Elimination Diet Update

Hello eveyone! Memorial Day Weekend is always an interesting holiday. It signals the beginning of summer and grilling out and pool parties, but it’s also a day of remembering those who have bravely served our country. I’m sending a lot of love and thanks to those who are presently serving and those who have served in our military (including some members of my own family). We wouldn’t be here without you – thank you for your bravery and your service. You deserve a lot more than a weekend holiday!!

I am incredibly lucky to spend Memorial Day weekend with a great group of friends. We rent a house on Martha’s Vineyard and get to unplug and enjoy each other’s company – biking, grilling, shopping, playing games and going to the beach – we really get to have a weekend filled with great times and make great memories. I’m incredibly grateful that these people are in my life, and many of them helped me through the hardship during my melanoma diagnosis. They are truly my New England family and I love them to pieces!

Thank you to all the members of our armed forces for your dedication and bravery

And we all had a good time. A little TOO good of a time, you might say. So good that my husband and I are definitely feeling the repercussions. There is nothing quite like a weekend filled with lots of grilling and eating out to make you think about your diet choices. My husband has been sooooo incredibly good about watching what he eats to help with his reflux, but he TOTALLY fell off the wagon this weekend.  It’s so hard to stay vigilant with lifestyle changes when you’re surrounded by lots and lots of things that remind you of how you used to live. My husband is Italian, so food is a big weakness for him (and for me!)

So I thought I’d do a follow-up to my elimination diet posts (you can see the first post here, my week one post here, and my week two post here).

To my amazement, he’s COMPLETELY off of any reflux medication.  This is a HUGE step – he was previously on 2 prescription “Prilosec” pills a day. If he stays true to his diet, then he doesn’t reflux at all – his coughing was drastically reduced to the point that he and I would both forget that he had acid reflux.

And doing this diet helped us to realize that he has 2 sign of reflux – one is the coughing that we had previously noticed, but another was burping. Yup, that’s right – when he ate something that made him burp, sure enough the next day he’d be coughing. And this sounds strange at first, but it actually makes sense – when you burb, the air brings up little molecules of your stomach contents, which is mostly acid.

So what made him burp? Here’s a list of the things that we found were triggers:

1 – GARLIC

2 – Carbonated drinks (club soda, beer)

3 – Yeast

Garlic was by far the worst offender. I had never even thought of this before going on the diet, and I’m a HUGE garlic fan, so I would add it to meals ALL THE TIME and not even realize that I was the one CAUSING his reflux!!!! How awful, right?! It was as if I was slowly killing my husband like a “Forensic Files” episode but I didn’t even know it!! Needless to say, I quickly cut out the garlic from my recipes and his coughing became less noticeable immediately.

No more garlic for us!

Carbonated drinks completely makes sense, but what about yeast? That was a strange one, and we discovered it due to process of elimination. I had used a store-bought chicken broth for soups and a chicken dish and he was burping up a storm. The only new ingredient in the broth was “autolyzed yeast extract”. BINGO! I don’t understand why, but I don’t need to – just knowing his triggers is what this whole elimination diet was all about.

Other things we noticed that also increased his coughing, and we think this is likely due to their highly acidic content:

1 – White wine (well really, any wine, but white was much more noticeable than red)

2 – Pasta Sauce

3 – Canned tuna

4 – Pickles and olives

5 – Wine and cheese nights. EVERTYHING in the typical “wine and cheese” appetizer evening made for a rough next few days. Seriously – who doesn’t live for wine and cheese?!? I love these nights, but unfortunately we’ll have to tone it down a bit.

All in all, the diet was COMPLETELY worth our time and all that home-cooking energy. It was a couple months all-in, which seemed like forever at first, but the time flew by rather quickly once we got used to the routine. We both learned so much about what triggers his reflux and what to avoid. I highly recommend that everyone with any types of food sensitivities take the time to do an elimination diet – what have you got to lose? It’s only a couple months of your time and it can improve your quality of life dramatically.

Take control of your life – and your gut – and go for it!

Why I don’t wear sunscreen.

I’ve had stage 3C melanoma. And I don’t wear sunscreen.

Many of my melahomies are screaming at me through the computer as they read this. I can hear the outcry of “WTF are you THINKING!!” Every dermatologist or oncologist who reads this is rolling their eyes and saying “You DO know that the best way of protecting yourself from the sun’s harmful UV rays and melanoma is sun safety. I recommend sunscreen with SPF 30.”

I hear you. I hear all of you. And I understand that you have serious concerns. And I know that you all truly believe that what you say is 100% true.

But I completely disagree with your SPF theories. Someone with melanoma avoiding the sun is like a heart attack patient avoiding exercise because it may give them another heart attack. Seriously…think about that. After my dad had a heart attack and bypass surgery, they had him on a resistance bike 3 times a week at full speed. Part of his rehab was to get that heart pumping hard again.

But melanoma patients are supposed to COMPLETELY avoid the sun – something that’s been around for BILLIONS of years and before mankind even existed – because it’s “bad” for us?! How does the thing that gives life to plants and other living things have “harmful UV rays?” Why is sunlight demonized in a way that makes us fear the sun which is NEEDED for life to exist on Earth? How does this even make sense?

So instead of following this completely nonsensical line of thought, I’ll explain to you my own “sun safety” theories.

My previous post on Vitamin D explained a very important part of my sun safety protocol. I try and get a little bit of sunlight every day. According to many sources, including this article from US News, experts suggest 10-30 minutes of sunlight on your arms and legs to get the proper amount of Vitamin D. You could also supplement this with certain foods  like fatty fish (such as salmon) and eggs.

courtesy of http://www.independentnurse.co.uk/clinical-article/is-vitamin-d-important-for-melanoma-patients/154321/

This makes sense – it’s easier for our bodies to process Vitamin D from natural sources rather than a pill formula.

A professor, a pharmacist at my graduate anesthesia program, once said that Americans have the most expensive urine in the world. We take more supplements than any other nation, and $21 BILLION is spent on supplements yearly. Yet, most Americans don’t get enough nutrients from diet alone, and only 9.7% of Americans get the recommended amount of Vitamin D. We try and use supplements to make up for our shortcomings – but rather than making us healthy, this only thins our wallets.

Vitamins when taken in pill form absorb poorly, virtually failing to do what we expect them to do, and only “supplement” as long as you continue to take them. This is similar to a trendy, “shed the weight” diet pill – it kind of works, but it’s not healthy for you long-term and as soon as you stop taking it you’re back to square one. Unless you’re trying to fill the gap for a short period of time (perhaps the winter months) what’s the point of taking a supplement for vitamin D when you can get the same thing from the sun, free of charge? Getting your Vitamin D from a supplement for your entire life in pill form just isn’t logical.

The second part of my “sun safety” thought process is that we Americans spend ENTIRELY too much time indoors. Seriously. According to the EPA, Americans spend somewhere around 93% of their time indoors.

So let me get this straight… Melanoma rates have doubled since 1973 in the US. Yet, with our office cubicle 9 to 5 lifestyles, we now spend more time than ever inside…meaning out of the sun. Meaning…away from the thing that every doctor wants to blame as the cause of melanoma.

Your sunscreen may be blocking your Vitamin D absorption! Courtesy of http://www.simplysunscreen.com/goth-sunblock-clothing.html

To top this all off, many of the ingredients in sunscreen have been proven to be dangerous! No joke! The Environmental Working Group (as quoted here from CNN) has a list of potentially dangerous ingredients used in sunscreen that can potentially CAUSE CANCER! I really wish I was joking here, everyone, but I am not. Read the article for yourself and then go and look at the ingredients in your “safe” sunscreen. You slather this stuff on your skin and then use the sun to bake all those wonderful cancer-causing ingredients right on in.

So WTF are we supposed to do?!?!?!

There are many natural oils which have a small amount of SPF – you can find a great article here on all the SPF abilities of natural oils and make your OWN natural sunscreen! Or you can visit one of my favorites – Dr. Axe – and see how to make your own sunscreen here.

Find a great recipe for sunscreen here: https://draxe.com/homemade-sunscreen/

But what if you’re not prone to becoming a DIY apothecary? What can you do?

Condition your skin.

No, not with conditioner, silly. Get enough sun every day, in slightly larger doses, until your skin is used to the sun. It’s like working out – you don’t just jump right in to a marathon without prepping. You gradually train and prepare for it. Just like your heart, you have to train and condition your skin for optimal health.

If I feel like my skin is turning slightly pink, I immediately find shade. I’m not one to “lounge” by the pool because there’s so many things I want to explore and do. But If I really need that zone-out beach-style “someone bring me a Mai Tai” time in the sun, I only do so until my body has had enough. It’s simple – listen to what your body is saying and don’t burn.

Now one thing I have to say. If you ARE going to be outside for an extended period of time (because, you know, life is fun outside) then please DO prepare. Get enough sun so that your skin is getting more exposure than normal, but DO NOT burn. Just don’t do it. Find shade or cover up when your skin has had enough.

Getting multiple sunburns over time DOES damage your skin and cause skin cancer. So if you’re going into a situation where you know there’s a chance you’ll burn, then please DO seek shade and wear sunscreen. But make sure it doesn’t have any of the nasty cancer-causing ingredients!

Do YOU wear sunscreen? Tell me why in the comments below!

Melanoma Monday

I know that May the 1st (Melanoma Monday) has come and gone. The whole month of May is Melanoma Awareness month, and it brings with it some very strong feelings about my journey. I look back on my diagnosis like many a patient and ask “What did I do wrong? Did I deserve this? How do I prevent a relapse with this horrible disease?”

These are the daily life questions of ANYONE diagnosed with melanoma. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about how far I’ve come since my diagnosis and my goals of life-long remission.

Thankfully, treatment for Melanoma has really come a long way. The odds of surviving my diagnosis of Stage 3C just a few years ago were NOT in my favor – something like 24-29% five year survival rate. That meant that I had a one in 4 chance of making it 5 years before dying of the disease.

5 years!! I was diagnosed at 31 years old – if I reached the ripe old age of 36, I’d be lucky. VERY lucky. To compare this information to another deadly disease, I looked into the prognosis for breast cancer – stage 3 breast cancer has a 72% survival rate. Now, I’m not saying that breast cancer is a walk in the park – quite the contrary. And yet having breast cancer has a better chance of surviving stage 3 cancer than I do according to these statistics.

But with immunotherapy, these numbers have changed dramatically. It’s no longer a “roll of the dice” to see if you make it 5 years with a Melanoma diagnosis. Immunotherapy has changed the landscape of treatment options – and added some much needed flexibility with treatment. The statistics I have listed for melanoma are no longer valid thanks so these amazing new treatments.

However, immunotherapy isn’t a magic bullet. Many patients don’t respond to immunotherapy, and due to the way these drugs work, they can’t be given to everyone. Not to mention that the HUGE list of side effects can make these treatments hard to tolerate for a lot of people.

I have every intention of avoiding these side effects and NOT going back on immunotherapy. So what the heck can I do to prevent a recurrence?

If you’ve ever googled “cancer prevention” there are a MILLION trendy diets and tips and tricks. But if you boil it down to the major proven methods, here’s a small list:

1 – Eat more cancer-fighting super-foods such as berries and cruciferous vegetables

2 – Exercise more

3 – Stress less

4 – Get more sleep

5 – Get enough Vitamin D and DON’T avoid the sun

Whoa, whoa that last one can’t be right…can it? I mean, melanoma is CAUSED by sun exposure! But Vitamin D is created THROUGH your skin’s exposure to sunlight – and it’s a necessary vitamin to fight many cancers, including melanoma.

Map of Melanoma in the US – many northern states have a higher rate of melanoma

Yes, the sun plays a major roll in all skin cancers. But melanoma isn’t like basal cell or squamous cell carcinoma, which are directly linked to sun-exposed areas. Some forms of melanoma have been proven to NOT be linked to UV radiation at all!  And there have been plenty of studies all over the world PROVING that people with lower Vitamin D levels (and thus too little sunlight exposure)  have a poorer prognosis at diagnosis (and also written about here and here and here too!).  With all these strange connections between Vitamin D and melanoma, there are now even trials to test Vitamin D as an adjuvant treatment for melanoma.

Yet, every melanoma patient is told to AVOID THE SUN at all costs. Every dermatologist and doctor playing by the ‘rules’ will also say the same thing. Avoid the sun. Wear 30+ SPF. But then many will also say that you need to take Vitamin D supplements in the same sentence. Why avoid the very thing that can help PREVENT melanoma and then take artificial supplements to try and make up for it?

A map of the sun’s UV radiation in the US. Could there be a link between the lower UV rays (and lower Vitamin D levels) of the states with higher rates of melanoma?

We have a billion dollar supplement industry, and this is a prime example. Avoid the sun, and take a supplement to give you the necessary vitamin that the sun provides free of charge.

Now, with all things in life, moderation is key. I’m not telling you to go out there and fry yourself to get your daily Vitamin D intake. Quite the contrary. I’m telling you to think about your skin’s daily intake of UV radiation. Both avoiding the sun entirely and sunbathing for hours are toxic. Why not aim for the moderate middle – daily sunlight, avoiding burns on extended days outside, and if you’re in the winter months, consider vitamin D.

No, I’m not an oncologist. I’m not a dermatologist. I’m just someone who’s been researching these interesting connections since my own diagnosis. Sometimes doctors insist on hard proof for the smallest connections when, really, just using common sense is all that you need.

So during this month of Melanoma Awareness, make sure you’re aware of the things YOU can do to prevent melanoma. Do your own research. Make your own healthcare decisions – they may change your life.

All The Newest Buzz

We interrupt your regularly scheduled program to bring you this very important announcement.

…Drum roll please…

WE HAVE BEES!!

Yup, that’s right. We just picked up our new hive from the bee supply place. (If you’re interested in where we get our bees and supplies, you can follow this link here.) They usually have 2 deliveries in the spring and we signed up for the first possible delivery!

When we arrived to pick up the bees, it was like “Move-In Day” at college. There was a line of cars to pull into the small parking lot and no open spaces, two lines to check out and people getting irritated with the wait.

Bees all packed and ready for transport!

But, as with all things in life, everything that’s worth having is worth waiting for. And bees are always worth the wait!

We plopped the bee carrier in the back with a few other supplies we purchased. Once we got in and shut the doors, I realized that we were in the car with a few hundred bees.

A FEW HUNDRED BEES!! Buzzing away right behind us!! Ahhhh!!

I had to take a few deep breaths and remember that they’re locked into the bee carrier. But still, it was a few seconds of panic. I’m usually in a hood with the ability to run away (if necessary). There’s no running away in the car!

We all made it home safe and sound. And while we were opening the container, OF COURSE it began to sleet/snow.

So we tried to hustle the ladies into the hive before they got wet. Unfortunately, we lost a fair number that either hit the wet deck or couldn’t find the hive before it got cold that night. I hate to see all the dead girls on the deck – I feel responsible for the ones who didn’t make it.

But I know that nature has to take its course. And the hive will bounce back (much) bigger and better than ever. We just have to give it time and the best fighting chance to survive.

Zee Bear Zapper fence!! And yes, we unfortunately still have some of the white stuff 🙁

And to help give them a leg up against the bears this year, we put up an electric fence. The fence is literally called the “Quick Bear Fence” from Premier 1 Supplies. We also purchased the solar energizer so no crazy car batteries that may run our of juice at the worst time.

We had a wooden fence up last year, and I walked out of the house to see a bear chowing down on the pushed-over hive in November. I scared the bear away using the car (which is a story unto itself), but the damage was done and the hive flew the coop. Fingers crossed that the electric fence keeps those bears’ sticky paws out of the honey this year!

The Elimination Diet

I HATE the word “diet”. Nothing is worse than that word. Saying diet is voicing a symbol of restriction – just the sound of it makes me cringe with yearning for a plateful of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It makes me think of heroin-chick models of the 90s who need to eat a burger STAT. Nothing good can come of a diet….right?!

And yet, I’m doing it. I’m going on a DIET.

OK ok so before I whip myself with a wet noodle, I’ll explain myself.

My husband has been battling acid reflux for the past many years. His only symptom is a chronic cough. His voice sounds like he’d been out partying the night before, but never once has he have the feeling of heartburn. His symptoms never went away…the catch in his throat, the hoarseness, the coughing…was it a chronic cold? Pneumonia? Lung cancer? What could it possibly be??

Doctor after doctor, medication after medication and finally a GI doc did a scope and we had a diagnosis. He found that his esophagus was “like a Florida sunset” – red, inflamed, and angry due to constant acid reflux. This reflux was going allllllll the way up his esophagus to his vocal cords and causing his chronic cough.

Silent symptoms of Acid Reflux. Courtesy of: http://www.doctoroz.com/article/silent-reflux-epidemic

So we tried the classic medication for reflux. A proton pump inhibitor (aka PPI – something similar to Prilosec) twice a day. Everyday. For the rest of his life.

And it worked!! But we didn’t like this as a long term solution. The doctor suggested he take calcium supplements as a PPI can inhibit your absorption of calcium. We figured this CAN’T be good in the long run. So we tried to ween him after a few months.

But the cough came back.

So we tried to take out the highly acidic foods from his diet.

And the cough came back.

And then we tried a glycemic index diet that was described in a book titled Heartburn: Fast Tract Digestion by Norman Robillard.

And the cough came back.

Back to the point where my husband is on the pills again twice a day. It progressed to the point where it is embarrassing to be with him coughing all the time. People look at him as though he’s contagious in public places.

So I looked into the most drastic thing we could do diet-wise where we could potentially find the culprit foods. An elimination diet fits the bill.

Soooooo what the heck IS an elimination diet??  It’s just that – you eliminate ANY potential allergen or irritation causing food for a few weeks and slowly work in other foods to see what’s causing the symptoms.  Foods such as: gluten, soy, corn, dairy, eggs, beef, alcohol, caffeine, citrus, legumes/beans/peanuts, nightshade vegetables, and anything processed. It sounds pretty simple in concept, but in reality?

courtesy of: https://wholelifenutrition.net/articles/elimination-diet/free-elimination-diet-resources

What the heck do you eat???

In a lot of ways, this is probably the simplest diet you could ask for. Chicken, rice, and veggies are going to be staples for the next few weeks. But eating the same thing every day in this household is NOT an option.

So I’m going to have to get creative with recipes and finding ways to keep the husband’s belly happy throughout this journey – there has already been one breakdown (OK I admit it was me having a fit when I realized that I couldn’t have eggs for breakfast and there are VERY limited options in the cereal aisle!)  I’m sure there will be plenty more to come.

I know this won’t be easy. But I’m hoping it’ll be worth it in the end. If this is what it takes to find out the culprit of my husband’s reflux, then I’m there 100%. I want him to be happy and healthy, and I’ll do anything I can to get him there.

Keep following for recipes and grocery lists – coming soon!