What is metastatic cancer?


Cancer becomes metastatic by process called Metastasis. It is when cancer cells start moving
from the original affected area of your body to another region, where they will form another
abnormal growth. The movement occurs after the cell breaks away from the primary tumor due
to suitable growth. By this process an early-stage breast cancer or lung cancer can become
metastatic breast cancer or metastatic lung cancer. After breakage, the cells then move through
your body’s blood or lymphatic system to other organs, where they would manifest and start
forming another duplicate tumor known as the metastatic tumor. When observed under a
microscope and tested in other ways, features of the original cancer would be found. These
features are very different from tumors that would develop on the secondary cancer site. An
example is given, if cancer cells from breast cancer move to the lungs, the metastatic tumor
formed in the lungs would be from breast cancer cells and not lung cancer cells. Cancer care
specialist determines whether your cancer has metastasized by a combination of clinical,
laboratory and imaging tools.

Cancer metastasis occurs during the fourth stage of cancer. When diagnosed with metastasized
cancer, the oncologist would always tell them where the cancer started and refer to it as cancer of
unknown primary origin (CUP). Therefore, cancer treatment for metastasized cancer is usually
similar as that for primary cancer, even though tumor markers would be located in a different
position.


How Does Metastatic Cancer Develop?


Cancer metastasis develops in a series of numerous steps, which start from the invasion of
nearby body cells. As the cancer cells grow in the primary tumor, they get into the cells of the
neighboring organs; for instance, if the cells were originally in the trachea, there are high
chances that the cells would start infecting the esophagus since they are so close. Upon invasion,
the cells would then move through the walls of blood vessels or lymph nodes close to the
primary tumor. In our example of tracheal cancer, the cells would move through neck lymph
nodes. When the cells have attached to the walls of the various lymphatic or blood vessels, the
cells would automatically get into your body’s lymphatic system or circulatory system. These

systems travel all around the body, from the toes to the skull. As the blood moves to carry the
cancer cells, the cells might stop in a small blood vessel like the capillaries in a distant organ.
Since the cells no longer move, they would invade the surrounding tissue the same way it had
done to the blood vessel at the primary tumor site. Growth and cell division would continue until
it forms small tumors that cannot be detected easily. The tumor grows just like other organs in
the body. This means that blood vessels would develop around the abnormal tumor in the
secondary site. This tumor would get nutrients and grow into a bigger tumor which would
require cancer treatment like a newly diagnosed primary cancer. In most situations, especially for
people with a strong immune system, the cancer cells often die along the journey. However, if
the cells get favorable conditions, they will always grow on the secondary site.


What are the Signs of Cancer Metastasis?


Metastatic cancer will not always show you symptoms, so you won’t feel it happening. In cases
where the symptoms occur, the nature and severity of the symptoms largely depend on the size
of the growing tumor as well as the location it has affected. For example, metastasis to the
appendix would be less notable than metastasis to the lungs or the limbs. Some of the commonly
observed metastatic cancer symptoms include pain and fragmentation when the metastasized
tumor is on the bone. If the cells spread to the brain, the victim would have seizures,
convulsions, severe headaches, and dizziness which might be associated with a loss of
consciousness. The most notable metastasis is of the lung since one would face difficulty in
breathing and shortness of breath which would always force you to seek treatment. In addition, if
your cancer has spread to the liver, you would develop jaundice and other symptoms of liver
damage like hepatomegaly. Cancer care specialists very carefully differentiates signs of
metastasis from those symptoms associated with other health conditions such as arthritis or acid
reflux.

Are Metastatic Cancers Curable?

The prognosis for patients with metastatic cancer depends on the individual and type of cancer.  Some metastatic cancer types e.g., breast cancer have better treatment options than other like metastatic pancreatic cancer. Metastatic cancer treatment basically involves slowing its growth. With help from a cancer support community, one can survive with metastasized cancer for many years since the symptoms are well relived. Many cancer patients with metastatic cancers join can support groups for social and emotional support.  patients opt for palliative care when they believe that they can no longer fight the metastasis.

Mindful Breathing and Meditation

Why is meditation important? When you begin to meditate, the stress response counters the relaxation response. You begin to enter into a state of peace, no matter what is happening externally. Through the feeling of relaxation you can achieve from meditation, you begin to decrease blood pressure, lower your heart rate, and reduce oxygen consumption. Thus, enhancing your entire physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. The practice of meditation / mindful breathing creates a gradual change in the brain. You might begin to perceive stress differently, or feel like you have more control over your emotions.

Deep breathing is not so much about eliminating stress, but managing it. Meditation and mindful breathing is excellent for cancer patients’ care, for it begins to heal the mind and body. For many centuries yogis have used deep breathing techniques, also known as pranayama breathing, to improve vitality and promote concentration. Deep breathing and meditation are also excellent treatments for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAF), and depression. All of these diagnoses can stem from a cancer diagnosis and/or cancer treatment.

Make sure to check out the OncoPower App for guided meditations and support for cancer patients.

Letting Go Through The Breath

Through deep breathing / meditation, you train your mind to be aware of your thoughts, not controlled by them. A lot of times dwelling on a thought is a lot like holding your breath. The longer you hold your breath, the more tense you might feel due to the lack of oxygen in your lungs. When you continue to hold your breath you might become red in the face and have to exhale, or else you’d pass out.

Our thoughts work in the same way. When you hold onto your thoughts, they can drown out your intuition and cause more stress. You might even feel suffocated from overwhelming thoughts on a day to day basis. However, when you allow your thoughts to come and go during meditation you learn how to let go and ease the stresses that cancer might bring.

Benefits of Deep Breathing / Meditation:

  • Reduce stress levels in your body.
  • Lower your heart rate.
  • Lower your blood pressure.
  • Improve diabetic symptoms.
  • Reduce depression.
  • Better manage chronic pain.
  • Better regulate your body’s reaction to stress and fatigue.
  • Reduce the possibility of burnout.

Where to begin!? As mentioned above, make sure to check out the OncoPower App for guided meditations, affirmations, and deep breathing exercises. On the app you can also find cancer care specialists, treatment recommendations, and a cancer support community. Our Mindfulness coach and Meditation teacher, Natalie Thomas, is also available for 1:1 support. Remember, healing is possible through each inhale and exhale that you take.

Why Deep Breathing Is Important

Start by taking in a nice, deep inhale through your nose. Filling your entire belly up with air. Pause. Now as you exhale, allow the breath to leave through the mouth, nice and slow. Very good. You just practiced a deep breathing technique.

While breathing is second nature for us, we have to breathe in order to survive, for it plays a crucial role in regulating our physical, mental, and emotional health. The way we breathe is extremely important, and how we breathe is something we must focus on, especially while going through cancer treatment.

As humans, we normally operate by taking short, shallow breaths. We are subconsciously breathing rapidly without even realizing it. We tend to operate in ‘fight or flight’ mode on a daily basis. Fight or flight mode is an automatic physiological response to a situation and/or event that appears to be stressful or frightening. The sympathetic nervous system becomes activated by the perceived threat and triggers a stress response in the body. This can occur just by reading a work email or from living with cancer.

Breathing Is Your Life Force

Receiving a cancer diagnosis or going through cancer treatment can easily cause stress, anxiety, and havoc on the body. When you enter into this state of fight or flight, cortisol and other stress causing hormones are released into the bloodstream. When this happens, blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol levels rise, all of which can disrupt your immune system, sleep, and energy levels. This reaction makes recovering from cancer even more challenging.

Coming back to why breathing is important. Breathing is your life force, your anchor. It’s otherwise known as your “Prana”. Practicing meditation and deep breathing techniques regulates the nervous system, allowing you to control your body and mind. Through long inhales and exhales, you can slow your heart rate, stabilize your blood pressure, and lower stress.

Breathing is the connecting link between the subconscious and conscious mind. And practicing mindful breathing is similar to training a muscle. You begin to train the body to breathe slowly throughout the day. Thus, when a stressful situation presents itself, you enter that particular event feeling more calm and at ease. By regulating your emotions and anxiety through the breath, you are able to not get absorbed into stressful situations.

Make sure to visit the OncoPower App for guided meditations, affirmations, and deep breathing exercises. On the app you can also find cancer care specialists, treatment recommendations, and a cancer support community. Our Mindfulness coach and Meditation teacher, Natalie Thomas, is also available for 1:1 support. 

Click here to read The Power of Breathing Pt.2.

One of the most talked about kinds of food recently has GMOs, which stands for Genetically Modified Organisms.  You may be seeing foods in the grocery store labeled ‘Non GMO’ and be wondering, “Should I know what this means?” “Should I be avoiding GMOs?”  There is a lot of misinformation and fear in the media around this type of food, especially for those looking to reduce cancer and disease risk.  Let’s separate fact from fiction to learn to make informed decisions. 

What is a GMO?

Human beings have been breeding animals and plants for selected traits for thousands of years.  Our ancestors picked the fastest horses, kindest dogs, and biggest tomatoes and bred them to ensure those traits would be passed down.  This manual process takes generations, and isn’t precise.  A genetically modified organism may also be referred to as a bioengineed organism, which accurately represents this process: biological engineering.  This modern ‘breeding’, which is currently used mainly in plants, tweaks or selects genes to make sure they are passed down to new plants.  These changes imbue plants with traits such as drought-resistance, can extremes temperature tolerance, or bugs and pests resistance.  

GMOs are part of the reason why our food system can support such a large population – less damage to plants means higher crop yields and longer shelf lives.  GMOs are part of the reason why there aren’t food shortages during the winter or when a new blight is found in a certain crop.  

What connection is there with GMOs, cancer and other disease?

There is suspicion that since a GMO product has its genes or DNA modified, that this would have a downstream effect on the consumer’s DNA.  Cancer is defined by unwelcome DNA changes, so the concern would be valid if true.  However, over decades of study in the United States, Canada and the European Union no evidence has shown any health risks to intake of GMO foods.  They have also not been linked to any auto-immune diseases like Celiac disease, and there is no link to autism that has been found.

Another concern consumers may have is that some plants are genetically modified to be resistant to herbicides used to control weeds in crop fields.  Farmers would then be free to use more herbicides, and one of the most common is RoundUp or glyphosate.  The International Agency on Cancer Research does classify glyphosate as ‘probably carcinogenic,’ in the same risk category as burning wood and work exposure as a hairdresser.  Interestingly, alcohol is classified as ‘definitely carcinogenic’ and yet many adults consume alcohol regularly without thought to its cancer causing risk.  An oncology dietitian did the math, and determined that  ‘dietary exposure to all pesticide residues poses a risk equal to drinking one glass of wine every three months.’   It is nearly impossible to have zero pesticide exposure in our food system, and consumers need to make educated decisions about what risks to reduce. 

Bottom Line

We may not have definitive proof that GMOs do not harm human health, but the decades of evidence we have does not suggest any link to disease or cancer risk.  Consumers should feel safe eating from our food system, and if they want to avoid GMO products that is their individual choice.  Starting in January 2022, GMO products will be required to be labelled as such.  Organic products are also not allowed to contain any GMO products, so by choosing organic you would always be eating non-GMO.  At the end of the day, we know that a healthful, anti-cancer lifestyle avoids stress, smoking, alcohol and weight gain and includes regular exercise and lots of brightly colored fruits and veggies, whether they are GMO or not. 


Still have questions about GMOs and what it means for your cancer and disease risk? Join our community at OncoPower and a Registered Dietitian will be happy to assist you will maximizing your health at any stage in your cancer journey. Providing support for cancer patients is what we do! 

In our society, there is so much emphasis on assisting other people. Maybe you are taking care of your family, kids, loved ones, and friends 2/47. Or are constantly giving and providing your energy to make sure everyone else is ok – but when do you take a second to check in with yourself?

Self-care is not selfish. Self care plays a huge role in supporting your physical and mental health, especially after receiving a cancer diagnosis and going through cancer treatment. The term ‘self-care’ can seem daunting, uncomfortable, and scary. However, self-care is essential to your overall wellbeing and mental self. Self-care encompasses a lot of basic but overlooked practices such as getting enough sleep, meditating, practicing gratitude, and saying ‘no’ to things that do not resonate with you.

“Self-care is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation.” – Audre Lorde

Practice Mindfulness Meditation

It may surprise you that one of the best and most effective practices you can do for self-care and stress relief is nothing at all. Well, maybe that is actually a bit misleading! Silencing the mind and tuning inwards isn’t really nothing – in fact, it can take time and practice to cultivate a solid foundation to reach inner stillness and peace. However, carving out time to silence the mind will always pay off. Meditation trains your brain to tune into the present moment, to focus on your breath, and to give your body the time and space it needs to relax. By sitting down and paying attention to where you are without distractions, you begin to accept and dismiss the thoughts and emotions that arise. Through consistent practice, you train the subconscious mind to do this even when you are not meditating. This self-care practice guides you to leading (and living!) a more mindful life on a day to day basis, and is effective for cancer patient’s care.

Meditating also provides you with the opportunity to set intentions that propel you to manifesting positive energy, all while tapping into the pure joy that you desire. One way to embark and begin your self-care practice is through our Meditation Program on the OncoPower App. By practicing our guided meditations and breathing exercises, you can jumpstart your self-care routine that reduces the stress and anxiety that cancer can bring. Led by Mindfulness Coach and Meditation teacher, Natalie Thomas, you can also sign up for 1:1 sessions for further assistance and more personalized coaching. OncoPower is one of the leading sources for support for cancer patients.

Expressing Gratitude

Another important form of self-care is expressing gratitude. Just by waking up in the morning and thinking of five things that you are grateful for is a practice of self-care. The benefits of gratitude are endless. When you give thanks for what you have in the present moment, no matter what is going on in your life, the universe will conspire to provide you with more to express gratitude for.

Through journaling and/or meditation, see if you can create time to notice and reflect upon the people, places, things, moments you cherish. Some additional benefits are: you begin to relish more positive emotions, your sleep improves, you are able to express more kindness and compassion (for both yourself and others), and you can begin to feel more ‘present’ and alive. 

Expressing gratitude can even assist your body in building a stronger immune system. This is beneficial when going through cancer treatment. Gratitude expression can be for something big in your life, such as a child and/or family member, but it can also be for something as simple as expressing gratitude for a nice cup of coffee in the morning.

Affirmations

Affirmations are phrases / mantras that can assist you in overcoming challenging life moments, such as cancer, by subconsciously training the mind to think positive thoughts versus self-sabotaging thoughts. This is another self-care practice.

When one is diagnosed with cancer, it can be difficult to not have negative thinking which can manifest into increased anxiety and depression. Negative thinking can turn into destructive self-fulling prophecies, which is why it’s extremely important to rewire the nervous system to think thoughts that are in alignment with healing, love, and harmony.

Affirmations help you take control of your thoughts. When repeated and practiced regularly, each phrase / mantra begins to become engraved into the conscious and subconscious mind, so you actually start to ‘believe’ that each positive thought is true. While it is completely normal to think negatively from time to time, know that affirmations can shift your emotions, behaviors, and overall energy levels all for the better.

Affirmations can reaffirm positivity and self-assurance back into your life while assisting you on the path of healing. We also recommend you check out our Affirmation Meditations on the OncoPower App to assist you in further in your healing and wellness journey. You can also find a growing cancer support community on the OncoPower App.

Additional Self-Care practices:

  1. Take an epsom salt bath
  2. Stretch for 20 minutes
  3. Savor your favorite cup of tea
  4. Journal
  5. Read a book on self-care
  6. Take a 20-min walk
  7. Tap into your creativity 
  8. Use a soothing face mask

For more information, please visit us at OncoPower today!

By Rachel Spencer, MS RDN CNSC

Cancer and cancer treatments may cause a range of emotions, most of them negative. Worry, fear, stress, and anxiety often top the list. If you or a loved one have just received a cancer diagnosis, you may have many new feelings that you want to understand and treat.  Working with a therapist or meditation coach is often the most effective treatment, as well as having good communication with your cancer physician and caregivers. Many people also ask how their diets can affect their mood. It turns out, the food you eat can affect the way you feel emotionally. Read on for some interesting research on how your diet can affect your mood, and act as cancer support. 

Blood Sugar 

We’ve all been there – after eating a piece of cake or a candy bar in the middle of the day, you feel great! But then an hour later you feel tired and miserable. Big swings in your blood sugar can lead to a low mood, fatigue and headaches which can worsen anxiety. Try to choose complex carbohydrates, like whole grain crackers, whole wheat toast or similar foods, as these are digested slowly leading to steady blood sugar level. If you do crave sweets, have a piece of fruit and a source of protein. It’ll satisfy your sweet tooth but still keep your blood sugar steady. 

Magnesium & Zinc

Minerals like magnesium and zinc are not common to talk about, but can have big impacts on your mood. Low magnesium is very common, and is tied to poor sleep and increased anxiety. Add magnesium to your diet with leafy greens like swiss chard, kale, or spinach and beans and nuts and seeds. Dark chocolate also is a good source of magnesium, and can satisfy a sweet tooth. Similarly, low zinc levels have also been tied to mood disorders.  Zinc is found in egg yolks, red meat, and nuts and beans. Both minerals are often added to fortified grains like breakfast cereal, which can be a great way to increase your overall vitamin and mineral content as well. 

Omega-3 Fats

Omega-3 fats, like EPA, DHA and AHA, are found in fatty cold-water fish and also in nuts and seeds. They are often referred to as ‘anti-inflammatory’ fats, and they can help your body in many different ways. Studies have shows that both intake of foods sources, as well as supplemental omega-3 fats, improve both anxiety and depression. But make sure to speak with your care team before starting any supplements, as omega-3 can interfere with some medications. 

Caffeine and Alcohol

That second cup of coffee in the morning have you feeling jittery? All that extra energy can often raise your heart rate and worsen anxiety, making you feel mentally worse. Try switching to half caf or black tea, which would reduce your overall caffeine intake but still give you an energy boost. Alcohol is a known depressive, meaning it slows down your body and mental functions. This can worsen any low mood, and worsen depression. Try to reduce or eliminate alcohol from your daily pattern, reserving it in moderation for special occasions. This can help improve your mood, and your general inflammation levels as well. 

Overall, eating a balanced diet that is rich in lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats and lots of brightly pigmented fruits and vegetables will increase your antioxidant intake and reduce your inflammation. Using spices like cinnamon, turmeric and ginger in your cooking can also add valuable anti-inflammatory properties your diet. Lower inflammation and higher antioxidants helps not only your response to cancer treatment and overall prognosis, but may also improve your mood and anxiety levels. If you have questions about how to incorporate any of this advice into your diet, please reach out to our Registered Dietitians on OncoPower. Our platform exists to provide cancer help for patients and caregivers, through medical and cancer support services – Join Today

Meditation. This word can seem scary at first. Taking time to sit in silence? Quieting the mind? Not ‘thinking’? What does that even mean?

For many of us, Meditation is a concept that goes against everything we have been taught. Since we were young, the majority of us have been programmed to constantly work hard-play hard, which consists of working long hours that eventually leads to burnout. We might have lived with the fear that if we took a break, or slowed down, we would be holding ourselves back from ‘success’. Our society has engraved in us to constantly be busy. We might even feel pressure, now in this moment, to always be doing something: whether it’s working, making plans, going to dinner, taking care of loved ones, etc. However, in doing so, we neglect our own needs of taking time to ourselves, finding stillness, and going within. The result? Increased stress/anxiety, heightened blood pressure, insomnia, digestive issues, depression, and illnesses (to name a few).

Through the practice of Meditation, we are able to take a second out of our day to pause, center our thoughts, and ease our minds. The power of Meditation allows us to slow down our breathing to come back to a place of stillness. Through the power of our breath, we begin to take ourselves (and our bodies) out of ‘fight or flight mode’ that stress can bring. We learn how to cultivate a sense of trust within ourselves. And with practice, we start to embody the feelings of peace that we may have longed for.

Meditation is when we take the time to close our eyes and sit with ourselves, whether through silence, music, or using guided meditations. When we meditate, we begin to reprogram the subconscious mind to be in alignment with our conscious mind. It is now scientifically proven that Meditation begins to strengthen the neural pathways in the brain that activates our ‘feel good’ receptors and dopamine production. It is also very effective to help reduce stress when going through cancer treatment.

Meditation is a lot like going to the gym. It can take time and patience to strengthen our Meditation ‘muscle’. You might not notice the results following one session, but with practice you slowly start to see the results. Meditation begins to change you from the inside out, and is an incredibly useful practice for cancer support.

Physically, you can heal the body, release tension, activate your digestive system and slow your heart rate. Mentally, you begin to slowly creep out of depression. Stress and anxiety begins to dissipate and might not be as present as it once was. Emotionally, you feel more stable, more happy and at peace. You might feel like you have control over your emotions and can make decisions with a clear mind. Spiritually, you begin to feel more connected to something greater than yourself. Your intuition becomes stronger and you embody a deep presence that everything is going to be ok. 

There are so many incredible benefits that Meditation can bring. Meditation assists you in managing stress from cancer treatment rather than letting stress control you. Your thoughts soon become present, but they do not consume you and your emotional state. Sitting alone with ourselves – and our thoughts – seems scary. But with practice, it becomes easier and easier. Even just two minutes of Meditation can have a changing effect on the body, mind and soul. It all starts with giving yourself a few moments to be alone with YOU.

How To Mediate? (Natalie’s tips)

  • To begin, either start laying down or sitting upright.
  • You can always set a timer for 5, 10, or 20 minutes.
  • If sitting upright, have your feet planted on the floor and your sit bones rooted on your chair. Keep your spine nice and long and roll your shoulder down your back. Allow the shoulder to relax.
  • Close your eyes. With the eyes closed, your eyes are slightly lifted gazing at the space between the eyebrows. This is so you notice the difference between sleeping and meditation.
  • Begin by taking three long, deep inhales and exhales. With each breath you take, imagine all stress and anxiety leaving the body.
  • Feel free to put on some relaxing music while you focus on your breath.
  • You can use a Mantra – a word / phrase – to assist you if the mind starts to wonder. 
  • A Mantra can be: Inhale PEACE, and Exhale LOVE.
  • We highly suggest using our Mindfulness Meditation Modules found on the OncoPower app.

If you have more questions and/or would like to start your Meditation journey, feel free to check out our OncoPower App for guided meditations and additional support. The OncoPower App is a cancer support community to assist cancer patients. Happy Meditating!

As a helpful resource to our current and future OncoPower members, we are going to be assembling past ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ on nutrition and cancer and posting them occasionally on our blog. We hope these FAQ’s will serve as a reference point for anyone with similar questions and act as a spark for new conversations on related topics. Please feel free to consult our Registered Dietitians using our Ask-A-Doc service for any follow-up questions you may have, we are here to provide support for cancer patients! 

Q: Can I substitute honey in my green tea instead of sugar? 

A:  We all have sugar circulating in our body, it’s our body’s main source of energy. And if you are regulating your sugar appropriately, if you don’t have diabetes, insulin resistance, if your cancer isn’t causing any blood sugar-related issues, then having white table sugar in your tea, as long as it’s one or two teaspoons of sugar, it should be fine. If you want to use honey, that is also totally fine. Your body doesn’t really know the difference between table sugar and honey, but if you like the taste you can go ahead.

What you do want to be careful of is having tons of sugar at once or tons of sugar all the time.  This is going to cause your blood sugar levels to be high, which can cause excess growth and excess cancer cell production.  So, focus more on quantity than type of sugar consumed if you are looking to curb cancer risks. 

Q: What is a superfood?

A: A ‘superfood’ is a term for a food item with higher than normal levels of antioxidants and phytochemicals in it.  This term was coined by the media, and it doesn’t have a scientific definition so isn’t typically used by experts.  Foods which are commonly referred to as ‘superfoods’ are blueberries, kale, sweet potatoes, salmon, dark chocolate, and pomegranates.  These foods are certainly very healthy, and all people should be encouraged to eat them – but the most important key to an anti-inflammatory diet is variety. 

Q: What is the best diet for a breast cancer patient on chemotherapy? 

A: Breast cancer is unfortunately very, very common. General cancer nutrition guidelines apply here, however specifically for breast cancer care there are a few points that stand out.

First, you want to make sure you are monitoring your weight – it’s one of the few cancers where treatment can cause weight gain. Research shows that if you gain more than 12-15 pounds you can have worse outcomes – so you want to make sure that you are aware of this, and can talk to your doctor if weight loss during treatment is appropriate.

Next, whole soy foods like tofu, tempeh, edamame, or soy milk should be included in the diet at least 1-2 times a day. Soy contains a plant-form of estrogen, which can be beneficial for breast cancer patients. Focus on whole soy foods not soy protein isolate, as there is not as strong of research on this kind of food.

Additionally, flax seeds are also beneficial for breast cancer patients. They are high in lignans, a kind of phytonutrient, which has been shown to benefit patients with breast cancer specifically. They are also high in fiber and omega-3 fats, so they are triple threat for inflammation levels.

As far as supplemental vitamins, you should always discuss with your doctor before starting any herbal or vitamin supplements. Each person’s case and medications are unique and may generate different recommendations.  That being said, breast cancer patients have been shown to have some benefit from a standard multivitamin three times a week, but you want to make sure it is good quality and from a reputable source. 

Q: Is beef and chicken okay for a breast cancer survivor? 

A: In terms of protein sources, your lean poultry – chicken and turkey with no skin on it, are totally fine. There are no recommendations for how much is too much, so having some animal protein, some poultry, is just fine. In terms of beef, that’s something you want to limit to once or twice a week. We do know there is a link between red meat and cancer, not necessarily breast cancer but we always want to make sure we can prevent other cancer occurrences. So red meats like beef, lamb, pork, and especially processed meats like sausage, bacon and ham should be limited or eliminated from the diet.

Other good protein options would be beans, legumes, and lentils. These foods they have protein plus fiber to feed your gut bacteria and reduce inflammation levels. You should also consider soy foods and fatty cold water fish like salmon and mackerel, which is rich in omega-3 fats that help reduce inflammation as well. 

Q: Is Vitamin D good for cancer?

A: Vitamin D is one of the only supplements I recommend people take – of course, discuss with your care team so they can check your blood level for appropriate supplementation amounts. But most people, especially in the US, are low in vitamin D. We know now that vitamin D is a workhorse of the body. We used to only think it was only involved in bone and dental health, but now know it’s tied to immunity, respiratory function, and cell proliferation which relates to cancer risk and progression. So most people can benefit from a supplement – Vitamin D3 is best absorbed by the body, but your cancer care specialist can discuss specifics with you. 

We’ll be posting more FAQs in the coming weeks, but for now join our community at OncoPower and enjoy support for other members, advice from cancer physicians, mindfulness practice and more!

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is certainly stressful news.  The term “stress” refers to an outside circumstance.  Behavioral health therapists use the term “distress” to label our internal response to stress.  In explaining this to my patients, I say that stress is the toxins in the  air around me.  Distress is when I breath in the toxins  The goal of monitoring and managing distress is similar to learning to use a hazmat suit and oxygen tank in a toxic environment.

Even though it is very common for those receiving a cancer diagnosis to focus on physical symptoms, medical treatments and side effects, it may surprise you to discover that you may also suffer in non-physical ways.  This is because we are not just physical beings, but have mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects, too.  

Distress is an umbrella term that covers the normal thoughts and feelings that normal people have when bad things happen.  The feelings can be: sad, mad, anxious, worried, scared – and most of the time, a perplexing mosaic of these emotions.  Distressing thoughts tend to center around the fear of the unknown. “Is my treatment going to work?”  “Is it going to hurt?”  “Is it expensive?”  “Will it change how I work?”  “How will this affect my retirement?” 

A very important part of helping you in your journey with cancer is to help you monitor and manage your distress levels –  just as you would monitor any other side effect.  There are two primary reasons why this is so important.  First reason: as distress levels rise, quality of life sinks.  But by working on lowering distress levels, you will improve your quality of life.  When a disease process is usurping the controls you normally have, one of the most important methods to reclaim control is using the tools you do have to manage distress levels.  

The second reason to manage distress levels is because when you feel less distress, you tend to heal better. This is because your mind and your body are really one unit – connected in a myriad of ways we don’t completely understand.

Basically there are three tool boxes that you already have to draw from to help manage your distress levels.  The first one is your internal resources: your psychological strengths, your intellect, your resiliency.  Internal resources are the resources that you have built into your brain during previous times of crisis.  Sometimes these were minor changes you made to handle small crisis and you recovered in hours or days.  Cancer tends to be a major crisis and many patients tell me that it is the worst thing that has ever happened to them.  This will usually mean that distress levels are higher than they have ever been.  This also means that it may take more time to successfully manage.

The second toolbox which provides your resources to manage your distress levels is your support system. This includes your friends family and community.  These are the people who call, send cards, bring casseroles, and when you have a bad day, listen. Many times cancer patients voice surprise by the number of people that rally around them.  (As well as the people who don’t know what to do and seem to move a little farther away.)  I encourage people to realize that the bigger the crisis –  the bigger the team needs to be.

The third toolbox for dealing with crisis and distress is your medical team.  Many patients are surprised to learn that they may need several doctors, nutritional specialists, physical therapists, and behavioral health support.  Many patients also find relief from the distress by seeking out relaxation therapies, massage, yoga etc.

CAN I REALLY MANAGE MY DISTRESS LEVEL?

Clinically speaking, the simple answer is yes!  You have done this before in other situations.  I am not going to tell you it’s easy, but I will tell you patients consistently improve the quality of their life by initiating steps which lower distress.  Even though at the beginning of the process, it may seem overwhelming, let me suggest three questions to begin lowering your distress level, and thereby improving your quality of life.

First, ask yourself, what internal resources have I used in the past when I’ve been in difficult or negative situations?  Usually in discussing this question with patients, I remind them that the wrench I use on my mower can be used on my motorcycle, and on my automobile.  Even if being diagnosed with cancer is the most difficult and most distressing situation you have ever been in, the tools that you have learned to use from other life experiences can also work in this situation.

Second, what things do I need from my support team and who do I need to add to my support team?  It is not unusual for new situations to call for new team members and new behaviors.  The more specific you are with identifying your needs, the easier it is for your team to help you meet those needs.  Many people on your support team will not know what support you need until you tell them.

Third, what do I need from my medical team?  Your medical team is likely to have more members than you might have imagined or have used in the past.  Take a look at all the departments and providers that are available at your treatment site.  It is not unusual  to add providers and services.  That is part of the rationale behind OncoPower: to add value to your treatment plan.

As a helpful resource to our current and future OncoPower members, we are going to be assembling past ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ on nutrition and cancer and posting them occasionally on our blog. We hope these FAQ’s will serve as a reference point for anyone with similar questions and act as a spark for new conversations on related topics. Please feel free to consult our Registered Dietitians using our Ask-A-Doc service for any follow-up questions you may have, we are here to provide cancer support! 

Q: Does eating organic food help cancer treatment? 

A: Organic foods are raised with a very strict set of rules about pesticide use, land management, and other farming practices.  There is very limited data to say that organic foods are any different or better from conventional foods.  It is true that conventional foods do contain some pesticide residue, however this is monitored by the FDA and USDA to make sure it is within safety limits.  Some research shows that organic foods have higher antioxidant content than conventional foods, however it has not been shown that the difference is significant to health.  For cancer prevention and treatment, it is more important to eat a high amount and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, than worrying about whether they are organic or not. 

Q: Should you stop eating meat during chemotherapy?

A: All of our best research says that a plant-based diet, or one that is moderate in animal products reduces inflammation and cancer risk.  There is strong data to suggest limiting or eliminating red and processed meats from your diet is key to cancer prevention.  There is not any similar data on poultry like chicken and turkey, or fish.  In fact, cold-water fatty fish like salmon and mackerel are high in omega-3 fatty acids which can reduce your inflammation levels. When you are undergoing chemotherapy, the goal of nutrition therapy shifts a bit to maintaining nutrition and muscle status while minimizing nutrition-related symptoms – animal proteins are sometimes the best bet for this.  You should feel comfortable eating moderate portions of poultry and seafood, about the size of a deck of cards, at any meal.  

Q: Is raw, blended fruit and vegetable juice OK during chemotherapy?

A: Juicing is something that is very common and popular, because it is so much easier when you don’t have an appetite to drink your fruits and veggies than eat 5-7 servings a day. That being said, drinking a juice is not quite the same as eating a big salad – you’re missing out on most of the fiber, the satiating effect of chewing, the fullness sensation. Generally speaking, you can juice as long as you make sure you are balancing the fruit and vegetables to avoid too much sugar – its very easy to overdo it and drink too much sugar at once.

You always should check with your doctor to make sure raw foods are approved if you are immunocompromised, and as always, make sure to practice good food safety by washing your fruits and vegetables well before use. Juicing can be one way to increase your produce intake, but it should not be the only way. 

Q: Can I drink Ensure supplement as a stage 4 colorectal cancer patient? 

A: Ensure is an oral nutritional supplement, designed to be an addition to healthy foods not necessarily designed to be the only thing you are taking in. It is usually used when people are having really poor appetite, maybe they are suffering from certain side effects, or maybe their metabolism is just super high and they need the extra calories. So I would say that you definitely need to eat food in addition to those supplements, focusing on an overall anti-inflammatory diet, but that any oral nutrition supplement can be a good addition to help make sure you are meeting your overall calorie needs during cancer treatment. Trying to find a brand that contains good quality ingredients, like Orgain or Kate Farms, can improve your inflammation level as well.

Q: Is high dose vitamin C good for cancer?

A: Vitamin C is an antioxidant that fights against free radicals that cause damage to the DNA in our cells. I would caution against taking large doses of any vitamins. Because it is an antioxidant, the mechanism that it works by can sometimes interfere with different cancer treatments. So if you are on a specific treatment and you take high doses of vitamin C it can make the cancer treatment less effective. Your body doesn’t need mega doses of anything, it needs just the right amount of everything.

But if Vitamin C is something that you are worried about, you can always eat food sources that are high in Vitamin C like strawberries, red bell peppers, oranges, and broccoli. With these food sources, your body will only absorb as much as you need plus you will get the benefits of fiber and other phytonutrients that are in the foods. Vitamin C is water soluble, so if there is extra you just urinate out the extra – but mega-does of antioxidants are not necessary and could be unsafe. 

We’ll be posting more FAQs in the coming weeks, but for now join our community at OncoPower and enjoy support for other members, advice from cancer care specialists, mindfulness practice and more!