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By Victoria Soudaros, Special to City of Hope | November 1, 2017

Getting Through the Holidays with Gastric Cancer | City of Hope

A year ago I had gastric cancer surgery at City of Hope and it totally changed how I view holiday eating. In fact, one of the first thoughts I had after I found out I was going to have surgery to remove a big section of my stomach was, “What am I going to do about food?”

Whether you have had gastric surgery or not, thinking about socializing and eating during holiday gatherings can feel stressful. But I truly believe that with a mental plan we can do anything — even something as difficult as eating right during the holidays. 

Getting through Thanksgiving

This past Thanksgiving was a good one. We spent it with our closest San Diego friends. The setting, food and company were perfect. What made it even better is that in the end, my stomach did not hurt.  Although I wanted to eat everything in sight, I didn't because I was able to stick to my mental plan.

My strategy was to scope out the food first — from appetizers, to main courses, to dessert. Then, in my mind I planned out what I wanted to eat and in what order. It’s a strategy I use — not just during the holidays, but every day — because the risk of overeating or eating the wrong things is a daily battle for me.

5 steps for eating well this holiday

I've compiled a simple checklist that worked for me this past Thanksgiving. I promise that if you follow these tips, you will not only be full, but happily satisfied and able to avoid overeating or causing unnecessary stomach issues.

  • Step 1: Drink a glass of water or preferred cocktail 30 minutes before eating. If you decide to have a cocktail, pair it with an appetizer but don't eat or drink too much. You don’t want to get too full or feel the effects of alcohol before mealtime. For example, this Thanksgiving I had half a glass of red wine with cheese and crackers.
  • Step 2: Portion out your food. Start with your favorite dishes and then work your way down. For example, I took small servings of turkey, ham and green bean casserole, then added smaller portions of the side dishes. And although I had a lot on my plate I didn't finish it all. I ate all of my favorites — turkey, ham and green bean casserole — then took only a couple of bites of the rest.
  • Step 3: Go for dessert first or save it for last. Hey, it's the holidays and it's all going the down the same way anyway. I say, go for your dessert first if that's what you want to do. As for me, I waited after the main meal, until I had room in my stomach (about 90 minutes), then had a tiny slice of pie, which was perfect.
  • Step 4: Take a doggy bag home. Whatever you didn't get a chance to eat, take it home. Chances are you will be hungry again in a couple of hours. The most important thing is not to overeat; and by portion-controlling your meal, you will accomplish this goal.
  • Step 5: Take some travel heat packs with you. Just in case you happen to overeat and your stomach feels uncomfortable, small travel heat packs can help soothe any cramping or pain. Trust me when I say this has happened to me several times. I’m better now about avoiding these episodes by using my mental plan because the lapses were too painful. Still, I always travel with the heat packs for emergency purposes. They heat up quick and will soothe your stomach. Twenty minutes after you apply a pack, your stomach should feel better.

Lastly, remember to enjoy the holidays. Cherish every moment with your family and friends. We are lucky to be alive, and to have this time, so please don't forget that. Happy holidays.


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