My Loved One Just Got Cancer — Now What?

Taryn Hillin
9 min readJun 3, 2022

Hi, I’m Taryn, I was diagnosed with high-grade small cell neuroendocrine cancer in 2019, stage 3C. I only had a 7% chance of survival — but I’m still here! Now I run the social accounts @TheAntiCancerLife on TikTok and Instagram. The MOST common question I get isMy loved one just got cancer, what can I do?” Every cancer case is individual so it’s difficult to give out blanket advice, but there are questions you can ask, dietary changes to make, and complementary treatments to seek out, so I’ve decided to create a little guide to help people out. This is just an overview and is in NO WAY medical advice. While I talk a lot about supplements, herbs, and food, please know that I ALSO did surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and brachytherapy. I hope this guide is helpful on your journey to beating cancer!

After a cancer diagnosis, one of the most important things might be ASKING questions. Here are 12 questions you should be asking your oncology team …

  1. 𝙒𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙠𝙞𝙣𝙙 𝙤𝙛 𝙘𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚𝙧 𝙙𝙤 𝙄 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚? (𝙞.𝙚. 𝙒𝙝𝙖𝙩’𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙝𝙞𝙨𝙩𝙤𝙡𝙤𝙜𝙮 𝙤𝙧 𝙩𝙮𝙥𝙚?) Many patients don’t understand their type of cancer — by type, I mean histological sub-type (i.e. clear cell, neuroendocrine, squamous cell, adenocarcinoma, signet ring cell, even ER+ / triple neg). Different “types” require different treatments and your tumor may have more than one subtype. You also want to know the grade, i.e. high grade (aggressive) or low-grade (slower growing) because all of this affects treatment.
  2. 𝙒𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙢𝙮 𝙩𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙩𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩 𝙤𝙥𝙩𝙞𝙤𝙣𝙨? 𝙄𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙨𝙩𝙖𝙣𝙙𝙖𝙧𝙙? Different cancers require different treatments and sometimes oncologists disagree about treatment plans (it’s art and science). It’s okay to ask your doctor if there is more than one path to take and weigh the pros and cons.
  3. 𝙒𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙖𝙧𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙚 𝙥𝙧𝙤𝙜𝙣𝙤𝙨𝙞𝙨 𝙧𝙖𝙩𝙚𝙨 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙬𝙞𝙩𝙝𝙤𝙪𝙩 𝙩𝙧𝙚𝙖𝙩𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩? Sometimes chemotherapy is 100% necessary, other times it may increase your odds by only 10% and comes with a lot of side effects. You want to KNOW exactly what the treatment is doing and what the data says about its ability to cure your cancer.
  4. 𝙄𝙨 𝙢𝙮 𝙘𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚𝙧 𝙘𝙪𝙧𝙖𝙗𝙡𝙚? Sometimes people are put on palliative chemo but wrongly assume it’s curative. Then, they’re blindsided and confused when treatment isn’t making them better. Find out upfront if your doctors are going for a “cure” or trying to keep the cancer at bay/extend your life. Even if odds are low, don’t lose hope.
  5. 𝘾𝙖𝙣 𝙄 𝙨𝙚𝙚 𝙢𝙮 𝙢𝙚𝙙𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙡 𝙧𝙚𝙘𝙤𝙧𝙙𝙨? You have the right to ask for your own medical records. Sometimes doctors are basing treatment on pathology reports that are inconclusive. Make sure to read your reports, scans, pathology etc, and double-check everything is clear to you! During treatment, I was put on the wrong chemo schedule.
  6. 𝙄𝙨 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙮𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙚𝙡𝙨𝙚 𝙄 𝙘𝙖𝙣 𝙙𝙤, 𝙡𝙞𝙠𝙚 𝘾𝘼𝙈 (𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙥𝙡𝙚𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙩𝙖𝙧𝙮 𝙖𝙣𝙙 𝙖𝙡𝙩𝙚𝙧𝙣𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙫𝙚 𝙢𝙚𝙙𝙞𝙘𝙞𝙣𝙚)? CAM = complementary and alternative medicine. This includes diet, lifestyle, acupuncture, chi-gong, energy healing, yoga, support groups, supplements, IVC, mistletoe, fasting etc. There are lots of CAM treatments you can combine with western medicine. Talk to your dr and push them on this.
  7. 𝘼𝙧𝙚 𝙩𝙝𝙚𝙧𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙮 𝙘𝙡𝙞𝙣𝙞𝙘𝙖𝙡 𝙩𝙧𝙞𝙖𝙡𝙨 𝙄 𝙨𝙝𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙠𝙣𝙤𝙬 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩? Clinical trials are competitive and complicated to enroll in. You need the support of your doctor if you are a candidate for a clinical trial. Ask them early and ask for updates. There are even trials for CAM therapy that could be beneficial.
  8. 𝘿𝙤 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙝𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙖𝙣𝙮𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙛𝙤𝙧 _____ 𝙨𝙞𝙙𝙚 𝙚𝙛𝙛𝙚𝙘𝙩𝙨? Cancer treatment sucks and the side effects are many. Keep your doctor informed, don’t suffer in silence. They are there to help prescribe meds to help with side effects. If a med isn’t working or making you worse (hi Zofran) let them know ASAP.
  9. 𝘾𝙖𝙣 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙧𝙪𝙣 𝙩𝙪𝙢𝙤𝙧 𝙨𝙚𝙦𝙪𝙚𝙣𝙘𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙤𝙣 𝙢𝙮 𝙩𝙞𝙨𝙨𝙪𝙚? If you have a solid tumor you can have it genetically sequenced through companies like Foundation One. This can tell you novel or immuno-therapies you might qualify for or let you know what specific mutations your cancer has — which can inform treatment options. I had a KRAS mutation and IVC works well for that!
  10. 𝙒𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙖 𝘾𝙏𝘾 (𝙘𝙞𝙧𝙘𝙪𝙡𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙪𝙢𝙤𝙧 𝙘𝙚𝙡𝙡) 𝙩𝙚𝙨𝙩 𝙗𝙚 𝙗𝙚𝙣𝙚𝙛𝙞𝙘𝙞𝙖𝙡? A CTC test helps find cancer DNA circulating around your blood. This can be helpful if you’re NED and hoping to catch recurrence, or if you’re late stage and checking to see if the treatment is working. Ask your oncologist. Companies like Signatera have great options.
  11. 𝙃𝙖𝙫𝙚 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙝𝙚𝙖𝙧𝙙 𝙖𝙗𝙤𝙪𝙩 ____? 𝙒𝙤𝙪𝙡𝙙 𝙩𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙝𝙚𝙡𝙥? I was constantly searching PubMed for treatments, off-label drugs, etc that might be under the radar or help me. My oncologist was very open to me badgering her w studies and questions. It’s okay to be “that patient” — your life is on the line!=
  12. 𝙄’𝙢 100% 𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙞𝙩𝙩𝙚𝙙 𝙩𝙤 𝙗𝙚𝙖𝙩𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙨 … 𝙖𝙣𝙮𝙩𝙝𝙞𝙣𝙜 𝙮𝙤𝙪 𝙧𝙚𝙘𝙤𝙢𝙢𝙚𝙣𝙙? Sometimes doctors don’t make diet and lifestyle recs because they don’t want to stress patients out and see many patients are hesitant to make changes. Let your doctor know upfront, you’re committed and willing to change your life and diet. They may have more to say after they see you’re an active member of the team!

Bonus Question:

𝙒𝙝𝙖𝙩 𝙘𝙖𝙪𝙨𝙚𝙙 𝙢𝙮 𝙘𝙖𝙣𝙘𝙚𝙧? Many doctors won’t have an answer to this, but in some cases, they might be able to talk about a myriad of possible causes. Sometimes “cause” can help you make future changes to prevent cancer from happening again.

Diet and Lifestyle Changes

Diet and lifestyle are by far the easiest changes to make because they usually won’t interfere with treatment — but make sure to discuss these changes with your doctor. Here is what I did:

  1. Switched to a plant-based diet heavy in leafy greens (big salads), fruits (smoothies), vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts), nuts and seeds (walnuts, chia seeds), fish (salmon, barramundi), beans (lots of beans and chickpeas) and whole grains (farro, quinoa, etc).
  2. On the advice of my oncologist, I CUT out added sugar, alcohol, and *most* processed food.
  3. I kept meat low! I cut out all processed meat (i.e. deli meat, sausage), but once in a while I will still eat some chicken and I do eat eggs.
  4. I do not consume dairy, except for sheep’s milk feta, and goat cheese and I’ll use 1 tbsp of half-half in my coffee. Right after cancer I almost never consumed dairy.
  5. I switched to “real sourdough bread” (i.e. made with sour starter)

There are certain foods I try to get in my body every day:

  1. Dark Berries
  2. Leafy Greens (kale, spinach)
  3. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli)
  4. Beans (chickpeas / black beans)
  5. Green tea (I drink SO much green tea)
  6. Nuts and chia seeds (I put chia seeds in everything — toast, smoothies, pudding etc)
  7. Fiber! Lots of fiber!

Exercise: Don’t forget to try and exercise! I walked during chemotherapy and to this day I walk between two and four miles per day. Walking is so good for you. I also use a vibration plate (this is good if you’re too weak to work out from treatment). Yoga is also very beneficial for managing stress and getting your body moving. During chemo-radiation when I was too weak to really walk, I was able to do light yoga!

Epsom Salt Baths: I swear by these. I took 1 to 2 Epsom salt baths per day during treatment. It helped with the debilitating side effects (esp migraines) and I still take baths daily now.

Supplements

During cancer treatment, many oncologists will NOT let you take supplements for fear it will interfere with treatment. There is a debate in oncology right now on whether this is true or not — but it’s safe to err on the side of caution because doctors don’t want to do anything that would stop the chemo from working. I was given the green light to EAT as many antioxidants as I wanted (like fruits and vegetables, except grapefruit, because it interferes with drugs).

As for supplements DURING CHEMO & RADIATION I was allowed to take: Curcumin, Melatonin (anticancer), Vitamin D, CBD/THC (it’s legal in California).

After treatment ended I began an entire supplement protocol which included the following (you can find information about all of these on my IG, I don’t sell or advocate for any supplements, this is just what I took — and I informed my oncologist and integrative team about all of them):

Complementary Therapy

High Dose IVC:

Right after treatment ended I began doing high dose IV Vitamin C. Please visit www.highdoseivc.com for more info on past clinical trials and studies. I sit for infusions two times per week at 50g.

We know Vitamin C is an antioxidant and key to cellular function. However, at very high doses in the bloodstream, it has anti-cancer effects. Exactly how it works is up for debate–

“It may involve the production of high levels of hydrogen peroxide, selectively toxic to cancer cells, or the deactivation of hypoxia-inducible factor, a prosurvival transcription factor that protects cancer cells from various forms of stress.” (Oregon State University)

Research by Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling and Ewan Cameron in the 70s, 80s showed IVC could improve survival time in patients with terminal cancer. Subsequent studies show IVC can improve quality of life, protect the body against chemo damage, improve survival when given w/ chemo and radiation, and has the potential to selectively kill cancer cells while leaving the body’s normal cells alone. (cancer.gov) In other words, it acts like chemo, without all the nasty chemo side effects, which is revolutionary.

After Pauling conducted his studies there was a lot of attention around IVC, but his studies needed to be replicated. The Mayo Clinic stepped in and ran clinical trials. They found that IVC did not help patients, thus everyone stopped caring about IVC. However, the Mayo Clinic ran their clinical trials using ORAL VITAMIN C, which passes through the digestive tract and not intravenous IVC which goes straight to the bloodstream. They also did not replicate the same duration of dose. www.highdoseivc.com (a site I run) lists all the clinical trials that have explored the effects of IVC on cancer.

Mistletoe Therapy

Mistletoe therapy requires a prescription from your doctor (as dose high dose IVC). I did this for about 6 months. It’s an injection three times per week — it can improve side effects of treatment and possibly help reduce tumor burden. It’s a popular treatment in Germany and Europe. Please ask your doctor. It’s also available as an infusion. Insurance will not cover it. Check out www.believebig.org for more information. Clinical trials are currently being conducted at Johns Hopkins.

Off-Label Drugs

I use low-dose naltrexone as an off-label anti-cancer drug. Many patients devise entire protocols for off-label drugs with their oncology team — popular drugs are metformin, various statins, certain antibiotics like doxycycline, cimetidine, etc. I highly recommend reading the book “How To Starve Cancer Without Starving Yourself”. This method of treating cancer is highly complicated and requires the HELP of a doctor and knowledge of cancer metabolism. Off-label drugs are often used in combination with low-dose chemotherapy.

Acupunture / Meditation / Chi-Gong Yoga

I did acupuncture for around 2 years, including while I was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.

Intermittent Fasting

I did intermittent fasting during chemotherapy, two times per week. Each fast was 20 hours. I also did the fasting-mimicking diet (a 5-day “fast”) after treatment ended. Fasting may make chemotherapy more effective. Please talk to your doctor because if you’re experiencing cachexia you ABSOLUTELY CAN NOT FAST. Check out work from Dr. Valter Longo for more on intermittent fasting.

Next-Gen Tests and Treatments

  • Tumor sequencing from companies like Foundation One can find mutations and possible molecular targets for novel drugs. For instance, PDL1 markers can inform whether or not you’re a candidate for immunotherapy.
  • CTC: Circulating Tumor Cell tests can help catch a recurrence early or possibly demonstrate if your current treatment is working. I use Signatera (from Natera).
  • Specialized treatments: There are certain vaccines that treat cancer, Cart-T therapy, and immunotherapies that are all “nextgen”. Ask your oncologist, search for clinical trials or try to find out if you qualify. This is where knowing your exact cancer type (including mutations is KEY) many trials have very specific requirements for the type of cancer they’re testing.

I hope this starter guide is helpful! Please check out my Instagram and TikTok ([at]theantiCancerlife) for more, including recipes and foods.

--

--

Taryn Hillin

Writer, journalist, media strategist. Sony TV Diverse Writers '21; Universal Writers '22; Formerly of HuffPost, Fusion, TMZ, and VP Strategy ENTITY. Yale grad.