Saturday, November 8, 2008

Day 5 - Part 2 - Thyroid Cancer Stories, The Dreaded Low-Iodine Diet, and Still Determined to Keep Saving Cash

I know this might be too much information for the average reader, but hey, you are not the average reader. You know I love Africa, you know I am crazy enough to try to not spend money for two weeks, and you may know that I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer early last December. Long story short if you're not up-to-date on the thyroid cancer part: everything is going very well, and does go well for most people with a small tumor of papillary cancer, which is what I had removed last November.

When I was at the doctor yesterday, I got two pieces of unexpected news. Neither was earth-shattering, but for some reason really set my head spinning. First, I found out that my thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) was WAY above normal levels (mine was 26 – normal is .5 to 5.0). A change in my prescription should solve the problem in a few weeks. In the meantime, I can expect to have symptoms of hypothyroidism: fatigue, being tired, getting bloated, slowed metabolism, gaining weight, and others which are equally annoying. Not a huge deal, but I was surprised my TSH levels had changed so much since I was last tested about a month ago. The other bit of news was regarding the dreaded low-iodine diet (LID). As I mentioned in another recent post, I have to do a Whole Body Scan (WBS) as part of a check to make sure that no thyroid cells are found in my body, because if there are some, they could be cancerous. (Mine were removed in my thyroidectomy, and then zapped with a radioactive pill in early 2008, so I shouldn't have any at all.) So anyhow, the low-iodine diet prepares your body to want to suck up the radioactive iodine they will give me in a pill, so they can then scan my body and look for uptake. Ok, if this is too medical for you, here comes the day-to-day part of it. I thought I needed to start this diet in a week or two. The nurse said, nope, you should have started a few days ago to be on the conservative side. So…

I can't eat any iodine. Well, officially I can eat miniscule amounts, but basically, I have to avoid it all. Iodine does NOT equal salt. But that said, salt in the USA has iodine added, unless you specifically buy non-iodized salt. Pick up any pre-packaged products in your house. Most have salt. You have to assume it's iodized. All dairy products also contain iodine. Potato skins contain iodine. Rice has iodine too, although basmati rice apparently has very low amounts. Many dried beans have some iodine. Store-bought meat usually is packaged with some broth or salt. And on goes the list. I'll be doing this LID for about two weeks. Last time I had to do it, I started shopping at least a month in advance, because it is so incredibly hard to find products with no-salt added. Even sea salt naturally contains iodine, as do all products from the sea (fish, shrimp, algae). Soy has iodine too. And soy is in so much of what we eat as well! Ugh! So when I found out I was supposed to start eating low-iodine products immediately, my head started spinning. Could I go home and eat anything besides greens? What would I make my friend for lunch? Would I be able to eat the same thing too? Would I have to buy a lot more "necessity" items to do this diet?

Everything at the doctor's office took much longer than planned. At 11:30 I was still in line to get my new prescription so I was forced to cancel my lunch. I came home and made myself a salad, and found no-salt Dijon mustard leftover from last LID, so I made myself some vinaigrette. (Store-bought salad dressings are out of the question.) Eating low-iodine, is eating healthy in general. The safest way to go is with real foods, whole foods, made from scratch. Because this is the most important test for me to check on any active thyroid cancer, I have to take it very seriously. My head was spinning for a few hours while I contemplated my fatigue which I thought was caused by jet-lag from my trip to Senegal last week. Guess not.

We were having company for dinner, so we got out the non-iodized salt, and started coming through the fridge. We had already defrosted a small boneless leg of lamb, and planned to bake it with some herbs, garlic and sweet potato slices from our veggie farm share. Some delicious mixed greens with my no-salt vinaigrette, and we were ready for dinner. I pulled out a bunch of our favorite appetizers, including olives, salted corn nuts, baked pitas, and chorizo. (Appetizers were NOT LID). Both guests brought a bottle of red wine, which was a welcome addition to a meal with lamb, especially since we didn't have any on hand!

One of our guests was the friend who initially told us about his friend David Hochman who did a similar experiment for one month and wrote about it in Reader's Digest. I did finally find the story for free online, so here it is: Maybe it will inspire you too! We had a delicious dinner and even managed to end it with some dessert, TurrĂ³n, from Spain. It's a honey almond nougat-type sweet. Oh, and did I mention we not only got some red wine from our guests, but also a huge stem of fresh Brussel Sprouts?

Must admit: I'm considering what I need to buy at the grocery store for my LID, but I really want to keep it essential and minimal.

Savings Surprises: Normally we would have gone out to buy plenty of groceries for company and red wine. I'm sure we saved at least $50 by eating and drinking what we had on hand, and probably another $50 worth of groceries we would have just bought, just because.

I had some down time between dropping my son off at pre-school and my doctor's appointment. Normally I would have stopped in at Starbuck's for at least a coffee, and maybe a treat as well. Must have saved around $5.

I didn't think I would make it through the day of low-iodine eating with food we had on hand. If we weren't doing this experiment, I probably would have gone to Trader Joe's, Giant, and Whole Foods, and I guarantee I would have spent at least $50 - $100, probably at each place.

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