During our crossing of the Drake Passage, I spent several hours each day researching the web for information about throat cancer. I was seeking to understand what I was in for. Before we arrived at the Antarctic Peninsula, I found myself overloaded with data but still starving for information. It was very clear that I needed to stop doing research and just enjoy each day. On February 17, 2017, I wrote in my journal:
“I am very excited being on board an expedition cruise to Antarctica. What a perfect venue to contemplate my next chapter – a battle to conquer cancer. I am ready for the battle, and I fully intend to win the battle. How do I feel? I am paying a lot of attention to my throat. Maybe it is my imagination, but it seems that I can feel a ‘disturbance’ when swallowing. I have no pain. I have mild stiffness in my neck. My appetite is good. My overall well-being is good. I will eat, exercise, do some chores, listen to a lecture, have some tea, exercise, listen to another lecture, attend the Captain’s Welcome Party, dine, make new friends, listen to music, and then have a great night’s rest. Tomorrow we arrive in Antarctica!”
But my journal shows that my hunger for useful information persisted nonetheless. At the end of the same day’s journal entry, I wrote down several questions that must have been top of mind.
“Ketosis – does it help [when] battling cancer? Ketogenic diet?
What are the best supplements?
While I knew I was more than likely going to be receiving some form of mainstream medical treatment, I wanted to know what other things I could do to help with healing and to mitigate the side effects of the treatment regime. This would continue to be an important part of my journey over the next several months.
The question about ketosis and a ketogenic diet was of particular interest to me. As it turned out, I had been eating a ketogenic diet for a couple of months before being diagnosed. This diet emphasizes getting the majority of your calories from fat, consuming a very targeted amount of protein, and severely restricting the intake of carbohydrates. I was impressed with the fitness results some practitioners of the diet had achieved. My early experience with the ketogenic diet had been great. And while it hadn’t been relevant to me when I decided to try it, I had read much about how the ketogenic diet could be effective when battling cancer. Now it was the most relevant question. I had found a lot of supportive material during my research. This topic is worthy of a separate blog and I promise to come back to it later. For now, let’s just say that paying attention to what I was eating allowed me to feel some sense of control and that I was taking action. On February 19, 2017, I recorded the following entry in my journal:
“Today I have a combination of thoughts and feelings that is hard to describe. I have a slight headache and a mild sore throat (a little discomfort swallowing). I feel like I should be doing something to actively battle the cancer. The only active thing I can do here is to eat the ketogenic diet and try to get my body into ketosis…”
It was very important for me to feel that I was taking control and doing things proactively. Set aside for the moment the question about whether eating ketogenically is an effective cancer fighting method. I believed that it could and would help. And I committed myself to it as a part of my plan of action. Believing and feeling that you do, in fact, have some control over what is happening in your body is a source of power.
What I would eat was something I was in complete control over. It was something I could focus on, even while I was on a boat in Antarctica. The ketogenic diet would be one component of my battle plan. I made a commitment to stick to it throughout my treatment.
The lesson here is that cancer can easily cause you to feel out of control, like it is something that is happening to you, which you can do little or nothing to change. That is not a good mental or emotional state to be in. My experience showed me how very important it was to believe that there were things I could do that would be beneficial. I did not allow myself to feel like a victim or indulge in “why me” thinking. Being able to take action, make certain changes and adopt new habits gave me a sense of being in control.