If you couldn’t already tell from previous blog posts, I like to be in control. Leaving things up to fate is not really my style, although I try it once in a while. Mostly, I like to make sure I’m taking the steps necessary to ensure I can achieve the outcome I desire. That’s one of the reasons cancer was so hard for me. I controlled very little. I put my fate in the hands of my doctors and nurses and the only control I had was to listen to them or not. Obey or not. Keep smiling or not.
So, when I was told about a study that NYU was doing around healthy eating to prevent cancer recurrence, I was interested. Very interested. Here was something tangible I could do to possibly decrease my chances for getting cancer again, improve my lifestyle, try out new yummy recipes and maybe shed a few pounds in the process. The study was not only free, there would be a chef working with us and we would get to eat while we were there. Sweet! AND…there would also be some modest compensation which I would use to buy myself something pretty. I signed up for the study and was randomly placed in a section that would be meeting in the summer. That worked out perfectly for me and my schedule.
The meetings started in late July on a Wednesday evening. I don’t know why I was shocked by this but I was by far the youngest person in the room. This is not a problem for me but it was weird being the only young breast cancer survivor. On the first day we talked about healthy fruits and vegetables. I should have known this was going to be a bad experience when the nutritionist asked us to go around the room, give our name and favorite healthy food and most of the people couldn’t think of one. Really. Most people passed, scoffing at the idea of a “favorite” healthy food as if the idea was too ridiculous to answer. You couldn’t stop me from making my list. Lentils, zucchini, tomatoes, avocado, kale, salmon, quinoa, black beans, carrots, mango….I could go on and on. They even asked questions like,
Which food has the most healthy nutrients?
A. Potato Chips
These weren’t the exact food choices in the question but the ones they listed were just as obvious and stupid. But still, it was just the first day. I could forgive a boring and overly simplistic first day for the sake of going over the basics which included….drum roll please….how to ROAST VEGETABLES WITH OLIVE OIL!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oooooooooo! Fancy!!!!! (note my sarcasm here)
The second session was about portion sizes and how to eat a variety of foods for a maximum healthy punch. Lots of color and texture. Variety. Whole wheat pasta is better than white pasta. A plate with a hamburger and french fries is not as nutritious as lean chicken with roasted veggies and brown rice. SHUT. THE. FRONT. DOOR!!!!!! Then the chef started to cook and one of the things she made was quinoa.
“What is quinoa,” one of the ladies asked? “Yes, what is quinoa?” “I’ve never heard of quinoa” And on and on. I think my jaw hit the floor. Most of these women had never eaten, never heard of quinoa!!!! Where have they been? We don’t live in some rural town that has limited access to a variety of foods (don’t get angry rural town people! I know you know what quinoa is, I’m just saying this for effect.). We live in NYC!!! Even the corner bodegas sell quinoa!!! Who are you people?
I left the session frustrated, having learned not heck of a lot again. When were they going to get to the part that pertained to me? When were we going to start creating a bunch of recipes that we could use when we got home?
The third week they had a psychologist and two physical therapists. The goal was to get us to see that we really don’t move very much and that maintaining an active lifestyle is conducive to healthy living. They made us take a quiz where we could score anywhere from a 5 to 15 (you couldn’t score below 5) and it measured how active we are in our daily lives. It asked if we take the stairs, have an active job, walk to the store, etc… I scored a 14. They started telling us that instead of getting our milk delivered, we should walk to the store. Take the stairs for two flights instead of the elevator. Walk two to three miles a day. If we do these things and add in exercise, we will lower our chance of cancer recurrence.
Cue hand raised high in the sky.
“What role does genetics play in this?”
“It can’t really help if you are genetically predisposed.”
They kept talking more. Cue hand up again.
“Well, what if you do these things already? What if you have been doing them for years? What then? You’re telling me to keep doing what I’m doing! But here’s the thing. I got cancer anyway! I’ve been walking to the store, taking the stairs, roasting my vegetables, eating a balanced diet. I’m far from perfect but I do all these things. So, what am I supposed to do NOW? Why did I get cancer if I’ve been doing everything you’re saying to do to prevent it from coming back? And do I keep doing what I’ve been doing? What are you saying? Better luck next time?”
And I started to cry. I was so angry. Furious, in fact. That they had the nerve to put me in this room for three weeks just to tell me to keep on keepin’ on. That I’m doing great. But the thing is, I’m not. I got cancer. No amount of broccoli in the world was going to change that. No amount of stairs, push-ups or quinoa. I don’t know why I got cancer. I just did. Because life sucks sometimes.
But here’s the thing. I like to be in control. I want to make sure this never happens to me again. So I put a lot of hope into this study and I was let down. The other women in my group assured me that they were learning a great deal. I believe them.
In education, we talk a lot about differentiation. We teach in classes with students of all levels and abilities. As educators, we are expected to teach in a way that is inclusive of each student, from those who are the most in need of guidance to those who need to be challenged more and everyone in between. In this class, this study, there was no differentiation. They taught to the lowest level. There was nothing for me. So I left. I walked out, crying, but I didn’t turn back.
It’s a shame, really. To leave a place realizing, once again, I have no control.
The message was loud and clear. Better luck next time.