Thank you for taking the time to visit my website. I hope you are glad you’re here. I’m so grateful to be able to share my knowledge with you and provide the support that I so badly needed when I was diagnosed.
Back in 1997, when I was just 33, a cancer diagnosis was the furthest thing from my mind. The medical care I received at the time was fantastic but my prognosis was not so good. When he gave me my diagnosis, my lovely surgeon said “I’m afraid I can’t hide this from you…” and that’s when I knew I was in trouble. My tumour was large and aggressive, and had already migrated to the lymph leaving me with a Stage 3, Grade 3, triple negative diagnosis. Three was definitely not my lucky number that year!
To say my diagnosis was a shock is a total understatement. It was a life-changing moment, in good ways and bad, but I don’t think there has been one day out of the nine thousand that have elapsed since then that cancer has not been on my mind on both a personal and professional basis. I desperately wanted to understand what was happening to me and it was hard to believe that, actually, no one had any answers.
I understood that something had gone badly wrong with my biochemistry that would need more than medicine to put right again. I felt my diet and lifestyle had contributed to the diagnosis in ways that I didn’t understand. I was also uncomfortably aware that, pre-diagnosis, my life had wandered way off track in my mental and spiritual wellbeing, allowing stress to dominate my life and financial goals to drive my life choices.
As I tried to come to terms with my ‘new normal’, I found myself horribly out of step with my friends, many of whom were adding to their families, while I had miscarried our second baby a month before diagnosis, and treatment was likely to destroy any future hopes to ‘try again’. I was in a state of frozen grief, putting a brave face (something I learned at boarding school) but feeling as though there was no one who could help, or empathise.
In those pre-Google days the only inspiration I could find was a publication by O’Regan and Hirshberg, who retrieved the files of patients whose cancer had disappeared by so-called ‘spontaneous remission’ and then interviewed the survivors to find out what they had done. The list included diet changes, multivitamins, exercise, stress reduction, meditation and visualisation. That was enough for me: if they could achieve spontaneous remission, then so could I. So it became my mission to save myself and, subsequently, my dream to provide that support for other women.
After extensive surgery, five weeks of radiotherapy and six months of chemotherapy I was quickly back on my feet and embracing career and motherhood again. But two years after my experience I was still not back to my former energy levels, and suffering from migraine and chronic, crippling anxiety and the occasional panic attack.
A visit to a well-known local cranial osteopath was a turning point. In hindsight, I think he may have saved my life. Not only did he help me structurally but, more importantly, he introduced me to the importance of the gut, and the power of targeted supplementation. He recommended a six month anti-Candida diet which, along with a good multivitamin containing high levels of B vitamins, transformed the way I felt. From that moment on, I was hooked. I hadn’t understood before how nutrition could make such a difference to both mental and physical health. A couple of months later I enrolled in the Nutritional Therapy Diploma course at ION, and began to pursue what I now think of as my life purpose.
I wish I could say that was the end of my health problems, but no. By the time my breast cancer had appeared, I’d already had many years of hormonal problems starting with a very early menarche, age 9, and painful periods from the outset. A couple of miscarriages, one the month before diagnosis, recurrent thrush and severe endometriosis completed a complex hormonal picture.
In fact, my endometriosis was so debilitating that I succumbed to a hysterectomy in 2004, age 39; my surgeon and oncologist agreed it would be better to remove the ovaries at the same time, to reduce future endometriosis and breast cancer risk. So I was plunged into overnight menopause at the tender age of 39 with HRT absolutely off limits. Once again, I found myself out of step with my peer group, with no one my age who could understand what I was going through and, of course, menopause was still taboo back then. To be honest, I was too embarrassed to talk about it; I was back to suffering in silence.
Then, in 2006 I was diagnosed with a pre-cancerous condition called ‘proliferative verrucous leukoplakia’ (PVL) a pre-cancerous condition with a high potential for malignancy and mortality. Professor Stephen Challacombe, who I consulted for a second opinion, told me I had five years before it inevitably turned malignant.
How had this happened? I was a Nutritional Therapist! I had qualified with distinction in 2004 and while, on the outside, I felt better than ever, on the inside, my cells hadn’t got the message. If I was eating all the right things, and doing all the right things, how come I was facing cancer all over again? Was there something about me that was particularly vulnerable? I guess so. One of my clients summarised it recently when she said, “I guess being healthy just doesn’t cut it”.
So it was back to basics for me. I cut out all sugars that had been gradually creeping back in, looked up the very limited amounts of research around my condition, realised that it might have something to do with methylation and Vitamin A, and discovered nutrigenomics. This was in the very early days of DNA testing when the science was very new. I used the 23andme service to get my DNA tested and then ran the raw data file through various DNA analysis programmes to find out my own nutritional vulnerabilities. My first indications that this more personalised nutrition was making a difference was when my PVL disappeared. Six months after seeing Professor Challacombe, I went back to see my surgeon and the five patches of PVL on my tongue had completely gone, and have never come back. During five years of check ups he used to call me ‘the lady who cured herself’ and told me that in his experience it was unique.
Obviously, I was overjoyed by the result and I found this area so fascinating that I decided to go back to college once again to study for a postgraduate qualification based on personalised nutrition and nutrigenomics. I felt that this was the answer not just for me but for many of my clients too. 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 the standard healthy advice. I believe that these individual variations make all the difference to cancer outcomes, allowing us to go beyond standard nutrition advice to build powerful personal protocols.
It took me several years to unravel it all, and translate that into clinical knowledge, and practical application. For example, with all these hormonal problems, why was my cancer oestrogen receptor negative? Twenty years later, age 59, I’m delighted to say I’ve surfed the menopause with bones, breasts and body still intact and in the process added to my understanding of the biochemistry that caused my problems. Moreover, I defied Professor Challacombe’s predictions and I am today completely cancer free and medication free.
More recently I have been overjoyed to find that I am no longer a Lone Ranger as a cancer practitioner. It is increasingly accepted that diet and lifestyle changes can have a powerful effect on cancer outcomes and it’s wonderful to see charities like Yes to Life bringing enlightened practitioners together and spearheading new directions for cancer care. I’m proud to be part of that group.
I never take it for granted but I am unceasingly grateful for these bonus 25 years. Although my diet and lifestyle have improved in line with my knowledge, I haven’t lived a ‘perfect’ life since then. I’ve also had several periods of intense and frightening stress which I worried would tip me over the edge. But I walk my talk, and I’ve learned how to support myself in very specific and effective ways. It has taken me years to find the courage to share the full story, and I’ve only just added the endometriosis in. Not because I want your sympathy – I see this as a success story – but because I want to show that it’s possible to achieve really good health and energy levels after breast cancer without medication, without being perfect, and with a complex set of health problems.
More importantly I want to show that the whole concept of ‘prognosis’ is deeply flawed. It tells us only what is likely to happen to the average person, taking the average approach.
And you’re not average, are you?
My own experience with nutrigenomics was
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