Today I’m talking to John about his anti-cancer efforts, veganism and lifestyle…
Please note: Veganism or any other plant based diet, or diets in general, ARE NOT a substitute to seeking and following medical advice provided by cancer specialists and doctors. Cancer.org is a trusted source of information.
Tell me a little bit about your health before you went plant based…
I had been diagnosed with cancer at 17, 34, and again now at 41. At 17, I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer — the likely cause of this cancer was perchlorate in our well water but we wouldn’t find out about this poison for more than 20 years later. Surgery and radiation followed the diagnosis. Every summer up to my freshman year in college was spent going off my thyroid medication so that I could do radioactive iodine scans — 3 months of pure aggravation for the next five years.
A lifetime later, at 34, my doctor badgered me into doing another radioactive iodine test as a follow up. I didn’t like the idea but she persisted that I do it. Three months of hell later, the test came back clean, but my ability to complete a sentence went from difficult to impossible. I was waking up at night with painful headaches, and going to chiropractors, psychotherapists and doctors to deal with the various pain and speech problems. Eventually, a close friend of mine had migraines where he couldn’t speak — suddenly it clicked for me
that the headaches and speech problems were related. I decided to follow my chiropractor’s advice and get my head x-rayed. After arguing with my doctor for more than 20 minutes, she finally caved and sent me to the emergency room for a CAT scan. One scan later and another doctor came in with a few pills for me to take, he called them ‘prophylactics’. In other words, anti-seizure medication but I didn’t know what I was taking at the time — he just looked very scared for me as if looking at a bomb about to go off. The tumor was the size of a fist sitting on the top of the left side of my brain. One surgery, 10 weeks of daily radiation, and 6 months of chemotherapy later, my MRI scans remained clean after the surgery — I had survived but my mind and body were left a mess. I still couldn’t talk correctly, but I was slowly beginning to regain mental functions that I had lost and each month I noticed improvements in memory and speech. Two years later, I was holding conversations normally like almost any normal person. MRI scans when from once every two months, to three months, to 6 months, to 9 months. Once the MRI intervals became yearly, I felt free of the disease.
About six years after the original surgery, my biggest nightmare came true: an MRI had come back positive for “something”. No one could figure out what it was exactly but I was back to an MRI scan every two months. In every scan the picture seemed to get murkier — something was growing into the brain and along the cavity of the old tumor bed like a weed growing in a cement driveway. Six months after the first positive MRI, a tiny tumor of 1cm showed signs of inflammation which indicated the strong possibility of cancer and action needed to be taken. A panel of expert doctors from the most prestigious medical research university on the West Coast recommended immediate surgery. Their recommendation was to take the tumor out, find out if the tumor was sensitive to known chemo therapy and treat it with the appropriate chemo. I strongly didn’t want surgery since they also take a margin of healthy brain cells with it and only God knows how much more they would take this second time around. After several meetings with doctors, I decided against the advice of experts and asked to be put on the same chemo I had been treated with originally six years ago –they agreed.
Each round of chemo takes about a month to recover from before I can go on the next round of chemo. With the first two rounds of chemo complete, the MRI showed “no change”. I thought to myself “oh shit”, I need to do something more. So I started reading “Anticancer: A New Way of Life” by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, MD, PhD and it changed the whole way I understood cancer. It inspired me to start my blog “Anti-cancer Living” as I was determined to learn how to push the odds in my favor armed with the knowledge of cancer’s weaknesses. After every two rounds of chemo, the MRIs continued to show “no change”. After every scan result, I pushed to learn more of cancer’s weaknesses and how other cancer survivors claimed to heal their cancer through alternative means: diet, juices, yoga, meditation, affirmations, etc. I found patterns in various cancer survivors’ stories of natural healing and incorporated those in my new “anti-cancer lifestyle”. After six months on chemo with “no change”, I asked to stop chemo — my doctor’s agreed. By this time, I had dramatically changed my “lifestyle” based on what I learned, but it was now time for taking that leap of faith. Everyone was holding their breath to see what would happen.
Would the cancer grow again or would the scan results remain “no change”?
Two months off of chemo, the MRI showed the tumor shrinking to everyone’s surprise. Three months before the MRI I had started a partly vegan diet (vegan on weekday and vegetarian on the weekends), and a month before the scan I had started drinking a quart of green smoothie a day. Doctors don’t see a lot of cancers just give up and go away so they will form their own opinions as to what is going on. However, my belief is that this dramatic change in “lifestyle” is what was killing the tiny tumor.
2. Was cancer your motivation for going vegan?
I started to hear the same information coming from research doctors, alternative treatment centers, and cancer patients themselves – a change in “lifestyle” can cure cancer. Being the biologist armed with a BA degree from UCSC, I wanted to know the exact specifics of these “lifestyle” changes. I began to see patterns and commonalities in these lifestyle changes: vegan (mostly raw) diet, “green juice” or “green smoothies”, and fresh/raw flax seed oil, affirmations, yoga, etc. Turns out, I probably could have saved myself months of research and just adopted the diet for reducing heart disease, it’s very similar.
3. How long did it take you to become fully comfortable with a plant based diet?
I’m not yet. I’d like to take more vegan cooking classes. I have several vegan cookbooks, but the best way for me to learn is by cooking with an instructor. ”Viva La Greens” in LA offers great cooking classes for vegans — I use many of their recipes, since they are simple and tasty.
4. What were your biggest challenges?
Understanding the link between reversing a chronic condition and going 100% vegan. I found a presentation by T. Collin Cambell, Principal Investigator of The China Study, explaining how one research study was able to turn cancer on and off by simply adjusting the percent of calories from animal protein in the diet of a lab rat injected with a vicious cancer. At 5%, the mouse would kill off the cancer. At 22%, the cancer would kill the mouse. That’s when it finally clicked for me: 100% vegan is the way to go. The bottom line I learned from this, animal protein doesn’t cause cancer, it just allows the cancer to grow unchecked by the immune system.
5. Was there any thing you learned about eating dairy/eggs/meat that surprised you in regards to their effects on health?
Fully understanding the concept of “environmental metabolism” is key to understanding how food affects one’s health. In other words, you really do eat what your food eats. Factory farms raise fat sickly cattle for fast food, and if you eat enough fast food, you too are going to end up fat and sickly. If you eat free range grass fed beef, you are going to benefit from the quality of the grass the cow was eating — or you can simply skip the cow and eat more greens! The quality of the air we breathe, the quality of our soil, and the way we raise our livestock has a direct effect on our health and the quality of our lives. Factory farms need to be outlawed — it’s not good for local farmers, it’s raises sick animals, and it’s poisoning us. The money you save by eating off the fast food dollar menu, you will be spent 100 times more in future hospital bills and lost wages. Supporting local sustainable organic farms is the future. If you have a backyard or a front lawn you too can start growing your own food today!
6. What do you consider to be a healthy vegan diet?
Fresh fruits, greens and vegetables eaten mostly in their natural state. (I know it sounds dull, but my tongue tuned into these fresh flavors after a few weeks off of the “standard American diet”.) I may have only one cooked meal a day. Only a handful of nuts and seeds a day (for minerals like magnesium, zinc, selenium, etc). Only a half of an avocado a day. A tablespoon (or two) of fresh/raw Flax Seed Oil. Some type of non-dairy probiotic like “rejuvelac” seems to work well. …and of course, a quart of green smoothie. My body really craves these greens so a quart goes down quickly and it’s a meal in itself. I use meal tracking, like FitDay.com, to see if my meals are giving me a good amount of nutrition. I lower the protein and calcium RDAs when I track my meals because they are recommendations for people on a highly acidic, meat/dairy centered diet.
7. What positive message would you like to leave people with in regards to the vegan lifestyle, in particular to changing the way they eat?
If you have been diagnosed or are being treated for cancer, please begin to transition to a 100% vegan diet. You still need the care of your doctor, but transitioning to a 100% vegan diet with daily green smoothies and a tablespoon of fresh flax seed oil each day will help push the odds in your favor.
8. What is your health like now?
Chemo kicked my butt, even after two months off chemo I was still a mess. I’d do the lightest aerobic workout for 15 mins and have to leave the gym due to nausea. However, just recently my energy and strength are now improving day by day. I feel great. I just started taking yoga classes again and begun light weight-training.
9. What resources were most helpful for you? (books/movies/magazines/blogs/people)
I have a lot of favorite and helpful resources which are scattered around the internet, but I have links to them on my blog. I’ve posted my diet strategy for cancer, and I’ll post all my MRI results so anyone can follow my story through my blog. My next MRI is at the end of Oct. Will my scan results continue to improve? I’m betting on it!