The diagnosis of a brain tumor turns out to be a bit of a blessing when it comes to getting your sh*t together and taking amazing care of yourself. Because I have already been following a paleo-esque protocol (although not always strictly) for the past few years, I am thankful to already be familiar with incorporating nutrient-dense/healing foods into my diet. I am surprised at how little discussion I came across online (none, really) about pre-op and post-op nutrition with an acoustic neuroma surgery. Knowing how big of a role food can play in inflammation and healing, it’s unfortunate that it remains under the radar for a lot of people. In my opinion this is a critical time to have my body in its absolute BEST state, which includes a strong focus on filling up with nourishing foods and following a consistent fitness routine. (A healthy mind pre-op and post-op is my other major focus; that’s my next post.)
I am not a doctor or a nutritionist; I am only sharing my own personal choices from my own research and resources because I believe they will play a very significant role in my recovery, and can be food for thought for others (pun intended). I have seen only incredibly positive outcomes for people I know recovering from significant illnesses and accidents due to their nourishing and healing nutritional choices. I encourage you to do loads of your own research and to look into a visit with an integrative medicine practitioner in your area. (If you’re in the Santa Cruz, CA area I highly, highly recommend Beth Dorsey.) It just may open up a whole new world of thriving health for you. If you’re not yet convinced that nutrition will play a role in your brain surgery, here’s a bit more information to persuade you to pay close attention:
“Proper nutrition is essential to fuel normal functioning of human anatomy, including beating of the heart and respiration of the lungs. Nutrient needs are altered when additional stress is placed on the body, including growth spurts, exercise, injuries, sickness, and pregnancy/lactation. Surgery is particularly stressful as incisions are created and the body works to heal its wounds. The best pre-operative nutrition will help the immune system fight against infection and prevent and treat excess blood loss. Research has demonstrated that optimal recovery, including the best possible results seen in the shortest time period, is achieved when particular dietary and supplement regimens are followed. Specific nutrients are needed to repair skin, blood vessels, nerves, and even muscles and bones.” Click here to see more of what Jon Turk, one of many plastic surgeons in agreement, recommends. I don’t know about you, but I want my recovery story to be an awesome one, so I’m going into this at my best and not taking any chances.
Below is a list of the measures I am choosing to take to physically prepare myself for a successful surgery and speedy recovery. Of course, there are factors in a surgery that are out of my control, but I am definitely going to do my part! I’ll discuss each topic in more detail throughout this post, and explain why I choose to incorporate it into my pre-op preparations.
- healing-foods nutrition
- nutritional supplements
- excellent hydration
- plenty of sleep
- targeted, high-quality essential oils
Have you ever looked up symptoms of chronic inflammation? A LOT of people have inflammation in their bodies and don’t know it. I had it years ago and I definitely would not want to still have it going into a brain surgery. Symptoms vary greatly from person to person; in my case I had unrelenting, SEVERE sinus issues for over a year, several years back. Nothing helped to treat it. An ENT specialist said that if none of the over-the-counter meds I tried were working, then my remaining options were “pulling out the big guns: steroids or surgery”. I was horrified by both and wanted neither. Fortunately, soon after, I ordered a yellow curry dish from my favorite Thai restaurant, and to my surprise and total delight, I woke up the next day able to fully breathe through my nose for the first time in a year. The yellow curry was loaded with turmeric, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory! I have taken turmeric capsules everyday since, and I haven’t ever had a flare-up again. So…that’s just one example highlighting the relationship between food and inflammation. I am appreciating reading surgery/nutrition stories like this right now as well. Dig around online and look for more like it!
While you’re looking up which foods are inflammatory and anti-inflammatory, read up on autoimmune diseases and “leaky gut” too, and you will learn some really fascinating things about the power of nutrition. Some symptoms might sound very familiar to you. It is ridiculously common, but under-diagnosed. I have managed my autoimmune disease (Hashimoto’s) solely with lifestyle changes (no meds needed), and because of this continued success proven via occasional blood tests, I know that my nutritional choices have effectively calmed the autoimmune reaction in my body. With upcoming brain surgery I want my body to be free to put all of its energy into recovering from that ordeal, and to not be all flared up trying to fight concurrent battles elsewhere in my body. I want to go into that operating room with a super-boosted immune system, no inflammation, as free as I can be of toxins, a happy digestive system, and peace of mind!
Immediately upon my diagnosis I focused on eating nothing but a HUGE variety of fresh, colorful, organic whole foods (NO processed foods). I strictly cut out alcohol (that’s the hardest for me–I really love wine). I also strictly opted out of ALL refined sugar, caffeine and dairy, (all of which I dabble in from time to time, but don’t have daily). I have already been gluten-free for a few years, and I eat most meals grain-free, so I’m continuing with that. The only whole grains I might have are rice, corn, quinoa and oats. I am having occasional legumes like beans and lentils, but overall I keep the majority of my meals relatively low-carb and veggie/protein-based. Eating this way consistently brings tremendous benefits inside and out for me. Added bonus: I have lots of natural energy.
I typically struggle with drinking enough water everyday and am often dehydrated, but pre- and post- surgery I am totally on top of my 64 ounces/day, plus 1-2 cups of tea and a 12-oz kombucha or apple-cider vinegar tonic everyday as well. I start every day with a mug of homemade bone broth, which is exceptionally nutrient-dense and HIGHLY recommended before surgery. (I am extremely grateful for my husband who stocks me up with a constant supply.) Bieler’s broth is another type that was just recommended to me by a holistic-nutritionist / my friend Sheila, and I’m going to incorporate it ASAP.
I am also taking a lot of supplements to ensure that I have a supremely healthy body heading into the operating room. This is definitely something to clear with your doctor to ensure that no supplements would interact with medications or cause any type of complications. (For example, I stopped taking my usual Omega 3 fish oil supplement a month before surgery because it happens to be a blood thinner, and that will not help me out during brain surgery.) My pre-surgery supplement protocol will be Vitamins A, B, C, D and E, along with turmeric, zinc and probiotics. These were recommended by my integrative medical practitioner, but I also had to clear them with my surgeon, who approved them up until a week before surgery. Read up on all of them to see what each one will do to help your body be extra strong and ready to recover. There are some conflicting opinions, so you’ll just have to do what feels best. I am also loading up on anti-oxidants and calcium through food. (Read up on those too; I noticed that some recommendations are different if you have cancer.) I liked this article on calcium. (I love The Wellness Mama and have been using many of her recipes these days. I suggest you read her background story. I also like following The Paleo Mom and Cookie and Kate.)
At this time I am being more conscientious right now about avoiding red meats and pork, and sticking more to chicken and fish, and other lean proteins. (I’m not a seafood fan, so I have a hard time integrating that often.) As far as fats go, I choose nutrient-dense fats, such as avocados, nuts, olive oil for salads, and coconut oil for cooking (I use the refined kind, so that it doesn’t taste like coconut). In my many searches I came across some recommendations on several plastic surgeons’ websites to avoid some additional foods right before surgery, due to their having a potentially negative effect on anesthesia and/or bleeding time: garlic, ginger, ginseng, flaxseed, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant. Seems like good stuff to know before a surgery, right? Can’t hurt to try!
If all of these concepts are somewhat foreign to you, here are a few examples of what I eat everyday. Almost everything comes from the fridge or the fruit basket, and very little comes from the pantry. (When shopping, I think about getting most of my ingredients from the perimeter aisles of the store, and barely anything from the middle aisles. I try to go our neighborhood organic farm stand as often as I can too.) I try to include a protein in every snack and meal to try to keep blood-sugar levels stable.
- Breakfast: mug of bone broth and scrambled egg with green onion and spinach, and a quarter of an avocado on the side OR a smoothie with greens, berries, banana, pineapple, hemp seeds and gelatin protein powder OR berry chia breakfast crisp OR chia pudding topped with sliced banana
- Snack: (I always include a protein) apple with almond butter OR orange cranberry protein-packed muffins from Wellness Mama cookbook OR bugs on a log (They are still as delicious as they were in kindergarten.) OR roasted beets and sweet potatoes with a hard-boiled egg on the side. I’m also having some fresh fruit (particularly berries and seeds high in anti-oxidants, like pomegranate seeds) OR carrot cake breakfast cookies
- Lunch: kale salad, broccoli salad (there are so many yummy recipes) OR often leftover dinner OR I make up a new salad and throw as many vegetables as I can into it, along with a protein.
- Snack: (see examples above)
- Dinner: veggie/protein-filled burrito bowls, soups, stir fries, lettuce wraps like these
- Dessert: fried banana (in coconut oil) and topped with cinnamon OR baked apple with cinnamon and walnuts OR fresh berries OR nothing
To go along with all of these nutritional boosts I have been making a point of getting plenty of exercise. Though I was not necessarily near my most fit state right at the time of my diagnosis, I made a commitment to be active for an hour a day. I started with some long walks and 3-mile runs. I gradually increased my runs to 5 miles, and am consistently running that at a mellow pace about four times per week. I usually go for a long walk and/or do strengthening and stretching exercises on the other days. (I figure that core work and strong legs will be good for balance in rehab.) I want to reinforce that I am not a fitness trainer; I am only sharing my personal choices. I am not doing intense workouts right now; I just like the theme of steady progress and strength-building. With a six-week stretch between diagnosis and surgery, I will have logged over 100 miles with that routine, and I know that that mileage will serve me well (mentally and physically).
Major nutrition and fitness changes can take time for your body systems to adapt, so depending on how much time you have before your surgery, I wouldn’t start without getting approval from your doctor(s). I also should mention that because we are all bio-individuals, what is ideal for me may be different than what is ideal for you. It will probably be more fun to experiment with foods in greater depth after you’ve recovered from surgery. 🙂
I am consistently getting 8-9 hours asleep, and if I get tired during the day I’m totally allowing myself to take a nap or a bath to rest. (Before this I would never let myself nap; I felt guilty and unproductive. While self-care should have played a bigger role before this diagnosis, it is my new main focus, and hopefully I remember to return to that during and after my recovery.
To keep giving myself the best chances of full recovery, my integrative medicine practitioner, who is also an experienced acupuncturist, is giving me weekly treatments leading up to surgery. (She is tapping into a variety of points to boost kidneys, nerves, general health, etc.) I will also be going in for weekly treatments ASAP post-surgery, especially if I have any lingering nerve issues. As long as you start treatment quickly acupuncture can be extremely helpful for regenerating nerves. (She has seen great improvement with stroke patients who are dealing with one-sided paralysis.) Frequent acupuncture was also recommended by a few friends of mine who had facial paralysis from Bells Palsy.
Lastly, I have a few essential oils that come recommended. (I’m not typically a frequent user, but have many, many, many friends who are passionate believers in the high quality of DoTerra. I happened to have a bottle of their Frankincense which I got on super, super, super sale, which many say is excellent for tumors and is often used for cancer patients. I rub a drop of that with some of their lavender oil right behind my ear (in the tumor area) a few times a day. I don’t love the smell, but I am willing to put up with it for a few weeks. What do I have to lose? I also use their Balance Grounding Blend on my feet, since physical (and emotional) balance is also an issue in all of this.
I will acknowledge that a lot of this is relatively easy for me because I live in a community with lots of incredible holistic practitioners and seemingly endless resources, and I have an abundance of organic, locally grown produce, organic grass-fed meat and pasture eggs widely available. If you have an acoustic neuroma and are interested in following my surgery preparations, but are overwhelmed because it’s a big lifestyle change for you, just do what you can do. Small improvements are still improvements! You’re probably already stressed about having brain surgery, so stressing out extra definitely won’t help! Just try to make each choice be a truly nourishing one from here on out.