Hello again BBL readers. I’m back for my long overdue and hopefully anticipated follow-up to my first and only guest post on the Blue Belt Life blog.
It has been nearly a year since I stayed at the Blue Belt household in Tokyo and attempted to adhere to Chris’s strict vegetarian, no alcohol diet. Trips to the farmer’s market at Yurakucho filling backpacks with vegetables, eating rice, homemade butter and concoctions of vegetables that I didn’t know existed and fighting the temptation to go anywhere near meat or booze (although I did eat quite a bit of sushi as Chris conceded going full vegie would be near impossible from my starting point). It was a great time, like entering a new world of sustenance I never knew existed.
I kept it up for 2 weeks before getting on a plane to LA for a film festival in the middle of my month-long trip. Upon arrival in the USA, I met my mate Ernie and we went directly to an American diner where I hesitated for all of 2 seconds looking at the almost non-existent vegetarian selection before thinking “Am I crazy?” and joining Ernie in ordering an enormous hamburger washed down by at least 3 beers. And looking back that was the end of me being the perfect guinea pig for the Blue Belt Life diet.
So is that it for your follow-up blog to the BBL diet you ask? The “weekly charting of my progress” that I envisaged was just a 2 week trial that ended in failure in the land of “Supersize Me”? No, there’s a little more to it than that and I have a story from my past that may better help explain my thoughts almost a year on.
In 2008 I was told by a very well educated English oncologist that I had best put my “things” in order as stage 3 bowel cancer wasn’t something people usually came back from. In true Anton form I laughed and told him I wasn’t going to start picking out a casket just yet and I was going to give this cancer thing a run for its money.
However having my treatment in Melbourne and running a car export business with 20 odd employees in Tokyo was going to make things a little difficult, but not impossible I thought. From March 2008, every second week for an insane 24 weeks I flew from Tokyo back to Melbourne and was hooked up to an intravenous drip that for all intents and purposes was pumping poison into my body. Chemotherapy, or “chemo” as it is known, is a poison aimed at killing rapidly dividing cancer cells. Unfortunately it cannot distinguish between cancer cells and other rapidly dividing cells such as those that make up blood, skin, hair and nails, hence the ghostly look of patients on chemo who often lose their hair and their skin turns dry and brittle. Often it’s the chemo more than the cancer that is making them look so sick, at least in the short term.
Anyway the idea is to poison someone with so much chemo that you almost kill the patients themselves, but hopefully don’t succeed in that endeavour and instead kill the rapidly dividing cancerous cells in the body wherever they may be.
I started my sessions in late March about 3 months after the operation to cut out the initial tumour and after the first session brushed off the chemo as a walk in the park. I wasn’t sick at all. I’ve had cough syrup that made me sicker, I thought at the time. Little did I know the effects were cumulative and by September I’d be having adverse reactions and being pumped full of adrenaline to “bring me back”. But we’ll leave that for later.
So I began my first couple of sessions travelling to and from Tokyo on a bi-weekly basis and doing all the things that cancer patients are told will save their lives. Everyone you meet has their own advice as to how to beat this curse called cancer. Going full vegetarian, healthy living, abstaining from red meat, yoga, meditation, positive thinking, reading books for inspiration…they were all offered up as the best way to help beat cancer and I listened intently, especially to the nurses who I met every Wednesday for the “in hospital intravenous drip (IV)” and Friday to disconnect the “take home IV”.
The nurses were great and initially, to an extent I was taking all of their advice. I read books on beating cancer including Lance Armstrong’s one, which even then seemed like it was made up – I guess he had a habit of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story. I ate lots of vegetables, tried to be calm and positive and even laughed at the ridiculousness of vomiting in the same large pot plant on my way out of the hospital each time. This nice, grey haired old lady who I guess was a nun of sorts used to visit me on my 3 hour Wednesday session on the sofa with the IV hooked up and asked if I’d considered prayer and God as my salvation. She was a nice lady and I made a joke or two that if I had to repent all my sins I would likely run out of time even if I got through this thing so after 2 or 3 attempts she left me to my own devices.
So great I thought. I’ve likely got 6 months to live and if I give up all my vices including meat and red wine, and spend my time doing yoga and meditation I just might get through. Or alternatively die living the last 6 months of my life in the most boring existence possible – in my mind anyway. But I was going to beat this, so I continued to adhere to all the advice I was given and try everything I was told.
There was this one nurse though who I really struck up a rapport with over the first few sessions. Jane was about 30 and Irish and she told things the way they were. The other nurses weren’t as straight forward, trying to shield you from any negative thoughts I guess. Once when I asked Jane where Tom, one of the other patients was, as I hadn’t seen him in a week, she gave me a hard look and said, “You know how it works Anton, not everyone wins here.” That was all she needed to say.
About the 3rd session in, whilst sitting on the sofa taking in my poison, she stopped by to see how I was doing and I asked her advice. “Jane can I ask you about all the suggestions and recommendations I’ve been getting since all this started. Some people have told me to go vegetarian, some say meditation is the key, I’ve even been told about hypnosis and the power of positive thinking. What’s your take on all this?”
“Aye Anton” she said, pausing and considering my question, “You know there is a an old guy who comes in here for treatment. He smokes a packet a day, drinks like a fish and eats fried food and potato chips. And you just know he’s gonna survive this. It’s always the mean old fucker who doesn’t care about any of that shite that you been told, the one that does everything he’s told he shouldn’t, he’s the one who’ll survive. I hate to say it but the nice ones who do everything right – they are just as likely to not get through this. So you know what my advice is? Do whatever you like Anton. Do what feels good to you. You’ve only got so much time on the planet, make the most of it. If you’re meant to get through this you will.”
I’ve never forgotten what Jane said. The next Friday night as I went through Melbourne airport on my way back to Tokyo, feeling sick from the cumulative effects of the 3rd session I went up to the lady at duty free and said, “Pick me out 3 $100 bottles of red wine – cab sav preferably and package them up for me. Whatever you think is the best.” I’d decided that day that if I was only going to be around for another 6 months I was going to live life to the fullest and feel good when I could. And why not splash some cash doing it. I thought I may as well enjoy some of it while I still had the chance.
I arrived on the Saturday morning as usual and called my two best mates at the time – Chris and Peter. I made a trip to National Azabu Supermarket to get some real bacon, eggs, orange juice and freshly baked bread and made a full English breakfast for us all. Pete at my request brought a selection of imported beers – his favourite was Hoegaarden – and a handful of pharmaceuticals that would have baffled a qualified chemist. Chris’s job was to raise the IQ of the room, which was not hard in the presence of Pete and I, although I’m sure he brought some beers too – some wonderful cans of Asahi perhaps. We ate, drank, talked about many things, walked around Yoyogi Park in the sunshine and came back to the house in the late afternoon to drink some more and watch movies until we likely passed out on the large, very soft sofas as Apocalypse Now played on repeat.
So that was the pattern of my life for the next 6 months. One week in Australia on chemo feeling so sick I was nearly ready to pack it all in and one week in Tokyo eating great tasting food and drinking the finest alcohol available to man, mixing it with some of Pete’s pills and the leftovers from bottles of pain killers I had from my operation with names such as Endone and Oxycontin. I’ll tell you what, even the constant nausea of chemo can be beaten with a full English breakfast, 3-4 beers, a fine red and a variety of opioids.
So that became my alternate weekly routine for the toughest 6 months of my life. One week of having poison put in my body by the very nice nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne and the next week working and recovering in Tokyo, trying my best to keep it together and eating and drinking what I enjoyed and doing whatever felt right. Basically I was living my life and doing what felt good to me in the company of great friends.
By the end of September the hospital had decided to stop my chemo sessions as I was having adverse reactions (to the chemo I think and not the recreational stuff from the week before) and I even went into a fit and briefly stopped breathing the last time. So I finished at 11 sessions. And by October I began to feel somewhat human again, although it would be a year before I could say I was anywhere near back to normal. And I don’t remember a great deal about 2008, even the weeks that I was in Melbourne and living the clean life.
But in spite of it all I survived and I have a good story to tell. And maybe that’s what it’s all about. As Jane said, do what makes you feel good. I’m not advocating taking pharmaceuticals or getting drunk every day as a lifestyle choice as trust me – it doesn’t work long term – but the big breakfasts washed down with a few beers and some very fine reds worked each Saturday as a mechanism for me to be happy and get through a tough period and I still laugh at the memory. Thanks Chris and Pete for being there for me at that time and thanks for your great company at those breakfasts that went late into the afternoon and more often than not involved a walk around Yoyogi park, wonderful, beautiful place that it is. And here ends my story to give the scales of the Blue Belt Life diet a perhaps (un)balanced and slightly different perspective. Strict vegan diets are for some, paleo for others, for me these days its a variety of good food and the occasional few beers or a red – and everything in moderation. Basically I do what makes me feel good.
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