Integrative Choices Part 1: Food

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There are a million and one different ways to help support your child’s body while experiencing Leukemia. Ranging from fleeing to Mexico and finding a holistic cancer clinic to indulging on hospital cafeteria milkshakes at every appointment, the choices are vast. You can also spend hours, upon hours, (upon hours) reading the literature on the pros and cons of all of it.

Trust me, I have.

And I don’t think that’s wasted time. I think it helps line up the freight train of childhood cancer with the paralysis that is being the parent of a cancer kid. When you spend 3 hours searching the web for hats that your soon-to-be bald child can wear, even though in the end, he won’t end up using them, it easy to reflect at what a waste of time it was. It wasn’t. In the sacred space of adjusting to your child’s cancer diagnosis, God wastes nothing.

Alas, outside of the healing of mindless internet searches, at some point you have to make actual decision. Here are the decisions we made, for our family.

Part One: Nutrition

There is no kick in the pants to your diet idols like the kick in the pants of childhood cancer. I don’t think I ever thought a good diet would keep him from cancer, explicitly. I mean, sheer statistics would keep him from it, right? How could that ever happen to us? But once it did, needless to say, my approach to diet was thrown for a loop (as was everything else, bc once your kid has cancer, it takes months (years?) to figure out what you actually believe matters).

*steroids* We have focused in on fruits and vegetables, especially during the first month of steroids. He could have as many helpings of chips, bread, crackers, as he wanted, but each serving had to be couched by raw produce. This worked pretty well for us to curb his incessant appetite, but also keep his gut motility up and his blood sugar stable.

He also craved salty things, so we made sure to have ample supplies of pickles and sauerkraut on hand. We chose brands that were organic and full of live probiotics, like Bubbies and Ozuke. Also, homemade popcorn drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with Redmond popcorn salt. Done. So delicious, and full of healthy fats and trace minerals.

During steroids we would also push hard on potassium, as it is directly linked to muscle atrophy and cramping. We’d aim for high potassium foods, but also supplement if necessary

*probiotics* are a hot topic when someone is neutropenic, and you’ll have to make that decision for yourself. We chose not to supplement with probiotics when he was neutropenic, but to allow him to eat whatever probiotoic rich food he craved. When he he is not neutropenic, we use Florish probiotics.

Any phase that included the chemo Vincristine, known for the havoc is wreaks on many bodily systems, but specifically the gut, we had Beaudin drink a cup of Smooth Move tea, or similar, every 1-2 days. This kept his bowel movements regular which helps for overall comfort, but also to ensure that dead and dying cells are moving through your body and spending no more time than necessary up in there.

*Variety, or not* Days after diagnosis we had to have an orientation at the hospital. In that orientation, the nurse explained that it didn’t matter at all what Beaudin ate, as long as he got calories. That even if he ate mac & cheese for 6 months straight, that was fine. I couldn’t disagree more, I absolutely think that how we fuel our bodies matters, but really, that’s not the point of this post. And even in that comment that I find laughable, some grace and space was created for me to choose frozen pizza more often than I would have pre-cancer.

I mean, Betsy, 6 months of mac & cheese straight is permitable by these people. Enjoy the luxury of a damn , frozen pizza!

Throughout treatment Beaudin has gone in and out of craving meat and then being adverse to it. We try to just ride the waves with this, believing that his body will crave, generally, what is needed. It is hard because somedays I think that I crave three cups of coffee and a Starbucks Morning Bun- so it’s not to say that all cravings serve you. But alas, I think a kids body speaks more authentically in what it needs. So there are weeks where he eats meat and weeks where he doesn’t.

*Sugar and Caffeine* The naturopathic oncologist that we have consulted with in Arizona, has shared with us research that consuming sugar and caffeine before and shortly after chemotherapy helps to kill off more weak, power hungry cells. Cancer cells, stupid as shit, but prolific, are more active when boosted by sugar and caffeine and, as such, the chemo can find them more easily. So, we ate wicked healthy 75% of the time, and enjoyed mocha milkshakes and ice cream after most chemo appointments. Quick science lesson, simple carbs turn to sugar in your body, so we indulged in the simplest of all pleasures. This was lovely science, because it also let us have a special treat on days that were harder than normal.

Beaudin, post chemo appointment, delighted that simple carbs were part of the protocol.

*Does any of this matter??* I think everyone’s body is different, and everyone’s beliefs on the toxic loads of pharmaceuticals is different. But how I operate is that if I can prevent his kidneys and liver from filtering out a prophylactic pharmaceutical by feeding him fresh produce, limited processed carbs, and pushing lots of clean, filtered water…. then lovely. Is it harder to prep fresh produce than just hand him a bag of chips, yes. Is it hard to explain, on repeat, that we are choosing differently because we believe differently, yes. But it’s hard and worthy, as are all of the best things. And to be fair, our kids are used to sauerkraut juice for breakfast, raw veggies for snacks, and turning down food-coloring cupcakes, so for us, there wasn’t a huge amount of resistance. Saying, “We are going to make a choice that fuels our bodies really well,” is understood by our kids.

Beaudin hasn’t needed to take any of the heartburn medication, he hasn’t needed nausea medication, he hasn’t used the stool softener- all meds that are prescribed prophylactically because the doctors are “sure” you will need them. He has maintained a healthy weight and has not struggled with the low blood sugar levels that can be a side effect of the daily chemo he is on for Maintenance Therapy (6MP). He has only had one chemo hold, following Delayed Intensification, and has only visited the ER once for a fever, a fever which resolved within 4 hours and left me wondering why I took him in the first place.

Goodness knows that the doctors have not asked a single time about what we feed him, or anything else in regards to our lifestyle choices. Nothing. Have you taken the meds and is he eating? That is all the inquire about.

Who the hell knows what difference any of this nutrition stuff makes!

What I do know is that teaching your kid to choose healthy, nutritious food is a beautiful thing, allowing them to indulge in creature comforts like chocolate milkshakes is honorable, and having grace and space for the multi million food choices in-between imperative. Comment below if you have other questions about how we’ve approached diet/nutrition. I’d love to know your thoughts!

Steroid snack packs, prepped and ready for our hospital days in January 2019.

4 comments

  1. What a beautiful article, reflecting on food choices in this journey! Betsy, you are doing heroic work and loving your kids so well in the season.

    😘 Ali

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  2. We are trying to change her diet to a more whole food approach, but I struggle with getting her to eat healthy foods she does not like. We did have a pretty decent list of foods she would tolerate that are healthy, but that list has shrunk and I find myself running out of choices. Smoothies are great to add extra veggies like spinach and kale but she’s even getting tired of smoothies. Any tips to get kids to eat food they don’t like because they need the nutrients. I must add she has been very good at rejecting anything I say is not good for her and we have not had to take Zofran etc as well I strongly believe it’s because she eats healthy, but im lost as to how to add foods she doesn’t like.

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    1. Elizabeth, thank you so much for your comment. Feeding kids is so hard to being with, add cancer, and , well, you ARE running out of choices. A couple things I would share. We always thought Beau wasn’t nauseous bc he wasn’t complaining about it and/or actively throwing up. However he also was never hungry and nothing ever sounded good to him. We were so hell ent on limiting meds, that I saw all this as just side effects, when in hindsight I think he was actually nauseous. I wish we had figured out the nausea things (even maybe with CBD, marajuana) so that we could have circumvented the “I’m not hungry” thing. Second thing- I would hold loosely on all the things-one thing we realized, and I wish we had sooner, is the healthy wholeness is only partially from healthy food, its also from comfort, stability, feeling like they have a choice and can say no to the damn smoothie, relaxing. Have her cook with you even if she eats nothing. Have her grocery shop with you even if she doesnt eat it. This is the longest shortest season and so though you want her to stay healthy, you also want her to have a whole approach to food.She will regain her tastebuds, and in the meantime you will have created a holistic approach to food as nourishment. Then practically, a couple things that helped us: Sauerkraut, sautéed spinach with apple cider vinegar, all the organic hot dogs he wanted (compromise!), so much popcorn with olive oil and sea salt, organic frozen pizza (compromise!)- see the trend. We still have trouble with getting Beau to eat enough and just the other day I was thinking I need to look in to an appetite stimulant (I’d likely go more natural with a marajuana option than pharmaceutical) bc it IS really hard to eat when you don’t feel hungry. Best of luck to you, hold loosely to all the things, you are doing a great job! xx

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      1. oh, one other encouragement. We did have a lot of open conversations about how the body works and how it needs “clean fuel” to process the toxic chemo. This helps us get him on board with a plate of raw veg being left out and that being his snack option (honestly though he weirdly enjoys raw veggies.) Speaking openly and directly (age appropriate) about how we want to nourish our bodies s important to get our kids buy-in. I am not sure how old your daughter is and know this can be tough depending on age. One book we got and read for context and to use as a basis for our vocabulary was this book: https://amzn.to/3M9vkIW. We would also just set hard limits about what had to be consumed, “Sounds great, you’d like an ice cream, yes. You will have to fill up on some ‘growing foods’ (another term we use) so let me know if you’d like sauerkraut and hotdogs or some steamed edamame (with olive oil and real salt).” They have agency, but we have the final decision. ❤

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