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Diet and exercise changes for a healthy future

A Whole New Lifestyle

Michelle Peres with her husband, Ed
Michelle Peres with her husband, Ed
photo credit: Edda Pacifico

Michelle Peres was on a trip to Florida in 2016, simply pulling her hair into a ponytail when her friend noticed a small indentation form on her chest from lifting her arms. Further tests back home in Michigan revealed three small tumors: stage 1 breast cancer.

After having a mastectomy to remove it, Peres, now 49, was left feeling tired, with little energy for her work as the vice president of enrollment for a medical school. Her weight was the highest it had ever been. She wanted to feel healthy again for her husband, Ed, and their two teenage sons.

She began follow up cancer care at the Rogel Cancer Center, which included maintenance therapy of tamoxifen, a drug that blocks estrogen, and a monthly injection of Lupron, which puts the body into artificial menopause. Her oncologist referred Peres to Danielle Karsies, a registered dietitian, for guidance on using nutrition and lifestyle changes to improve how she was feeling.

"My body was really inflamed after surgery and I felt unhealthy," Peres says. "I didn't know what I was doing wrong. My old eating habits didn’t work anymore."

Karsies works with a team of registered dietitians who counsel Rogel Cancer Center patients on how to use food as fuel during and after cancer treatment. One of the first things she tells patients dealing with excess weight is that 30 percent of cancers have a weight and obesity-related risk.

Tips to get started with a healthy lifestyle

  • Some activity is better than none. Get 10 minutes in at a time and just move.
  • Try moderate activities like brisk walking, gardening or ballroom dancing.
  • Fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
  • Try a plant-based diet of mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes.
  • Limit high-calorie foods and beverages if you need to lose weight.
  • Limit alcohol to 1 drink for women, 2 drinks for men daily.
  • Limit red or processed meats to 18 ounces per week.
  • Find alternatives to processed meat, as these should be avoided.

The first step for Peres was to aim to fill half her plate at meals with fruits and vegetables. In addition to healthy nutrients and filling fiber, they make you feel full on fewer calories.

"I eat a lot of plant-based foods now," Peres says. "I eat broccoli at least four times a week, a lot of legumes. I love bean salads and quinoa."

Gradually, she also cut out red meat and alcohol, which have been associated with increased risk of certain cancers.

"While no one food can cure or cause cancer, experts agree that eating 18 ounces or less of red meat a week is preferred. When eating meat, patients should always choose lean cuts," Karsies says. "Not all patients cut out meat entirely like Michelle did, but filling up half your plate with fruits and vegetables and a quarter of your plate with whole grains ensures your meat portions are small."

With her new eating plan in place, Michelle spoke with Karsies about getting back to exercise as part of her recovery.

"Getting your body back together after such a large surgery can be very traumatic," Peres says. "I felt like my body was a mess. I had to go to physical therapy. I needed to get my mind and body connected. Eating healthy. Exercising. Massage therapy."

Because of her busy work schedule, she decided to try a noontime Pilates class twice a week at a studio near her home in West Bloomfield. On the weekends, she goes to the gym for a stretching class and to use the elliptical machine. In the summer, she walks several miles a week outdoors.

"Once treatment is completed, regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence and death in people with breast, colorectal, prostate and ovarian cancer," Karsies says. "Some cancer treatments can leave you weak and unsteady. Exercise, including aerobic and resistance training, can improve muscle strength, cardiopulmonary fitness and balance."

Karsies says the goal for exercise is 150 minutes of moderate intensity per week. Patients should always check with their physician before starting an exercise routine. Water activities, such as swimming or water aerobics, can be helpful with balance issues or neuropathy.

Using the nutritional and lifestyle guidance from Karsies, Peres has lost 30 pounds and, over the past two and a half years, has stuck with it. She still meets with Karsies during her appointments at the Rogel Cancer Center to check in and make adjustments for her food allergies.

"It all made me feel better and whole again," she says. "I am energized. I feel that I’ve taken control of my body, which is what you want to do when you have a cancer diagnosis."

Peres hopes sharing her story about lifestyle changes will help other women and men feel empowered, healthy and strong.

Continue reading the Spring, 2019 issue of Thrive

Get more information on healthy eating and how to eat during cancer treatment

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Thrive Issue: 
Spring, 2019