Trying Not to be Cancer Girl at the Thanksgiving Table

Thanksgiving can be a very weird time of the year for a cancer survivor, and it varies by the stage you are going through. Going through treatment, you find that it’s really hard to even get out the door. You feel like you’ve been run over by a truck – yet part of you wants desperately to be just a normal person, celebrating Thanksgiving among the living.

First, you look through your head-scarf wardrobe for a fall color. But that screams “Cancer Girl” – and the last thing you want to do at the dinner table is talk about your cancer. So, you throw on your dreaded wig. Then, you attempt to find a dressy outfit that actually fits – since you’ ve either gained weight or lost weight due to chemo. After that, you try in vain to disguise your lack of eyelashes and eyebrows so that you don’t scare the other guests. Smear on some lipstick, put on a happy face, and head out the door. Your only consolation is that you will allow yourself to have a glass of red wine today!…assuming you can get it down, then keep it down.

But when you get there, the smell of all that food assaults your senses. Trying to put mind over matter, you focus on smiling and talking to guests. Yet everywhere you turn, people are saying, “How do you feel? How many more treatments?”

Where is that glass of wine???

At the dinner table, a blessing is given. The well-meaning loved one says, “…And we’re thankful that (insert your name) has beat cancer!” But no one really understands that you never ‘beat’ the cancer – you spend your life looking over your shoulder. Just the thought of that is enough to kill your appetite. That….and the fact that everything tastes like metal to you these days.

Flash forward two years. Perhaps you have had a few surgeries by now, too (in my case, more than 10 surgeries…). Thanksgiving does get better. Food tastes good, the wig is no longer necessary. But looking over your shoulder? That never goes away. You look at everything on the table – and none of it is good for you….except maybe the dish that you brought. In the back of your mind, you start worrying, realizing that the holiday season is here. The season where everywhere you turn, well-meaning people serve lots of delicious foods that are completely, absolutely bad for you. Before cancer, you wouldn’t have cared. But now… you try desperately to balance Keeping the Cancer Beast Away vs. Actually Having a Life.

But take a deep breath. Stress is not good for you either. Just make a decision to defend your immune system with extra antioxidants and lots of fiber. Then have that piece of pie every now and then.

Here is a healthier version of traditional pumpkin pie. For more healthy and delicious Thanksgiving recipes, visit me at Pink Kitchen.

Healthier (but still delicious!) Pumpkin Pie

16 oz. pumpkin purée (or a 15 oz. can)
1 cup canned coconut milk
3 eggs
1/2 c. agave nectar
3 packets NuStevia
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. natural vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

  • Beat eggs, then combine all ingredients.
  • Pour into pie crust.
  • Bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then turn oven down to 350 degrees and bake for about 50-60 minutes, or until filling is firm and small knife comes out clean when inserted into center of pie. (It will still jiggle a bit, but it will not be liquid any more.)
  • Allow pie to cool at least two hours or it will not set properly.


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