable, the higher the fibre content. Carrots, beets, and broccoli are fibre-rich. Collard greens and Swiss chard have 4 grams of fibre per cup. Artichokes are among the highest-fibre veggies, at 10 grams for a medium-sized one.
Potatoes. Russet, red, and sweet potatoes all have at least 3 grams of fibre in a medium-sized spud, if you eat the skin and all.
WATER & HYDRATION -
During chemo, it's important to drink up to 2 litres of water/fluid per day. This is vital so that you don't suffer from dehydration. Additionally, it will help flush some of the chemo toxin from your system. If your urine isn't running "clear" in colour, then you aren't drinking enough water! The darker the colour of your urine, the more toxins are in your system. This advice relates to everyday living - not just chemo patients. Remember too that juices/shakes etc count towards your daily fluid intake, but nothing beats water for a true cleanse.
** TIP - If you're undergoing cancer treatment, you're no doubt having blood taken regularly, or undergoing procedures that require an IV line. To make sure your veins are easily accessible (in other words - plump/full) be sure you are well-hydrated. Being well-hydrated will make it far easier for the nurse to find a full vein that can easily be punctured, making it less of a stressful and painful event for you.
DEALING WITH METALLIC TASTE
Sadly there's not a lot of relief here. When chemo started I had a slight metallic taste on day 5 only. By my 9th session, the metallic taste lasted from for 3days at a time and was all-consuming. Even water was unpalatable! By my 12th session, I could barely eat anything for an entire week! The metallic taste was all consuming. I tried to confine myself to sleeping just to avoid eating!
The best advice is that you don't eat your favourite foods when you have a metallic taste in your mouth. Doing so may put you off ever desiring to eat your favourite food again! It's like get food poisoning from a bad prawn - there's a psychological association made.
I have found that anything really sweet is all I can eat, so I make sure I keep it healthy with sweet juicy fruit (especially oranges and watermelon). And chewing gum!
I also found that sweetening my water with cordial made it more palatable. Adding syrup to a bowl of oats made that a good meal (at least oats supplied some nutrition). The dietician suggested eating plain rice, as the foods that were naturally rather tasteless made them more edible under the circumstances.
NOTE: The above advice regarding coping with this metallic taste was written during my first experience with chemo in 2016. I have a very different experience in 2021.
Prior to HIPEC surgery in 2021, my oncologist prescribed oral chemo (my. port-o-cath had already been removed). Unlike the gradual build-up of metallic taste which I'd experienced in 2016, it was immediate when I started the tablets. By the end of week 2, I was admitted to the emergency department and hospitalised for 3 weeks. I had virtually eaten nothing due to the metallic taste, and my body went into shutdown (much like the process that occurs with Bulimia) - my muscles almost went into a full paralysis!
Metallic Taste is no laughing matter.
According to my dietician, the trick is to reach a healthy weight range and then maintain it. She tells me that if you become underweight during chemo, it can be really difficult to build your body back up again. I managed to maintain my weight throughout my chemo by eating loads of food on my good days, so that it would compensate for the days when I couldn't eat. Vomiting and nausea weren't an issue for me, but when the metallic taste made food unpalatable, these were the days I didn't eat! By my last 2 sessions of chemo, my weight had dropped from a consistent 54kg down to 52kg. Not bad really, although for optimum health, I personally feel better at 54 or above.
In 2018, the cancer returned so when I knew I'd be having more chemo and a very drastic HIPEC operation (which involved one month stay in hospital), I purposely gained loads of weight in the months leading up to surgery so that when I inevitably lost weight, it wouldn't be as drastic. My diet, before and after cancer, has always been pretty balanced and healthy, so admittedly eating well was not a drastic change for me. But even I like to eat chocklate, pizza and fried chicken occasionally, so continue to enjoy your guilty pleasures in moderation.
A SHORT WORD ON EXERCISE
Many recent studies suggest that exercising every day not only increases your overall energy levels during chemo, but also helps to move the drug more efficiently through your system. It's also great for your mental health at this time! If I didn't exercise, I felt quite low emotionally by the end of the day.
I tried to exercise every day. If tired on chemo days, I at least walked 20mins. On other days, up to 2 hour, or I rode my bike for 40 mins. I also attended yoga 3-4 times a week. While these routines kept me fit, they did nothing to build muscle strength, which is important during chemo to aid in strengthening internal organs after all the operations prior to chemo.
Hence, my exercise physiologist gave me a full 15minute strength routine which I easily added to my daily schedule. I'm lucky to live near the waterfront, so I get all my exercise while looking over the ocean - makes it very enjoyable! On rare days when I didn't want to exercise at all, I at least did the muscle strengthening exercises. In all honesty exercising made my body feel very strong, and gave me a sense of being the one in control of the cancer and the chemo, not the other way around! And I looked as healthy as I felt!
MEDICARE (Australia) - Critical Disease Management Plan
In Australia, Medicare has an initiative which allows you to seek 5 sessions with a healthcare professional who might not otherwise be rebatable through medicare (this info was current as at 2017).
Your GP will write up a Critical Disease Management Plan for you based on your needs. This is how I accessed an Exercise Physiologist and Dietician. The service providers must be willing to see you under this plan. There is still an out-of-pocket expense, and the amount will depend on the fees charged by the service provider. You will need to research your desired specialist prior to seeing your GP so that they can write referrals for you as part of the management plan.
DETOXING AFTER CHEMO - The Indian Ayurvedic Way
November 9th 2016 I had my last chemo session. A PET scan and laparoscopy on December 19th 2016 showed no traces of cancer. In January of 2017, I headed off to an Ayurveda Hospital in India to detox from the harmful effects of chemo in my system. I chose to do a Panchakarma detox.
I had read previously that any detox programs should wait until 6 months following chemo, as the body has its own internal system for detoxifying the body and harm can be done to the liver if not careful. But I was in a hurry....... I went 2 months after finishing chemo.
While some (many) claim that Ayurvedic is a cancer cure, this was not why I went. And the jury is still out on that one for me. Let's face it, the cancer returned twice after I returned from this gruelling detox.
For full details of my Panchakarma experience, please read my "Conversation' on Ayurveda.
So far, like it or not, chemotherapy is the only cancer treatment tested over a long period of time. My own oncologist said it's designed to slow the cancer down. He's never pretended that it's a cure. We're now seeing many improvements in treatment options and reduced (or at least manageable) side-effects during chemo treatment! I'm forever grateful to the amazing doctors who devote their own time to cancer research. An area poorly funded by the Australian Government.
A Final Word on Alternative Therapies
SBS INSIGHT - "Can natural therapies coexist with medical models of health and healing? " Ros's Guest Appearance 2022
Australians are among the highest users of traditional and natural medicines. But GPs and the mainstream healthcare system often don’t recognise alternative therapies.
The increase in those seeking alternative therapies, and disillusionment with mainstream medical interventions, prompted SBS Insight to do a program focusing on this very topic. I, and several others, were invited on the program to share our stories of success, and failure, using alternative therapies for all manner of conditions. We were also joined by experts in the field of medicine and alternative therapies. Watch the full episode.
If you have any advice or tips of your own, please contact me. My full journey through healing emotionally, physically, spiritually can be found in my book (see below)
Good luck survivors!! ♥
Brisbane residents may purchase discounted hard copy directly from Ros $20 pick-up only
Online paperback and ebook order from:
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