Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Risk Factor

In which our Heroine reads, eats, and writes about it. 

Not all books about cancer are the same, especially when it comes to food.  The biggest difference I am finding is that some books assume chemotherapy happened or is currently happening.  Although this may be true for many, and maybe even for the majority, I find this assumption generally problematic.  Not all cancers demand such chemical measures.  A few of us cancerous victims choose alternate routes to recovery because of the location of said dastardly cancer, or because of age, etc.  Any book that assumes chemo or radiation must focus primarily on the current big problems at hand: nausea, decrease in appetite or “waking up the taste-buds,” and increasing protein consumption because the body must rebuild its cells.  (Ever wonder why most people with cancer get so emaciated?) Most of the recipes in these books tend to be normal or only slightly altered from your everyday Betty Crocker.  And frankly, if these people were really trying to staunch my nausea, they already fail.  I can’t imagine eating tuna with horseradish when fending off an incumbent vomit, “waking up my taste-buds” or not. 
No, nausea and protein consumption are thankfully not my problems.  In my research, I am finding that books on food for fighting cancer are the best, though they are difficult to find.  Apparently this is a relatively new idea.  Far from assuming a difficult healing process, these books actually presuppose the landmark idea that cancer can be fought, or even prevented with something ordinary—food consumption—a thing we must do anyway.  It’s a matter of a healthy and sustaining diet.  Most people seem to believe cancer to be a matter of bad luck, or genetically inevitable.  In truth, only 15% of cancers can be blamed on genetic predisposition. 
I like cancer-fighting literature because it will often offer explanation as to why or how cancer happens in the body, and then a direct way to fight it.  It’s like finding the rusty chinks in an ugly enemy’s armor and then being wise enough to plunge my newly whetted sword in right where the weakness exists to exterminate the foe, hopefully leaving nothing viable or even recognizable behind.  If this were a movie, I’d be talking about a mess of severed appendages in a bloody heap on the ground.  I know my words are brutal.  But my enemy hasn’t been kind with me.  Cancer found my weaknesses and used them against me, and I see no reason why I should prolong his useless existence any longer and not do exactly the same thing.  It makes me feel so powerful to think that I can.
The best book I’ve found to date is entitled Foods to Fight Cancer: Essential foods to help prevent cancer, by Richard Beliveau, Ph.D and Denis Gingras, Ph.D.  The authors are top researchers who used to work for pharmaceutical companies to find new drugs to fight cancer.  After much research, these men have found promising results from the food nature has already provided.  I can only assume that they pay for their research with the books they sell, because there’s no way pharmaceutical companies love this result. 
According to this book, 1 in 3 people are at risk of encountering cancer (and subsequent death) in their life time.  Contrast that with the 1 in 7,000 who will die from a motor vehicle accident.  Which brings up the best part about this book: it’s a good read for any who have loved ones suffering from cancer, or are just generally interested in their own health and in understanding the role of healthy foods in the body. 
Some of you may be asking “Why if something as ordinary as a strawberry can fight cancer, then Tara how did you get it?  You are young and you eat strawberries frequently.”  Yeah, I’ve also come up against this question.  And here’s the truth.  My eating habits are awful.  Several times a day I find myself craving processed freezer food and mounds of fluffy white bread.  If you give me a choice between a frozen pizza and a pear, most of the time I’ll want to choose the pizza.  It takes real effort for me to eat the pear instead.  But what I’m learning is that poor dietary habits can lead to a 30% risk for cancer whereas hereditary factors only indicate a 15% risk.  Obesity and lack of exercise add another 5% on.  3 of my 4 grandparents had cancer, so I’m going to say that along with my bad dietary habits and a few extra pounds, I am looking at a 50% risk total.  Great.  Good thing I am drug-, alcohol-, and smoking-free, otherwise I’d be dead for sure (total 84% risk). 
All right, I’m starting to remind myself of Ben Stiller in that movie Along Came Polly, where he plays an insurance agent who constantly types numbers into his risk-adding computer program. So, in what I trust will be a helpful nutshell (and hopefully not too much of a copyright infringement) here is a quick list of the top 10 foods that help fight cancer as listed in the previously-mentioned book:
1.       Cabbage
2.       Garlic and Onions
3.       Soy (but you have to be careful about the source of the soy)
4.       Turmeric (especially as combined with pepper: food combinations matter. This is something that eastern doctors have known for—ever.
5.       Green Tea (I am LDS, so I don’t drink this—but sometimes I wish I could!)
6.       Berries
7.       Salmon and other fish with omega 3’s, or flaxseed
8.       Citrus fruit
9.       Red Wine (yep, still LDS…)
10.   Chocolate (dark, and good quality—don’t fall for the fructose-filled kind commonly sold in grocery stores.  Eating that stuff is just asking for cancer—trust me, I know).


  1. I like this! One question, do the authors factor in the trace metal content that is found in fish such as salmon these days? I've heard of a few doctors recommending women stay off the fish with high mercury content during pregnancy and I imagine it's no better for cancer, but I am not well versed in these matters. what are your thoughts?

  2. Yet another reason I hope dipnetting this summer yields massive results so we can eat salmon twice a week.

  3. Mel,

    The book points out that although there are trace amounts of toxins in some of this fish, the benefits still outweigh the cons. Generally speaking I would say the argument for salmon, etc. is mostly for the high omega 3 content. I would go for wild salmon over farmed because farmed salmon are fed non-traditional diets (grain) which increase omega 6's--which do enhance the chance of cancer. A lot of our meat these days is omega 6 high but 3 deficient. Just chalk one more argument up for traditional and organic-based diets.

  4. Sounds like a great book! I have been trying to do better with what we eat, but it does take motivation and self control. I saw a great movie along the same line called Food Matters (it was on netflix). You should check it out. I love reading your blog. You are such a great writer! I miss our weekly lunches from last year!

  5. Tara, thanks for answering my question! That's very interesting and good to know. I love salmon and now I have an even greater reason to eat it often. I didn't know that bit about farm raised vs. wild salmon either. I'll have to try eating the wild more often.