Trying to not die of cancer (or, a DIY muesli recipe)

I’m not sure if you’ve heard, but we’ve abandoned the War on Drugs, admitted defeat. There’s a new war on. The War on Sugar. My dad was recently informed by a colleague that she and her husband had cut out all sugar. “It’s been a month now,” she said with all the solemnity of an AA meeting attendee. There are books and blogs and disciples aplenty. Some people take it to what I consider extremes, especially if they have no medical condition that is improved by cutting out sugar. No fruit?! But then, something kept niggling at me.

Since Emma was born, I am like most parents and terrified of something happening to her. The first night she slept through I woke up convinced she’d died in her sleep. I always check she’s breathing before I go to bed, and I like hearing her cough during the night because it lets me know she’s alive. I’m relaxed enough about activities that could result in a broken bone or tooth or scrapes and bruises but I’m not at all relaxed about potential head injuries. I’m paranoid about gastro and wipe down public high chairs with anti-bacterial wipes before I let her sit in them. I studied YouTube clips of baby CPR when we started solid food. After a while though, and one too many sad newspaper stories or Facebook posts, I developed a new fear.

Something happening to ME.

The world is full of heartbreaking stories of young mothers dying of breast cancer or ovarian cancer or brain tumours or random rare diseases not picked up in time because they were too busy being mums to go to the doctor. I am also nearly 100% convinced I’m going to die in a car accident, but that’s because so many other drivers seem intent on killing me. But mostly, one day it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I might not grow old and be able to watch Emma grow old at the same time.

This is TERRIFYING, obviously. I don’t want to end up a Facebook fundraiser or “super touching” YouTube clip. I don’t want Emma growing up without a mum. I don’t want Toby to have to find a new wife, as if he’d be able to find one as awesome and neurotic as me anyway.

I told my sensible, calm sister Jude of my morbid thoughts, assuming she’d tell me I was being ridiculous and was definitely going to live to be 100. But instead she told me she felt exactly the same way.

This did not help.

What did help was Jude’s sensible, calm suggestion that we can only do our best and cross our fingers. Disease might find us anyway, but so might a wayward car, a bolt of lightning or some dodgy seafood. I’m pretty sure that if I lived perfectly and got cancer anyway I’d feel completely ripped off, but at the same time if I don’t look after myself and get cancer or some other horrible thing, I’d always wonder if there was something I could have done to avoid it. So, I’m doing my best to avoid it.

I haven’t given up fruit. Or dairy. Or bread. I like to keep things achievable, and I know myself well enough by now to know what’s not going to work. I decided to focus on looking for sugar-free alternatives to some food, and getting more vegetables into my diet, and Emma’s for that matter. (Toby’s a grown man and can look after himself, obvs.)

Am I the only grown-up who can’t figure out how to get 5 serves of vegies into my day? Okay, I can figure it out, but I can’t figure out how to do it every day of the week. By Thursday the fresh vegies I bought on the weekend are either eaten, or not looking all that fresh anymore. I can’t put fresh spinach in a banana smoothie on Friday unless I do a second shopping trip during the week. Is that the answer? I don’t know, who has time for that? But I’m going to try a few things, like individual packets of frozen vegies for Emma (I know, I know, but sometimes it’s going to be the best I can do), making things like zucchini slice on weekends that I can freeze and use as snacks during the week, and maybe I will slip in a trip to the markets on a lunch break because I do like the markets and probably wouldn’t mind that as a lunch break on a work day.

On the sugar front, the main thing I’ve started doing is making our own muesli. I’ve attempted this in the past but it never lasted. Toby eats a LOT of muesli and it’s hard to keep up, plus with the amount he eats it is cheaper to buy it in bags from Coles than make it myself. But he was getting on the sugar-free bandwagon too and so I took it upon myself to start DIY-ing muesli. I started off using a Michelle Bridges recipe and have ended up with this:

900g rolled oats (seems like a random amount but that’s the size of the bag from Coles)

500g bran (specifically this one)

1.5 cups seeds (combination of pepitas and/or sunflower seeds)

1 cup slivered almonds

2 cups chopped dried fruit

Teaspoon of cinnamon (or a bit more, or none if you’re not a fan, or maybe other spices would be nice?)

This amount lasts over a week and sometimes nearly two, depending on how often I eat it.

It’s a total process of trial and error with getting the ingredients right. One week I did my shopping at Woolies and they didn’t sell a bran that I wanted so I replaced it with puffed rice (the “health food” kind, not the Rice Bubbles kind). BLAH. Another time I didn’t have almonds so I used walnuts. NO. One time I thought it would be an awesome idea to chop the dried fruit in the food processor but I got distracted and let it go so long it was a solid mass of Christmas cake flavoured stuff. On the other hand, last night I didn’t quite have enough rolled oats so I added a cup of shredded coconut which was a total winner. The dried fruit is also tricky – some of them have sugar added or other rubbish so you have to check labels if you’re being careful. They also come in weird textures that don’t necessarily work well – fresh dates tend to stick together and some of the really basic organic ones are really tough and dry. So yeah – trial and error, with even the errors being pretty edible and you only have to put up with it for a week or so until it’s time to make a new batch anyway.

Out of curiosity I googled Paleo muesli, interested to see what a grain free sugar free muesli looked like. I made this and it was divine. But it definitely wasn’t as healthy as my usual mix – how could it be when it’s got coconut oil and maple syrup in it? Therein lies some of the problem with a “sugar free” diet. It’s definitely a once or twice a week kind of muesli, or to be combined with plain rolled oats. But Toby’s not into those sorts of alterations to his breakfast routine (seriously we’ve been together 11 years and the only times I’ve seen him deviate from his usual breakfast is when we go out for breakfast, or he’s sick). So I’m back to a plain, unbaked, perfectly edible muesli and we’re starting off the day feeling oh so virtuous. One more small step towards not dying of cancer, with any luck.

One thought on “Trying to not die of cancer (or, a DIY muesli recipe)

  1. Dear Dorothy,
    If you eat that recipe I have no doubt that you will live longer that any human has ever been thought able to exist. If you are really hell bent on really living a long time you could methodically set yourself to eliminating potential death causing risk factors in your life starting at the most obvious and heading south. I’m not sure on this continuum where the elimination of sugar comes in but probably somewhere (I think at least) in the back half. Here are some further (uninformed and speculative) suggestions based on your story and my generally limited knowledge of you good self.
    1. Do a defensive driving course at a racing circuit with someone who really knows how to drive but be aware – such courses are likely attended by poor drivers, thus there is a high possibility of a crash on route to venue.
    2. Do a quasi Actuarial Course. (say an afternoon lecture in 101 actuaries). A real course would waste too much of the life you are trying to save.
    3. Get a health demographic map of Canberra that shows where any cancer clusters are or rates of death per suburb and move to the safest place.
    4. Invent a time machine and go back in time and prematurely end the life of (or prevent from breeding) all those relatives that just seemed to drop off early – their genes are a huge problem. Hope that the “butterfly effect” is just some science fiction mumbo.
    5. Get a “stress test” to make sure that running isn’t going to knock you off. That guy in the US – James Fix – started or contributed to the 70′s running craze that has lasted to today. He wrote “The Complete book of Running” – made millions, ran out of his Hampton Roads mansion and died on his front lawn.
    6. Or just say “What the hell” and simply enjoy whatever time you have doing whatever you do and eating normal food – the lack of stress will probably mean that you will live a very long time without any worries.

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