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Food for Thought

A few months ago I read a story about a young woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer just as she had begun the second trimester of her pregnancy. She described how she went into warrior mode to protect her own life and that of her unborn child. First, she determined that since she would have to forgo traditional medicine, particularly chemotherapy, until after her baby was born, so her focus was on making her body strong, to show it how much she loved it, with the hopes that it would respond with self-healing. And it did. The months of exercise and sound nutrition kept the disease at bay for the time that was required, and following treatment, she has maintained a state of remission ever since. I love happy endings.

I was eating a bowl of ice cream, topped with hot fudge sauce at the time, trying to find comfort in a spoonful of sugar and whipped cream. Somehow, I considered myself entitled to eat what I pleased, giving in to the cravings for things that I had been denied after a lifetime of arm wrestling with my will power. But my body, already in crisis, revolted. My pants got too tight as I began to gain weight at an alarming rate, fueled by the steroid infusions that I got before the chemo poison. I felt sluggish and bone tired. I soon realized just how sick I really was.

It wasn’t easy to admit that I was poisoning myself with things that tasted good, but provided no nutrition, the ammunition I would need to fight this disease. Doctors are woefully unprepared to discuss the need to make wise food choices with their patients, and few cancer centers employ dieticians to guide you through the process of how to eat yourself to wellness. It seems rather short sighted. And dangerous.

We live in one of the most industrialized countries in the world, where wealth abounds. It is the land of plenty, especially when it comes to food. You can easily pull into a drive-though at so many restaurants and munch on anything you desire as you speed down the highway. People push shopping carts through huge supermarkets with every kind of temptation known to man neatly lined up on the shelves, waiting for consumption. But I do I really need a box of crackers on my pantry shelf for a year? Do I want to eat a can of chili that was manufactured a quarter of a decade ago? Studies have already shown that there is a strong link between our preservative-driven, hormone-infused food supply and many diseases, including cancer. And sugar, much of it hidden in most things we eat, is toxic as well as highly addictive, making us want more and more. Let’s face it: unlike our forefathers, the average American eats crap on a daily basis. Me included. But the human body needs a real energy source, not something bio-engineered and chemically infused.

A few weeks ago, I was sitting outside on one of those rare sunny winter days watching my dog search through the patches of dormant winter grass for something green. When she located some weedy things that had managed to grow in spite of the winter frost, she happily chomped away. I had always heard that dogs did that when they felt ill since they instinctively knew how to heal themselves.

Gee, I thought, I am not even as smart as my dog.

And so, I have tried to eat healthier, opting for a couple of vegan days a week. I think before I reach for the cookies or candy. My taste buds are practically nonexistent, damaged by the chemo, but ironically, I have started to crave those things which provide my body with what it needs to heal. Maybe this old dog is learning a new trick. It is more important now than ever that I get with the program. My life depends on it.

I wish I could tell you that I managed to squeeze into a pair of size 6 jeans, that I am in the best shape of my life, but unfortunately I’m not. The medicine that they pump into me on a weekly basis has all kinds of side effects, the most bothersome being weight gain and water retention. Some days, I can barely sit up, much less do one. And the most exercise I currently get is moving from the bed to the couch. I have also learned that vanity and health do not always go hand in hand, and unfortunately, things sometimes get worse before they get better. Nevertheless, I am optimistic. Progress means moving forward, even if it is one spinach salad at a time.

But still, there are times when I can’t help but wonder: if heaven is a magnificent place, paved with streets of gold, are there trees bearing chocolate bars and cream-filled donuts? After all, didn’t the ancient Greeks tout the yummy nectar and ambrosia readily served on Mt. Olympus? Perhaps in the afterlife we are invited to sit around a bounty-filled table with God, indulging in all of our favorite foods as we chat and laugh, knowing that calories don’t count and preservatives don't exist in such a blissful place. After all, it is called paradise, right?

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