Treatment And A Long Overdue Rant

by Sarah

For two and a half years, I’ve undergone chemotherapy.  And EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I get outraged at the “offerings” in the chemo room.  They have crackers and sugary snacks along with soda and drinks masquerading as “healthy” but are very much NOT such as Ensure and Boost which are primarily comprised of soy and some sort of sweetener such as corn syrup.  Gross.  SO Gross.  That’s disgusting for any human being but reprehensible for providing to cancer patients in a treatment center.


Let me be clear, this is not only provided for free, but often there is a gray-haired-sweet-older-retired-type lady bringing these “treats” around in a basket and joking about how I should take one because she made them at home this morning.  And she rarely takes “no” the first time.  Last time I told her I don’t eat that junk, in fact I fast for a couple of days leading into treatment to make it more effective and to minimize side effects but when she has some nutritious veggies and meat, to let me know.  She was visibly taken aback.  I’m guessing she’s not used to being turned down let alone with so many words.

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It is well known that sugary, carbohydrate-y substances fuel cancer.  You have to look no further than how a PET scan works which is a common test to see where cancer exists and how greedily it’s gobbling up the radioactive GLUCOSE tracer (FDG).  So, what’s the deal with a cancer treatment center providing substances that are not only the antithesis of health but directly related to fueling the disease that they are supposedly trying to slow or eradicate?   This INFURIATES me.

In the Oskaloosa waiting room and treatment area where I accompanied my dad, weekly, for many months, they do not provide boxed and bagged treats but an elaborate spread of cookies and sweets along with lemonade.  Do you know how hard it was to keep my dad, and also my mom, from eating that stuff?  “Sarah, they wouldn’t put it out if it wasn’t good for you.  They’re a hospital.”  ~Mom.  Did I mention that sugar can also burn out your brain, so to speak, and fuel Alzheimer’s?  Sigh.

Is it malpractice?  Is it a way to keep the “customers” coming back?  What is it?  WHY WOULD ANYONE DO THIS?

I’ve asked.  I’ve asked the nurses.  I’ve asked the doctors.  Mostly I get blank looks with maybe a “patients like it and they complain if we don’t have them” comment with a shrug.  Um, what?  This is a good reason?  If these institutions are serious about “health”, effectively treating disease, increasing longevity (health extrapolated over time), and genuinely caring for their patients, then they need to look at their own backyards and CLEAN THEM UP.  It is time to let go of “it helps with nausea”.  In my experience, it doesn’t.  Same with those I’ve asked.  And if it does help you?  Bring your own “junk”.  Better yet, empower yourself to explore healthier alternatives.

Are patients going to complain?  Absolutely.  Try taking away anything that is free and hyper-palatable from anyone who has grown to expect it.  They can be quite cranky.  Still not a good reason to keep providing it.  Would a doctor provide a cigarette to a smoker because he’s grouchy?  Not a good one.

Don’t even get me started on the well-meaning but possibly misguided non-staff folks that bring in cookies and other unhealthy treats to celebrate milestones or birthdays or whatever-awareness-month it is.  I understand how inextricably food is tied to our lives for good times and bad, for celebrations, for mournings, for boredom, you name it, it is a go-to.  But we are past time for rethinking this aspect for hospitals and treatment centers.  They are the examples, like it or not, and it’s WAY overdue for them to be a good ones.

Or, how about taking a “radical” step and implementing an exercise program in and around the treatment area?   I put radical in quotes because it’s something I do with every treatment.  For me, it is not radical but commonplace.  I do push ups, jumping jacks, yoga, squats, whatever I have room for, in the waiting rooms.  You’d think I’d lost my mind based on people’s reactions.  But isn’t it crazy to NOT do these types of movements?  It can help with the uptake of the chemotherapy into the cancer cells along with other known benefits of exercise and cancer treatment.  (See video below.)  I understand that patients don’t always feel up to those sorts of movements especially if they are recovering from surgery, months into harsh chemotherapy or in end stages of disease, but even chair stretches can provide benefits.  At every stage of my treatment, I have found a way to move.  The more I move, the better I feel.  This is not radical.  I’d rather see this as an option rather than something that is going to decrease my health.

But appropriate exercise under professional supervision – before, during, or after treatment – seems to substantially improve your odds.
Catalyst meets a group of cancer patients that is experiencing extraordinary benefits from prescribed targeted exercise programs.

I’m trying to make good decisions for myself and my loved ones, our lives depend on it, and there is plenty of opportunity for me to make bad ones.  I do NOT appreciate being enticed in the chemotherapy room. I am more informed than most there and I can and will resist but for those that aren’t, I feel like they are being taken advantage of.

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These paragraphs from Dr. Colin Champ, radiation oncologist, summarize my thoughts more eloquently so I have copied and pasted them but included a link to the whole article which is a 3-5 minute read.

But unfortunately, what October really turns into is pizza parties and sugar cookies at cancer centers — actually pink sugar cookies with pink ribbons made of pink sugar frosting. It is one thing for cafés and restaurants to be participating, but when hospitals and cancer centers display these “cigarettes” for breast cancer, a line has to be drawn. Awareness of breast cancer has become a celebration of indulging in the things that, well, lead to breast cancer. Anyone confused? I know breast cancer patients sure are.(10)

It is understandable for patients to be unaware of these metabolic connections. However, when they see these unhealthy behaviors not only occurring at cancer centers, but being promoted, what message are we communicating to our patients?

In other words, decreasing the amount of sugar (or sugar cookies) to cancer cells causes them to die in as little as two hours. Even small decreases may work. In the face of toxic treatment, perhaps reducing sugar along with chemotherapy or radiation therapy is the necessary one-two punch to knock out cancer cells. As a radiation oncologist who is bombarding cancer cells with free radicals in an attempt to end their lives, perhaps it is not in my patients’ best interests to bombard them with sugar cookies (with or without pink frosting).

Sugar is to breast and other cancers as cigarettes are to lung cancer…

Our societal connection with poor food choices along with their promotion within our hospitals and cancer centers must end. As cancer centers, we should be promoting the message of a healthy diet and lifestyle in the hope that this message will permeate throughout the community. If we are the ones promoting the same unhealthy behaviors that can lead to cancer diagnosis and worse outcomes, how do we expect a change to occur?

And by the way, you won’t find any sugar cookies at my cancer center.

Because I not only voice my opinion to rant, I will be sending this to Phil Stover, CEO, Medical Oncology and Hematology Associates and will await his response.

Cheers to good health, good choices and creating positive change.  ~Sarah