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As a cowboy might say, chemotherapy was not my first rodeo. I grew up with epilepsy. My neurologist prescribed a number of toxic medications, many with long lists of side effects. At eleven years old I suffered from severe drowsiness as a result of one of the drugs. My doctor suggested I drink a cup of strong coffee, which did the trick.
So as soon as I got dressed each morning I raced downstairs to brew a pot that my father and I enjoyed before he dropped me off at school. As an adult, the smell of roasted java still rekindles fond memories. The aroma of deep roasted coffee brings to mind the comfort of daddy daughter moments, but that’s not all. The finely ground beans against the white paper filter, the whoosh of the water, the dark brown brew dripping into the carafe all give me a tinge of satisfaction. I take pleasure in knowing that I am the girl who cheerfully made and drank coffee to respond to medical symptoms. The girl empowered to do something about her illness beyond passively popping pills.
I still get that sense of satisfaction when I feel stronger and healthier as a result of something I did or ate. So throughout treatment I replaced my morning cup of joe with breakfast rituals that allowed me to start my day actively involved in self care. Living with cancer enforces the idea that everything is subject to change, as were my symptoms, so my breakfast routine changed accordingly. I drank green smoothies each morning when I first started chemotherapy to alleviate symptoms of anemia. I ate warm breakfast grains daily when ongoing chemo and co-treatments lead to digestive distress. Currently I eat high alkaline, vitamin C rich grapefruit and green tea to keep my energy up and keep infections at bay.
I offer no evidence that any of my breakfast choices were effective beyond the feeling of satisfaction they gave me as an active participant in my own healing. It’s important to note that my breakfasts were part of a nutritionist recommended, doctor approved diet that complimented my treatment plan. Before treatment began I had iron deficiency anemia, which actually improved while I was on chemo. I didn’t know it at the time, but breast cancer patients have a 53% chance of acquiring chemotherapy induced anemia which did not happen to me. Perhaps it was a result of my diet, it could have been the lifestyle and biological changes, or the expert attention I received from my medical team. I just know that waking up each morning to the whir of the blender and a frosty green tonic gave me a small sense of satisfaction. Like the girl making coffee I felt empowered by beginning each day in active pursuit of wellness.
Mix and Match Green Smoothie: Anemia Antidote
My smoothies varied each morning based on how chemo affected my taste and my access to fresh ingredients. For instance when sweet food made the peripheral neuropathy brought on by treatment worse, I used vanilla yogurt, fresh oranges and spinach to make tart, tasty smoothies that were pleasing to fingers and toes. My friends and family helped me keep the flavors I favored (either fresh or frozen) stocked but most mornings, to feel active in my own treatment, I prepared them myself.
I researched and learned that when consumed together, vitamin C helps the body absorb iron. So I tailored my smoothies to include fruits and veggies that I enjoyed with relatively high iron, and high vitamin C and used various liquids to suit my changing tastebuds. The mix and match recipe below makes approximately two servings.
|Choose 1 Vegetable||Choose 2 Fruit||Choose 1 Liquid|
|2 c. baby spinach
|1 c. pineapple
|1 c. milk
|1 c. baby kale
|1 c. cantaloupe
|1 c. strawberries
|1 c. yogurt
|1 c. swiss chard
|1 c. mango
|1 c. fruit juice
(sweet or tart)
|1 c. papaya *
*bonus: fresh papaya relieved constipation during first round of chemo
% of daily recommended vitamin C
% of daily recommended iron
Optional: Sweeten to taste with up to 1/4 c. dried dates for an additional 3% of daily recommended iron
- Choose one item from the vegetable column, two from the fruit columns, and one from liquid column.
- Wash and/or peel vegetables and fruit; cut into 1-inch pieces. If using frozen ingredients skip this step.
- Add one cup of unsalted canned or cooked white beans (they are a virtually tasteless thickener and add 11% of daily recommended iron)
- Place ingredients in a blender, liquid first, then soft ingredients, and then firmer ones.
- Add one cup of ice last. If using frozen ingredients skip this step.
- Secure the lid
- Turn blender on; slowly increase to highest speed.
- Blend until smooth.
- Gradually add water to loosen if necessary