A Personal Mission

“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 occupy a well-established niche in the world of integrated breast cancer care, with more combined experience than any other practitioner: I have been a cancer survivor/thriver for twenty-four years; a nutritional therapist for eighteen years; I was the first UK nutritional therapist to write a book on the ketogenic diet in 2012; and I started working with (and lecturing on) nutrigenetics over six years ago, when the science was just emerging in the UK.

When I was diagnosed in 1997, at the tender age of 33, the medical care I received was fantastic (and I know it played a major role in my survival) but I understood that something inside had gone badly wrong that would need more than medicine to put right again. I knew my diet and lifestyle had contributed to the diagnosis in ways that I didn’t understand. I was also deeply aware that I had wandered way off track in my mental and spiritual wellbeing, allowing stress to dominate my life and career goals to drive my choices. In short, I was quite lost, and I couldn’t find anyone to point me in the right direction. So it became my mission to find out for myself and – later – my dream to provide that support for other women. And that’s what I’ve done!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those ‘do what I did’ evangelists. I would definitely not recommend my diet back then to new clients these days, despite my best efforts to be healthy – the research has moved on in leaps and bounds. But that, in itself, contains a valuable lesson: survival is not about being ‘perfect’. At least not in a molecular sense. Which makes me an unconventional nutritional therapist because, although I believe that diet is a fundamental part of the picture, I think attitude matters more. In other words, there’s not much point eating more broccoli if your head is exploding with stress.

My work is logical, based on the fact that we still don’t really understand why cancer starts or why it stops. Since the science is not there, we have to fall back on older forms of reasoning. Logic tells us that there was something about the way you were living before diagnosis that was overwhelming your healing and repair equilibrium; to stay well in future that equilibrium needs to be brought back into balance again. Going back to living as you did before is not an option.

Most people already know about the big things they were doing wrong – too much alcohol, not enough sleep, stress overload – in fact I have found that most people were ignoring strong inner voices telling them to stop long before diagnosis. However, few people understand their personal underlying vulnerabilities, based on genetic differences, that made them more vulnerable to cancer, and that’s where nutrigenetics fills in the gaps. So my work is about helping you to achieve a clear ‘before and after’ difference based on nutrigenetics, nutrition and changes, with warm and emphatic coaching support. Our goal is to rebalance the small things and the big things in a relevant and targeted way, and then let your natural healing intelligence do the rest.

And the thing is, my approach is not right for everyone – but it might be perfect for you.

You teach best what you most need to learn.” Richard Bach

Leaving the world of management consultancy to retrain as a nutritional therapist was probably the smartest choice I ever made. In doing so I learned to eat well and I also gave myself permission to be less stressed. To be fair, my inner voices had been telling me to do exactly that for several years, I had just been wilfully ignoring them. I went back to college at ION and, after graduating with distinction in 2004, I went on to teach other therapists as well as setting up my own clinic in Tunbridge Wells.

Then, in 2006, I was diagnosed with a tongue condition called ‘proliferative verrucous leukoplakia’, a pre-cancerous condition with a high potential for malignancy and mortality, and it forced me to 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?

My research led me to an emerging science called nutrigenetics which seemed show that some people need much higher levels of some nutrients for optimal health. Of course this was interesting because I had started to think that there was ‘something about me’ that needed more than normal people. 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 that.

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. My work layers nutrigenetic research with nutrition research and cancer research together with your diagnosis and health history to create a much more informed and informative picture of your situation. This is not just about optimising your Vitamin D levels – nutrigenetics can also help you understand your stress levels, your exercise ability, your metabolism, your hormones and your personality. It can help not only to make the right diet choices but also the right lifestyle decisions. 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.

For years I was the only nutritional therapist talking about breast cancer (partly because of the constraints of the 1939 Cancer Act) but now there are lots of great practitioners who will help you to improve your health following diagnosis. For this reason I have chosen to specialise in helping women after treatment to make a full recovery and to understand how to prevent recurrence; nutrigenetics fits very neatly into this gap, optimising the health and function of your genes following the onslaught of treatment.

In twenty years of practice it has become clear to me that attitude beats anxiety every time. My goal is to help you to feel positive about your health and your future, so that your healing I have noticed that survival is not about effort, or observed that survival results are 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 and mitigate your risks and 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.

Food can make you happy as well as healthy!

“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

Find Out More

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.

Qualifications

  • 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

Cancer Experience

  • 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.

Registration

  • 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

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!

Next Steps

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.