Studies show diets high in sugar (processed sugar and high-glycemic index) cause spikes in insulin and stimulate tumors to grow and can contribute to breast cancer—especially triple negative breast cancer. I immediately cut out all processed foods and began buying organic. I cut out all white sugar and "white" starches (pasta and bread), because there are some studies that show that triple negative is related to insulin levels, and that therefore a low-glycemic index diet is helpful in preventing a recurrence.
A low-glycemic index diet may lower your risk by 253 percent. Extra stored fat produces estrogen, and glycemic foods cause a cascade of hormones. Eliminate now: desserts, candies, cakes, sweets, sodas, ice cream (ugghh!), white bread, sugar, honey, jelly and alcohol —yep, alcohol. You may ask, "Why live?" But I can tell you there is truth to this.
Drinking alcohol increases your risk of breast cancer. One drink a day increases your risk by 7 percent. Alcohol also increases your estrogen. A study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that survivors who have one or more drinks per day have a 90 percent—90 percent!—increased risk of recurrence. Medicinal marijuana, anyone? Darn.
My oncologist at Georgetown's Lombardi Cancer Center says you can have up to two 6-ounce glasses of alcohol per week and be okay, but it is not worth the risk, in my mind. Very sad, because I used to enjoy a nice wine with dinner, but when you have a choice to live or not it is amazing the strength and willpower you find within yourself. It's a pretty easy choice, really. I only drink water, bubbly water or green tea. I allow myself one black mug of coffee in the morning because the studies are mixed on coffee—it has anti-oxidants, which are good. I put lemon or lime wedges or cucumber in my pitchers of water to give them flavor.
Low vitamin D3 levels (the vitamin we get from sun exposure) can increase your chance of getting breast cancer by 70 percent. One study found low D3 led to a 200 percent chance of your cancer progressing and 73 percent greater risk of death. Get your D3 tested now—it is a simple blood test, and if it is below 50ng/mL, do something about it—now. Test it a few times a year. You need 50 percent of your body in the sun for 30 minutes a day.
Survivors have a 200-600 percent chance of developing a second cancer, compared to others. A study done on triple negative shows that exercising four times a week or more reduced the rate of recurrence. So I exercised nearly every day of chemo—even if it was just a walk for a few miles. The fresh air also helped keep the nausea at bay.
And exercising kept me strong through the chemo. I took up Pilates—on machines with coach Joshua Dobbs. We met twice a week, and what I love about Pilates for breast cancer patients is that it strengthens every little muscle in your arms and body. It lengthens and strengthens and works on your core—all key for mastectomy patients—and has helped me bounce back quickly from the mastectomy. They are gentle exercises, and yet they pay off big-time. They are gentle enough that you can do them even when you aren't feeling great—it is not the pounding of some exercises.
I ran when I had the steroids because you need to do something to get all that energy and anxiety out. About 2 miles when I wasn't doing Pilates. Many times there were tears streaming down my face, but I kept running and found it very therapeutic.
Jennifer's 11 tips to get through chemotherapy
To learn more about Jennifer's story, visit her blog.