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Now that I Have Lung Cancer, Should I Change My Diet?

Soon after I was diagnosed with lung cancer, I started hearing about other patients who felt certain dietary changes were necessary to prolong their lives and/or the longevity of their treatments. Did this mean I should change my diet too? Should I cut out all sugar? Stop eating meat? No longer drink coffee or wine?  Or start a specific diet such as keto or paleo? I felt overwhelmed by these choices and suggestions but felt that I should probably do something, although I was very confused as to what would work best.

Discussing diet with an oncologist

After a very short-lived attempt to cut out sugar, coffee, and wine, I decided to talk to my oncologist about this. I was kind of nervous to bring this topic up (especially with respect to the wine) because I didn’t want her to think that I wasn’t committed to taking the best care of myself possible. She told me that she believed that everything was fine in moderation and not to deprive myself of food or drink that I normally enjoy. She added that I probably shouldn’t chug a bottle of tequila, but having wine when I wanted was fine.

I decided to embrace this opinion and continue eating from a wide variety of food groups and enjoying glasses of wine. As I started to move forward post-diagnosis attempting to live in the present and savor each day, sticking with my normal diet seemed like the best option for my happiness.

An individual decision

I am not writing this to make anyone feel bad about choices to change their own dietary habits. If anything, I completely understand why this might be important to many. There are so many things about being diagnosed with and treated for lung cancer that are out of our control. By changing our diets, we can at least control something that goes into our bodies, which can be very important when suddenly needing to take multiple daily pills or frequent infusions that make us feel ill. In addition to psychological benefits, dietary changes can make us feel better and have increased energy.

Successes are hard to determine

Do any of these diets work to improve overall survival for lung cancer patients, though? It’s really hard to tell. After more than six years in the lung cancer community, I know many people who have made major changes and many who have not. People in both groups have done well and also, some have not. There does not seem to be a clear-cut answer and there are extremely limited scientific, peer-reviewed studies with conclusive results about diet and lung cancer patients.

Make your diet work for you

So what am I saying here? I think lung cancer patients need to decide individually what makes sense for them. If prior to diagnosis, your diet consisted primarily of donuts and Big Macs, yes, some adjustments might be a good idea. But, if you are already eating a wide variety of food in moderation, it should be completely up to you to decide what, if any, changes to make.

I feel that this is important to note because many patients grapple with a lot of guilt and anxiety about their diagnosis, and adding extra worry about finding the “best diet” might add additional unnecessary stress.

In all cases, before making a major change in your diet, I would recommend checking with your oncologist first!

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