Low Iron and Cancer
- Former America’s Got Talent frontrunner Jane Marczewski, aka Nightbirde, is battling metastatic breast cancer and inspiring millions along the way with her commitment to positivity and faith.
- She’s eating raw liver to help get her iron levels back up, and her friend just ate some in solidarity with her.
- Low iron can be the result of cancer or cancer treatments. And one of our experts says that eating raw liver is probably not the best way to deal with this issue.
Marczewski was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer on New Year’s Eve in 2019, and she’s still fighting for her health. The 30-year-old pop artist’s world turned upside down when doctors found multiple tumors on her liver, lungs, lymph nodes, ribs and spine. They told her she had three to six months to live, but she’s proved them wrong. And though she had to leave the hit competition series due to her declining health, she’s gained quite a following after her ‘Golden Buzzer’ audition performance of her original song It’s OK.Read More
Robyn Schall, a comedian and social media star, connected with Nightbirde after learning about her story on AGT.
“Just watching her I fell in love with her, so I went to go follow her on Instagram, and I saw she was already following me,” Schall said in a recent video on her Instagram story. “So, I sent her a message, and we’re talking back and forth… she’s the sweetest and the most talented.”
Since the initial interaction, the two have become very close. So close, in fact, that Schall even ate raw liver in a video on her Instagram story to support her friend.
“My iron levels have been so low, the best way to get those up really fast is to eat raw liver,” Marczewski said in a video on her own Instagram story. “I ate a quarter pound of it a few days ago, and believe it or not my iron levels shot right up.”
But it was not easy finding this liver. Schall documented her whole liver-finding process and she walked through the streets of New York City searching in shop after looking for raw beef liver. She checked grocery stores, restaurants and even a pizza place until she finally found a market that had it after midnight. She finally took the liver home and ate a bite after building up the courage to stomach the food.
“In solidarity with Nightbirde and everyone out there who’s battling this f*ck of a f*ck illness, know I’m with you,” she said as she started to contemplate taking a bite. “Okay, in the words of Nightbirde, it’s okay, it’s okay.”
She kept laughing and nervously singing the words to Marczewski’s trademark song – and even spit out a bite – until she finally choked down the liver and promptly left to brush her teeth.
“I just want to send all my love to Schall for eating liver in solidarity with me,” Nightbirde said after she saw the video. “I love you so much. We are liver sisters forever, and I just can’t wait for us to eat liver together everyday from now on forever, I love you.”
Low Iron Levels and Cancer
When it comes to cancer, sometimes you just have to do what you have to do – even if it’s eating raw liver to boost your iron levels.
But is this really the best way to handle low iron levels caused by cancer? Dr. Nancy Chan, a medical oncologist at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center, told SurvivorNet in an email that this was not the best method.
“That does not sound like a pleasant way to increase iron levels,” she wrote. “We have oral medications and intravenous iron infusions that are effective… I think [these] methods are more controlled and efficient.”
Dietary risks including “infections from raw foods” are also a concern for Dr. Chan. According to the CDC, raw and undercooked meat can make you sick, and may contain Salmonella, E. coli, Yersinia, and other bacteria.
“I probably would try the other methods,” Dr. Chan wrote.
There are many different reasons for low iron levels. According to the Mayo Clinic, “if you aren’t consuming enough iron, or if you’re losing too much iron, your body can’t produce enough hemoglobin, and iron deficiency anemia will eventually develop.”
Anemia, also referred to as low hemoglobin, is when you’re lacking enough healthy red blood cells to carry enough oxygen to your body’s tissues often making you feel tired and weak. The most common cause of anemia is iron deficiency since iron is needed to form hemoglobin.
One way cancer-related iron deficiency can occur is via the slow chronic blood loss within the body associated with colorectal cancer. Another way is through some cancer treatments including chemotherapy.
“Chemotherapy can decrease hemoglobin in some but not all,” Dr. Chan explained.
PARP inhibitors, a form of targeted therapy, can lead to anemia. This treatment option is taken as a pill and works on the genetic level by preventing cancer cells from repairing their damaged DNA. In a previous conversation with SurvivorNet, Kathleen Lutz, a nurse practitioner from NYU Langone Health, explained how to handle anemia caused by PARP inhibitors.
“Before we even start the PARP drug, we’re going to gauge where your hemoglobin status is,” Lutz said. “We want to see how anemic have you been through chemotherapy, how has your blood counts recovered. So, we’re going to see you in the beginning, and then we’re going to gauge how we’re going to do it.”
Usually, after starting the drug, there will be intermittent labs to check on how the hemoglobin is doing. But if anemia is an issue, there are ways to treat it.
“We’ll start off with if they need an iron supplements,” she explained. “We get nutrition involved because we want them to optimize their dietary intake of iron rich foods and things like that.”
She also said adding vitamin B12 into the diet and sometimes even doing blood transfusions could help. But, for most people, low hemoglobin levels and anemia are resolved within three to six months.
Understanding Metastatic Breast Cancer
Jane Marczewski is battling metastatic breast cancer, but she’s determined to keep fighting. At the end of her recent story about Schall, she shared that although she recently shared as poem about her thoughts on death, she was, in fact, “not dying.”
“I’m doing great, I’m inching forward slowly,” she said, adding that she’d even put on makeup that day. “I don’t put on makeup when I feel like a trash panda.”
Metastatic breast cancer – also called “stage four” breast cancer – means that the cancer has spread, or metastasized, beyond the breasts to other parts of the body. It most commonly spreads to the bones, liver and lungs, but it may also spread to the brain or other organs.
And while there is technically no cure for metastatic breast cancer, there is a wide variety of treatment options used to battle the disease including hormone therapy, chemotherapy, targeted drugs, immunotherapy and a combination of various treatments.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Elizabeth Comen, an oncologist with Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, explained how she tries to manage breast cancer when it has progressed to a later stage.
“With advanced disease, the goal of treatment is to keep you as stable as possible, slow the tumor growth and improve your quality of life,” she said.
The American Cancer Society reports that there were more than 3.8 million U.S. women with a history of breast cancer alive at the start of 2019. Some of the women were cancer-free, and others still had evidence of the disease, but they also reported that more than 150,000 breast cancer survivors were living with metastatic disease, three-fourths of whom were originally diagnosed with stage I-III. And with ongoing advancements in treatments and options out there today that can dramatically reduce systems, there are many reasons to be hopeful.