Forty years ago, my dad had cancer. Colon cancer. Dad, relatively young for the disease, discovered the cancer in the worst possible way, the way that usually only foretells bad tidings. Forty years later, he’s still here, still active, and he’s screened yearly.
Our mid-70s family was nutritionally mainstream, healthcare conventional, with a diet that fit our monthly budget. We didn’t discuss nutrition the way my son and I discuss it now. Food happened. The great Fat Will Kill You mindset was still a few years away from hitting our home, so it was a new thing when my parents began researching healthier food habits. The Seventh-Day Adventists were, and evidently still are, very nutritionally aware. My folks found studies linking those who followed SDA diet principles with better health. Their primary takeaway: more veggies and zero beef.
During the intervening years between then and now, my parents have experimented tangentially with diet and nutrition. My mom “cut out the fat” with many others during the 80s & 90s, only to have her serum cholesterol numbers remain high. With “all U.S. soil depleted beyond recovery”, my parents consumed megavitamin/mineral elixirs, manufactured from ingredients grown in pristine New Zealand. They dabbled with supplements of all kinds, internet-purported super-foods, all the Next Big Thing, until the next next big things came along. These days, they eat a lot of organic fruits & vegetables, minimal animal protein, and limit their intake of sugar.
At some point along Dad’s Gastroenterological path, the doctors shared that his cancer could very well be genetic. Genetic testing wasn’t the thing then that it is now, so my sisters and I were tagged for screening. For best results, our screening would begin 4 years before the age Dad was when his cancer was found. They wanted a benchmark. Screening sounds so easy, so innocuous, mundane even. If you’ve not ever had the pleasure, be assured that THIS screening is anything but (no puns). Last week, I experienced my fourth.
Each of my screenings has been 3 or 5 years apart, the timeframe dependent on any findings. During the years between procedures, changes occur in the screening prep process. This year, the process began 10 days in advance. At this early point, patients avoid eating breads loaded with nuts & seeds, with Dave’s Killer Bread given as example. As someone who does not usually eat commercially prepared bread, yet who consumes nuts and seeds in granola and smoothies, I needed clarification. My nurse seemed slightly stymied, giving the impression that she hadn’t encountered my question before, but assured me just to avoid the bread. Five days in advance, the patient is to stop using Ibuprofen or Aleve, and certain supplements like iron. I did ask about my precious nettle, something else my nurse had no experience with, but said to stop using, just in case. Three days in advance, one has to switch to a Low Fiber Diet, and is given choices:
This part of the preparation is always difficult. I don’t eat cereal. I limit dairy. White flour makes me sleepy. I avoid white rice, and while I will use white pasta, I cook it just to al dente to slow down absorption. I don’t consume instant breakfast products or protein drinks. I do produce my own canned fruit and apple sauce, but they are like sugar to me. I do eat: **seeds, nuts, whole wheat & grains, fresh vegetables, fruit and salad**
Anticipating my dilemma, I made some delicious vegetable broth. I also simmered ginger and garlic in my from-the-freezer chicken stock. I combined the two strained broths and used for “Soup (chicken noodle)”. I paired cultured cottage cheese with my Jar Pears, the tart curds toning down the sugar considerably. A month earlier, anticipating this happy event, I had begun weaning a small portion of sourdough starter off of any whole wheat flour. I maintained it daily using only white unbleached flour. At the appropriate time, I made an all-white flour levain, which in turn transformed into a single all-white sourdough boule. The levain and dough were like paste. They were what I had smeared over inflated balloons for Juniors birthday piñata. My breads are usually 75-85% whole wheat, fresh-ground whole wheat. I persevered and the loaf baked up lovely.
If I was to have 100% white bread, it was going to be long-fermented, wild-yeasted. Toasted and buttered, this bread made a suitable companion to the breakfast scrambled eggs.
In my case, 12:30P on the final Low Fiber day was the cutoff for any solid foods. From that point forward, only clear, non-red liquids were to be consumed. Another list, complete with Crystal Light, Gatorade, Soda/pop, and Jell-O, outlined the approved items. I had my beautiful clear broth, along with a strained infusion of simmered ginger, fresh-squeezed lemon juice & a touch of honey, Perrier and water. Later that afternoon I drank some additional clear liquid, a nasty prescription mixed with water, followed by lots more water, a performance repeated early the next morning. No further details, no further explanation.
My mom taxied me to the procedure venue. It was a beautiful, Fall-warm, sunny midday. The office staff and nurses were very pleasant. Wearing hospital gown, regulation non-skid socks, and a fresh-from-the-oven blanket, I was escorted by Laurel, the nurse assigned to me, to my assigned room. She was smart, fun, empathetic, thoroughly explaining anything I wanted to know. I lamented not having a camera for the perfect shot of socked-toes peeking from under blanket with the Vacutron2000 mounted on the wall beyond them. Warm, as cozy as can be while laying on a blood pressure-cuffed upper arm, a hello from the Doctor just before the sedation began, and it was over. The post-procedure nurse encouraged me to wake, helped me dress, and walk to the waiting area to meet Spouse. Spouse had a Triple Grande 2/3 Decaf 2% Latte and a shortbread cookie waiting for me in the car. A little white flour is ok! Home to lounge for as long as I wanted/needed to, I binged on Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, started this post, and on the advice of an easy first meal, had some more cultured cottage cheese and Jar Pear.
I do not like this screening. I do, however, feel so grateful that I can have the procedure. So much gratitude for the village of understanding that surrounds me at this time in my life. I’m at risk and early detection, along with exercise and a high fiber diet are the best prevention. I will continue the practice, not from fear of the disease, but from a feeling of stewardship: I’ve been given this body, given this life; I will take care of it. I don’t take the best care of it every day. There have been, and, realistically, will be again, times of slack for which I apologize to myself for. Each day is a new day. I will try to do the best I can, for who I am, right now.
(I will find it beautifully ironic if the ads shown below are for any of the nasty items on the Approved Low Fiber Foods or Clear Liquids Lists! More ironic would be ads for foods that promote cancer-thriving habitats in the body. Make good choices!)