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How important is diet, really?

Akroger's picture
Posts: 88
Joined: Mar 2013

I've read a lot of conflicting information regarding diet on other sites and on discussions here. The main one has been the advice to avoid white sugar and flour at any cost, because cancer cells particularly thrive on these items. Medical sources I've read dispute that contention on the argument that all cells depend on glucose, and all carbohydrates are metabolized into glucose anyway, so whether it's white bread or gluten-free spelt bread, it actually doesn't make a difference. Of course, logical scientific principles don't always correlate perfectly with actual experience, which is why I'm not sure who/what to believe.

My mom is at stage IV, with an inoperable tumor in her signmoid colon and mets to her lungs and liver. After Folfox stopped working earlier this year, she switched to Folfiri, and the last time her CEA was taken (early June), it was at 125. My mom was in bad health even before she was diagnosed, which is only worsened by the debillitating effects of the chemo, so she sleeps a lot and generally doesn't move too much, so her caloric needs are pretty low, but I think it's still a problem when she goes for days without being able to eat anything at all. (Because she feels nauseous, because it's hard to swallow, because she's in too much pain, because she has no appetite - if it's not one problem it's another.) When she does eat, it's usually eggs, and sometimes a piece of white toast. She usually can't handle eating meat at all. Sometimes she likes to eat Greek-style boiled greens that my aunt makes for her, with often disastrous ensuing effects on her digestion. In the winter I used to make her a rich hot chocolate brew with whole milk and chopped dark chocolate, because she really liked it (albeit just a tiny teacup-full), and I figured calories of some kind were better than nothing.

There's a lot of conflicting evidence regarding the links between cancer and diet. Some people on this forum have reported that they've eaten a super-nutritious diet their whole lives, are in great shape, exercise regularly, and yet they're still here. Some studies claim there's some correlation between obesity or eating red meat with colon cancer. When diagnosed, my mom was obese, sedentary, and suffered from severe depression. Theoretically a poster child for a colorectal cancer diagnosis, right? That was what my dad and I thought in the beginning at least, but everything I've read since then has made me realize it's not that simple. My mom's doctor doesn't make any specific recommendations on lifestyle, other than "Try to eat - ANYTHING" and "Try to move as much as you can." I realize that my mom's at a more advanced point than many of the people here, so maybe some of the advice I've read isn't really relevant for her anyway. Or is it? Even if all I can hope for at this point is that we might be able to prolong her life a little bit and make her more comfortable, how much practical value would factors like diet and movement, and anything else (supplements?) help her right now?

Trubrit's picture
Posts: 3901
Joined: Jan 2013

We had a huge garden growing up, providing all of our veg, and most of our fruit (exotics we purchased). We also had chickens, so fresh eggs too. The only thing we didn't have was a cow, but we always purchased whole milk. 

I've always been a walker, not so much into aerobic stuff. I do yoga. I used to swim. 

I have kept up the organic as much as I can in our small rural Nevada town (not everything is available, or affordable), and I exercise daily and yet here I sit, Stage IV CRC. So, go figure. 

My personal belief is (and note I said MY - mine - doesn't mean I expect others to believe so) moderation in all things.

I never eat or drink anything that is low fat, fat free or sugar free. I would NEVER touch margerine (which is nothing short of melted plastic), which was so touted in the 60's and 70's. I may have a soda once in a few months, but they are killers, with so much sugar. 

I do eat sugar and white flour. I make my own bread, my own yogurt, my own everything that I can basically. 

Will it save my life? Who knows, but I'll die knowing that I did my best. 

I am so sorry about your mum.  Don't push her too much. You don't want her to be unhappy at this point in her life. Its a hard call, I know.

Great thread, Akroger.

ron50's picture
Posts: 1625
Joined: Nov 2001

    My nephrologist is a really helpful and intelligent doctor. Unlike some of the other so called specialists I have been to,I can actually run things past this guy and get an informed opinion. Recently Some or the psters on a nephrotic syndrome board were on my case about going on a gluten free diet ,claiming it was yhe ONLY way to go. I asked my neph and he replied ,you have had several endoscopies and although they have found a lot of ulceration at times they have never shown any indication of celiacs disease. That is the only reason I would recommend gluten free. Plus he said it is too expensive. He feels that auto immune disease as well as cancer are unique to each patient because there is a genetic input from each patient. He thinks that this screams for the need for personlising each patients treatment to there own genetic needs. He is still a reasonably young doctor and he believes that in his lifetime we will see the advent of patient unique therapy being delivered direct to the source of the problem via nano technology. he is also honest and said that it is probably to late for me and we will be forced to use whats at fire front at this time. He said medicine is realtime and we have always been forced to use the best option at the time... Hugs and best wishes Ron.

Lovekitties's picture
Posts: 3271
Joined: Jan 2010

I know what you mean about the pros and cons about what we eat makes a difference in our health.

Regardless of what we eat, the cancer cells seem to be first to the table...that is why weight loss is one of the symptoms of the disease.  If there are low calories in, the good cells will get very little nurtiants.

However at this point in the disease for you mom she needs calories of any kind.  My sister's onc even suggested milk shakes to help with calorie intake..

If she can drink try things like Ensure or Boost.  You can get both with added protein which helps since she can't manage food proteins.  Small portions hourly during waking hours is also better than what we once considered normal meal times.  Even a sip or two that often will help.

You also mention movement.  It may be that she is concerned about falling.  If she can, get her to walk across the room, with help, to change chairs.  You might also check with the doctor to see if you can get a physical therapist to help exercise her muscles while in a lying or sitting position.  As session or two will give you the info you need to help her do them.

Wishing you all the best,

Marie who loves kitties

lp1964's picture
Posts: 1212
Joined: Jun 2013

Nothing is absolute. The only thing we can say that the oualty of diet exercise and the amount of chemicals, radiation, stress can increase or decrease the chance of getting cancer. It's not 100% that a heavy smoker will get lung cancer. He just has a higher risk. I Believe we consume way too much carbs, meat and chemicals and exposed to too much stress in this world, but we have to do our best to go on.

Let your mom have whatever she wants and enjoyes and I wish you guys the strength to go on.


TheLadySkye's picture
Posts: 195
Joined: Oct 2013

I too was concerned about the sugar and meat and had a frank discussion with my oncologist, surgeon, GI doctor, PCP, and any medical professional I could engage.  I wanted information, goshdarnit!  While I have READ a lot about sugar feeding cancer and meat being a possible culprit and the like, the response from the medical professionals I discussed with was universal.  For OVERALL health, meat and sugar in the like in moderation is a good idea.  However, there is no proven link between eating those foods and getting cancer or increased chance of recurrence.  Everything you eat is converted to sugars your body uses.  Vegetarians get cancer.  People who swear off sugar get cancer.  People who exercise like fiends get cancer.

Certainly it's not a bad idea to take the steps that will improve one's overall health.  I mean, it can't HURT to give our bodies a little more ammo.  But the brownie isn't likely to make things progress.

Sending good thoughts to your mom and your family.

Nana b's picture
Nana b
Posts: 3045
Joined: May 2009

I never craved sugar until my diagnosis.  I drink smoothies and juice and try to keep the good calories in me. I have slow growing tumors and I hope it's because I try and eat right, very limited alcohol, sweets only from smoothies.  Stress I've read is tied to cancer.  I truly believe that if you let your body unguarded, you open yourself  to cancer. 

i hope to be able to stay in front of this cancer going forward by staying away from chemo going through my whole body, to me that's not quality of life and I have been on chemo a long time. Not saying I won't go on it again some time, if lesions get out of control but will try to help my body as much as possible through nutrition and any chemoemobilzaction that I can get. 


ensure, smoothies, anything you can get in your Mom wil help. That's all I ate/drank for about 9 months. 


My ONC said easy on carbs and red meat. Exercise, any part of your body.  Moderation is key.   Attitude is important. This is all confusing As many have said they ate well and exercised but I won't take the chance of eating food that is nothing but fat and empty calories.   I have eaten well myself in the years past, before cancer,  but I was under a lot of strees. I'm the only person with cancer in my family, and I have a HuGE family, going back generations, and the most health conscious. 


I pray your Mom will start eating.  

Akroger's picture
Posts: 88
Joined: Mar 2013

I think the consensus here is what I myself have been inclined to assume is the smart way to go. In the first several months of chemo, my mom would get random craving for individual things - McDonald's, bagels with cream cheese and ham, carrot cake etc. And that would be all she'd eat, except when my aunt's mother would force-feed her some greens or lamb or fish or whatever else she'd made for her (my aunt's mother is much scarier than I am and my mom would usually submit to her albeit under loud protest). But every time, it was just a couple of bites of food, usually for an entire day, and then there'd be other days that she'd be passed out for nearly 24 hours straight and not eat anything at all. So that was scary, and that also made me sure that whenever she could eat, it HAD to be healthy food, the "right" kind of food. Since then, I've come around, and my thinking is - food is food, and if she can get calories/energy from it and manage more than a mouthful, then I'm all for it. Although sugar hasn't really been too much of a craving for my mom recently anyway, so it helps too that she's been tending towards healthier eating when she eats at all.

My dad and I tried to get her to take Ensure and Muscle Milk and other such compact, nutrient-rich products last year, and they worked for a little while, but now she really can't stand them. Yesterday she had some Greek-style braised green beans, a little whole grain bread and a few bites of cheese. She was really weak though, even though it's been two weeks since her last chemo session, so I wish she would eat more to have more energy.

I think stress has a lot more to do with my mom's cancer than anything else. Even though my parents are more inclined to attribute it to her unhealthy eating habits and weight - guilting and finger-pointing are popular pastimes in my family, which of course only add to the stress even more. My mom used to stress-eat, but now when she's tormenting herself about something or brooding about something my dad did or angry about some past slights, she can't even eat to relieve the stress, so it's a vicious cycle. 

I realize that a lot of this is superfluous, even TMI venting on my part. I want you all to know how grateful I am for your comments, for mollifying a lot of my concerns, and for confirming a lot of what seems like common sense, the importance of attitude and moderation. It's probably the worst timing to try to overcome a lifetime of poisonous, self-destructive thought patterns while fighting cancer, but the cancer itself is at least a strong motivator.

Nana b's picture
Nana b
Posts: 3045
Joined: May 2009

For awhile all I could eat was lightly fried potatoes burritos.  I think it was the blandness and salt that got me to eat it. My sister would show up with them and sneak a bit of bacon in now and then.   :) 


Now that I had surgery, it's what I'm eating again. I'm just not hungry.  Still trying to eat raw fruit when I can.  I love my fruit and veggies so much but they are giving me gas and belching all day. 

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