“And the darkest hour is just before dawn.” – The Mamas and The Papas
As one of the UK’s leading nutritional therapists, and a 24 year survivor of Grade 3, Stage 3, receptor negative breast cancer, my work with breast cancer patients is based on persistent study, ongoing research, well-honed scepticism, and extensive personal and clinical experience.
When I was diagnosed in 1997 the medical care I received was fantastic, and I know it played a major role in my survival. But, at the tender age of 33, I was far too young for an ‘age-related disease’. Something had gone badly wrong with my body and I knew that the treatment I received was not designed to fix the issues for the longer term. With no family history, I felt at an instinctive level that my diet and lifestyle were the most likely cause of the problem, but it was almost impossible to find any evidence or get any help to explore those ideas. It was very lonely – and a bit terrifying.
Once I recovered from treatment I decided to change career, stepping away from my high stress management consultancy position and towards a new role as a nutritional therapist. My dream was to provide newly diagnosed women with the information and support I had tried to find.
In 2004 I graduated with distinction from ION and joined ION’s academic team for 5 years while I built my practice. In the early years, I was a nutritional ‘GP’ working with all sorts of health issues. Not only because I needed to build my clinical experience but also, to be completely frank, because I wasn’t entirely convinced by my training that nutritional therapy had the power to change outcomes after a diagnosis as serious as cancer.
Then, in 2006 I was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition called ‘proliferative verrucous leukoplakia’ – an irreversible condition that presents as milky patches on the tongue and in the oral cavity – considered to be inevitably malignant. A second opinion from the leading expert at Kings College, Prof. Stephen Challacombe, confirmed that I had about five years before that happened. I couldn’t believe I was facing another frightening diagnosis after everything I had done! I started to think there was something specific about me that was predisposed to cancer, and that’s when I discovered the emerging field of nutrigenetics. After learning a little about my personal ‘single nucleotide polymorphisms’ (or SNPs) I spent the summer following a highly personalised diet and supplement plan. To the complete amazement of my consultant all five patches resolved and have never returned.
After this experience my confidence in the power of nutrition to influence cancer and pre-cancer outcomes increased. This coincided, in 2012, with a huge shift in our understanding of cancer. There was a growing recognition among researchers that metabolic reprogramming was a significant hallmark of cancer (Hanahan & Weinberg, 2011), which confirmed nutrition as a major factor in cancer onset and survival. This paved the way for a more integrated approach to cancer treatment, where the right nutritional strategies might be able to work alongside medical approaches to improve treatment outcomes.
Thus, in 2016 I decided to specialise and, at the same time, to update my qualifications to help me work more closely with the emerging evidence. During the next 2 years I completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Personalised Nutrition and a course in Applied Functional Medicine which, in turn, led to me becoming a registered Nutrigenetic Counsellor. You can hear me talking about my work on this recent podcast.
I 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. I regularly receive referrals from GPs and oncologists and fellow practitioners, and I’m frequently invited as an expert speaker on breast cancer to professional audiences.
In the 20+ years since my diagnosis supporting evidence for a nutrition and lifestyle approach for breast cancer has become compelling, but it is taking a long time to get that vital information into NHS oncology departments and cancer patients haven’t got time to wait. My goal is to bridge the gap.
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.
My focus is on nutrition and nutrigenetics to work with you in a highly personalised way to identify and mitigate your risks and improve your chances of making a full recovery. I am acutely aware of the importance of both the psychological and physiological aspects of health, especially when dealing with a difficult diagnosis. Our work will help you to overcome some of the uncertainty of your diagnosis and empower you to to take more effective care of yourself.
- Postgraduate Certificate in Personalised Nutrition – Middlesex University/CNELM – 2017
- 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
- 22 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.
- Sixteen 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
As well as writing two blogs, I’m regularly asked to talk about my work to professional and private audiences. I’ve also published a charity cook book and a ketogenic diet book, The Dissident Diet, which was in the Amazon diet bestseller list for much of 2014. When I’m not immersed in my work, you’ll find me in the kitchen cooking for friends and family, or trying to fit a ridiculous number of hobbies and interests into my free time.
After all, if cancer taught me anything, it’s how to make the most of life!
“Dawn, I found our meetings inspirational and full of hope. I came to you following a diagnosis of significant breast cancer with spread to the lymph nodes, and felt that your own experience coupled with your sense of compassion and empathy helped me enormously. You are able to take a view of the whole person rather than a collection of symptoms and I came away feeling that I could do many things to help promote a positive outcome.” Frances, Tunbridge Wells
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