CureTalk Interviews Mantazh Khanna, Cancer Survivor and Co-Creator of P.S. It’s Healthy
Mantazh Khanna lives with her husband of 3 years in New York City. A life changing health condition made Mantazh realize that in order to continue experiencing life, she needed to eat right. A whole new world of gastronomy opened up and that’s when P.S. It’s Healthy was born. Mantazh was 30 when she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2010. After an intensive 6 months of chemotherapy session, Mantazh is in her 2nd year of remission now.
Mantazh is the featured speaker on The Cure Panel Talk Show which will discuss, ‘How To Eat Healthy with Cancer’. and it was great to connect with her for this interview. Read on to know Mantazh’s journey with lymphoma and healthy food.
Me: When were you diagnosed? How did it happen? Share a bit of your journey so far.
Mantazh: Post a beautiful and cozy marriage ceremony in India in 2010, we went for our honeymoon to South Africa. On the way back, I developed a nagging pain in the chest during the flight, which I presumed to be a muscle pull or something minor. By the time we landed in New York, the pain was so bad, I could hardly breathe without hurting.
An urgent visit to the ICU just after landing from the wonderful honeymoon, a battery of tests including an X ray, revealed a shadow across my chest. The CAT scan gave more accurate results of the growth of a mass, which was non-typical. I was advised biopsy. I had to spend a night in the hospital as a result of which I was unable to report to work at my new job, the very first day of work. My diagnosis happened all of a sudden. Whack! I was not prepared for it. But then who is? Who could have imagined stepping off the plane post a honeymoon and going to the ICU?
Post biopsy, I was diagnosed with Stage II, almost Stage III, non-Hodgkin Lymphoma (type of blood cancer which begins in the immune system cells, lymphocytes). 6 months of chemotherapy was advised, since surgery was not a possibility.
Me: How did the diagnosis change your life?
Mantazh: Healthy eating has been one of the single biggest changes in my life. My outlook towards life changed. While I was in a hurry to grab at life, I am much more at peace, since I do not let petty situations or small disappointments get to me. I have learnt to let go of the non-essentials in life and focus on what matters most.
Me: What was the food that was most comfortable and palatable when you underwent the chemo process? Was it prepared in any special way?
Mantazh: I have always been a foodie. But, when my chemo was on, I was not able to taste any food. The chemo sapped me of all my energy; there were some days I was unable to leave the bed at all. Of course there were some days, which were good too. But I was unable to cook during the chemo process, since I used to feel so tired most of the time.
I only ate home-cooked food when my chemo was on. I was able to do so, thanks to everyone in the family pitching in, especially my mother and sister who completely took over the kitchen. Since my immunity was down, thanks to the chemo, I avoided any kind of raw food including salads, for the fear of contracting any infection. Any food that I ate was thoroughly washed and cooked. I also took fruit and vegetable juices (e.g. Apple, Beets and Carrot) to keep up my blood count levels and added a lot of fiber from vegetables to my diet.
Me: Is there any treatment routine you have currently?
Mantazh: I am in my 2nd year of remission. Apart from the regular tests at scheduled intervals, there is no ‘treatment’ routine as such, apart from the healthy wholesome eating that I follow.
Food that is part of my daily routine now includes wheatgrass juice (any green juice is great for the body as it creates an alkaline environment within the body, which does not allow cancer cells to grow and multiply), vegetables and grains of different colors, turmeric (rich in cancer fighting curcumin), some super foods like acai, spirulina, Mediterranean spices and fish rich in omega 3 fatty acids.
I believe food can be medicine too, and that’s the reason I am careful about what I eat and do not eat. Foods that I completely avoid now are:
Smoked, charred or barbequed meat/fish/vegetables or even a burnt toast
All processed or canned foods
I don’t cook with any foods that are not organic or non-GMO
Me: Do you ever indulge in say an occasional glass of wine, chocolates sometimes?
Mantazh: Yes I do have an occasional glass of wine or chocolate sometimes. Regarding desserts, I make my own at home, or buy something that is not made with processed white sugar, but with agave, honey or any other natural sugars.
In fact, it was my passion and interest for healthy eating post my diagnosis, which seeded the idea of the healthy food website, P.S. It’s Healthy, which I co-founded with my friend who is a great cook and supported me during my chemotherapy. She witnessed the changes my husband and I made to our diet over time and decided to make them part of her lifestyle too. The common reaction is that healthy food is boring and not tasty; P.S. It’s Healthy, hopes to change that mindset.
P.S. It’s Healthy aims to be a source of inspiration for anyone starting out or on his/her “I want to be healthier” journey. In fact, it is also a great resource of healthy and appetizing cooking ideas, for those caregivers, who are looking after a loved one undergoing cancer treatment. These caregivers often struggle with what nutrition to provide the patient undergoing treatment. The site hopes to be a source for food info for such caregivers. Visit the site to know more.
Me: Being a survivor, what is your message for newly diagnosed cancer patients and those undergoing chemo?
Mantazh: Firstly, don’t stress yourself out by constantly asking yourself why…why me? Why did it happen? etc. There is no answer to that question and so there’s no point wasting your time asking it. Instead focus on the two things you have control over – what you feed your body and your mind.
For body, as discussed above, I took the onus to find out what is good and what isn’t for my body and decided to stick to it. I learnt to respect by body and be grateful for what I have.
For mind, I decided to treat this phase as my time off and use it to pursue a hobby or passion that isn’t too physically taxing. I took up board games, cards and stitching and it kept me distracted, active and happy. Above all, my family and friends were the source of immense positivity, strength and support during this very physically and emotionally trying time. My husband, my parents, my younger sister and friends were all there to constantly egg me and keep me positive. I believe it is this positive energy apart from the chemo that has helped me to overcome my cancer.
So to those undergoing cancer treatment right now, I would say keep your spirits up, eat right, surround yourself with positive people and have a support system to help you tide over the difficult time.