As I went into remission, I was changed both mentally and physically. On March 4, 2014, I entered into what survivors call the “new normal.” For me, this meant thinking about my future and how to be proactive with my healthcare.
I researched information on the internet and discussed some of the possible changes I was considering with my doctor. Because of my interest, my doctor recommended that I join a study that focused on healthy eating while living with ovarian cancer. That sounded like a perfect fit for me.
I entered the study in June of 2014 and began receiving monthly counseling calls and information regarding nutrition and the importance of regular exercise. Periodically, I would have blood work taken and fill out questionnaires about my diet. After two years, I graduated from the study. By then, I had incorporated many lifestyle changes (with my doctor’s blessing) that I felt were right for me.
My biggest lifestyle change was dietary. Slowly, over time I incorporated many more fresh fruits and vegetables into my diet, aiming for the recommended five or more servings a day. I began to purchase organically grown produce, including celery, strawberries, grapes, spinach, and bell peppers. I keep lists of the “Dirty Dozen” (produce known to be full of pesticides) and the “Clean Fifteen” (preferred fruits and veggies) on my fridge for easy reference.
The study recommended I reduce my intake of red meat and processed meats that contain nitrates. I took this a step further by eliminating red meat and pork from my diet. This was especially hard since I loved BBQ spare ribs smothered in sauce and those tri-tip roasts. I don’t eat BBQ anymore, but when I crave a hamburger, I can opt for a veggie burger instead—and get the same sense of satisfaction. I also limit my dairy intake, eat more whole grains, and exchanged my early morning coffee for a wake-me-up cup (or two) of green tea.
Today, I read the labels before I purchase a food item, paying close attention to the sodium, sugar, and fat content. Sometimes this drives my husband crazy because (you know how most men are) he just wants to get in and out of a store as fast as possible!
Initially, my diet changes were challenging, but now they are a way of life. I’m not perfect. I still enjoy an occasional goodie, and portion control is still a work in progress, but it feels good to take control of this aspect of my life.
My second lifestyle change has been exercise. Prior to my diagnosis, I thought I was fairly active. I walked about nine to 12 miles a week right up to my diagnosis. Chemo changed that. I tried going for walks with my dogs, but I couldn’t go very far before becoming fatigued.
Then I received a pedometer and something just clicked for me. I needed that challenge to start moving.
Soon I was setting goals for myself—first 3,000 steps, then 5,000 steps. Most days now my goal is 6,000 to 7,500 steps. Of course, I try not to be too rigid about my walking goal. Some days I give myself a break if I’m just feeling tired, or if it’s too hot or cold or rainy. But, I have been known to walk the rooms and hallway of my house to meet my goal.
I do not know if all the lifestyle changes I have currently made will prevent a recurrence of ovarian cancer or give me more time before recurrence occurs, but I do know that I feel better and stronger.
I’m grateful for my new normal and the opportunity I have to be more aware of how to keep my body fit. After surviving ovarian cancer, giving up BBQ ribs and walking 7,500 steps seem like very reasonable goals. I challenge you to make positive changes, too. Get active. Eat healthy foods. Take charge of your life.