There are many young women like myself who are living with breast cancer – I was diagnosed before age 40.
At the time of my initial diagnosis, my work life was packed with tasting menus, slabs of cheese and meat, and copious amounts of unchecked stress as I juggled writing assignments and events. I knew I had to make some changes, but I never made a definitive list foods and drinks to avoid or to introduce into my daily eating habits in a conscious effort to try knock the cancer back. I started with blueberries – which are high in antioxidants and thus able to reduce the damage to my DNA from free radicals -- and they quickly became a higher priority in my grocery budget, as did some other purported “healing” foods.
An interest in matcha (and other teas), as well as salads, meditation, and saying “no” every now and then to fried chicken did not happen overnight. These concepts were familiar but not routine in my pre-cancer world.
Anyone who has experienced major loss, started a new job, or had a surprise medical diagnosis can affirm at least one thing: big, unexpected changes are super tough, and on many levels. As I underwent serious surgeries (7), infections (8), blood draws (69), and chemo (22 rounds), I had the time and curiosity to explore and sometimes develop practices that could, I hoped, heal me. I also was forced to take it easy.
The first line of treatment for the tumor in my left breast was chemo – my oncologist wanted to try and shrink the tumor size. I learned that it’s commonly held in the medical community that antioxidants and other nutrients do not interfere with chemotherapy or radiation therapy. So, incorporating regular sips of matcha and green tea were different from my usual cuppa joe, but still offered warmth, comfort, minimal caffeine, and a plethora of the ever-important EGCGs, my new favorite polyphenols (see below).
A regular tea practice had the added benefit of getting me to practice slowing myself down. It probably sounds hokey, but I would visualize healing taking place when I sat down for chemo – and I will never know if that mindset helped or not.
Tea time took on a similar vibe.
The first 24 hours after chemo usually made me feel like I had been laid out on a hot and dusty road and then run over by a giant semi-truck, over and over. I wanted to sleep immediately and drink what felt like gallons of water. (It is thirst-making work having all those chemicals pumped into my bod.)
Matcha was a welcome morning break. I was grateful that it didn’t taste bitter and metallic – taste buds are often decimated by chemo, and I had to ditch some food faves for a while.
Between interviewing surgeons and doctors to figure out my treatment steps (which seemed to morph and change unexpectedly), it was a fun diversion to study up on things like polyphenols. These beauties are the vital green tea molecules that scientists believe serve up so many of matcha’s overall health benefits, including causing “anti-cancer activity” – where the tumor cells die. With cancer, that’s everything! According to Medical News Today, matcha has a unique class of antioxidant known as catechins, particularly the catechin EGCG (epigallocatechin gallate). EGCG provides potential cancer-fighting properties, including protecting cells from DNA damage. Turns out the chemo did shrink my cancer. When I sought out better food and drink choices, maybe that helped get rid of the tumor while also healing the damage that cancer had wrecked.
My tea rituals also gave me the chance to create something beautiful each day. I missed having enough energy to pursue anything artistic, since I was often too weak to do once-enjoyable routine stuff (grocery shopping, cooking, driving and walking). That rhythm of sifting, pouring, and frothing the tea reminded me that maybe I was right where I needed to be: in a nice robe (a cozy gift from a friend, who confessed to not knowing how to help me), taking it easy, and letting myself heal.
by Mary Ladd
The opinions of Breakaway Matcha are not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult your doctor(s) on all health-related issues before making any medical decisions.
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