Jocelyn Aguilar felt bad enough after the first of a scheduled four rounds of chemotherapy that she thought about quitting.
She had no detectable cancer after undergoing double mastectomy for breast cancer, so the chemotherapy was an optional treatment that Aguilar, age 37 when diagnosed in October 2019, had chosen to reduce the risk of recurrence.
She ultimately decided to continue because, starting with her next round of chemotherapy, she was going to help test a counterintuitive-but-promising strategy for reducing chemotherapy’s side effects and increasing its cancer-fighting power: a very low-calorie diet designed to mimic the effects of fasting.
“On weeks (when) I was due to receive chemo that Friday, I got four boxes of food labeled Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The only food I ate those days came from that day’s box. On Saturday morning, I woke up and eased myself back into normal eating,” says Aguilar, a nurse who works at the University of Southern California (USC), where the trial took place.
“The pain I experienced with that first round of chemo, before the fasting, was so terrible that I didn’t think I could go on,” says Aguilar, who described the sensation as aches and pains all over her body. “With the fast, there were still some effects, but they were not nearly as bad. It was a huge difference.”
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