I was 12 years old when my mother died from cancer, and her death made me very aware of my diet and how I could prevent disease. I read many books and articles about healthy eating, self-diagnosed my own dietary needs and, for 14 years, I knew exactly what I was putting in my body. I avoided processed foods and prepared healthy, whole-food—mostly organic meals that contained fruits and vegetables and occasionally meat and fish. I drank wine only sparingly.
My own breast cancer diagnosis came in March 2012 and I was devastated. A serious illness like cancer was exactly what I was trying to avoid through all of those years of eating healthy. I thought I was doing all I could to prevent cancer.
There were some scans that had to be done to determine the extent of the disease prior to surgery and a comprehensive treatment recommendation. An MRI found an abnormality in the other breast, which needed to be biopsied to rule out a second cancer. Various circumstances at the radiology center delayed the biopsy for three weeks. The oncologist told me if cancer cells spread to my lymph nodes, or if the second abnormality was another malignant tumor, I would need to undergo chemotherapy treatments. Up to my eyeballs with worry, I set out on a path to cure my cancer through diet during this time and hoping I could make the tumor disappear prior to the surgery. I found myself diving into books and articles yet again and found more confusion after each one. One book advised that I avoid tomatoes; another advised avoiding bean sprouts. When I put all the information together, it turned out that it wasn’t safe to eat many of the foods I was eating, which were primarily fruits and vegetables.
The next thing I knew, I had lost ten pounds without intending to do so—and without really having ten to lose. Fortunately, the second biopsy results were favorable, and I had only one malignant tumor and no evidence of cancer in my lymph nodes. After the surgery, and after all the confusion about diet, I made eating to prevent cancer recurrence my primary focus. Taking my health into my own hands was of particular importance as I stopped the ten years of recommended hormonal therapy after just 5 months because of some serious side effects. I attended various seminars on cancer and nutrition and reached out to a dietitian I had met at a local Livestrong conference who advocates a plant-based diet to prevent cancer. She helped me put together an ideal nutrient-dense, plant-based meal plan high in cancer-fighting vegetables that also recommends avoiding added sugars, added fats and alcohol.
I began to notice changes in my energy levels after ignoring all the conflicting materials I read and committing to this diet. When I had participated in training bike rides on my “next-to-no-food” diet, I felt fatigued at the end since I did not eat the snacks offered at the pit stops. Now I have figured out what I could bring along with me on a ride, like home-made granola and dried fruits or peanut butter and banana sandwiches. These plant-based foods gave me abundant energy and more than enough to complete 50-mile bike rides without muscle aches or fatigue, even as I was recovering from the radiation treatments. I’m looking forward to my next big ride, the Texas Mamma Jamma Ride, on October 26.
My new anti-cancer diet has really changed the way I view food, and it gets easier every day. I enjoy experimenting with new recipes, and one of my new favorites is Sri Lanken Kale with Coconut. Even though I don’t go out to eat very often, I enjoy the occasional visit to local restaurants and grocery stores such as Casa de Luz, Daily Juice, Juice Land, The Steeping Room, and Wheatsville Food Co-op.
I think everyone should meet with a dietitian to find the best diet for him- or herself and lifestyle. There are also great resources here in Austin like the Sustainable Food Center that offers community cooking and nutrition classes and even classes specifically for cancer survivors.