How leukaemia changed my attitude to eating
Anna, 44, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in 2015. Her treatment included high-dose chemotherapy over a six-month period in hospital. She’s now in remission.
Please note, this story was written before the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. If you’re shielding, some of the activities described here may not be appropriate for you. Speak to your healthcare team for tailored advice – they know you and your individual circumstances.
My relationship with food since diagnosis has been a rollercoaster. During treatment I became extremely paranoid and frightened of it.
This was partly because the nausea and sickness were so bad that I had to have special anti-sickness drugs and a tube inserted into my stomach. And because my immune system was so low, certain foods were dangerous to me.
I only ate because it served a purpose, not for pleasure. Thankfully that has changed and I’m no longer afraid of eating – but I do think very differently about what I put in my body.
Something like this changes your ideas and opinions in ways you wouldn’t have imagined before.
Recognising the benefits of eating healthily
In the past, I never really believed that what I ate made any difference to my health. Now, I definitely believe you are what you eat, as they say, because of what my body has been through.
One of the ways that I know what I eat does make a difference is how quickly I recover from a full day at work or a busy day volunteering. In the past, I would be absolutely exhausted the next day and have to make sure I rested. Since I’ve been concentrating more on what I eat and adding supplements, I’ve recovered much more quickly and can cope better with a busy day.
Over time, I’ve worked out where to go for trustworthy information about what dietary changes I should make. I’ve asked my consultant for advice and found some helpful research after speaking to a researcher I met at a Blood Cancer UK event. I’ve also found Holland and Barrett very good. The staff in my local branch are very helpful and well-trained.
I wish I’d been given advice on healthy eating in the first few weeks of treatment. It would have made a massive difference to my recovery.
The changes I’ve made
- I no longer like to eat or drink anything that has artificial sweeteners or preservatives.
- I cook from scratch using fresh vegetables, herbs and ingredients – I no longer use jar sauces or ready meals.
- I research foods to check their nutritional value, and if they are good, I work them into my meals. I speak to people I trust and read reliable sources, like the NHS UK website, to get the right information about food.
- Nuts and seeds can be a good source of protein and other nutrients. I make my own granola bars, and always have nuts and seeds in my bag. I also add them to high-protein yoghurts.
- I make my own smoothies, which helps make sure I have my five-a-day. I use unsweetened almond milk, include a protein powder, which I buy on the advice of a nutritionist, and lots of frozen fruit.
- I don’t drink alcohol very often. I don’t like the way it makes me feel out of control. It triggers flashbacks to when I was in hospital and I don’t ever want to be sick again!
- I take Vitamin D, prescribed by my consultant, because my levels are low. This has helped improve my energy levels and lessen my joint pain.
- Preparation is a big part of keeping on top of post-treatment fatigue. After I’ve been shopping, I chop up all my veg for the week and keep some in the freezer for busy times. I always have frozen spinach in and add it to every meal.
Doing what I can
Though all of these are not always possible, I live by the mantra of “I do what I can, as much as I can.” Balance is the key. I don’t always eat as healthily as I’d like because, sometimes, I’m just too busy! I still order the occasional take away when life gets in the way.
For me, the main thing is doing what I can to give myself the best chance of a long and healthy life.
Janssen-Cilag Ltd has supported Blood Cancer UK with funding for the production of this web page and others within the ‘Living well’ section. It had no influence over the content.
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