Living a Healthy and Full Life After Cancer
- “Basketball Wives” star Brandi Maxiell, 40, launches a new cookbook years after battling ovarian cancer. According to researchers, keeping up with what you eat and an overall healthy lifestyle that includes exercise is important to reducing your overall cancer risk.
- Maxiell was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2007 at age 24. She underwent several rounds of chemotherapy for treatment.
- Ovarian cancer is often harder to catch in its early stages because of its subtle symptoms, such as bloating, weight gain, and abdominal pain that can mimic regular menstrual cycle fluctuations.
- Dr. Ken Miller, the Director of Outpatient Oncology at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, tells SurvivorNet he recommends two hours of exercise per week, a low-fat diet rich with fruits and vegetables, and keeping a healthy weight.
“Basketball Wives” star Brandi Maxiell, 40, is an ovarian cancer survivor taking her love for cooking to a new level with her new cookbook. She’s not the first cancer warrior who’s found solace in the kitchen to help her cope in the wake of cancer. However, the benefits of keeping up with adequate nutrition, especially after cancer, can go a long way for cancer patients, even minimizing the chance of recurrence.
View this post on InstagramRead MoreMaxiell’s new cookbook, “Maxiell’s Kitchen South Simplicity: Cooking with Love” was released just before the Thanksgiving holiday, and it features various genres of food, including gumbo recipes, meatloaf, and sweets like pound cake and lemon bars with a southern twist. Supportive fans like Instagram user Lillian Stephenson, who wrote, “Congratulations, my beautiful queen.”
Maxiell was one of the favorites among fans of the “Basketball Wives” reality TV show. Her marriage to NBA player Jason Maxiell propelled her into superstardom. She and Jason have a son together.
View this post on Instagram
What makes this moment in Brandi’s life so remarkable is a little more than a decade ago, when she was battling ovarian cancer. The proud mother of one’s struggles became more emotional because she worried if treatment would impact her ability to have children at all. Luckily, she was able to make it through treatment and reach remission.
Helping Patients Understand Treatment Options for Ovarian Cancer
Healthy Eating During and After Cancer
Many cancer experts advocate for patients to live healthy during treatment and afterward. However, knowing there isn’t a special diet or magic trick to succeeding at this is important.
The general recommendations for a healthy lifestyle are the same whether you have cancer or not. However, Dr. Ken Miller, the Director of Outpatient Oncology at the University of Maryland Greenebaum Cancer Center, shares with SurvivorNet some guidelines for cancer survivors who are concerned about a recurrence:
- Exercise at least two hours a week — and walking counts.
- Eat a low-fat diet. The Women’s Intervention Nutrition Study, which looked at early-stage breast cancer patients, found that a low-fat diet was associated with reduced risk for cancer recurrence, particularly in those with estrogen receptor-negative cancers. Other studies have found that foods with a high glycemic index that are digested quickly and cause a spike in blood sugar may lead to tumor growth in lung cancer patients.
- Eat a colorful diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. The American Cancer Society recommends aiming for two to three cups of vibrant vegetables and fruits each day.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Studies have shown that being obese can increase your risk for several types of cancer.
WATCH: Healthy living advice for cancer patients.
A cumulative review of lifestyle recommendations from multiple health organizations by researchers, including the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research (WCRF/AICR), agrees watching what you eat, exercise, and monitor your body weight helps reduce your overall cancer risk.
Maxiell’s Cancer Journey
Maxiell’s cancer journey began in her early twenties.
“I had all the classic symptoms of ovarian cancer – back pain, bloating, weight gain, abdominal pain, feeling full quickly after eating a couple of bites of food, as well as the need to urinate urgently or often,” Maxiell described.
She said she associated her symptoms with her regular menstrual cycle. For this reason, ovarian cancer is considered the “cancer that whispers” because symptoms usually don’t fully present themselves until the cancer has advanced into later stages.
“It creeps into your body with symptoms so subtle that it can mimic other, unrelated conditions,” Maxiell said.
She went to see her doctor after experiencing unusual symptoms, but unfortunately, her symptoms were seemingly dismissed.
“On my first trip to the doctor’s office, I was misdiagnosed. I was given medicine for back pain and sent home,” she said.
Luckily, Maxiell followed her gut and sought a second opinion. SurvivorNet experts encourage everyone to do this when their symptoms are not fully considered.
“If I had any advice for you following a cancer diagnosis, it would be, first, to seek out multiple opinions as to the best care,” National Cancer Institute Chief of Surgery Dr. Steven Rosenberg told us SurvivorNet. “Because finding a doctor who is up to the latest information is important.”
After getting a second opinion, Maxiell finally got affirmative answers.
WATCH: Signs of ovarian cancer.
“Thankfully, the second doctor diagnosed the problem in 2007 and sent me straight to an oncologist. My oncologist didn’t mince words. ‘You have cancer,’” Maxiell said.
She was 24 years old when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her treatment involved surgery followed by several rounds of chemotherapy.
“After two weeks of chemo, I noticed my hair shedding while attending a basketball game,” Maxiell said.
Hair loss is challenging for women and men alike, but it can be incredibly difficult for cancer patients. Losing your hair or seeing it thinning is often a side effect of some cancer treatments.
Chemotherapy can cause hair loss. It usually begins about three to four weeks after starting chemotherapy and continues throughout treatment.
It happens because this treatment targets quickly dividing cells throughout the body. That includes cancer cells but also hair cells.
While coping with hair loss, Maxiell said her husband supported her by shaving his head.
After undergoing treatment, Maxiell said she reached remission, but by that time, she worried if chemo negatively impacted her ability to have children at all.
“In August 2009, I got married and was excited to start a family. However, the cancer had taken a toll on my body. It left me struggling with fertility issues. I went through various IVF fertility treatments that failed,” she said.
Some types of chemotherapy can destroy eggs in your ovaries. This can make it impossible or difficult to get pregnant later. Whether or not chemotherapy makes you infertile depends on the type of drug and your age since your egg supply decreases with age.
“The risk is greater the older you are,” reproductive endocrinologist Dr. Jaime Knopman told SurvivorNet.
“If you’re 39 and you get chemo that’s toxic to the ovaries, it’s most likely to make you menopausal. But, if you’re 29, your ovaries may recover because they have a higher baseline supply,” Dr. Knopman continued.
Most women who preserve their fertility before cancer treatment do so by freezing their eggs or embryos.
After you finish your cancer treatment, a doctor who specializes in reproductive medicine can implant one or more embryos in your uterus or the uterus of a surrogate with the hope that it will result in pregnancy.
Fortunately for Maxiell, she had a child of her own in 2011.
How Ovarian Cancer Is Treated
The standard of care for ovarian cancer patients is chemotherapy, which helps many patients reach remission.
Ovarian cancer recurrence happens in “almost 25 percent of cases with early-stage diseases and in more than 80 percent with more advanced stages,” according to research published in Gland Surgery medical journal. With recurrence a strong possibility for this disease, especially in the later stages of ovarian cancer, certain drug treatments to deal with it are giving many women hope.
WATCH: Treating ovarian cancer.
Ovarian cancer is sub-categorized into two groups.
- Platinum-Sensitive Ovarian Cancer: Your cancer does not return for more than six months after treatment with platinum-based chemotherapies, like carboplatin and cisplatin.
- Platinum-Resistant Ovarian Cancer: Your cancer returns within six months of treatment with platinum-based chemotherapies, like carboplatin and cisplatin.
“The mechanism that causes platinum resistance will cause someone to be resistant to other chemotherapies, as well. That’s why we’re looking for what we call targeted therapies – precision medicine,” Dr. Noelle Cloven from Texas Oncology-Fort Worth Cancer Center explained.
Targeted therapies or precision medicine specifically target the proteins controlling cancer cells’ growth, division, and spread.
Questions for Your Doctor
If you have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer and need guidance to further educate yourself on the disease and treatment, consider these questions for your doctor.
- What type of ovarian cancer do I have?
- What stage is my cancer in?
- Do you recommend I get genetic testing for any gene mutations, such as the BRCA gene mutation?
- What initial treatment options do you recommend?
- What are the possible side effects of the recommended treatment, and how to cope with them?
- Will insurance help cover my recommended treatment?