Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Food journalist and cookbook author Mark Bittman advocates creating a personal “flexitarian” diet for healthier eating. Chemo and diabetic genes have forced me into taking serious stock of what I eat, and I’m a few months into my own concocted regime.

To recap, my chemo-related dietary constraints have added up. No ascorbic acid, which interferes with the effectiveness of the Bortezomib, at least for the first few days after an infusion. I didn’t realize how much citrus I usually eat, nor how often it pops up, like mandarin oranges in Chinese chicken salad. And you have to watch out for ascorbic acid in other non-citrus fruits, berries, vegetables, and juices. The Bortezomib generally causes digestive distress. After I eat, my stomach churns and hurts, leaving me to cope with hours of gastrointestinal protests. There’s the ever-present “metal mouth,” changing the taste, in some cases drastically, of everything I eat. And then there’s my glucose levels.

What this has meant, for example, is no tomato sauce, no ginger lemon tea, no blackberry smoothies, no lime sparking water. I’ve mostly eliminated simple carbohydrates, processed food, and anything that screams of sugar; it’s all about whole grains and brown rice; a lot of apples, Asian pears, and grapes; and roasted colorful vegetables. No pizza with students. Although I could not resist a mint Milano cookie sitting around the office after a reception the other day, Trader Joe’s nuts and dried fruit packets have replaced goldfish crackers, and popcorn is the occasional dessert.

Akemi has referred to all of this as “one Birkenstock,” as in “I’m one Birkenstock away” from food militancy, but for better or worse, going “one Birkenstock” is helping and working. My glucose levels are stable and normal, even on the low side. The stomach aches are just a part of life right now, but I’m generally more comfortable. And all the water I’m drinking has got to be good for me.

What saves me from a sense of deprivation is the “flexible” part of “flexitarian”—cutting yourself some occasional slack, says Mark Bitman. So I don’t worry about the white rice in sushi and with curry, won’t pass up the French bread in a French restaurant, and will have real dessert with company.

Cooking and selecting foods creatively to avoid menu monotony has been challenging. But as some of you may have noticed just once or twice perhaps, I respond to challenges, so I’m managing fine. The other night, a spinach, mushroom and goat cheese omelette accompanied by thin frites sprinkled with a confetti of finely chopped parsley hit the quirky dietary mark. The trio of profiteroles made it a feast, marking one treatment closer to a hopeful conclusion.

Would that diet alone could overcome the other side effects: energy lows, itchy skin, brittle hair, inflamed veins, sleeplessness, puffiness. Platelets and white blood cell count are down and out again, following past cycle patterns. I got realistic to anticipate not being up for work on Mondays after Friday treatments and have cleared them for the time being. One more treatment, and then my IgM blood protein gets tested again. I gotta hope for a dramatic reduction, or else the case will be made that I need to keep going. I keep staring at the cover photo of my February Bon Appétit magazine, “best-ever brownies,” and keep hoping I can try the recipe soon. If my IgM level cooperates, you all come over and help me eat a celebratory tray of them.

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