“And the darkest hour is just before dawn.” The Mamas and The Papas
If there’s one thing you need more than anything else if you’re navigating the world of integrated cancer care it’s a guide: a safe pair of hands who has been there, done that, and got the scars to prove it. Breast cancer patients who work with me tell me they feel better from our very first meeting.
I am a well-established figure in the world of integrated cancer care: I have been a cancer survivor/thriver for twenty-five years; a nutritional therapist for twenty years, an unrivalled length and depth of experience. As a former tutor and lecturer in nutritional therapy, I have trained hundreds of nutritional therapists, and I am frequently invited to speak to professional audiences. Although I’m a nutritional therapist by training, I’m a survivor by instinct, which is why my work focusses on the bigger picture. Survival is not only about the food we eat but about the world we inhabit and create.
I created the ‘Power Flower’ to highlight the critical areas of our lives that are linked to survival. Importantly, they are areas that are easy to influence, and where small changes can have a big impact. FOOD is fundamental for health and healing – but that can’t happen without a healthy GUT – and all of this works better when our MIND is calm and congruent – and when our ENVIRONMENT suits our psychological and physiological needs. Last but not least we need to support and be supported by stable and fully functioning DNA.
When I was diagnosed, in 1997, at the tender age of 33, the medical care I received was fantastic but my prognosis was not so good. I understood that something had gone badly wrong with my biochemistry that would need more than medicine to put right again. I felt my diet and lifestyle had contributed to the diagnosis in ways that I didn’t understand. I was also uncomfortably aware that I had wandered way off track in my mental and spiritual wellbeing, allowing stress to dominate my life and financial goals to drive my life choices. In short, I was lost, and I couldn’t find anyone to point me in the right direction.
At that time, the only ‘alternative’ help I could get was the wonderful Bristol Cancer Centre (now the even more wonderful Penny Brohn centre) who sent me five photocopied sheets of ‘Dos and Don’ts’ on brightly coloured paper. In those pre-Google days the only other thing I could find was a publication by O’Regan and Hirshberg. These researchers retrieved the files of patients whose cancer had disappeared by so-called ‘spontaneous remission’ and then interviewed the survivors to find out what they had done. The list included diet changes, multivitamins, exercise, stress reduction, meditation and visualisation. That was enough for me: if they could achieve spontaneous remission, then so could I. So it became my mission to save myself and, subsequently, my dream to provide that support for other women.
After extensive surgery, five weeks of radiotherapy and six months of chemotherapy I was quickly back on my feet and embracing career and motherhood again. But two years after my experience I was still not back to my former energy levels, and I was suffering from migraine and chronic anxiety. A visit to a well-known local osteopath helped me structurally but, more importantly, introduced me to the importance of targeted supplementation and the role of B vitamins for mental health. From that moment on, I was hooked. I hadn’t understood before how specific nutrients could make such a difference to both mental and physical health. A couple of months later I enrolled in the Nutritional Therapy Diploma course at ION, and began to pursue what I now think of as my life purpose.
I wish I could say that was the end of my health problems, but no: in 2006 I was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition called ‘proliferative verrucous leukoplakia’ (PVL) a pre-cancerous condition with a high potential for malignancy and mortality. Professor Stephen Challacombe, who I consulted for a second opinion, told me I had five years before it inevitably turned malignant. It made me challenge my knowledge and beliefs all over again. If I was eating all the right things, and doing all the right things, how come I was facing cancer all over again? Was there something about me that was particularly vulnerable?
My research led me to an emerging science called nutrigenetics which looks at the way our diet and lifestyle choices influence the way our genes work. It turns out that some people need much higher levels of some nutrients for optimal health. The exciting thing about this genetic research is that doesn’t just highlight genetic problems, it also provides the answers. This was the early days of DNA testing and I used the 23andme service to get my DNA tested and then ran the raw data file through various DNA analysis programmes to find out my own nutritional vulnerabilities. Six months later, I went back to see my surgeon and the five patches of PVL on my tongue had completely gone, and have never come back. During five years of check ups he used to call me ‘the lady who cured herself’ and told me that in his experience it was unique.
Obviously, I was overjoyed by the result and I found this area so fascinating that I decided to go back to college once again to study for a postgraduate qualification based on personalised nutrition and nutrigenomics. I felt that this was the answer not just for me but for many of my clients too. It’s a lament I’ve heard from so many of my clients over the years: women who have ‘done everything right’ and still been diagnosed with cancer. As one person said to me just recently, ‘I guess just being healthy doesn’t cut it’. And that’s true. Some of us need more than the standard healthy advice. I believe that these individual variations make all the difference to cancer outcomes, allowing us to go beyond standard nutrition advice to build powerful personal protocols.
For me, nutrigenetics is not just an add-on test to include in a nutritional therapy consultation, it forms the foundation of my work. The science of ‘single nucleotide polymorphisms’ seems to me uniquely applicable to breast cancer. I believe it’s helpful for everyone dealing with cancer but especially so when cancer comes ‘out of the blue’. Understanding where your DNA differs from the norm provides an exciting level of personalisation that can make all the difference to your recovery plans. Nutrigenetics can even guide your treatment choices, and pinpoint the areas you need to focus on to improve your health in the longer term. DNA testing can make sure your recovery plan is designed to work with your body and not against it. Although the work is highly technical it still sits in that magical place that supplies the raw materials that your body needs, honours the way your body works, and then stands back and allows healing to happen.
And that’s the space that I work in with my clients. Supporting your body to be optimally healthy so that your body can neutralise the cancer cells. I believe there’s a subtle but important difference between targeting tumours and supporting healing. Nutritional therapy focusses on the underlying causes of disease rather than the symptoms, and the more you understand cancer, the more you realise that tumours are just a symptom. Albeit a scary one. In fact, the research proves that too: we know that tumour shrinkage does not necessarily correlate with survival. Survival is much more than killing cancer cells, it’s about becoming cancer hostile. Making your body somewhere that cancer cannot thrive.
After twenty years I still love what I do, particularly the way my work brings me into contact with so many strong-minded and inspiring individuals with a huge appetite for life. My role is not to heal you but to help you heal yourself, to help you identify the areas that need to change to improve your chances of making a full recovery. Our work will help you to overcome some of the uncertainty, remind you that there is so much more to healing than your prognosis is able to encompass, and empower you to grab hold of your future with confidence.
If you like the sound of that, please feel free to book an appointment.
If you haven’t listened to my talk (and all the others brilliant speakers) on the recent Your Life and Cancer 2020 conference you might like to go there after this. This was a breakthrough event for the UK that I was proud to be part of. Yes to Life is an amazing charity set up specifically to support people who want to approach their cancer recovery from a wider perspective than conventional medicine admits.
- Postgraduate Certificate in Personalised Nutrition – Middlesex University/CNELM – 2018
- BANT Registered Nutrigenetic Counsellor – 2017
- Institute for Functional Medicine: Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice – 2017
- ION Short Course: Cancer Nutritional Support before, during and after treatment and beyond – 2015
- Dip. ION (Distinction) Nutritional Therapy – Institute for Optimum Nutrition
- Certified Professional Coach – International Coach Academy – 2012
- BSc (Hons) Management Sciences – UMIST
- 24 year survivor (drug free) of Grade 3, Stage 3, receptor negative breast cancer – underwent lumpectomy, axillary clearance, chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
- Nutritionally managed complete remission of Proliferative Verrucous Leukoplakia diagnosed in 2006, without medication or surgery.
- Eighteen years clinical experience working with cancer patients – exclusively since 2016.
- BANT – Member of the British Association for Nutritional Therapists since 2003
- BANT – Registered Nutrigenetic Counsellor since 2017
- CNHC – Member of the Complementary and Natural HealthCare Council
When you’re ready to book an appointment, please follow the links below:
The 1939 Cancer Act states that cancer treatment and advice about treatment can only be provided by qualified medical professionals, and rightly so. Nevertheless, the current medical system is not doing enough to inform people about what they can do over and above medical treatment. The evidence for integrated care is powerful and there is exciting potential for complementary care to work synergistically with medical treatment to achieve the best possible outcomes.