Saturday, January 22, 2011


Three months after being diagnosed with cancer for the second time, I am healthier than I’ve ever been. Though it seems a bit strange, cancer has once again been the catalyst for some amazing changes in my life. I don’t need to continue having this “teacher” in my life (thank you very much for the lessons, but you have overstayed your welcome), but I can appreciate the upside nonetheless.

Though I was a dutiful patient the first time around, following the prescribed “standard of care,” and completing six rounds of chemotherapy, the benefit of four years and lots of good reading led me down a different path this time. I chose not to put more toxic (and cancer-causing) chemicals into my body, and I’m following a natural healing path instead. That’s right! Did you know that chemo and radiation, standard cancer treatments, can actually cause secondary cancers down the road? I didn’t until recently.

I am grateful to authors like Hollie Quinn, Kris Carr, and Andrew Weil for helping me see a different possibility for myself, and I’m grateful for fantastic researchers like David Servan-Schreiber, and T. Colin Campbell for providing great information in their books, and for my naturopath and oncologist for being enthusiastic and supportive of my choice.

Cancer is rising at a dramatic rate, and more and more young people are being diagnosed every year. No doubt, it is because of the toxic soup we drink, breathe, and eat every day, the chemicals and artificial colors and fragrances in our personal-care products and our general environment. Flame retardant, pesticides, and weed killer aren’t just tough on fire, bugs, and weeds! Despite supposed increases in survival rates with conventional therapies, the books have been cooked. Touted success stories are based on a five-year survival rate. And even those rates haven’t increased dramatically, and not for most cancers. Five years! I don’t know about you, but five years ain’t much to my way of thinking.

My treatment plan consists of a healthy whole food, vegan diet, some natural supplements to balance out my hormones and ph levels, juicing veggies and drinking protein smoothies, controlling my stress through meditation and yoga, and getting moderate amounts of exercise at least three to four times a week. Dean Ornish has been using this type of holistic plan on patients with heart disease for years, and turns out it can help cancer patients as well. Sure it took a big C wake-up call for me to change my ways, but this lifestyle is healthy for anyone, and recommended if you want to avoid serious health issues in the first place.

Want to know the biggest surprise of all? It has been way easier than I anticipated. For four years since my first diagnosis, I have been aware of the tremendous health benefits of this type of lifestyle, but I wrote it off as impractical. I decided I couldn’t do it before I even tried! Now that I’m actually doing it, I can report two things for sure: 1. It does take some adjustment and time to figure out how to live this way and 2. It is absolutely possible for anyone to do it. The big-time upside is that I look and feel great. My skin is amazing, I’ve lost twenty pounds, I have more energy, my fingernails are three times stronger, and I just feel good.

I was so worried about all the things I would have to “give up,” in order to be healthy. Dairy? Really is it that bad for you? After reading The China Study, I now have no doubt. No more ice cream or cheese? I have found great dairy-free ice cream alternatives (made with coconut), and haven’t missed cheese nearly as much as I thought I would, though I admit to cheating a few times on that one (though with just a small serving each time). I have been really shocked that I don’t seem to crave the bad things very often. I just made it through the holiday season, complete with my mom’s fantastic Christmas cookies, and while I did have a few of them, and some organic free-range turkey too, I didn’t need huge helpings of former favorites to feel satisfied. There were times I decided to give myself a treat—pumpkin pie or a frosted gingerbread man, and decided I didn’t want them after all, sometimes after a single bite or just a longing gaze.

A bit more challenging has been figuring out what to eat instead of the former convenient fare I would grab or nuke. The biggest assist in this quest came from my sister’s awesome menu planning/shopping list. Plan a week’s worth of meals and shop for just what I need rather than just throwing a bunch of stuff in the cart and figuring it out later? (And throwing lots of food away after it spoiled from sitting in the fridge too long.) What a concept! We also put together a great binder full of yummy veggie recipes that I turn to regularly, along with some fave websites, for inspiration.

I have never been a great cook, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Cooking for one has been a challenge for me, and I would get tired of the leftovers long before they were gone. In addition to the ease of giving up the bad stuff, I have been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed my new lifestyle. I don’t dread meal planning, shopping and food prep anymore. I kind of like it. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of a whole foods diet. I mostly shop in the produce section now and don’t have to tool around the whole store for tons of items or processed ingredients because I rarely use them now. And I don’t make complicated sauces and numerous dishes now—just a mix of good fresh veggies either cooked or raw that typically go together pretty quickly. Steaming takes just minutes and my meals are generally ready much sooner without so many elements to time just right so everything is done at once.

I know, I know, we are a nation on the go, in love with our convenience and fast-food options, and happy to pop a pill to cure our ills rather than change our lifestyle. I have zero interest in trying to convince anyone else to eat this way, but I have been amazed at the fascination and questions people have about this diet. I was drawn to a healthier way of life before cancer forced my hand as well, but don’t think I ever would have pursued it without a significant motivation. Now that I feel so great and am not enduring round two of toxic chemicals causing hair loss, nausea, body aches and other maladies (the cure is worse than the disease), I am pretty dang happy with my choice. I’ve included a lots of links to resources that helped guide me in case you’re interested. If you’re not, that’s perfectly fine too.