Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On Chemo? Watch what you eat.

This is a cautionary tale.  In June, I wasn't thinking.  I have been on chemo for quite a while now, and like many people, I have a decreased white blood cell count.  For the most part, however, I avoid getting the bugs and illnesses that many people fall prey to when on chemo.  But I forgot one of the cardinal rules: be careful what you eat.

We went to a local restaurant and I ordered the seafood platter.  It came with stuff tilapia, crab cakes and five little pieces of pan seared ahi tuna. I shared the ahi with my friend Martha, and my husband....and ate one and a half tiny pieces myself. Not a biggie.  I had had it many times before as it is my husband and my favorite appetizer.  Only I wasn't thinking.

Pan seared ahi tuna is essentially raw fish.  While everyone else who ate it was fine.....I got diarrhea which lasted for three weeks.  It wasn't rampant....but it was a problem and I lost 10 pounds, got very hungry, and was weakened.  If you were healthy, this wasn't a problem....but I ate it just after my nadir and picked up some sort of bacteria.

It seems silly, or rather a no brainer, but people who are on chemo shouldn't be eating raw foods.  In addition, they shouldn't eat anything which is slightly questionable.  So....no cookie dough which has raw eggs.  No real Caesar dressing or any other salad dressings which contain raw eggs (commercially prepared Caesar should be fine....as they are usually made with pasteurized varieties, but it is worth a check).  One thing which you may not have thought of is eggs over easy or other methods of preparing eggs which leaves the yolks runny.  In addition, while you are on chemo it would be wise to date the containers which hold your leftovers and follow the guidelines for how long things may be kept refrigerated.  You can find details here:
Make sure that foods are kept hot and refrigerated immediately after you're done eating.   Do not leave foods out, or eat foods which have been out for extended lengths of time.  If you have an impaired immune system, or low white blood cell (or neutrophil) count, maybe you should avoid buffets for a while.  Don't eat your meats rare...but make sure that they have been cooked well enough to kill bacteria.  Make sure that you and that those who are involved in food preparation wash your hands thoroughly and do not allow for cross contamination of foods through cutting boards, counters, or cooking utensils.

Hopefully this will help you avoid the gastric distress I experienced.  It was no fun.


  1. How miserable! I was warned about not eating unpeeled raw fruits and vegetables, and it had occurred to me that sushi with raw fish was a bad idea, but I'd have eaten that tuna, too.

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