Sugar has been on my mind. Truthfully, it often is. It’s pretty much been on my mind all the time since Mum first handed me a Bootybag of chewy deliciousness to comfort me after a childhood tooth extraction. Through the pain and pleasures of puberty, love, childbirth, my career and now cancer, my sweet little friend has been there to ease my burden and celebrate my successes.
But Sugar isn’t welcome in cancerland. You don’t have to get much further than, “My son has ca….” before, even usually sensible people, respond with, “You’ve cut out all sugar, then?”
Soon after Joshua’s diagnosis I took myself off for a check up. The doctor started with the usual life-style questions:
“Now,” She rested her bum on the gurney next to me and looked sadly into my eyes, “it’s a terrible time and we all have are own ways of coping, ” she paused to pat my hand, “how much are you drinking?”
“About two litres a day.” I answered. The wheels might have fallen off in our lives, but at least I was staying hydrated.
“Two litres?” Her eyes widened briefly, for a millisecond I could see the whites around her pupils before her compassionate doctor mask fell back into place.
“Yes. Should I be drinking more?” I hoped she wasn’t going to tell me I’d got it wrong. I had just too many things to worry about.
“What are you drinking?”
“Bottled water mostly.” I winced. The water at the hospital tasted horrible, so I’d been guzzling down the water from plastic bottles. I geared myself up to defend my poor environmental habits. Given the circumstances...
To my surprise she threw her head back and laughed.
“So not alcohol then?” She confirmed.
“Alcohol? What? Oh! No, I don’t really drink alcohol.” I have no moral or health objection to booze, it's just that I don’t really like it much. It’s rarely sweet enough. “My drug of choice is sugar.” I admitted, eyes downcast. “I do love sugar.”
She squeezed my hand, “Under the circumstances, I think you could probably have some sugar.”
I have been carrying the memory like a chocolate coated “get-out-of-jail-free card” ever since.
But I still worry. In the small hours the echoes of those “cancer loves sugar” voices niggle. All these clever people are so SURE about cancer and sugar. I must have it all wrong.
I asked Joshua’s oncologist.
“You wont find medical studies linking sugar to cancer, Penny, because they don't exist. There isn’t any clinical evidence to support that myth.” she said, over her shoulder as she examined Josh, “If you want to eat some sweets, Josh, then go for it. I do want you to try and have some bananas too though, your potassium is a little low.”
As much as I would miss my toothsome companion, I would turn my back in a second if dropping sugar truly held the keys to treating cancer. And here- in, I suspect, lies the attraction of the cancer, sugar lore. You see, reducing the treatment down to “remove sugar” is alluring on two fronts. It’s simple AND it’s within our control. How much better is that than placing your trust in people who will alternately inject you child with poisons and then radioactive poisons. Let me tell you, as one control-mad, helicopter parent to another, dropping the sweeties looks MUCH better.
Without doubt one of the hardest aspects of Joshua’s illness has been the recognition that I am outside of my field of expertise. I can’t begin to grasp the complexities of treating cancer and its co-morbidities, especially in a kid like Josh who has several problems with conflicting treatments. I have no option but to submit to the excruciating prospect of trusting someone else to get this right. And that is HARD.
Luckily I have a candy-coated chum who can ease the torment.
PS - Before we all run off an gorge on Lindt balls indefinitely (and what a happy thought that is), there is a link between obesity and several cancers. Despite my every effort, it appears that moderation is key.