A Personal Path to Recovery

“Don’t let the complexity of cancer blind you to the simplicity of healing.”

Dawn Waldron

Cancer is recognised by the medical and complementary medical community as a highly individual disease. Breast cancer is not one disease but many, presenting in many different ways and driven by many different factors. Despite advances in treatment, outcomes are still unpredictable and seemingly random. The scientist in me knows that’s because we are not measuring or targeting the right things. 

There is a dichotomy at the heart of cancer care. We rightly insist on evidence-based medicine but ethical issues prevent us from experimenting on humans with a potentially life-limiting disease. This means that both medical and natural research methods are slow to evolve, for different reasons. The current system of evidence gathering is not designed to cope with problems as complex as cancer; nor is it helpful to use the same standards for researching cyclophosphamide and broccoli. Patients who are keen to do everything they can must gather their own support team around them, decide for themselves about the risks, and risk the derision of their oncologist. It’s an archaic and blinkered system that leaves us reliant on dangerous, nuclear medicine even as our knowledge of cancer evolves way beyond the theories that gave rise to these treatments.

Working in this area for over twenty years I have noticed that, as our understanding of cancer deepens, the science becomes more complex. (There’s a clue there: when we understand something it normally becomes easier to explain.) We know what cancer does but we still don’t know how to stop it. The complexity adds to the illusion that cancer is unbeatable when the truth is more often that it’s untreatable. We need to move beyond the confines of the scientific method and make room for the wonders of the quantum universe if we want to solve this dilemma, and that means moving beyond medicine as a the only ‘safe’ solution towards a new understanding of healing as multi-disciplinary goal.  

Cancer is undoubtedly a difficult and unpredictable problem which makes it vital that we try everything we  know to beat it – not just conventional medicine. The growing body of research that looks at integrated oncology protocols (those that include both conventional and complementary medicine) confirms that diet and lifestyle are important at all stages of the cancer experience, from onset and diagnosis, through treatment and into recovery. Cancer patients, more than any other, need to hear that natural healing can make a difference. In many cases it makes all the difference. Organisations like Radical Remission, thankfully, exist to show us how people can heal even when medicine tells us ‘there’s nothing you can do’. 

The ability to heal is a power that you were born with, and it never leaves you. There are countless stories of people healing from cancer of all types and at all stages: you can heal too. My role is to reintroduce you to your personal power and set you on a personal path to recovery, to join the dots between the science of cancer and the power of natural healing, and put you back in charge of your health and happiness. I hope you will consult a wide range of experts, including your doctor and oncologist, but also recognise that they are not in charge. It’s your body, your choice, and your life. Every step of the way.

Long before Watson and Crick discovered the molecular structure of DNA, cancer was viewed as a genetic disease. However, as we begin our exploration of the genome, the focus on genetic mutations in cancer is giving way to a wider understanding of epigenetics and the role of gene silencing and gene expression that is more closely linked to nutritional factors and individual nutrigenomic pathways. Moreover, the work of researcher Michael Fenech shows that gene damage from macronutrient imbalances and micronutrient deficiencies is just as dangerous as exposure to X-rays; again, nutrigenomics can tell us where some of us have higher nutrient requirements than average. 

Meanwhile, the Nobel Prize winning work of Otto Warburg in the 1930s was revisited for the 21st Century by Thomas Seyfried, reminding us that cancer is also a metabolic disease. The way cancer cells fuel themselves is a focus of intense research and is currently the least toxic approach to killing cancer cells. This new understanding has allowed a whole new area of complementary therapy to emerge including repurposed drugs, hyperbaric oxygen, ketogenic diets, fasting, and new integrated approaches alongside cancer treatment. Again these modalities work better when combined with an understanding of your personal nutrigenomics. 

It is increasingly clear that genetic changes and metabolic reprogramming are both important factors allowing us to see tumour formation as a two-step process where, firstly, cells become damaged and start to malfunction and, secondly, they learn to upregulate their energy intake to fuel abnormal growth. 

Breast cancer survival statistics have significantly improved survival in the last quarter century, mainly as a result of adjuvant hormonal therapy, showing that breast cancer is also a hormonal disease. Removing oestrogen from the breast microenvironment, or at least blocking oestrogen receptors in the breast, has reduced one of the key drivers of growth and metastasis. We tend to think of breast cancer in a binary way: hormone receptor positive… or negative. Patients diagnosed with only HER2 positive or triple negative cancers are not given hormonal therapy leaving key risk areas untreated. In fact, oestrogen production and metabolism plays a central role in all breast cancers. Patients with hormone negative disease and women on Tamoxifen may have DNA-damaging hormone metabolites in circulation and can benefit from an understanding of their hormone metabolism and nutrigenomic pathways. 

No breast cancer protocol is complete without considering all of these factors, which are directly influenced by diet and lifestyle choices. This should be combined with a thorough assessment of your environment at home, at work and in your leisure time, looking at sleep, exercise, stress, and toxins, and providing support for emotional and psychological issues. You may be surprised to know that nutrigenomics can offer powerful insights in all of these areas too. 

The Power Flower: recovery involves every aspect of your life.

The Power of Natural Healing

The natural approach to cancer is all about changing the tumour microenvironment, a phrase coined by Dr Mina Bissell, and what Dr Nasha Winters calls The Terrain. We need to change the chemical environment that surrounds your cells, to make it less comfortable for cancer cells while providing optimal support to healthy cells. Nutrition is at the heart of this transformation but it’s not all about what we put in our mouths. The Power Flower pictured above shows the different areas we need to consider if we want to change our health for the better. These key ‘interfaces’ are closely linked to cancer onset and recurrence, and supporting them is an important part of recovery. All health problems, but particularly cancer, can be supported by considering the five petals in turn.

  • MINDSET is the starting point for recovery because the first step on the journey is believing you can survive, no matter what your prognosis, and stubbornly maintaining that faith in yourself and your cells as you go through the different stages of cancer treatment and beyond. Our mindset is profoundly affected by the quality of our diet but it is primarily created by the thoughts we allow ourselves to think. Genetic variants and SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) significantly affect your mood and sleep patterns, your stress response and your ability to be calm and collected. Learning how to support these pathways can make life feel so much better.
  • Despite being a nutritional therapist I think of FOOD as sharing importance with the other areas in the POWER FLOWER. There are no hard lines between the different petals – the quality of each one influences all the others – but without a good diet we can never enjoy good health. Some of us need to take more care than others, especially in the first few years after diagnosis as we reboot our bodies after cancer and the rigours of treatment. Understanding you SNPs can be a valuable way to build a diet that matches your needs more closely, improving health and reducing the risk of recurrence.
  • Hippocrates famously said that all disease starts in the GUT. For a start, our digestive function determines how much of our careful diet we can use, but more importantly the microbes that live in our gut (and live on our leftovers) have also been shown to be directly linked to cancer onset and survival. Their combined genes exert a powerful influence in the body. Genetic variants impact the way our gut functions and the quality of our microbiota, stool testing provides further insights into optimal health.
  • Your ENVIROME is describes the collective impact our natural, social and personal environment and the effect on your biochemistry. It includes the places where we live, work, and play; the chemicals and toxins we are exposed to; our air, water and soil quality; the and also our relationships and social connections.The way we live our lives has a massive impact on our health and dietary requirements and our SNPs help to explain why some people seem to ‘get away with’ unhealthy habits more than others. This area is closely linked to genetic stability and DNA damage and forms an important part of recovery.
  • Last but not least, advances in science mean we are learning how to support the health and expression of our DNA. This area is at the core of my practice and goes to the heart of cancer recovery. Genes are often talked about as being a cause of cancer, and genetic malfunctions are often considered to be irreversible. In our work together I want to show you how to get your genes back on your side. How to nurture the health of your DNA, how to encourage optimal gene expression, and how to use nutrigenomics to support the genes that may be causing health problems for you.

By taking all of these areas into account we can be more holistic in our approach and avoid becoming obsessive in any one area. I’ve noticed how often when health problems emerge, some people will double down on diet improvements, or exercise regimes, but may fail to consider their microbiome. This approach is part of my ‘leaving no stone unturned’ approach to help clients do everything they can to support their own wellbeing.

My clients tell me our work transforms their view of cancer and their beliefs about health – providing a deeper understanding of their diagnosis and biology, overturning many of the popular myths, helping them see beyond the limitations of the medical perspective, and supporting them at a deeper level than the ‘one-size-fits’ all cancer programmes found in popular cancer books and websites. Approaching cancer in this way attracts exceptional people and it can bring exceptional results.

And, while I’ve got your attention, let’s just divert for a minute to thinking about the issue of beliefs around cancer. We all deserve a balanced, objective approach from our cancer carers, whether or not they are part of the medical profession. Health professionals are always keen to show that they are “evidence-based” but when you scratch the surface you’ll find that every single person who works in cancer care has a belief system that influences the way they practice. From the oncologist who “doesn’t believe in” the benefits of nutrition, despite mountains of evidence, to the homeopath who “doesn’t believe in” the benefits of radiation therapy despite evidence that it prevents recurrence: we all have an angle. If you didn’t already have one, your own belief system will rapidly evolve from the moment you are diagnosed. Where it lands depends in large part on who you speak to and what you read – and it may profoundly affect your odds of survival. 

Much has been written about the power of placebo effect (see Bruce Lipton & Jo Dispenza). People sometimes think of a placebo as something that doesn’t work when, in fact, it’s the exact opposite: scientifically speaking, it’s nothing that does work! Placebo experiments prove that beliefs can be as powerful as drugs, and they can have an enhancing effect on treatment. In many ways it’s the most exciting idea in health care (unless you’re a pharmaceutical company). 

The placebo effect is normally associated with positive outcomes, but it has a dark twin – the nocebo effect – which describes the way negatives outcomes occur when you hold negative beliefs. The habit of giving a prognosis to cancer patients along with their diagnosis can sometimes act as a nocebo, creating limiting beliefs that cap expectations and stop them believing in the possibility of better outcomes.

The placebo/nocebo effect challenges all our assumptions about medicine, and evidence, and the way our bodies work. As soon as we see that something as nebulous as beliefs can influence outcomes then the whole concept of a prognosis crumbles, which may help to explain why they are so often wildly inaccurate. It’s vitally important that you don’t let anyone cast a nocebo spell over your life. So feel free to ditch the predictions – you’d be in good company, many prominent oncologists and psychologists believe that attitude is far more important than diagnosis for predicting survival. My own chances of survival to 5 years were estimated at 30%, and that was 25 years ago. I’m so glad my inner rebel allowed me to believe in something better.

There is no better illustration of the contradictions between placebo and prognosis than the Radical Remission project. The project was set up by Dr Kelly Turner precisely to document the stories of people who have survived against all odds. These cancer patients had been given the familiar medical death sentence, “there’s nothing more we can do”, or they had decided that the next step was so drastic that they would rather face the consequences than face the treatment. Either way, they decided to embark on a natural healing programme with the result that they are still alive many years later. The individual stories may not add up to scientific evidence but that fact that just one person has recovered from ‘incurable’ cancer using natural healing is enough for me. Maybe for you too?

If so, then I think we would work well together. Please feel free to book an Exploratory Chat to test the mutual chemistry, or jump straight in to book your first consultation. The links are at the bottom of the page.

The Power of Nutrigenomics

DNA testing adds an unrivalled layer of personalisation to your cancer protocol; the test is done at home with a simple cheek swab. Nutrigenomics provides an understanding of your personal risks and vulnerabilities which helps us to tailor a unique protocol for you. These areas correspond with the Power Flower, looking at more than 150 SNPS that cover the key breast cancer risks.

The Power of your Genes: supporting all the areas of recovery with personalised nutrition

Alongside the valuable information provided in the Lifecode Gx reports I will provide you with a clear and concise summary of how your results relate to your diagnosis and future health, highlighting key foods, nutrients and lifestyle factors that are particularly important for you, identifying risk factors and areas of focus. I will provide a list of key foods and nutrients, together with a diet framework designed to optimise metabolic and hormonal status and empower your recovery.

In my view, nutrigenomic testing makes sense for everyone dealing with breast cancer, no matter what your age, stage or prognosis, but you need to choose with care. Firstly, not all DNA testing is equally rigorous, both the research and the analysis can be mis-reported or over-interpreted; the quality of the lab you use is key. Secondly, although DNA testing is the ultimate in personalisation the value is only really harvested when someone(a human) applies the knowledge to your health situation through the lens of clinical experience and makes the vital connection between groups of genes, rather than simply reporting them one at a time. As a result, I believe the analysis I provide is unique: uniquely rigorous, uniquely layered, and uniquely focussed.

To ensure that I can stay on top of the research and provide the level of personalisation that you need, I take a maximum of four new clients each month. Therefore there is sometimes a short wait before we can start – but that can work well, allowing you to focus on the process of diagnosis and the immediate life changes before getting into new habits and the business of recovery. While you are waiting I recommend focussing on five key things:

  • Ensuring excellent sleep quality in a restful darkened room with a daily nap if you need one, limiting evening screen time and ensuring daily outdoors time.
  • Rigorous stress management, saying no to everything you don’t want to do, choosing things you do want to do, and learning how to manage your response to the inevitable stresses of life at this time.
  • Diet diversity: fresh, home-cooked whole food, organic if you can afford it, a range of good quality proteins, fifty different plant foods a week, lots of herbs and spices, and a reduction in refined and processed foods.
  • Daily exercise or movement within your capacity: your body is under siege and treatment will increase the pressure: moderate, oxygenating exercise, maybe some gentle weights, and an active day is your best strategy so you don’t add to your body’s repair bill with injury or hypoxia.
  • Focussing on stories of survival rather than the details of your diagnosis is perhaps the most important thing you can do. You can accept the medical treatment on offer without buying in to the medical philosophy. The most inspiring success stories are from people who have radically improved their quality of life after diagnosis. Hold on to that idea and give your imagination free rein as to what that could look like!

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Picture: Artwork by Tracey Emin from a photograph by Dawn Waldron