Breast Cancer Awareness: Where Food & Family Meet

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and to bring that awareness, we will be writing articles on breast cancer all month long.

When someone gets diagnosed with cancer, it shakes the entire family. People that are diagnosed come to us hoping that food and nutrition will cure them. Unfortunately, “good nutrition” won’t cure cancer. Food is a phenomenal complement to your care. It is not a cure. If it was, my own sister would still be alive and not have died from breast cancer just one year ago this month. I will share more later in this article.

When someone comes down with cancer, it triggers all kinds of fear responses and a tendency to want to over control what they think they cannot. That often involves food and how they “should” eat. On top of their own thoughts about food, they often get a slew of unsolicited nutrition and supplement advice from those with the greatest of intentions. As if the stress of hearing the “C” word isn’t hard enough, they have to navigate all the conflicting guidance that people lob at them when it comes to what to eat, what not to eat, the holistic treatments that worked for “Joe,” and more. It is almost too much for someone to bear. They come to Lemond Nutrition to act as the referee and coach.

We see people battling all types of cancer here at Lemond Nutrition. In the first session which is 90 minutes in length, we discuss all facets of their cancer treatment. When it comes to creating a nutrition plan, the things we look at include:

  • Stage of the cancer (prognosis)
  • Type of cancer treatment
  • Active treatment vs. palliative or hospice
  • Laboratory values
  • Medications
  • Age of patient
  • Current eating patterns
  • Cultural considerations
  • Socioeconomic status
  • Food availability
  • Mobility
  • Family & community support

Do you see why it is unhelpful to receive guidance by people that do not have most of this information? Cancer nutrition is a great example of one size does not fit all. Our dietitians customize plans taking in so many factors.

Support your loved one through nutrition by refraining from giving unsolicited advice, including advice about nutrition.  Suggest that they see a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) that works with patients that are in cancer recovery.  We understand that learning about your loved one's cancer can spark a ton of fear inside of you.  That desire to help is coming from such a beautiful place!  But unfortunately, any advice that was not requested may just cause more stress on an already stressful time in your loved one's life.

Meet "Sally" with Breast Cancer

I recently had a beautiful 82-year-old female I will rename as “Sally”* that recently came to me for nutrition guidance for her cancer. She has breast cancer that has spread to her kidneys and spine and her kidneys were not happy. Her labs revealed stage 4 kidney disease and she wanted to know what foods she could eat.

The problem with Sally is that she had been losing weight rapidly. In fact, over the last 3 weeks she had lost 15-17 pounds. That is acute, severe malnutrition even with her 220 lb frame. Her daughter reports that her mom had significantly declined in her ability to move around the home in the last month. Sally reports that she’s extremely tired and cannot do her physical therapy exercises. Visually, she’s very pale and the muscle wasting is obvious.

Sally says that she needs a kidney diet, as her dietitian, I know that the priority is that she must stop losing weight in the form of muscle. As we discussed treatment course, Sally revealed that she does not want to do chemotherapy to fight the progressive disease. She just does not want to put her body through it again. Sally wants to have quality of life at this point.

As her new member of Team Sally, I must decide what Sally should do. What do you think?

I told Sally that she must stabilize her weight and having tons of restrictions on what she can and cannot eat will not serve her well. With her “quality of life” desire, we chose to place the kidney diet lower than the top protocol and instead set her first goal as avoiding weight loss as her primary goal. When the family was looking at the kidney diet, they saw that much of the food that Sally wanted to eat was high in potassium – sauteed tomatoes, yogurt, cottage cheese – these are things that she can eat without her dentures.  Although Sally said "the weight loss was probably good for me anyway," I follow what the evidence says about rapid weight loss even in larger bodied people.  It is not good because those losses include muscle and that can promote early death.

Precision nutrition is meeting with the Sally’s of the world and customizing a food plan that is synched with their specific goals based on their health issues. We will continue to monitor Sally’s labs and change her nutrition prescription based on all the moving parts.

Breast Cancer is Personal

We all know someone who has lost their battle with cancer. My only sister died of breast cancer last October. As fate would have it, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – it is also the month of my sister’s birth (October 6) and her death (October 23).

Kathy got her mammograms every year per protocol. She was the one that found her cancer when she was showering one day and felt a hard lump. It started as stage 2, she was deemed cancer free and then a few years later, she was stage 4. Kathy lived vibrantly for 3 years with metastatic breast cancer until she died peacefully in her Reading, PA home with her husband by her side on October 23, 2021.

Early detection is key. Proper monitoring of recurrence is also very important.

As I contemplate what Breast Cancer Awareness Month means to me, those are the two things that I want to emphasize to everyone. Monthly breast self-exams should be started young and when to start mammograms should be discussed with your personal physician.

Near the end, Kathy had a hard time with her appetite due to the cancer invading her liver. Before it spread to her liver, the precision medicine kept her well so she could spend good, quality time with family. We even went to Europe together while she was living vibrantly with stage 4 breast cancer. The treatment that was very specific to her ability to positively respond based on genetic testing allowed her to maintain her appetite, avoided weight loss, and had plenty of energy. I am so grateful that she had quality of life until the very end because of that.

Me with my sister, Kathy.

There are so many women who are fighting and winning against breast cancer. At Lemond Nutrition, we are so honored to work with these individuals.

Breast cancer is personal to me, and that is why we want to help those with all types of cancer complement their therapy with a nutrition plan that works with their treatment course.

It would be our honor to walk alongside you in your cancer treatments. Insurance often covers our visits. Give us a call at 888-422-8070.

Follow us all month as we discuss Breast Cancer Awareness and how we guide people on living vibrantly with breast cancer.

*This patient’s name and some details have been altered to preserve confidentiality.

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