Let’s WhatsApp: Chatting About Nutrition

On March 4th, we held our first “Let’s WhatsApp” group chat for Breast Cancer patients and survivors. This was the first of an on-going support program we’ll be offering to help connect patients from across Lebanon and provide them an opportunity to benefit from specialists’ advice from the comfort of their own home. S1Nutrition_Feb2015_AR

For our first “Let’s WhatsApp”, clinical nutritionist Diane Nicolas, who has extensive experience working with cancer patients, was the featured specialist who volunteered her time and expertise for the session on Nutrition.

The group chat setting was intimate with five women (the majority of which had never met in person) taking part and asking their questions on topics of interest to each of them while also sharing their own tips amongst each other. Their enthusiasm and curiosity about the subject was evident from the onset!

Trigging the first discussion was the link between nutrition and cancer – and the majority agreed, that yes, it does play a role. One of the patients held a different perspective as despite having a very healthy lifestyle and diet, she still got diagnosed with cancer. So is there or isn’t there a link? Diane shed insight by explaining that although improper nutrition doesn’t necessarily lead to cancer, following the right diet and maintaining your health increases your chances of preventing it. Genetics and the environment are very important factors that also play a role, so it isn’t just nutrition that may affect your diagnosis.

Coffee was another hot topic among the women: How much was too much? What were the benefits and was there harm in adding coffee creamers, like Coffeemate, to ones cup? Another topic of much interest was meats, chickens and fish. Questions ranged from how best to cook it (Well-done? Over-cooked? Tip: Avoid burning it!) to whether eating local mezza specialties like raw meat (kebbe and kasbe naye) were harmful. Even sushi came up! LetsWhatsApp_ChatQuestion1 Topics that always often raise question marks, like the rumored link of soy to cancer, how much chocolate is good for you and even the role of ashta in helping one lost weight came up too and were discussed further. (PS: The answers to all the above are below) LetsWhatsApp_ChatQuestion2 Diane was very helpful and quickly answered all the questions brought up during the chat. She additionally helped break the ice at the start so that no one felt uncomfortable. Jokes, questions and even personal tips were being shared among the participants by the end of the chat – a very positive sign!

For those who missed the chat or were curious about the topics covered, we’ve compiled a short summary for you below of the top nutrition tips shared by Diane Nicolas:

  • Coffeemate is not bad, but it should preferably be replaced with a more nutritious food such as milk (liquid or powdered are both good). Skimmed milk? Even better!
  • Chocolate in moderation is not harmful for the health, but we must be careful not to gain weight because weight gain is closely linked to cancer.
  • Chicken is not harmful if you trust the source as some chicken is injected with hormones so be careful where you get or eat it from (the size of the chicken is a helpful indication)
  • A myth that was challenged? Kachta and avocado don’t help you lose weight. It’s all about reducing calories. One avocado is actually equivalent to 8 spoons of oil so avoid eating too much of it.

 The Dos:

  • Eat Fresh
  • Eat fruits, vegetables and legumes more often.
  • Eat only fresh Frish…
  • Consume meat 2 times per week, try to avoid raw meats
  • Eat preferably chicken breast.
  • Consume more whole grain Lebanese bread (“2am7a kemle”)
  • Limit your coffee intake to 2 cups per day.

The Donts:

  • Don’t eat caned or smoked tuna and salmon.
  • Don’t eat over-cooked meat (ma7rou2).
  • Avoid raw meat (kassbeh and kebbe Nayye)
  • Avoid soybeans as they are genetically modified.
  • If your treatment includes cortisone, do not abuse sugar and deserts.
  • Our Mediterranean diet is very healthy and complete, so don’t search for exotic foods in order to be healthier or to prevent diseases.

“Don’t eat less, but EAT RIGHT; this is the response to all illness and diseases linked to nutrition. Flash news: We are lucky to be Lebanese since our diet is known to be the best among hundred of diets all over the world. We have the healthiest mix and match: 3adas b7amod, taboule, fatouch, ma7aché, sbenikh, mloukhieh, bemye, makhlouta, labne, jebne bayda, kebbe… ” – Diane Nicolas


“I’d like to thank every person that took part in the group chat and encourage One Wig Stand for this amazing project. We are lucky to have such a support that offers knowledge and care at the same time. Thank you!” – Diane Nicolas

All the feedback we received from those who took part was very encouraging and we’re looking forward to hosting more of these group chats on different topics to benefit patients and survivors in the future. Thank you to all the ladies who took part and to the lovely Diane Nicolas for lending her time and expertise for these sessions!


Do you have a subject in mind that you’d like us to discuss in the next WhatsApp session? Is there a certain specialist you’d like to recommend who’d be interested in sharing their knowledge with others? Please feel free to suggest a topic or specialist you’d like to chat with us in the comments section below and we’ll do our best to make it happen!

If you’re a breast cancer patient, survivor or caregiver that would be interested in signing up for the next session, please send us an email to: info@onewigstand.org or call us at +961 79 158 471 so we keep you posted.

My Parent Has Cancer: 5 Things I Wish I Had Known

Written by Maya Silver

I was 15 when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. What did I know about cancer then? 


The Silver family at the beach

Not much.

I knew that cancer sucked and I knew that it was serious. I knew it meant bald heads, bad times and big needles full of chemicals that would be injected into my mom and make her sick.

What do I know now?

A lot more. I learned a great deal from living through the experience and even more from talking to other teens and experts for My Parent Has Cancer And It Really Sucks, a guide my dad and I wrote to help teens whose parents have cancer too.

Maya and her father Marc - Photography by Richard Nowitz

Maya and her father Marc – Photograph: Richard Nowitz

Looking back at the experience today (10 years later), here’s what I wish my 15-year-old self had known about cancer:

  1. That there are an estimated one million American teens who have a parent with cancer. It’s easy to feel like you’re in a silo, especially when you’re a self-conscious teen and your world experience amounts to high school and family vacations. Knowing that there’s a whole community of other teens like you in the same situation is reassuring. It means you’re not alone. Even if you don’t personally know any of those million or so teens personally, it feels good to know they’re out there. And if you want to, seek them out. Look for support groups in your area. Find online forums. Reach out!
  2. That when it comes to coping, it’s your way or the highway. No one can tell you what the best way is to cope with a disease like cancer. There are many coping mechanisms out there and you have to do what’s right for you. For some teens, that means getting active through team sports, hitting the gym or exploring nature. Others find solace in creative expression. Some crave the company of family and friends. Others need alone time. Do what’s right for you. There’s only one exception to this rule – if your way of coping puts you or others at risk. If you’re turning to risky behavior to feel better, seek help.
  3. That, for the most part, it’s all normal. We talked to a lot of teens that had thoughts or behaviors that they felt were weird or atypical. It’s important to recognize that dealing with a disease like cancer can evoke a wide range of emotions. For example, some teens admitted that they wished it were the other parent who had cancer. This doesn’t make those teens bad. It just means that perhaps they’re closer to the other parent.
  4. That laughter or fun during cancer doesn’t deserve guilt. I experienced a lot of guilty feelings during the cancer years. I felt a constant pull to be at home and spend time with my mom when I really wanted to escape and forget about things with friends. It’s okay to seek out joy during cancer – in fact it’s critical. It will help you cope and engage with your family with fresh, renewed vigor.
  5. That just because your parent has cancer, it doesn’t mean you are bound to have cancer, too. Only 5-10% of cancer cases are genetic. All other cases are attributed to environmental causes (e.g. smoking) or pure chance. As I watched my mom battle cancer, I more or less assumed that my sister and I would eventually be in her shoes. I felt this way for a very long time and that fear still has a small voice in my head. This fear is probably one of the major motivators for living a healthy, active lifestyle, but I have accepted that cancer is not necessarily my fate.
Maya with her mother and sister at the beach

Maya with her mother and sister at the beach

It’s all 20/20 in hindsight but the mistakes I made and the lessons I learned the hard way have made me into the person I am today. I know now that it’s better to be open about your feelings (rather than internalize them) and I understand the importance of having an arsenal of coping mechanisms to get you through hard times – large or small.

Check out Maya and Marc's book to find out more!

Check out Maya and Marc’s book with helpful advice for a teen going through a similar experience!

* In case you’re wondering, Maya’s mother has completed cancer treatment and is doing better.

انا مش هينة

I know it’s been a while since I’ve shared any of my stories with you, but I just got back from another journey. For the past few months, I’ve been accompanying a new woman through her cancer treatment and couldn’t really leave her side until I knew she was ok. Now that she’s feeling much better and no longer really needs me (plus her hair has grown back), let me take this chance to share her story. By preparing for the worst upon hearing her diagnosis, I could tell her attitude was going to help her get through it. Cancer is scary but sometimes we give it more power than we should. It was a difficult phase in and of itself for her, but she also realized that it could be much worse and that she was stronger than she thought she was. “It’s good that it’s me and not my kids or husband.. I’m best to handle it” she told me one night. This strong maternal instinct allowed her to accept what was happening and not dwell on the detrimental “why me?”. One of the things she dreaded though was the hospital visits. I think it made her feel vulnerable and more sick than she was really feeling. No one likes hospitals if they’re a patient anyway, right? When she was diagnosed, word quickly spread. Everyone suddenly knew! It wasn’t something in her hands although she would have preferred to keep it private if only to not worry others about her condition. Sometimes it bothered her how people she didn’t speak to much before were suddenly concerned: “I don’t want people to just be there and ask about me when things are bad. Where were they when things were good but I also would have liked to have them in my life?” Even though everyone knew, she dealt with her treatment in privacy and even kept her children away so as not to deter their image of her during this frail period. Can you relate to this feeling? We didn’t take much turns with wearing the wig as I’d had with other women before her so it stayed on my head for most of her treatment. Definitely a first. When I asked her why, she said it was uncomfortable and weighed on her emotionally. The only time it really mattered for her to wear one was at her sister’s wedding so that she wouldn’t stand out. I saw some of the pictures and could barely tell she was wearing one. “انا مش هينة” which translated into English means “I’m tough” was her personal discovery along this journey. She said it with glowing pride and you could tell it was also an achievement for her. Right when our time was coming to a close, I asked her for some advice to pass on to the next women I meet along my journey. Her words? “Be cool. Life is harder than cancer. Just accept it as it is and remember, this is just another year. It will pass.”

Q & A #1: Food and Cancer Treatment

We’d like to introduce you to the lovely Diane Nicolas, an experienced nutritionist currently working with cancer patients in the oncology department at one of the biggest hospitals inBeirut. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetic from USJ along with a Masters in Human Nutrition. Diane has also been involved in several nutritional awareness programs at schools, including teaching children about the importance of good nutrition.

Diane’s been working with breast cancer patients, and within the oncology department in general, for 7 months now and 1 out of 10 of her cancer patients is usually a breast cancer case.

We recently did a lengthy interview with Diane and she was kind enough to share some invaluable insight on the topic of nutrition as it relates to breast cancer patients (and cancer patients in general). To give each of her detailed answers their due attention, we’ll be sharing them in individual posts as part of a upcoming Q&A section of our website, starting with this one:

Question: Women undergoing chemotherapy tend to feel very tired due to the harsh chemicals in their bodies, as well as undergoing other symptoms relating to food in general. What are your recommendations for overcoming those side effects during treatment?

Image Source: MSN Health

Diane’s Answer: Cancer treatment effects the eating behavior of patients and our job is to accommodate their diet during their treatment as it can cause nausea, vomiting, apotheosis, diarrhea or constipation. These are all gastrointestinal problems that require a specific dietetic approach. At certain periods during treatment, the patient’s immunity is weakened and it’s crucial to provide them with the proper nutritional education to prevent food contamination due to their heightened sensitivity.

In the case of any of the following reactions, the following is recommended:

a) Loss of Appetite

  • Eating frequent meals and snacks that are easy to prepare.
  • Liquid supplements may improve total energy intake and body function and may work well when eating solids is difficult.
  • Other liquids that contain energy may also help, such as juices, soups, milk, shakes and fruit smoothies.

Types of foods recommended: cheese and crackers, muffins, puddings, nuts, chocolate, nutritional supplements, milkshakes, yogurt, ice cream, powdered milk or eggs added to foods such as puree, soups, or any other recipe that requires milk, and lastly, fruit cocktail that is low in added sugar.

Image Source: WebMD

b) Alterations to taste and/or smell

Alterations in taste can be related to chemotherapy, radiotherapy, dental problems, mucositis and infection (thrush) or medications. Rinsing the mouth before eating may help improve the taste of food.

  • Use plastic utensils if foods taste metallic.
  • Try eating your favorite foods.
  • Have others prepare the meal.
  • Substitute red meat with poultry, fish, eggs or cheese.
  • A vegetarian diet could be useful, choose high-protein recipes.
  • Use sugar-free lemon drops, gum, or mints when experiencing a metallic or bitter taste in the mouth.
  • Add spices and sauces to foods.
  • Eat meat with something sweet, such as applesauce.

 c) Xerostomia (Dry Mouth)

  • Drink plenty of liquids (25–30 ml/kg per day). Keep water handy at all times to moisten the mouth, and eat moist foods with extra sauces.
  • Drink fruit nectar instead of juice.
  • Use a straw to drink liquids.
  • Eat hard candies, frozen desserts such as frozen grapes, chewing gum or flavored ice pops.
  • Perform oral hygiene at least 4 times a day (after each meal and before bedtime). Avoid rinses containing alcohol.
  • Consume very sweet or tart foods and beverages, which may stimulate saliva.

 d) Mucositis/Stomatitis

  • Eat foods that are soft, easy to chew and swallow. Some conditions may require processing foods in a blender. Irritants may include acidic, spicy and salty foods.
  • Eat foods cold or at room temperature; hot and warm foods can irritate a tender mouth.
  • Practice good mouth care.

e) Nausea

  • Eat dry foods such as crackers, breadsticks, or toast, throughout the day.
  • Eat bland, soft, easy-to-digest foods rather than heavy meals.
  • Avoid cooking odors.
  • Rinse out the mouth before and after eating.
  • Suck on hard candies such as peppermints or lemon drops if the mouth has a bad taste.

f) Diarrhea

  • Soups, sports drinks, bananas, and canned fruits may be helpful for the replenishment of electrolytes.
  • Diarrhea may worsen with greasy foods, hot or cold liquids, or caffeine.
  • Limit milk to 2 cups or eliminate milk and milk products until the source of the problem is determined.
  • Limit gas-forming foods and beverages such as soda, cruciferous vegetables, legumes and lentils and chewing gum.
  • Limit the use of sugar-free candies or gum made with sugar alcohol (sorbitol).

Image Source: WebMD

g) Constipation

  • Eat more fiber-containing foods on a regular basis. The recommended fiber intake is 25 to 35 grams per day (beans, vegetables, whole cereals, vegetables, etc). Fiber should be gradually added to the diet, and adequate fluids must be consumed at the same time.
  • Drink 8 to 10 cups of fluid each day; beverages such as water, prune juice and warm juices, decaffeinated teas, and lemonade can be particularly helpful.
  • Take walks and exercise regularly (proper footwear is important).

To get in touch with Diane Nicolas for an appointment or other questions, feel free to email her on:  diane.nicolas@live.com

Life Lessons from Breast Cancer Survivors

In the past two years since One Wig Stand took off, we’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk to plenty of breast cancer survivors across the region. There’s a lot to learn from these strong women who continue to serve as our key driver to keep spreading awareness and providing support.

Some lessons we’ve learned, and that can truly be applied to any woman, include:

(Image Source: Life Hack)

1. Know your body. Nothing can be more essential to your general well-being than listening to your body and any warning signs it gives you. That’s why medical professionals always advocate self-check exams (and we cannot stress its importance enough). At the end of the day, no matter what anyone tells you, only you can truly know if something is wrong so don’t be ashamed to get to know your body a little bit better. It’s amazing how perceptive our bodies can be.

2. Well-being is a lifestyle. A lot of the survivors we’ve met have opted for healthier lifestyles post-treatment including starting vegetarian diets, doing more physical exercise (yoga is a favorite) and removing all negative habits from their daily routines. That’s not to say that it will 100% guarantee you won’t develop cancer in the future as sometimes it’s genetic and exterior factors play a role, but nevertheless, a healthy lifestyle is always a bonus for your general well-being.

3. Eliminate stress and learn how to say “no”. Oftentimes it takes a drastic experience to realize that you’re under a lot of pressure and that you’re harboring unnecessary stress. We’ve heard time and time again how post-cancer, a lot of these women learned to listen to their inner selves better and be a bit more selfish in the most positive of ways. When you’re a hard-working mom, dedicated to your family or balancing a job, it’s easy to cave in to others’ needs above yours but you need to give yourself a break every now and then. Things that are obviously making you feel stressed and wearing your out can’t be healthy. Find a way to resolve it by either learning a more healthy way to adapt (meditation perhaps) or eliminating it altogether. Saying “no” can be the most freeing feeling in the world so don’t be afraid to say it when you know you should.

4. Prioritize. Another lesson we’ve also learned is the importance of prioritizing. Unfortunately, you only really learn the value of your family and friends during such trying periods, but you don’t need to go through that to realize that they should be getting more priority in your life. Give them their due attention and loving. Is it really necessary to work until midnight each night? We doubt it. Make time for the ones that love you most and use lesson #3 as a good incentive to say “no” when it conflicts with your true priorities.

5. Talk it out. We harbor alot of feelings inside ourselves and don’t let it out enough. Be honest with yourself and with others. Especially when it comes to breast cancer treatment, being able to voice what it is you feel with others is in itself a positive therapy. Taken into anyone’s life, the lesson here is communicate, communicate, communicate! If it’s something you’re feeling, chances are someone else is feeling or has felt something similar. This has encouraged me to always be honest and direct (in a constructive way of course) rather than build resentment or lie to myself.

6. Live more. Personally, this was something I came to realize through my loved one’s experience. I noticed a refreshing change in her attitude to life after her treatment. She wanted to pursue more diverse activities that interested her and travel more. It’s inspired me to this day to always keep my heart close to my life’s ambitions. Nothing makes you realize how valuable life is until you’re faced with such a life-threatening experience – whether directly or indirectly. If you’ve always wanted to do something, stop waiting and just go for it!

Do you have any lessons you’ve learned from an inspirational breast cancer survivor in your life? Please share with us and spread the love.