Caring about Cancer

“And the darkest hour is just before dawn.” – The Mamas and The Papas

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 a cancer diagnosis. My interest has grown into a full time clinical practice specialising in breast cancer, and a growing reputation as one of the UK’s best known registered nutritional therapists and functional medicine practitioners.

My route to recovery was highly individual – and so is yours. But it starts with taking a deep breath and giving yourself time to heal. It’s about nourishing your body, calming your mind and creating a lifestyle that respects your physiological and psychological limits — and following your instincts instead of following the herd. It sounds serious but, in fact, one of the most important things you can do is rekindle the flame of fun. Rebuilding your life after cancer is an adventure. OK, we know it’s also a bit of a nightmare, but it can be both, right?

I see my role as providing you with the support, knowledge and sometimes even the permission, to do what you need to do to survive; to help you get back in balance, to cultivate new trust and respect for your body, and to re-engage with life with optimism and energy. It’s a great feeling to know that you’re doing everything you can to support your recovery and future health.

“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 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.”

The day of my diagnosis sparked a lifelong fascination with health and wellbeing. Foolishly, I had gone into the consultation alone and when I left there was no one to help me put things into perspective, nor even to offer a box of tissues. The news was broken gently but gravely and I was left with a feeling that time was running out. Even with 21 years of hindsight, it still ranks as the lowest moment in my life. I had no idea what the future would bring but I vowed there and then that, if I survived, I would do everything I could to make the most of my cancer ‘afterlife’, and try to help other people who found themselves staring into the same abyss.

I had been aware for some time that I had been taking myself for granted, trying to be a good mum, wife and daughter, working too hard and too long, failing to manage my stress levels, and not making enough time for rest and repair, let alone fun! I was a mass of minor symptoms – eczema, indigestion, overweight, insomnia – and I had been ignoring them, thinking of them as ‘normal’. To try to compensate for my unhappy work/life balance I was also indulging in too many glasses of wine and too many bars of chocolate. I was a mess but I didn’t think it was anything serious! Perhaps you can identify with some of that?

Reluctantly, I submitted to surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy – but I knew it wouldn’t be enough. The idea that you could help yourself in the face of such a critical diagnosis was considered laughable in 1997, but some part of me knew that my diet and lifestyle must have been a factor. In these pre-Google days, there was no clear evidence and very little ‘alternative’ information available. So (never one to do things by halves) I went back to college to study nutritional therapy.

“Dear Dawn, It was really lovely to come and just be as I was and not have to pretend I was ok but just be miserable – thank you – everything is ordered and I am ON IT !! …in a gentle way”

Since then, our understanding of cancer has mushroomed (pun intended), and we know that diet and lifestyle have a valuable role to play both on a genetic and metabolic level in improving treatment outcomes and survival. 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: some of them by doing nothing more than getting an allotment!

I’m not trying to imply that cancer is no longer a problem – it’s a critical illness that demands your attention – but I do want to change the way you see it. After 20 years of study, I firmly believe that sending everyone on a (post-surgery) year-long vacation with a great diet, lots of sunshine, plenty of exercise and a personal stress-busting guru would produce better results for the majority of people than conventional treatment. Our bodies have more sophisticated healing and repair mechanisms than the whole of the health service put together, we just need to learn how to use them.

“Thank you, Dawn, for these brilliant notes and our chat yesterday. I felt hugely empowered by it. Thank you so much for setting me on the right course. I know now that I can be well and recover. Everything you’ve suggested is all very do-able and appeals massively to me. I shall keep you posted about progress.”

In fact, the idea that ‘there’s nothing you can do’ after diagnosis is  possibly more dangerous than cancer itself. 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.

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.

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.

“Some really good news today.  Went to see the oncologist who was just amazed as my tumour marker has dropped substantially and my liver function has improved dramatically too despite being on the palbo and going to Portugal and enjoying myself.  The nurses were amazed at how much weight I have lost as well. So thank you!”

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 more than twenty years of breast cancer survival.

“Thank you for reigniting my fighting spirit, it was what I wanted out of yesterday.  I’m holding my head higher today and even the 2.5 hour journey home was strangely relaxing.”

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
  • giving yourself permission to enjoy life
  • optimising your metabolic and hormonal environment
  • making the most of every day 
  • maximising your anti-cancer nutrient intake
  • tapping into your innate creativity
  • building a healthy microbiome, the primary activator of anti-cancer phytonutrients
  • finding a new sense of fulfilment and purpose
  • understanding your inbuilt genetic glitches that predispose you to cancer
  • fitting more fun into your life
  • identifying errors of metabolism that make you more susceptible to cancer
  • enjoying your friends and family relationships
  • improving food breakdown, absorption and sensitivity reactions
  • putting your needs higher up the agenda 
  • improving and compensating for lifestyle cancers that impact your health
  • building a better relationship with your body
  • 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. 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. 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.

“Just to say thank you so much for today I drove a different woman home to the one I had brought with me; Mel found you completely inspirational.”  Julie – friend (and chauffeur) of client. 

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
  • BANT registered – Nutrigenetic Counsellor
  • 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
  • IFM trained as a Functional Medicine practitioner (AFMCP 2017)
  • 21 year survivor (drug free) of Grade 3, Stage 3, receptor negative breast cancer

In addition I am increasingly rare type of practitioner in that I receive no funding, sponsorship or support of any kind from any commercial organisation. I do receive a small amount of commission on tests and supplements that I recommend but I never recommend them for that reason. I am firmly of the belief that in our increasingly complex world we all need highly individual diet and healthcare solutions and therefore I don’t follow any set method or protocol.

As well as writing two blogs, 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 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 nutrition and coaching programmes over here, get in touch below. or book an appointment or a free exploratory chat over here.