Caring about cancer

I first became interested in nutrition for entirely selfish reasons, after a diagnosis of grade 3, stage 3 breast cancer at the tender age of 33. At the time it felt like the worst thing that could ever happen. With hindsight, I realise it allowed me to tap into what I now think of as my life purpose: helping other people rebuild their health and happiness after diagnosis.

Back in 1997, all I had to go on was my instinct: some part of me knew that my diet and lifestyle must have been a factor, but there was no clear evidence and very little ‘alternative’ information available. Twenty years later, we understand so much more. ‘Altered metabolism‘ (a change in the way nutrients are processed) has become one of the undisputed hallmarks of cancer cells — which makes focussing on nutrition a natural choice both for cancer prevention and for returning to health after diagnosis.

Among the more enlightened professionals, cancer care is no longer about conventional vs. complementary medicine, it’s a whole new paradigm called Lifestyle Medicine, that recognises the superior results that can be achieved when diet and lifestyle interventions are considered alongside surgical and pharmaceutical protocols. Combined therapies when applied in the right way have the potential to make a huge difference to cancer outcomes.

If you’ve learned everything you know about cancer at the hands of the NHS or, worse still, by watching the painful demise of someone you love, then I challenge you to think again. Our ability to influence cancer outcomes is changing fast — along with our knowledge of the way cancer behaves. No matter what you’ve been told, your genes are not your destiny – and neither is your diagnosis. Just google the term ‘cancer thrivers’ to see thousands of people who are completely defying the odds.

I’m not trying to imply that cancer is no longer a problem – it is a critical illness that demands your attention, and insists that you make some changes to your life – but I do want to strenuously counter the thought that ‘there’s nothing you can do’. This idea is  possibly more dangerous than cancer itself, and may have claimed many lives. Bernie Siegel, the celebrated New York oncologist, believed that taking charge of your situation, understanding your own vital role in your health and wellbeing, and seeing yourself as managing your medical team, rather than them managing you, was the factor that influenced survival above all else.

Little by little we are assembling the pieces of the jigsaw — understanding not only how your precise combination of diet, lifestyle, genes and environment can leave you vulnerable to cancer but also how small changes to the balance of these factors can alter gene expression, support optimal system function, and help you return to health. We understand how cancer starts and we can help to create better conditions in future to minimise the chances of it happening again. We know that supporting the healthy behaviour of cells around the tumour and the nutrients in the surrounding tissue fluid (the tumour microenviroment) may be just as important as killing the rogue cells.

This emerging knowledge is the subject of intensive research as dedicated scientists continue to look for better ways of treating cancer. I believe it won’t be long before current chemo- and radiotherapy protocols are consigned to history in favour of less damaging treatments. In future everyone will see what science-based natural practitioners already understand: that you need to be in the best of health – mental and physical – to have the best chance of surviving this disease. We need to support the body’s innate ability to contain and destroy cancer cells (something that most people do automatically every day) rather than undermine it just when you need it most; and we need to support the mindset that expects and allows healing to happen.

At this point in our knowledge, cancer outcomes are still not predictable. Cancer seems to be highly individual in nature and there is no such thing as a typical breast cancer patient. This diversity presents a challenge for ‘mass market’ medicine and lends itself more obviously to a personalised approach. Identifying individual risk factors in terms of diet, lifestyle, genes and environment is at the heart of my practice. I can work with you and alongside your medical team to ensure your health is considered in a holistic context. My qualifications, and in particular my recent postgraduate studies, are specifically designed to train me to evaluate scientific evidence alongside a clinical case history to create a personalised diet and lifestyle programme.

While there is never a bad time to to protect yourself against cancer, I think there are three life stages when taking control is particularly relevant:

  • pre-diagnosis for people with a strong family history or a pronounced personal history of hormonal problems, metabolic syndrome, diabetes or obesity.
  • at the point of diagnosis, when you are making decisions about treatment, using nutrition protocols to enhance the effects of treatment and coaching to help you through the process
  • when treatment is over – especially if you have had standard chemo- and radiotherapy – to rebuild your physical and mental resilience, restore digestive function and nutrient status to support your full recovery.

I’ve been a registered nutrition practitioner for over fifteen years playing an active role in the emergence of Lifestyle Medicine. For me, this has never been simply an academic pursuit; it’s part of my identity. My own health problems have been life-threatening more than once: I followed the conventional treatment route after my breast cancer in 1997 but when I was later diagnosed with proliferative verrucous leukoplakia (an aggressive pre-cancerous condition with a high mortality rate), I resolved the problem myself without treatment and with diet, supplement and lifestyle changes. My surgeon still calls me ‘the lady who cured herself’. This double diagnosis prompted me to explore my own genetic and biochemical glitches through a continuous programme of scientific study and self-development. It’s a mission that has evolved into a specialist interest in breast cancer, using everything I’ve learned both personally and professionally during twenty years of breast cancer survival.

I want to be clear that The 1939 Cancer Act states that cancer treatment and advice can only be provided by qualified medical professionals. However, I believe that the current medical system is not doing enough to explain to people how they can help themselves in addition to treatment and I want to change that.

I can help you with:

  • making  healthy food shopping, preparation and cooking choices
  • optimising your metabolic and hormonal environment
  • maximising your anti-cancer nutrient intake
  • building a healthy microbiome
  • understanding your inbuilt genetic glitches that predispose you to cancer
  • identifying errors of metabolism that make you more susceptible to cancer
  • improving food breakdown, absorption and sensitivity reactions
  • improving and compensating for lifestyle cancers that impact your health
  • improving your side effects and optimising your response to treatment

I can’t help you with:

  • decisions regarding your cancer treatment
  • access to ‘off-label’ drugs for cancer
  • access to illegal or non-licensed cancer remedies
  • all the rumours and claims circulating on the internet that have no evidence to underpin them.

My consultations are designed to provide a more personalised approach: to help you find out why your body went wrong and what to do about it. While the medical profession tends to focus solely on the eradication of cancer cells to the detriment of other health markers, Lifestyle Medicine is more inclined to look at the underlying systemic imbalances. Nutrition can help to support the body before, during and after treatment to maintain and regain full function. Coaching tends to address the psychological aspects more directly. When combined, these approaches are powerfully synergistic.  Hence, my focus is not only on physiological balance but also on supporting you through the psychological aspects of dealing with a difficult diagnosis, and to take more effective care of yourself in the future than you have in the past.

Please read about how to get started over here or get in touch below.

My Credentials & Qualifications

  • PG.Cert, CNELM – Postgraduate qualification in Personalised Nutrition.
  • Dip. ION (Distinction) Nutritional Therapy – Institute for Optimum Nutrition
  • Certified Professional Coach – International Coach Academy
  • BSc (Hons) Management Sciences – UMIST
  • NTCC – Registered with the  Nutritional Therapy Council
  • BANT – Member of the British Association for Nutritional Therapists
  • CNHC – Member of the Complementary and Natural HealthCare Council
  • mIFM – Member of Institute of Functional Medicine
  • Conflicts of Interest: None: I am totally independent and receive no funding or support of any kind from any commercial organisation.

As well as writing two blogs, I’ve also published a charity cook book and a weight loss book, The Dissident Diet, which was in the Amazon diet bestseller list for much of 2014. When I’m not writing, you’ll find me in the kitchen cooking for friends and family, in the garden getting muddy, or with my head stuck in a book or research paper learning as much as I can about cancer and longevity.

Thanks for visiting and please read about my lifestyle medicine programmes over here, get in touch below. or book an appointment or a free exploratory chat over here.