When my doctor told me I had stage 3 tongue cancer I thought my life was over. I thought for sure cancer would be the thing that killed me. My team of doctors had to tell me several times before I believed them that really, my cancer was curable-no, not just treatable-but curable. I had no idea that was even possible. They told me bluntly that it would be a very painful process, but they would completely cure my cancer. Even now, after I have healed I question it. But they then give me the test and scan results showing that the cancer is in fact, gone. I was incredibly lucky.
Because of the high dose of radiation blasted at my neck and tongue I was left with damaged salivary glands. Saliva helps rinse food away from our teeth. Since my glands aren’t producing as much saliva anymore, food sticks to my teeth longer. This leaves me with a high risk for developing cavities and also certain foods are harder to eat now.
No More Sugar
The biggest change to my diet has been the elimination of sugar. I don’t mean sugar from fruits, vegetables, or carbs (thank goodness!) I mean actual sugar-cane sugar, corn syrups, rice syrups, molasses, maple syrup, agave nectar, coconut nectar, coconut sugar etc. Those are the kinds of sugar that cause cavities. As I discovered, they are added into a ridiculous amount of foods. Foods I never imagined having sugar. Obviously they are added into desserts, candies, and many condiments. As I started reading the labels of my favorites foods I was shocked. This is no exaggeration- I read the label of every brand of bread, bagel, english muffin, cereal, tortilla, dressing, condiment, cracker, sauce, chip, and pretzel at the three different grocery stores. (When you’re off work for several months, you get bored and have a lot of time to spend at the grocery store) Most of my favorites are now off limits. Ughh.
I did find options, however. You know how vegans have a giant mental list of vegan friendly brands and foods? My list now also includes sugar free. The list is very limited, which can be very frustrating. I have been making more from scratch but there are times when I really wish I could go to the store and just buy what I need. I am sure in due time, this will change. Many people want to cut back on sugar nowadays. It’s only a matter of time before there are more sugar free options.
Giving Myself a Break
I have worked really hard to make sure that day-to-day I do not eat sugar. However I need to be realistic. I am well aware that at restaurants or if I am invited to someone’s house, there is absolutely no way for me to control eating sugar. As I discovered, it’s in everything. I finally gained the courage to eat at a restaurant a few weeks ago. For months food caused me so much pain I never thought I would be healed enough to trust another person’s cooking. On top of that, I had a lot of anxiety that sugar would be in everything I ordered and instantly cause a cavity to form in my mouth.
But I can’t keep myself locked inside my house forever. I want to be able to eat at a friend’s house or at a restaurant without anxiety. I was incredibly anxious as I ate at the restaurant, but I did it. It was delicious and scary. The second I got home I brushed, flossed, and did my fluoride treatment. The whole time imagining a cavity developing on every single tooth. Then I ate at another restaurant a week later. Delicious again. Scary again. But hey, at least I did it!