In light of the recent news I’ve shared about Annette, it feels a bit odd to jump back into discussing leafy greens and quinoa (or any other health-promoting food stuff) in my next blog post. And this is probably why it’s been a few weeks since I’ve posted. I’ve had a tough time trying to figure out what to say! Annette is, after all, not only my coauthor, but also a dear, dear friend.
I was asked in an interview last night on Because Hope Matters Radio (listen to the interview here) a little about how Annette’s cancer recurrence has affected us in terms of our message and support we offer through Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen and here, on our website. In other words (and this is MY own words, not how this was asked on the radio show!) what does it mean if Annette, someone who promotes eating well to fight cancer and is so healthy herself, gets cancer again? Perhaps others wonder this as well.
Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer. At least, not a simple one.
Annette has led a beautifully healthy lifestyle – diet, exercise, etc. – over the last several years since her first cancer diagnosis. [You can read about Annette’s and my cancer stories in detail in our book, but long story short – Annette was diagnosed with breast cancer and found she has the BRCA1 genetic mutation, which increases her risk for certain cancers. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two years after her breast cancer diagnosis. She had treatment for both. A few years later (now) – ovarian cancer recurrence.]
Many studies have shown that a plant-focused diet reduces cancer mortality rates and that vegetarians live longer and have lower cancer rates , that lifestyle changes can actually turn cancer genes on and off , and that chemicals in plants protect against cancer in many ways . Studies have also shown that a healthy diet helps to prevent late effects (a late effect is a health problem that occurs months or years after a disease is diagnosed or after treatment has ended. It’s caused by cancer or cancer treatment).  Most experts agree that some form of a plant-focused diet this is an optimal way to eat! And it is.
Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet improves quality of life on many levels, with or without cancer. This, in my opinion, is reason alone to eat in such a way. You just feel good – great, actually. Generally, you have more energy, better moods, feel stronger, and have fewer health problems. If a person is going through cancer treatment, it’s very likely that he or she would feel far better than he/she would have if eating a poor, processed, high-sugar diet. If a person who isn’t facing cancer eats a more health-sustaining diet, he/she will likely feel better. That seems logical, right?
A plant-based, whole-food diet also supports your body on many levels – immune system, digestion, blood health, heart health, mental clarity, bones, tissues, organs. The food we eat becomes us, plain and simple.
What isn’t quite so plain and simple is the formation of disease, or the environment in which disease thrives, at least not specifically. There are so many beliefs and theories, some evidence-based, some partially, and some are simply opinions. Believe me, I’ve read it all (how many of these have you heard about?) – pH levels in the body, inflammation, toxin overload, digestive health affects immunity, conventional treatment (like chemotherapy) creates a cancer-friendly environment in the body, the affects of stress, how mindset affects disease and health…and on and on. Much of this is quite credible, and more than likely, it’s a combination of several of these causes in relation to food, environment, stress management and genetics.
Along these lines, I remember reading once, “A person isn’t sick because he/she has cancer. He/she has cancer because she is sick.” I don’t remember the source – let me know if you know it! In any case, that’s an interesting way to think about it.
These are all, perhaps, pieces of the puzzle, but still not the whole thing. I’m not sure we will ever have that exact answer because every person and every cancer is so unique in many ways.
I’ve met people who healed from cancer on dietary and lifestyle improvements alone.
And there is Annette, and others like her, who have built amazing, healthy lives, yet cancer just persists. Is it genetics? Something else? A combination of many different factors? We may never know that answer, definitively.
What I do know is that neither Annette nor I have changed our minds and decided to say, “Oh forget about food. I’m going to just start eating all the sugary sweets, fried foods, fast food, processed, artificial foods I want. It just doesn’t matter.” (Ok, I’ll be honest, there have been moments that we’ve considered this. I even joked with Annette that our next book should be Screw the Kitchen. But that was also in response to some of the difficulties she’s had with eating anything with this recurrence. Cancer sucks. It makes us angry. But we also need to find some humor in things, don’t you think?)
While neither one of us has made our diets so strict that we can’t enjoy ourselves – and we’ve always allowed guilty pleasures without the guilt! – we still know that we feel our best and that our bodies thrive much more when eating well. With cancer or without. And if food is what builds and supports our bodies, and eating well makes us feel good, why would we have it any other way?
 In the foreword of our book, Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen, David Katz, MD mentions that diseases are effects, not causes. Causes of what? According to a paper published in the Journal of the American Medial Association all the way back in 1993, Dr. Katz says “Premature death and chronic disease are attributable to just 10 behaviors each of us has the capacity to control…much dominated by tobacco use, dietary pattern and physical activity level.” This same information was reevaluated and published again in 2004.
Another study Dr. Katz addresses was reported in 2008 in the Proceedings od the National Academy of Sciences: It measured the effects of intervention on genes through a whole food plant-based diet, physical activity, psychosocial support and stress management. What was found? These factors had the ability to turn on 50 cancer suppressor genes and around 500 cancer promoter genes became less active.
 Cancer.net, Plant-based Foods 2/2012, approved by American Society of Clinical Oncology