Being diagnosed with breast cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.
I had been running my own successful restaurant for 9 years. It definitely took it's toll on me as a person and my body as a whole. Something about the very long, unsociable hours , not eating properly and the constant stress, wasn't good for my health. I wasn't looking after myself and it took being diagnosed with breast cancer aged 36 for me to realise the damage I was doing.
A bit about my diagnosis...
To cut a long story short, I found a lump in my breast and organised a mammogram which came back clear. I fully support the regular screening of women by mammogram but it is important to know that it is not always conclusive, especially if you have dense breasts. That is doctor speak for big boobs I think.
My doctor then sent me for a biopsy on the lump where they also biopsied my lymph nodes at the same time . I then had a nailbiting week to wait for the results.
When I returned I was given a large envelope by a receptionist. No consultation, no explanation. We asked to see a doctor, she came out into reception, told me I had cancer that it was very aggressive and it had spread to my lymph system and I needed to do something about it immediately.
My feelings were of shock, disbelief and I was worried about the impact it would have on our business. My partner was amazing. I was in a denial/shock kind of coma, so he took over!
I urge you all to make sure that you are properly registered and fully up to date with your social security or have private health insurance Because I didn't it & it took another 2 months to finally get an appointment to see an oncologist.
When I did, The hospital was packed. The oncology waiting room had hundreds of people in it and all of them were talking, it was scary & loud!
The young doctor I saw was just doing her job and trying to get through the mass of patients she had to see that day.
I came to understand there wasn't any time for pleasantries or compassion I was on a treatment conveyor belt and there was no getting off. Questions of any kind were not welcomed and alternative medicines, diet or lifestyle were never discussed.
Having said that, I was lucky to receive every treatment possible for my kind of breast cancer. In the UK it sometimes depends in which area you live in as to whether they will be able to afford to give you all the treatment you need.
My treatment plan was as follows:
- 6 months of chemo - followed by surgery
- 6 weeks of radiotherapy
- a year of Herceptin
- Anti hormone injections
and a continuous cycle of xrays, ultrasounds, blood tests & consultations
Two years of my life basically, and a lot of waiting around
Initially, we thought that we could cope with my illness and the business - However after the second chemo session my immune system was knocked out and I was hit with an infection - my temperature went up to 41 degrees. Allen was working in the kitchen at the time, we had a restaurant full of people and I was on my own hallucinating in bed.
It was then that we had one of those defining moments in our lives. We knew we had to prioritise and change our lives completely if we were to survive this. We decided to sell our restaurant. Fortunately some friends of ours wanted to buy it and we did a deal, a complicated one that still isn't resolved but hey we're out of there! It's at times like these where you must remain focused on your goal and do everything to achieve it.
For the first time we had our own home and our own space. We had also lived at the restaurant and so we were always at work. Now we had the time to research, find out about alternative treatments and take control.
I started having weekly reiki sessions. They really helped me work through a lot of emotional baggage I was carrying so I could move forward.
I think it was the Dalai Lama who said "Holding onto anger & resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die"
My reiki master, Caroline also taught me to see my diagnosis as a blessing rather than a curse. To see the positives in it, now we had our own space, were out of the toxic environment of the restaurant and able to plan our future together.
I went to see an alternative practitioner who was a retired oncologist. He told me to give up all sugars, including all fruit for the duration of my treatment.
Sugar feeds cancer growth. What really made me angry was at the hospital in the treatment waiting room they gave you sugary biscuits, sugary juice drinks and tea or coffee with milk. It couldn't be any worse! I wanted to shout at them and tell everyone to lay off the sugar but the thinking is "eat what you want to eat that doesn't make you feel sick" when you are having chemo.
The problem with that is that during chemo the cancer is being attacked and it craves the sugar that helps it grow. So everyone craves sugar.
This was when I started to become interested in the relationship between food and health.
Caroline also recommended I read "The China Study" by Colin Campbell. This is an indepth study covering 20 years of research into the eating habits and diseases of the Chinese population.
Until very recently the Chinese population had a very low incidence of cancer, heart disease and diabetes, The so called " western" diseases. Their intake of dairy products was practically nothing. Most of the population consumed very little meat or processed foods of any kind.
Because of these findings, a series of experiments were commissioned testing the affects of animal protein on cancer growth. Cow's milk protein (casein) was proven to increase cancer growth significantly. They also very importantly, found that the introduction of a diet containing no more than 10% animal protein stopped cancer growth altogether.
I have been vegetarian since I was 13. What I realise now is that it is very easy to be vegetarian and eat badly. For years I lived on processed foods, store bought hummus, packet cheese slices and low fat yoghurts! I didn't like cooking and was exhausted, like most people, after work.
I am convinced that this diet high in animal protein, particularly cow's milk contributed to my cancer. I now follow the findings of The China Study and try to keep to a whole foods mainly plant-based diet and keep my consumption of animal protein (in my case eggs & cheese) to below 10% of my diet. I use oat or rice milk and buy goat's or sheeps cheeses and yoghurts for cooking. I use honey instead of sugar and olive oil or coconut oil instead of butter.
I try to avoid cow's milk products all together because of the link between casein and cancer and also because of all the hormones pumped into cows to keep them producing milk all the time. The hormone Estrogen is another key element known to encourage breast cancer growth and I am very passionate about informing people of the dangers of cow milk products.
It makes me so angry that they still encourage children and older people, especially women, to drink milk by saying it is good for healthy bones etc. There are other excellent sources of calcium like spinach, other dark leafy greens, sesame seeds and nuts etc. that don't cause heart disease and cancer.
Flax seeds, or the ground version, flax meal and flax oil, are also great sources of calcium. They are Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids, extremely high in fibre and help lower cholesterol. Flax seeds also help to balance female hormones which can alleviate menopausal symptons and help prevent breast cancer.
For me it is a question of having all the information to create a balance and make healthy life choices.
When I was having my stitches out after the operation to remove the tumour the surgeon came in and gave me the brilliant news that when they opened me up the they saw that the tumour had shrunk to almost nothing. When I was diagnosed it was a 3cm by 2cm tumour. That's quite large.
I really believe that it was the change in my diet that helped shrink the tumour so much. I am now more aware than ever that everything you put in your body should be as pure as possible. I'm not saying I'm a saint (far from it) I go out for dinner, get drunk and eat chips or cake occasionally, but the majority of the time I like to keep my foods whole, organic, refined sugar and cow's milk free. I stopped taking the Tamoxifen two years after the chemo rather than five because I didn't want any more chemicals in my system.
After finishing radiotherapy I got back to a relatively normal life. We began taking our dog, Rufus, for a walk every morning in the countryside where we live. There are a lot of small farms and I was fascinated by what was growing and when. We saw the seasons change and different fruits and vegetables growing and being harvested. In a strange way it made me feel more connected to the earth and it fueled my desire to cook with what I had seen that day. That's when I started writing my blog Cook Eat Live Vegetarian. I wanted to share the seasonal recipes with everyone, show the ingredients growing and prove that healthy food doesn't have to boring.
I now go to the farmer's market every Sunday morning where I buy organic fruit & vegetables. I gravitate towards whatever looks fresh and exciting & plan my meals for the week around that. It is my favourite part of the week, I love seeing what's been growing in the fields on sale there, it's really inspiring.
Writing my blog has lead me in lots of different directions. I have been approached for and now provide a private dining and catering service focusing on healthy organic delicious foods with a world flavour. I work with restaurants as a menu consultant advising them on healthy but still commercially viable dishes. I host vegetarian healthy cookery workshops at a cookery school in Benalmadena. I also get asked to review restaurants and contribute my recipes to books and websites worldwide.
We are also in the process of setting up an exciting new venture where we create healthy prepared food and ready meals for people who don't have the time or skills to cook for themselves every night, but want to eat a healthy balanced diet.
My advice to anyone being diagnosed with cancer is to take control of their life and their situation. We live in a world where we believe we"can take a pill & cure everything". That isn't how the body works. My body was telling me to stop and I listened.
Of course you are going to fall apart to start with but it's how you deal with it that affects the outcome.
I read all the books in the Louise Hay series "You Can Heal Your Life" etc. They are such positive and inspiring reading I would recommend them to all of you even if you are not ill.
The key thing for me was that I changed my diet and lifestyle completely. I stopped smoking, cut down on the cava, cleaned my diet of all processed foods, refined sugars, cow's milk products & started to exercise daily.
I also started doing something that I loved and was passionate about - cooking and writing about food for my blog. I decided I was going to be happy & grateful for every day.
You can chose to see cancer as a curse or you can see it as a gift. Cancer was the gift by which I would change my life for the better - forever.
Don't leave it until you are diagnosed with a life threatening disease to make these positive changes in your life, do it now! It's the most important decision you'll ever make.
I wish you all the best of health.