Your mission, if you choose to accept, is to reduce your risk of cancer by deliberately eating cancer-fighting foods.
My dad has cancer.
It’s still totally crazy to think about it, even though in another sense it’s become “the new normal” and we’ve had two months to get used to the idea.
Time doesn’t make the reality any easier; it just sounds that way.
He’s battling bladder cancer, which is found in smokers about 50% of the time.
My dad has never smoked in his life.
Let me tell you, one of the first questions you start asking when a loved one is diagnosed with cancer is, “Why? What the heck happened in his life to cause this? Is my mom at risk? Was it something in my childhood home? Is cancer lurking in the ‘someday’ file for me and my brother too, since we lived there for nearly two decades?”
You start to do Internet research. You learn how the bladder is the last stop for most toxins, both inhaled and consumed, and that it gets hit with a lot of junk for most people.
You read that truckers are one profession that has a higher job-related risk of bladder cancer, likely because of the gasoline and fumes from the trucks, as far as you can decipher.
And Then You Start to Wonder…
My dad sells cars and has worked – practically lived for all intents and purposes – in his car dealership, an ancient building with no real divide between the mechanics’ work area and the showroom. Were there toxic fumes wafting around him every day for decades? Did the frighteningly out-of-date microwave he uses to heat his coffee and leftovers finally nail him? Learning that a former employee is also currently battling the exact type of cancer makes my skin prickle.
I give a moment’s thought to our home, to our well water, to who-knows-what could be behind the walls or under the carpet. I prefer to think about other outside activities in my mental, futile quest for an answer.
Did his recreation, benign activities like bowling and playing cards, actually come back to hurt his health just because his buddies filled his breathing room with secondhand smoke year after year after year? Did his body finally say, “Enough is enough!” to his love affair with fried foods and cured meats?
I always said his restaurant fare looked like a heart attack on a plate, but his bladder is trying to prove me a fool.
Wondering if cancer could affect you or your family? I was pleasantly surprised with my results to this super quick quiz after my dad’s successful battle with bladder cancer!
The Answer to the Evil
We’ll never know this side of Heaven the many pieces that likely played a role in this tumor, this parasitic evil called cancer, which took root inside my dad’s body.
We’re grateful it was caught early – microscopic blood in his urine at a routine physical, in a man who otherwise was the picture of health, particularly for a 75-year-old in our current prescription-driven, chronic-disease-ridden culture.
We’re grateful my dad feels comfortable with his oncologist and can trust him, and that there is a plan in place.
But it’s still a frightening prospect, to know that this thing that doesn’t belong, this tumor inside him, needs potently toxic drugs to kill it, then bladder removal. None of that is something to be tossed around lightly.
Plan of Attack
When we first found out about the cancer, it was quite surreal.
It was almost easy to roll with it, to think, “We’ll get through this, this will just be a distant memory by next year.”
And then we heard that it was aggressive. It might be spreading. It wasn’t staying put. Chemo needed to start NOW, and might be doubled up to speed up the process.
After that news, I spent a day or two in a bit of a state of shock. I couldn’t quite wrap my brain around how to handle the prospect. I wanted to fix everything, to take my knowledge and build a titanium fence around the tumor that would contain it, that would quell its growth, that wouldn’t allow it to go to any other organs.
But cancer won’t be mastered. It’s a parasite that will eat anything near it, including my imaginary fence, no matter how much research I did.
But I had to try.
This was my dad.
Fighting Cancer with Food
As a healthy food blogger, it’s almost comical how often conversations, my time, and my solution for every problem under the sun come back to food.
Part of me says that food can’t possibly be the cause of everything, now can it? And then the more I read, the more it sure seems that food really is related to just about everything, so why not come back to food when something is awry in the body in any way?
I threw myself into discovering the foods that might encourage that blasted tumor to grow and the foods that would potentially (a) obstruct or impede its growth, (b) give my dad’s body the best defense system for naturally fighting the cancer, and (c) help him weather the chemo drugs with the fewest side effects possible.
My dad has always been a meat-and-potatoes (and bread!) sort of eater, with 75 years to become set in his ways. In fact, I think “set in his ways” was likely coined by someone who knew a Polish man over 50. Mark my words.
It would be an uphill battle.
But my dad is a fighter, and has a little grandchild, the first child of his only son, due in August, to look forward to. His motivation to get through this successfully is high.
I spent 5 days at my parents’ house as soon as the shock wore off (until my husband said, “We’re nearly out of the food you left behind, you need to come home or we’ll starve!”). I threw myself into learning, shopping, brainstorming, borrowing time I didn’t really have, but that I’ll never regret.
I headed out for the 5-hour drive armed with podcasts, GMO Summit talks to listen to and my Rosary and packed a cooler with pastured, bone-in chicken, grassfed beef bones, frozen fruit, fresh greens and veggies, and more, plus grocery bags of coconut flour, tea, probiotic powder, artichokes, carrots, apples, lemons and olive oil.
No way was I letting my parents know how overboard I’d gone until I got there.
Can you fight cancer with food? I didn’t know, but it was all I could do, and even though I firmly believe in the power of prayer – which I was employing with all my might and resources and friends – I also was compelled to DO something.
And so I cooked.
I taught, I made lists, I shared resources.
My mom has my Blendtec (much to my kids’ smoothie-loving dismay), a juicer that was a product sample that went unopened for 6 months, and more frozen fruit and bone broth than she’s ever had in those freezers at one time.
I sat down with her and listed out foods that are supposed to be anti-cancer, foods that would support the liver and kidneys, which are beaten down intensely by chemotherapy, and foods that, according to some sources, might promote cancer growth.
She shared her concern: that if we cut too many things from Dad’s diet, he would lose weight, and they were told that it’s dangerous for chemo patients to lose weight, since that’s a risk with chemo anyway and they don’t want to diminish his own defenses and weaken him.
I promised her we’d make sure it wasn’t all just salads and sunflower seeds.
My dad, a great salesman but never a real academic, wouldn’t need quite so much information. It would have gone in one ear and out the other, so I made simple lists and explained them in as few words as possible, mostly going with, “I want to give your body the best chance to fight this thing, feel good (or at least better-than-crappy) during chemo, and come out on the other side with many years to live and enjoy your grandkids. It’s your choice what you honestly eat and don’t eat, but here are my best recommendations based on what I could find.”
I’ll share the full-out lists later tonight or tomorrow in a separate post, as a printable if I’m smart, but for this Monday Mission I am going to share the top 10 cancer-fighting fruits and veggies that I encourage anyone to simply consume more often.
Top 10 Cancer-Fighting Fruits and Vegetables
Our world is full of unavoidable toxins, in the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat – even when it’s well-sourced. It behooves us to eat foods that may tip the balance scales in our bodies toward “healthy and strong” and away from “susceptible to cancer.” We’ll never really know what our toxic load is, what is that one thing or cumulative process that will try to tip the scales to overload and create a weakness in our body to be exploited by cancer.
So we can only do our best to avoid known toxins and embrace known anti-cancer foods, like these powerhouses:
- Cabbage (especially raw – see HERE for plenty of ideas to use this awesome, frugal veggie!)*
- Lemons (detoxes liver and kidneys, along with limes)
- Broccoli (especially raw)*
- Fresh greens, including spinach, kale, Swiss chard, parsley and especially bok choy**
- Sprouts (here’s how to make super simple, super frugal sprouts at home)
*Raw cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower are cruciferous veggies, and raw crucifers can negatively impact thyroid health, but typically only in those who have thyroid issues already. Be sure to monitor your energy levels and how you feel in general and as with anything, don’t overdo it. Lacto-fermented sauerkraut would be the optimal way to eat cabbage, because the lacto-fermentation process neutralizes most anti-nutrients (like goitrogens), makes the food more easily digestible and adds healthful probiotics, something every human needs more of, but certainly if you’re entering an immune-destroyer like chemo.
**Some raw greens, like spinach and kale, contain oxalates which can be an issue for those prone to kidney stones. Lightly steam for use in smoothies or use in cooked applications if you’re concerned about that. (My mom steamed and froze kale for Dad’s smoothies.)
I chose fruits and vegetables that had research-based foundations and specific instructions for reducing cancer risk or tumor growth rates.
And here’s the bottom line – whether these foods actually fight cancer, support other vital organs, build immunity, detoxify or NOT hardly matters. They’re not going to hurt you – we all have to eat something – so why not eat foods with clear health benefits that, hey, might even build your defense against cancer.
There’s no “lose” to the equation.
Eat real food!
More “Cancer Week” at Kitchen Stewardship
People have asked what I made for my folks, what I stocked their freezer with when I visited that extended weekend. This week I’ll unpack everything I can remember and share all the cancer info I can muster, including:
- The food lists I gave my dad (titled “Eat whenever the heck you want,” “Eat,” “Eat sometimes,” “Eat if you want to cheat,” and “Please avoid at all costs.”
- What I cooked
- My talk with his oncologist to see what he’d allow
- Whether I bought organic or not
- How we’re helping Dad handle chemo with barely any side effects