Tested Already: Day 2 of Vegan-ing

This past Tuesday and Wednesday, my husband was out of town on a work trip. These two days also happened to be the days I got my pathology report alerting me to precancerous cells in a polyp that was removed and my first full day of eating a mostly vegan diet.

My husband’s travel had not gone smoothly. His flights were delayed both ways and a non-working GPS left him directionless near the Philadelphia airport. As he waited for his twice-delayed flight home from Midway, he texted me that he wanted to go to Culver’s on the way home from the airport.

The sentiment was not lost on me. Greasy cheeseburgers have become our comfort food. In a previous effort to clean up my diet, I made a resolution to only eat fast food on days I had doctor’s appointments, as if crawling into a bag of fries could soothe my anxiety and frustration. Culver’s is especially delicious and I knew I would be tempted by their cheeseburgers on butter-slathered buns, fried cheese curds, and choose-your-own-mix-ins custard concretes. I was barely past the twenty-four hour mark of veganism and I needed some fortifying to be able to withstand the temptation. After all, I had a narrow miss at lunch when I got Harvest Cheddar Sun Chips instead of plain. Luckily the “made with real cheddar” boast on the bag caught my eye and I gave the chips to one of the starving millennials I work with.

And so, armed with the knowledge of my husband’s fast-food intention and the need to pick up a prescription at Target, off I went in search of reinforcements. I got my prescription and, after browsing the book section for a vegan cookbook (No luck there. Target was sold out of theĀ Oh She Glows cookbook–their only vegan option.) I swung by the frozen treats aisle. Even the limited grocery selection at my non-super Target included two non-dairy ice cream options in a variety of flavors. I chose a cashew milk based chocolate ice cream and headed to the checkout. Even though this splurge was counter to my goal of reducing sugar, I rationalized that if I was to withstand the temptations of Culver’s, I needed something a little more sexy to come home to than taco-seasoned tofu.

After yet another delay, I picked up my husband at the airport and pointed the car to Culver’s. As he was selecting his dinner from the drive-thru menu–something called a “pub burger,” fried cheese curds and a salted caramel concrete–he asked what I was getting. I reminded him that I was going to eat vegan and told him I had some non-dairy ice cream at home. As we drove home, we talked about my decision. He agreed that it was a reasonable choice, given the potential benefits and limited drawbacks.

When we got home, he dug into his burger and cheese curds, having already eaten his ice cream in the car. I ate a little of my cashew milk ice cream and was surprised at how tasty and satisfying it was. My husband started feeling the physical pangs of regret you get in your stomach from overeating and offered me his last few cheese curds–old habits die hard. I declined. We did a few chores and went to bed.

I woke up this morning around 6:00 and my husband wasn’t in bed. His fast-food binge on top of his two days of travel-induced poor eating left him with a terrible stomachache. While I felt bad for him, his experience also reinforced my choices. Why put myself through the physical discomfort of an upset stomach when the offensive food might also be feeding my cancer cells?

Miscellaneous Notes: Pro, Con, Pro

Pro: I found out today that I’m in good company. A friend of a friend is also now vegan after having a similar medical experience to mine. It’s good to know I can reach out to someone who is in my shoes.

Con: I ate some leftover fish and cream at lunch as part of a veggie-filled taco bowl. In total there was probably less than 2 ounces of whitefish and 3/4 tablespoon of heavy cream. My husband ate the other leftover serving for dinner so my non-vegan leftovers are gone.

Pro: My mother-in-law is planning a family dinner for Sunday with a menu of takeout from the local BBQ joint. I called her to ask what I could bring, explaining that I wasn’t eating animal products because of my pathology report. She was mostly concerned about the diagnosis and said she thought my decision to go vegan was smart. I wasn’t looking forward to navigating family dinners, but I’m glad to have that conversation behind me and thankful for my mother-in-law’s understanding!

Pathology

Last week, I had surgery to have a polyp removed from my ovary. Surgery and the recovery have been super easy on my end–very little pain or bleeding. The pathology report, however, is another story.

Ovarian polyps are rarely cancerous so I wasn’t too worried about it. More than anything, I wanted the confirmation that everything was fine so we could get on with our lives. The doctor’s office was supposed to call on Monday but we didn’t hear from them. I called yesterday to check in and left a message for the nurse. She returned my call to say that my polyp showed moderate evidence of precancerous cells. We scheduled the appointments that my doctor wanted for follow up and my next task was to call my husband.

These are not the first precancerous cells that have been removed from my body. Shortly after we got married, I had a mole removed from my arm. The pathology report from that showed precancerous cells and that the margins were involved, which meant I had to have a larger chunk of flesh cut out. I’ve had mole checks regularly since then and everything seems to be fine. While I was a little shook up about the polyp pathology news, given my experience with my mole, pessimistic ideation didn’t set in until I talked to my husband. When I told him, he got that sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that comes right before your brain formulates all your negative thoughts about potentially bad news into words. I didn’t get upset until he told me his stomach hurt.

The trouble with finding out this kind of news while you’re at work is that you have to hold it together and not overreact. Yelling, “I just found out I have precancer again! There are more important things in this world than board meeting Power Point presentations!” probably isn’t the best way to go. And not to mention that precancerous cells aren’t cancer and everyone in my office has their own personal battles–some of them I know and some I don’t.

What I did instead of yelling was download podcasts about cancer. As I said before, these are not the first precancerous cells that have been removed from my body. Twice, now, in my thirties, I’ve gone through this precancer diagnosis response. Twice is too often for someone who hasn’t even reached “over the hill” status. I needed some distraction from my thoughts and some preparation for what happens if those precancerous cells ever lose their less-threatening prefix. The podcast I landed on was an interview with Dr. John Kelly on the Chris Beat Cancer podcast.

Dr. Kelly is an advocate for a mostly vegan diet for patients that are fighting cancer. He’s not one of those people that claims you can eat vegan and forego other treatment and beat cancer, though. And while some of the studies he referenced were old, there is significant evidence that a vegan diet could stave off cancer better than a standard American diet. I’ve read about these studies before but hadn’t remembered them until I started listening to the podcast interview.

I’m one of those people who thinks that anything that won’t hurt you is worth trying. I’ve also eaten vegan and vegetarian before and for the past several months I had quit buying beef at the grocery store, figuring that if I couldn’t stop driving 90 miles a day for work, I could cut back on my beef consumption, thus limiting contributions to greenhouse gas productions. It didn’t take much to convince me to go full vegan and by the time I left work, I reached my threshold.

And that’s how, on August 8th sometime between noon and 4:30, I became vegan. Even as I warm up my delicious tofu and refried bean burrito, I know I won’t be perfect. There’s that little bit of fish still in the fridge that I don’t want to go to waste. And navigating in-law politics at Thanksgiving dinner will be annoying. And how I will miss eggs! But on the other hand, I’m not really much of a foodie and fueling my body with things that will contribute to my overall health and longevity is much more appealing than a fast food cheeseburger. And if it helps ensure that I don’t hear the word “precancerous” for a long time, that’s all the better.