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Pancreatic Cancer

Changes to diet and lifestyle

There is no clear evidence about what people with cancer should eat. Many people with pancreatic cancer change what they eat because to improve their health or because the cancer or the treatment affects their digestion. Here people talk about changes they made to their diet and lifestyle.

 

David’s wife, Fiona, tried various complementary therapies. She changed her diet and used...

David’s wife, Fiona, tried various complementary therapies. She changed her diet and used...

Age at interview: 43
Sex: Male
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In terms of food and things, we also looked at nutritional things. There seems to be a very big literature out there which talks about good foods, bad foods, in terms of cancers. So, we followed those which seemed to be, we, we didn’t just follow one person saying you’ve got to do this, we kind of looked at it …
 
Yes.
 
… And there seems to be families of foods which are good. So, things like fruits which, the redder, the darker, red fruits all seemed to come up scoring quite highly, so we went for that. I was open-minded, and I think that Fiona was open-minded but quite kind of, quite determined to follow through on the good things. So, probably a slightly greater lead from Fiona than myself, we never really sat down and said, “What do we think really works here?” We, it, it kind of just all morphed into a way of, of being and I think we just felt that we’ll tackle this whichever way we can. And we were fairly open-minded. So we had the kind of nutrition, foody things that we were doing. Things like fried food was off the agenda. 
 
Then you’re moving into kind of the, the vitamins and minerals and the food supplements of which there is a big literature. So we looked at those things and we managed to end up with quite a few containers of capsules and the like. And we were quite open to our GPs, the other medical people, it’s like we told them, “Look, we’re open-minded to this”. I think probably we asked them, “What’s you view?” I think their view was, they were slightly open, well fairly open-minded and that they wouldn’t be able to tell us, yes/no on these things. And that goes with the specialist care at the hospital where we received the more traditional kind of stuff. I think our worry was that you’d get conflicts and people saying …
 
 “Whatever you do, don’t do that”. Or, “If you do that you’re going to worsen this.” We didn’t get that.
 
Good.
 
Which I think was good. 
 

Theadora’s mother changed her diet based on a book by Michael Gerson and the recommendations of the Penny Brohn Cancer Care. This charity offers complementary therapies, advice & counselling for people living with cancer and their supporters.

 

Theadora’s mother changed her diet and almost became vegan. She felt confident that that improved...

Theadora’s mother changed her diet and almost became vegan. She felt confident that that improved...

Age at interview: 64
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 45
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She did a lot of exploration about diet. She was very interested in the Bristol Cancer Centre [now renamed Penny Brohn Cancer Care] method, and she read about that. And she looked for people who were interested in the Bristol Cancer approach in the area that she lived in. And so she went to see somebody, to talk about that. And she changed her diet radically, radically, radically. She talked to, she read the Michael Gerson book about living with cancer and your diet. And she changed her diet so she became very vegan virtually. Lots and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, and she became very interested in the issue about alkali and acid. And so she ate, she ate a broadly alkaline diet. It became extremely complicated, but we did what she wanted to do…
 
She for example drank fresh carrot juice three times a day. She cut out all dairy. She cut out all meat. She cut out caffeine,, and she cut out citrus fruits. She aimed to make her body alkali rather than acid. All one can say is that the prognosis, because whilst she wasn’t interested, I was interested, and we would talk to the doctors, and the doctors reckoned she had six months post diagnosis. She lived two and a half years.
 
So who knows? Diagnosis and prediction is a very particular art form, and the interaction with the patient is really important. So she, she was very clear and she was, she felt confident that what she was doing was making a difference. And certainly her mental attitude which was about control, doing what she could do, was important.
 

Carctol

Some people took extra vitamins or minerals or other ‘health products’. Maureen took flax oil and Simon’s wife, Karen, took a mixture of eight Indian herbs called Carctol. Although some doctors use and prescribe Carctol for people with cancer, it’s not a licensed medicine in the UK. There is no proof that it is safe or that it works as a treatment for any type of illness.

 

When Simon’s wife was very ill she spent a lot of money on various products, including vitamins,...

When Simon’s wife was very ill she spent a lot of money on various products, including vitamins,...

Age at interview: 39
Sex: Male
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Yes. It was, I did you know mentally decide to join her on the quest. So I didn’t allow myself to think negatively. Even when I saw the data, because it all boiled down to a similar picture really of life span, life, you know expectancy etcetera, given what she had. But I also then, you know, focused on any glimmer of hope. And that’s when you do; I did stray from the academic papers in looking for more anecdotal evidence of things can work. And Karen was also doing some research as well in terms of, well I bought her a book by a woman who Karen sort of had heard about. And you know I don’t, I’m very, I feel very cynical about this particular woman and what she does. And she’s just one of a whole host of people. As I say there’s an industry out there that that is built on people who are dying. 
 
Was she offering complementary therapies?
 
Yes. Yes..
 
What sort of therapy?
 
Well she, I mean she in particular, what she, what she got you to buy was, her kit, the lifeline kit, which involved a, you know a folder and various leaflets and pamphlets as to the things to do, but also vitamins and various health products that you had to buy through her. 
 
And did you buy those?
 
Yes, Karen absolutely, you know and you know I backed her everything, everything she wanted to do I backed you know.
 
So she took extra vitamins and things?
 
Yes. And actually I do think that they probably worked. You know she absolutely you know went to town on healthy products and I, again when you look at how gobsmacked the specialists were, at how well she was, way into her treatment, there had to be something that was causing that. And I think her attitude and probably the things that she was taking were helping. But some of the products that were, that she was told that she should take I think were so you know, what was it, Carctol I think, some Indian plant extract, extract that she was on, that she was told to take you know. And you have to take enormous quantities of these things.
 
Did she take, did she take it?
 
Yes, yes, yes. And you know on one hand people are offering these things, yes taking healthy products and vitamins is, is always going to be a good idea. And she subscribed to Karen’s optimism and enthusiasm which mentally for Karen was brilliant you know.
 
Yes, she tried a whole host of things. I mean there were, there were, there were vegetable extracts, there were you know fruit extracts, there were a whole host of pills. I mean she, she, she spent hundreds, probably thousands of pounds on products,
 
Gosh.
 
You know and she would take them religiously every day. And I do think they worked. I think if you, if you bombard your body with you know with all these intense forms of vitamin etc, and mineral, you know it probably can’t be a bad thing really. 
 

Doctors recommend that changes to diet and lifestyle should be considered an addition to conventional medical treatment, not a replacement. However, sometimes people do decide to use therapies or dietary supplements as an alternative to conventional treatment. This may happen when doctors tell them that there are no treatment options left to try. Sometimes it happens when people decide to stop conventional treatment because the side effects are too much.

 

Amygdalin

One of the men we interviewed decided to stop chemotherapy after seven cycles. He felt that at this stage he had 'nothing to lose' and started to take dried apricot seeds instead. These contain amygdalin which can be changed into cyanide, a poison, when processed by the body. Against his doctor’s advice, he went on to take a manmade version of these in pill form instead called ‘vitamin B17’ or Laetrile. This is banned in the USA and Europe. There is no evidence it can treat cancer and people who have taken it have died from cyanide poisoning.

 

He wanted no more chemotherapy to treat his pancreatic cancer and explained why he took dried...

He wanted no more chemotherapy to treat his pancreatic cancer and explained why he took dried...

Age at interview: 72
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 70
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Can you tell me a bit more about why you’re so convinced these [apricot seeds] are doing the job for you as it were? Some people might say well it, it might have happened anyway.
 
Oh sure yes, well because after the seventh chemotherapy I went to see the specialist, the cancer specialist and she said, well, they scanned me then, and they said, “Well your tumour’s no smaller and it’s no bigger so it looks as though we can control it and I suggest you have another course” and I said you know, that’s when I made up my mind I didn’t want another course. I didn’t want to do it so she said, “Well you know come and see me again in three months” and every time I’ve been since she just says, “Well let well alone” and now she doesn’t want to see me for six months this time and my doctor was pretty much the same I mean she said, “You know those things you’re taking are poisonous don’t you” so I said “I know they are but so is chemotherapy” and she said, “Well you must be doing something right because you’re still here”.
 
The origin of the theory is that there is a tribe in the upper west Pakistan near the Himalayas called the Hunsa people, a small tribe of people and their, one of their main diets is apricots because they grow them there and they’ve always eaten the seeds as well and they’ve, there’s no cancer there, they’ve never had cancer and they live to considerable ages in spite of the fact that they live in a very harsh climate, and that’s where the idea comes from and the chemical side of it, again I don’t know, I’d have to refer to a book to tell you in detail, is that half of the, or part of the ingredient in the tablet, in the seed, apricot seed, is cyanide, it’s that and something else but the cyanide only splits if it meets cancer cells, if it meets a cancer cell it attacks it in your system in your blood stream, that’s the theory, very, very basically.
 

Some people said that well-meaning friends or relatives had suggested special diets or certain supplements. They had not followed their recommendations. Since his cancer diagnosis, Tony has cut down the number of cigarettes he smoked from 20 to 3 or 4 a day.  

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