The cancer diet

Posted in Uncategorized by Sean Holton on August 30, 2009
My brother Brian cooked up some Cancer Burgers on Saturday

My brother Brian cooked up some Cancer Burgers on Saturday

Global history is driven forward by ever-shifting currents of fundamental conflict that pit entire civilizations against one another. During the Cold War it was East vs. West. Then after the Soviet Union collapsed our planet seemed more divided along lines of North vs. South. Lately, as we’ve been led to believe, the future will be even more sharply defined by the outcome of the struggle between Radical Islam and The Rest Of The World.

But now I see showdowns looming that will dwarf them all. First up: Dietitians vs. Dermatologists. And after that: Dietitians vs. Everybody Else. And when the smoke has cleared from that one, and I the only man left standing, the final conflict: Dietitians vs. Me.

My first inkling of this came in my consultation session with a registered oncology dietitian named Lenore at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. I went to see her on my first day of radiation treatment, because I wanted to know about the ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ of nutrition that I should be following over the course of my six-week treatment.

One of the first things Lenore told me immediately set off alarm bells. She said I should spend about 15 minutes each day in full sunlight wearing only shorts. The reason is that I need to build up my Vitamin D reserves to help keep my immune system strong during the oncoming onslaught of chemotherapy and radiation. Exposure to sunlight will do that. So I told her I walk my dogs twice a day, putt around in the yard quite a bit, and was also planning to walk or ride my bike to and from radiation treatments each day. That should be enough sun, shouldn’t it?

“Will you be doing all of that with your shirt off?” Lenore asked sharply. “Because unless your shirt is off, you won’t be getting enough sun.”

Now, anyone who lives in Florida would probably fall over dead upon hearing any medical professional tell them they needed to get MORE sun. We’re constantly being told by dermatologists that we should only venture out of our homes after suiting up in NASA-approved spacewalking gear to avoid the harsh effects of the intense sunlight here. And we’re programmed to reinforce that message with one another on a daily basis. Some of my friends practically put on 50 SPF sunblock just to step out in the driveway to get the morning paper. My friend Robyn, who was the medical writer at my former newspaper and as such is an expert on the ravages of skin cancer, somehow manages to live in Florida year round without ever letting so much as a single photon of sunlight touch her skin. She even took an extended vacation to Hawaii recently and come back without a hint of a tan, let alone a sunburn. She’ll have a lifetime with perfect, lily-white skin as a reward for her diligence. Decades from now, when the rest of us are wrinkled up prunes in nursing homes, Robyn will still be sitting on a beach somewhere with her luminous skin, sprawled under an umbrella in a big, floppy hat and fully protective white clothing, sipping pina coladas and fending off Hollywood casting agents as she laughs at the flash-fried idiots prancing around in speedos and string bikinis.

I, on the other hand, am an expert at ignoring most medical advice. I lather up with sunblock if I’m doing something like going to the beach or playing golf, but the rest of the time I figure it’s just too much trouble. I’ve paid the price with a rough and ruddy complexion that I blame on having cheap Irish skin.  But that’s just an excuse. Most of it is really my fault. Shortly before being diagnosed with a brain tumor, in fact, I had been ordered to see a dermatologist who promptly dug a bunch of freckles out of my body and sent them off to a lab to be analyzed. All clear, thank goodness, but the sticker price for that information was about $600.

Anyway, being the health scofflaw that I am, I was kind of happy to hear Lenore’s advice about the sun. She did say that I shouldn’t spend a minute more than 15 minutes in the sun. But she repeatedly hammered home the importance of making that part of my routine, particularly during the period of chemotherapy. Okay, I’m sold. Thanks Lenore.

Then she moved on into a lifestyle area that is a bit more touchy for me: Grilling meat. She asked me if I engaged in that sordid, primitive activity. When I informed her that my gas grill is basically my kitchen for cooking daily meals, year around, she wrinkled up her nose. “You must know,” she said, “that when fat from meat you are cooking drips down into the heat source, and the resulting smoke from that burning fat rises back up and touches the meat, it has a carcinogenic effect.” Lenore suggested I ditch my grilling habits altogether, or at the very least wrap everything I cook in aluminum foil so as to keep said fat from ever falling into said fire. At that point, I wanted to interrupt the meeting so I could step outside and place an emergency phone call to Kansas City, Missouri, in order to inform all of my best buddies there that…Soylent Green Is People! And my buddies would laugh at me just like everyone laughed at Charlton Heston. In Kansas City, you learn how to eat and cook barbecued food just a few months after you are weaned from mother’s milk. So if Kansas City suddenly had to drop everything and follow Lenore the Dietitian’s grilling tips, it would be worse than any terrorist attack imaginable, worse even than having a suitcase nuke go off in the middle of downtown. Kansas City as we know it would cease to exist without barbecue. So I knew that, as a proud son of Kansas City, there was no way I would be following that dietary advice from Lenore. Next subject, please.

Alcohol: Okay, here’s another touchy one for an Irish guy. My main oncologist had informed me that it might be beneficial for me to drink a glass of merlot each evening to relax and soak up whatever anti-oxidant properties red wine supposedly has. I kind of liked where he was headed with that, but I’m not much a wine drinking type. So I asked Lenore if I could substitute the word “Budweiser” for “merlot” and enjoy the same health benefit. And maybe even could I occasionally slip in a nice, chilly “Martini”? I knew deep down that the answer would be no, but I thought it was worth a shot. Then Lenore made it even worse. She just wrinkled up her nose again and told me I shouldn’t be drinking any alcohol, not even merlot, really, and said she might have to have a little talk with the oncologist who had led me to believe otherwise. Wow, I thought, I’m setting off all kinds of wars between medical disciplines here. But whatever. I’ll be ignoring that tip too. Next subject, please.

Caloric intake: Now me and Lenore got to be friends again. Because she said the most important goal of my cancer-treatment diet was to keep my appetite up and maximize my caloric intake so that I didn’t lose a bunch of weight and shrivel up like a boiled green bean. Anyone who knows me would laugh at the possibility of such an outcome. But I was pumped, because Lenore’s advice basically green-lighted me to eat all kinds of things I normally wouldn’t be eating even before I found out I had a brain tumor: Ice cream. Milkshakes. Mashed potatoes made with real butter. Steak and eggs for breakfast….on, and on, and on.

Okay, now we’re talking. I’m on board with the cancer diet now. I might even sell my house and move in next door to a Dairy Queen. But everyone keeps telling me that this brain-cancer stuff is all about cultivating a “one-day-at-a-time” mentality. So in that spirit, the timing couldn’t have been better. My brother Brian is here for a visit this weekend. On Saturday, he whipped up some delicious cheeseburgers on the grill for lunch. For dinner, we fired up the Weber again to make some savory baby back ribs.

In a nod to my changing lifestyle, I saved all the carcinogenic meat drippings from both meals and have set them aside in a small, sealed container. My plan is to gargle with these drippings each night after I finish brushing my teeth with a cold beer.

Then I will put on some sunblock and go straight to bed.


12 Responses

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  1. bluedevil said, on August 30, 2009 at 10:25 am

    Brilliant logic, Sherlock-boy. I figure the whole point of the second 50 years is to take advantage of the superior life span we’ve developed, by following all the rules for healthy living during the first 50 years, by breaking all those rules. Of course, if like most of us, we never followed them in the first place, then we’re on borrowed time and have nothing to lose anyway. So it all comes out to char-broiled burgers and Buds by the pool, Bucket.
    Who says life ain’t fair?

  2. Jamie said, on August 30, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    You need to get Lenore drunk on a good Merlot and have your way with her. Maybe she will be more amenable to the necessities of life such as baby back ribs.

  3. Lois Grebowski said, on August 30, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    I’m with Jamie on this one. Sounds like Lenore could use some loosening up…LOL!

    From what I gather food may start to taste differently after you go through chemo/radiation. It did for some of my family members. Just remember that what you used to like may end up tasting much different from what you’re used to. Who knows, maybe stuff that you normally don’t like will taste better?

    Enjoy the grilled beast and buds.

  4. Mike Griffin said, on August 30, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Let me get this straight. No grilling. No drinking. So that pretty much rules out any reason to watch baseball or play cards.

    Christ. This IS serious.

  5. Kelly J Fent said, on August 30, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    I rarely use trite internet abbreviations, but when I say I’m ROTFLMAO, it’s totally literal.

    A clamorous din arose from the weekend Weber warriors of Westport Road when the grilling pronouncement was posted. Dave Noland is ranting and railing on his patio as we speak! Lenore had better steer clear of K.C. if she wishes to continue her career of giving patients ludicrous advice. [Bless her heart.]

    Tell Bri “Hi!” for me, if he’s still around.

  6. Robyn said, on August 30, 2009 at 7:03 pm

    Nice try with the Budweiser substitute, sorry that didn’t work out. Hmmm…so much advice in here that I don’t heed. I mean, gin is my FRIEND, I can’t ignore my friends, can I?
    Anyway, good luck with the diet. A milkshake sounds good to me.

  7. claudine hellmuth said, on August 30, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    that is by far the funniest thing I have ever read! I haven’t laughed that hard in a long, long time.

  8. paul lester said, on August 30, 2009 at 9:11 pm

    Sean, this post is so hilarious it’s making us cry. Fantastic! I’m siding with the oncologist. Drink as much vino as you want. Cheers, man.

  9. Nona Parry said, on August 30, 2009 at 10:14 pm

    Laughing Out Loud at your Plan Be!

    Hope you decide to cater to Lenore’s mad desire to see you without your shirt.

  10. Susan said, on August 30, 2009 at 10:31 pm

    So, does this mean I can’t take you to dinner? Crap! No chance now? I talked about you at the Unitarian Church today. You know us Unitarians are crazy. I have dogs and run a dog rescue. I wouldn’t mind going walking with you and your dogs. ha! I am NOT taking my shirt off.

  11. Fred said, on September 4, 2009 at 4:10 pm

    I can attest to Brian’s great grilling skills. Our sons are in scouts together and on one of the camping trips last year, Brian was manning the grill. Funny though, he didn’t call them cancer burgers, nor did he make us gargle with the meat drippings… Worse still, because it was a scout event, we couldn’t wash it down with either a Bud or a merlot 😉 Brian told me about your blog yesterday and I’ve been enjoying it ever since. Thanks.

  12. Pam Iatesta Vieyres said, on September 11, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Hey Sean…Pam from France here knowing exactly where you’re coming from when you talked about Brian’s awesome cheeseburgers on the grill. As you know we’ve had many a BBQ with him and Sue and they would be impossible to give up for fear of a little carce nogenic grease. I just connected to your blog and couldn’t resist responding immediately, especially after your reference to Soylent Green! A lot has happened since we walked down the aisle together at Sue and Brian’s wedding…Thanks to Sue, we are both aware of what’s going on in each of our lives. I look forward to your daily inspirations and wit and hope I can at least give you back a little of what you are so generously giving to those who read your insights. So Ciao for now…Pam

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