Jenguin’s Journey – Facing a Different Front: Eating for Battle

Jenguin’s Journey – Facing a Different Front: Eating for Battle

June 15, 2020

Written by Jenny Williams (aka ‘Jenguin’) – Head for the Cure Ambassador

For us brain cancer patients, it’s enough to be told to start chemotherapy to combat a growing tumor. But on top of it all, while in treatment, I’m forced to change my diet because of one of the chemo drugs. Since I’ve done this treatment before, I’ve already done my homework.

Procarbazine, the P in PCV chemotherapy, is what’s called a MAOI, or monoamine oxidase inhibitor. These types of drugs hinder the ability of a couple enzymes that help us break down an amino acid called tyramine. And if this amino acid builds up too much in our bodies, it can raise blood pressure dangerously high, which could lead to stroke. I have enough going on in my brain as it is, so if I have to say goodbye to eating some of my favorite foods for the time being, so be it.

Since being diagnosed, I’ve tried a few different meal plans. Initially, I cut out meat, then slowly introduced it back in, trying to limit red meat. Later on, I discovered juicing and all the benefits of flooding my system with the nutrients it brings. It’s like giving ammo to my little immune warriors to deliver a fatal blow to the tumor.

I started dating my boyfriend five years ago, when I first did PCV. My restricted diet made our dates at restaurants fairly interesting. My options were limited, and it seemed everything I felt like eating had one of these tyramine-rich ingredients in it:

  • Soy sauce (teriyaki sauce included)
  • Aged cheeses (including cheddar, swiss, provolone)
  • Fermented foods (especially miso, tofu and pretty much any Korean cuisine)

Not to mention the fact that my boyfriend is Korean, and we both enjoy Asian cuisine. The weekend before I started Procarbazine this year, we went on a culinary splurge. Saturday’s dinner was from our favorite ramen restaurant, and Sunday’s was soondubu, a delicious spicy tofu soup from Korea. Thankfully these foods were available for takeout during the pandemic.

Until these diet restrictions are lifted for the next year (or longer), I can still enjoy some other favorites. As a Chicagoan, I love my hometown deep dish pizza, which thankfully uses mozzarella (a fresh cheese). There’s also crab legs for special occasions, and as a special treat, I’m allowed my ultimate vice: ice cream (and frozen custard).

When telling some of my friends about my diet restrictions, they tell me they could not bear to give up some of those things, especially wine and beer, which I have been known to enjoy a glass on very special occasions. But for me, the temporary limitations are worth not risking a stroke, and definitely worth winning this ongoing battle with cancer.