For the past six months I've been spending most of my Wednesday afternoons driving down from where I live, in rural Western Massachusetts, to my mother's apartment in Westchester County, NY.
The reason for these 3-hour road trips isn't just to visit. Mom has lymphoma and she's undergoing an intensive chemotherapy treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York City. So three weeks out of four, I drive down to her place on Wednesdays and on Thursdays, we drive into the city together to the hospital. There she gets bled, examined and hooked up to an IV drip.
The IV is administered through a port that lies underneath the skin of her chest, providing easy to access her bloodlines. The treatment itself lasts from 3 to 7 hours, depending on the day's menu. When it's all over, Mom surrenders one more vial of blood and then we can leave. I drive us back to her place, and either spend another night there or come back home that same day - meaning another 3 or more hours in the car for me, as traffic dictates.
It's a lot, and I am glad to do it. It is a privilege to have this opportunity to care for my mother; it is hard on all of us, and it is life, and it is real.
Spending one day a week in a cancer hospital for the past six months has changed me. I see people of all ages, including very young children in strollers, dealing with this horrible disease. A disease that could very well kill any one of us some day, sooner or later. The fear of death, the dark promise of Cancer, drives all these stricken people, young and old, to seek the very best medical care in the country, as MSK is known to provide. And this care, we know, this cure is poison.
Nutrition is never mentioned in my mother's weekly sessions with the doctor. Never. Nor are supplements, many of which I believe could be very useful in helping to safely counteract the depleting "side effects" of drugs and radiation. Noone ever suggests she eliminate sugar, for instance, cancer's favorite food. Or that CoQ10 might help boost her energy levels, especially since the Lipitor she takes for her high cholesterol depletes all of her own CoQ10, a required compound for energy production.
When I was younger, I would have been irate at this ignorance, and spoken out, but I am older and wiser now, and I know how to choose my battles. My mother made it clear to me last year, in a very heartfelt and tearful conversation, that she is "a medical person, not an alternative person," and she does not want me to suggest, recommend or even mention any therapy, nutritional or otherwise, to her or her chosen caregivers. She respects my accomplishments in my field, but she does not want my help.
So be it. I must respect her wishes and love her as she is, where she is and for who she is. There is nothing else to do, because this is the way things are! My lesson is to accept and to love, unconditionally, without trying to force change where it is not wanted.
Meanwhile, the nurses in the chemo ward are very interested in my work! They were talking about juicing one day, and I joined the conversation, and the next thing you know, I was offering nutritional counseling to one of my mother's wonderful nurses. This lovely young woman is thrilled to have lost 5 pounds in her first week on the program, and others want to follow with appointments of their own. So through the back door of MSK, detox is coming in! (Of course I recommended The Raw Food Detox Diet as a resource, along with my co-authored book, Teri Kerr's Ultimate Detox Diet.)
All this is very thought-provoking and, in terms of the nurses, even exciting, but what I really wanted to write about here was how I manage to eat well and stay "on track" with traveling back and forth, city and highway driving, long hours in the hospital, stress, etc. Here are a few of my tricks.
BREAKFAST: Before I leave home, I make veggie juice or a smoothie with fruit+greens to bring with me in glass mason jars. (Depending on how long I'll be down, I may pre- freeze or super-chill to a slush.) Then, I just bring my jar (with a straw) to the hospital and drink in the waiting room when I get hungry, usually late morning. Yesterday, it was a smoothie: apple-blueberry-parsley-pear with 1 tsp each raw coconut oil, maca and lucuma, a pinch of celtic sea salt and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Very tasty! (Note: If I forget to make drinks in advance, I’ll just have tea and eat fruit - typically, a banana - in the morning. You can always find fruit.)
LUNCH: There is a decent salad bar at MSK, with plain balsamic vinegar available for dressing. Raw veggies, cooked veggies and sometimes shrimp or fish is offered. So usually, I'll get a big salad for lunch. Now that the weather is nice, it's also fun to take a little trip outside to the fruit stand around the corner and buy lunch in its whole form. This is what I did yesterday: a banana, two small avocados and some gigantic purple grapes. (Alas, grapes from Chile - not organic - so I gave them a good scrub in the sink and an infusion of healthy intention, prayer and light vibration.)
SNACK: If I get peckish in the afternoon and didn't bring a snack, I'll go downstairs to the gift shop and buy a bag of raw nuts and dried fruit. These basic, healthy traveler treats are sold in just about every little convenience store nowadays - even roadside gas stations. It's a blessing, really. Just a few decades ago, the only quick snack you could find that came anywhere close to decent were those little blue packets of roasted (and generally rancid) planters peanuts. No comparison.
DINNER: The A & P grocery near my Mom's house is not exactly a health food store, but they do sell organic baby carrots and organic romaine lettuce. So before heading home last night at 4:00, I bought a three pack of romaine, a big bag of baby carrots, and a hunk of sheep cheese (not raw, but the best choice they had: pecorino romano. Another option would have been organic raw cashews, but those are dangerous for me. I didn't want to be trapped in a car with a pound of raw cashews - you never know what might happen!) So, this simple fare was dinner. It was fun and rabbit-like, munching away on crunchy leaves and sweet carrots while driving north through a greening Connecticut. As night fell I ate my fill, and then topped it off a little while later with the second half of a special raw chocolate bar I'd been saving for the occasion (Sacred Chocolate 69%). Incredible!
BEDTIME SNACK: I don't usually eat after dinner, but long drives in traffic and late homecomings (it was about 8 and dark by the time I got home) may lead to discombobulation and exceptions to the rule. (Plus, as a former food addict, I make it a point not to have rules!) So, arriving home, I fixed myself a big mug of herb tea and nibbled on some pickled herring in the fridge. Herring, you ask? Yes, herring. It combined with the cheese (both fleshes) and it was there (purchased for my son), and I was tired, and all was good. Went to bed, woke up and it's a new day to breathe deep and be healthy.
So that's it, my travel tips for cancer trips - life force road food for the 21st Century.
Blessings and Light,