The Importance of Improving Your Nutrition
My name is Wunmi and I'm a foodie! Carbs, snacks, and sugary drinks are the way to my heart. I mean the heart wants what it wants and I need someone to look at me the way I look at food. As you can already tell, my nutritional habits living with sickle cell disease were awful. Just as much as SCD was my muse, it was also the source of all blame.
In the morning, I'd swear I couldn't keep my meds down without a can of Sprite. At lunch, I'd ask for chocolate croissants because I needed something fluffy and light to "aid" digestion. Sparkling water, dark chocolate, and fruit snacks were my idea of clean eating.
Physically, I was long and lean because a slight advantage of having sickle cell is that during a pain episode, you lose your appetite so your weight trends downward. Despite health advice from family and friends to change these old habits, I told myself that I was fine and life was all about balance.
Preparing for the transplant
Before my transplant, I had to physically and mentally prepare for the grueling 6-month process; from choosing a caregiver to fertility preservation and financial planning for non-medical expenses. During the pre-transplant evaluation, the clinical team conducted a complete physical exam - evaluating my heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys, and scheduling x-rays, CT scans, EKGs, pulmonary function tests (PFTs), and a dental exam.
You are what you eat
Years of unhealthy eating habits and excessive consumption of sugary drinks caught up with me, negatively impacting my dental test results. I had cavities, tooth decay, and gaping holes in my teeth so extractions were the only solution. The oral cavity is a source of sepsis in immunocompromised patients and could cause hemostatic and infective complications so dental treatment is imperative.
Unfortunately, the bone marrow aspiration and tooth extraction were scheduled on the same day. A bone marrow aspiration is a traumatizing experience because the procedure involves inserting a needle into the patient's hip bone to withdraw a sample of bone marrow fluid for biopsy. It was done with a local anesthetic, so I lay awake for thirty minutes, pushing through excruciating pain till my whole body went numb.
Getting multiple teeth extracted from one side of the mouth added to the trauma I experienced because my gums were resistant to the local anesthetic used. The removal process was long and arduous but I learned a valuable lesson. On the wheelchair ride to the transplant unit, I glanced at my reflection - my empty tooth socket and mouth were swollen, my hips were supported by ice packs and I didn't weep, I wailed.
The side effects of chemotherapy include mouth sores, nausea, fatigue, and loss of appetite so I could barely keep up my weight. As I watched myself wilt away, I reached out to my childhood friend, Atim Ukoh who is a Nigerian food content creator and owner of the food blog Afrolems.
Atim curated chemo-friendly recipes tailored to my calorie and protein intake needs. From her professional experience, cold smoothies are one way to get the nutrients your body needs to handle the effects of chemotherapy and radiation treatment. They were a good option for me to consider and helped to soothe my mouth sores. To combat nausea, I started a clear liquid diet and substituted ginger ale for coconut water, cold-brewed green tea, and outshine fruit bars.
The next big change was introducing leafy green vegetables because they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and fiber but low in calories.
Stewed Yams & Chicken
Spinach, chicken, and red bell peppers are great for immune support so she created a delicious Stewed Yams & Chicken recipe for me.
- Spinach is rich in vitamin C and packed with antioxidants and beta carotene, which increases the infection fighting ability of the immune system.
- Chicken is high in vitamin B6 - a known key player in the formation of new and healthy red blood cells.
- Red bell peppers contain three times as much vitamin C as an orange and are a rich source of beta carotene. The body converts beta carotene into vitamin A to boost immunity, promote cell growth and maintain healthy organs like the heart, lungs, and kidneys.
Take care of your body
Pinned to my fridge is a quote from American author and entrepreneur, Jim Rohn, that says "Take care of your body. It's the only place you have to live." Now that I've made it to the other side of a transplant, I can enjoy the perks of a new immune system however, my body is still the same so taking care of it is extremely important.
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