Like most trauma, the diagnosis of cancer takes a while to sink in. It takes time to truly occupy all of your thoughts and for your mind to process what is happening. It’s an odd experience and one that only someone who has experienced cancer can really understand. With the ageing process, you are still “you” inside, but the mirror can show a strange, ageing body and in the case of a cancer patient, the CT scan tells you that there is something strange going on inside your body. Just like with like ageing, you have to accept what you now know to be true – and work with it.
Having gone through the treatment process, the question patients always ask is “What next? Is that it? Is that all that I can do?” The next check-up with the oncology team might be three or six months away and that’s a long time to wait. This is the time when you should look at how to manage your own health.
I know these feelings only too well as, in June 2013, I was diagnosed with a stage 3 primary peritoneal cancer. And it was when I was having my final Chemotherapy in February 2014 that, as the old saying goes, I found myself having to take some of my own medicine.
By February this year, I had been in remission for a year and it was time to have another look at my herbal and supplement protocol and to make sure I was doing everything possible to keep the remission going. Post cancer management is all about the terrain: it is like gardening, you need to keep the soil well managed to keep the plant growing strong and healthy. Sometimes one of the biggest pushers of cancer can be stress – I have seen it with many of my patients, and I can recognise it in myself – and along with that comes small but increasingly frequent slip ups in diet and lifestyle.
Post cancer, a twice yearly boot camp can be just the right recalibration tool, so I decided to go and visit Midi Fairgrieve and the team at Detox International in Spain. Midi runs a serious professional detox, no scales in site, and has some very experienced therapists working with her. This detox is all about helping one toward optimum health.
The concept of a ‘managed fast’ is an old one. I have used it myself and with my patients, and it felt like the right thing for my body at this point. Post detox, one of the key elements to take forward is being aware of the acid/alkaline balance in one’s diet, as many chronic disease terrains are made worse by too much acid. Inflammation tends to be exacerbated by acid with joint problems, acid reflux, fatigue and low mood being just some of the resulting health issues. As many cancer patients know, the disease itself, and the treatment of the disease with chemotherapy, can leave one with some of these health problems. I had noticed morning joint stiffness and indigestion – it was time to take action…
The Acid/Alkaline balance
In a nutshell, the idea is that acid forming foods cause problems in the body whereas alkaline forming foods help the body to maintain healthy pH levels and, as a result, the body is able to stay in optimal health.
The digestive process causes foods to become either alkaline or acidic when they are eaten, and we can measure this by their pH levels (ie: how acid or alkaline they are). So, for example, lemons become highly alkaline when digested whereas meat becomes highly acidic. So, by acid-forming foods, we are not referring to acid-tasting foods. Foods that form acid when eaten leave an acidic residue in the body which in turn creates an environment where problems can occur, especially if it continues over a long period of time, leading to a condition known as ‘acidosis’.
Several important systems in our body can become overloaded when acid levels are too high: the lymph system, the kidneys and the liver are all responsible for removing excess acid from our bodies, using electrolytes (alkaline forming minerals) to neutralise the acids. However, if the electrolytes get used up dealing with excess acid, minerals are leached from other parts of the body in order to deal with the problem. This leads to mineral deficiency with, for example, calcium being lost from the bones, and Magnesium from the muscles. As well as this, excess acid tends to become deposited in extra fat cells and also in areas of the body where we might have a predisposition to illness. As a result, too much acid = an increased likelihood of disease.
There are several potential causes of acidosis, including a highly acidic/low alkaline diet, negative emotions, stress and also pollution – all things that we have become far too exposed to in our modern environment.
Replacing acid forming foods with alkaline can help with a whole raft of health concerns including: obesity; bloating and digestive issues; skin problems; depression; mood imbalances; osteoporosis; heart problems; kidney and gall stones; back pain; muscle and joint pain; fatigue; decreased immunity.
A healthy diet should consist of 70-80% alkaline forming foods and 20-30% acid forming foods. Below is a list of the most extreme foods in both cases:
The most Acidic foods are: Meat especially beef and pork, shellfish’; diary, sugar, processed foods; wheat; white flour; pastries; pasta; peanuts, walnuts; alcohol, coffee, black tea, processed fruit juices with added sugar; blackberries; cranberries; prunes; chocolate; vinegar; fried foods, saturated fats; Nutra sweet, Aspartame, Sweet ‘n’ Low.
The most Alkaline foods are: Vegetables (especially greens); asparagus; onions; vegetable juices; parsley; raw spinach; broccoli; garlic; grasses; salad; mango; papaya; grapefruit; lime; lemon; watermelon; tomato (raw); avocado; sprout; quinoa; millet; buckwheat; amaranth; spelt; lentils; tofu; soya; almonds; Brazil nuts; hazelnuts; olive oil; herb teas; lemon water.
So, now my time at Detox International is over and my week of cleansing and detoxing is completed, I’ve come away with what I think is a key concept: as a coffee lover and a keen foodie, I don’t want to deny myself the things I love, so have to find a balance. This might mean having one great organic coffee a day, and the occasional bit of organic meat, perhaps two or three times a month. But the real question is, after the detox, how do I feel?
Well, I bounced out of bed this morning with no joint stiffness, my indigestion gone, and, mentally, I am feeling fantastic. I have to say that I think the mind/ body work with the therapists was as important as the diet. Recalibrating the mind is as important as recalibrating the body.
It’s been a wonderful, nourishing experience. A big thank you to Midi, Jem, Karen, Yair, Ziza and Anna at Detox International. I’ll be back.