In October 2016 I was diagnosed with a rare, highly aggressive, and very deadly breast cancer. I beat the heavily stacked odds against me by throwing everything but the kitchen sink at it, combining ancient medicine with a cutting edge update, and modern medicine tempered with a holistic touch. I am now in remission. This is my cancer story.
Till my diagnosis with Triple Negative Breast Cancer (TNBC), I was oblivious to the growing trend of otherwise healthy women in their 30s and 40s parting ways with their female bits.
We live in an era where we’re exploring Mars, but one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime.
85 percent of women with breast cancer have no family history of it, and 40 percent of 40 year old women are unknowingly living with breast cancers too small to be spotted by mammogram.
The most extensive genetic testing available (far beyond 23 and Me) yielded not one mutation linked to any cancers, and so I came to realise my career as a broadcast journalist in war zones may have been the driving factor: exposure to to chemical agents used in warfare, radiation, phthalates in water bottles heated in extreme temperatures, military burn pits in Iraq, and of course, extreme stress.
Stress was recently concretely linked to breast cancer. A study following over five thousand women found that just one episode of major stress lasting a month or more, doubled breast cancer risk.
“Everyone thinks of cancer patients as old, sickly, 10-pack-a-day smokers, but many are super healthy. Cancer blindsides you — one day you’re healthy, and the next day you’re not,” Dr. Joanne Wiedhaas (who discovered the KRAS mutation linked to multiple cancer progression).
According to Michael Greger, M.D., author of the New York Times bestseller How Not to Die, breast cancer can start in the womb. What our mothers ate, or stress they were exposed to (a civil war in my mother’s case), can get the process started. By the time doctors find it, a tumour could have been growing for 40 years or more. But once they pick up steam, they can double in size in as little as twenty five days.
It’s a weird position to find yourself in…
Being a super healthy lifestyle advocate diagnosed with a rare and terrifying cancer.
I delayed treatment (which I now regret) for nearly three months to research and try alternative healing, scouring the many amazing online stories of those who fought naturally and won.
It was later revealed this delay may have halved my five year survival rate.
I consulted naturopaths, acupuncturists, healers, integrative practitioners, and hypnotherapists.
My extensive, obsessive, all encompassing, research and incredibly exhaustive genetic testing revealed many subtypes of TNBC, nearly 20 so far that we know of, plus many genetic markers that the average patient wouldn’t know of.
The right genetic testing can tell us if a breast cancer patient needs, or would even benefit at all, from treatment after surgery. I fell within the fastest growing and most aggressive type, of the most aggressive type, of aggressive breast cancer, and surgery alone didn’t look like much of an option.
My father died from lung cancer (not genetic) at my current age, and my mother had spent her entire life panicked she would lose me the same way. So I chose to keep the turmoil to myself as I struggled to come to a decision.
It was important to me to protect my mother, now in her eighties and in poor health, from the news, till I knew for sure it was either the very end, or that I would make it through.
I finally chose to go with the plant based chemotherapy, but I would do it alone in California, far from my mother and family.
But I had an ace up my sleeve.
I had just found out that Dr. Valter Longo, head of the University of Southern California Longevity Institute, creator of the Fasting Mimicking Diet, was running a breast cancer trial. Women on chemotherapy, for the most part with my crazy aggressive cancer, were testing his Chemolieve fasting mimicking diet program.
Naturally I joined.
Here’s me doing a headstand after an hour of kickboxing right after my first round of treatment…I’ve switched to water in glass bottles now because phthalates found in plastic are strongly linked to triple negative breast cancer.
The five day plan consists of meals that mimic the effects of water fasting and enhance chemotherapy, empowering the immune system to join in the fight against the tumour. All this while minimising side effects, and sparing healthy cells from damage. Combining fasting and chemotherapy makes the treatment up to 40 percent more effective (according to European trials).
I’ve interviewed Dr. Longo in the past about the higher calorie version of this fast is already commercially available here.
Fasting started three days before treatment and day four was infusion day.
Living on about 300 calories for three days every three weeks, and then every two weeks, wasn’t too much fun, but you know what was even less fun? Doing a treatment without fasting.
I did it once, due to a hospital scheduling mess up.
Yes indeed, I felt the difference, and it was awful. Really and truly just a terrible experience.
How fasting with chemo is different from traditional treatment:
- I effortlessly maintained my weight throughout
- None of those terrifying head in the toilet moments we’re all too familiar with from films, not even once
- White blood cell counts immediately bounced back
- No major infections
- No mouth ulcers or nail issues
- No complications whatsoever from treatment
- Protection of the immune system from long term damage (40% of the immune system is regenerated in just 4 days of the fasting mimicking diet)
- Less exhaustion (but the exercise was also a factor in this)
- I required almost no medications for side-effects of treatment (but I did need some antihistamines because I was asked not to take many blood thinning supplements)
Here’s me doing a complicated modified tripod headstand a few days after my fifth round…I can’t begin to tell you how shocked people were by how I looked, and the amount of exercise I was doing.
Fasting has been researched for cancer and other ailments for years…
Most recently Valter’s team found it minimises multiple sclerosis symptoms by killing off faulty autoimmune cells and then creating new ones, leading to a 70 percent remission in symptoms. Valter has also shown that diabetes 1 and 2 symptoms are treatable with this fasting mimicking diet. You’ll find all those studies on the L-Nutra website.
Though I had used the fasting mimicking diet while living in France a few years earlier, I had failed to be consistent with it. I’m now fasting religiously every month, as well as overnight for a minimum of 13 hours.
I was an incredibly unhealthy eater for much of my life till my histamine symptoms forced me to change. I know that the dietary and lifestyle change in direction gave me precious years free from a cancer that is diagnosed as early as 25. And I know that this diet, along with the fasting, is what helped me power through eight rounds of chemo while running and doing yoga six days a week, and living a normal life without serious incident, infection, or gastrointestinal problems.
My doctors were Dr. Hoffman at Cedars Sinai, Dr. Kristi Funk at the Pink Lotus Breast Center and Dr. Edward Ray at Cedars Sinai
But it was certainly a shock to be diagnosed just days after getting my US work visa to move to California.
I had first lived in California at 17, when I was scouted by a major modeling agency. Before I was able to get my portfolio together, I broke out in chronic hives. Heartbroken, I left for Europe.
This time I put my foot down and refused to leave California.
I might have cancer, but it wasn’t going to beat me, even if it killed me.
Having few friends and no family here wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done.
But I quickly realised chemotherapy side effects involve histamine and mast cells, so foods and supplements I’ve been using (plus the scores I discovered in the last year), and all the dietary changes, helped me have a most remarkable treatment experience.
I beat a cancer that isn’t all that treatable, even with chemotherapy and radiation, or naturally. My heart has not been damaged, and unbelievably, all my blood tests and organ function returned to normal less than a month after finishing treatment.
Here’s me two weeks after round eight of treatment…
I went to chemotherapy alone, picked up prescriptions, cooked, cleaned, and worked, on my own. I came up with strategies like putting a stool in the kitchen so I could cook while sitting down, using an Instant Pot, into which I’d literally dump mixtures of vegetables into for meals, and running/walking using intermittent training protocols.
My breast surgery was tricky because I couldn’t raise my arms and I wasn’t happy to take pain meds for more than a few days (they make me feel funny). So I moved the Instant Pot to the floor before surgery so I could drop frozen veggies and rice into it. I tied string to my freezer door so I could open it with my arms at hip height, trained my core to get in and out of bed, practiced opening the fridge door with my foot, and also getting in and out of my car without using my arms (I have a very low car!). My OCD planning masterpiece culminated in my placing two weeks worth of plates, glasses, and cutlery at waist height on kitchen counters and buying circus clown like foot long bendy straws because I wouldn’t be able to pick up water bottles.
I approached my illness and recovery with the same military-like precision I have my histamine disorder and time as a journalist in war zones.
And it worked.
I’m now in remission.
I don’t know how long for; there are no health guarantees in life.
You’ll find me here plugging away till they literally pull the cord.
As I lay in my treatment chair for round five, trying to block out the sounds of despair around me…
I realised that cancer would beat me if I let it.
I needed to reach deep within to find the warrior I might have been if I’d been born in a different place, time, or gender.
It’s terrifying and hateful, and I know I’ll be criticised for saying this, but really it’s just another obstacle to be overcome, till it’s time to find peace and acceptance that I’ve done all I possibly can.
Or, to quote Monty Python, till I’ve shuffled off my mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the ble@!ng choir invisible.
And so I leave you, for now, with the Dead Parrot sketch.