When I first read the news about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy – volunteer surgery she underwent as a breast cancer preventative – my first response may have been just like yours. Along with the immediate realization that this must have been an agonizing decision for Ms. Jolie, the horror that in this day and age resorting to such drastic measures is still on the list of options struck me right between the eyes.
I am grateful to Ms. Jolie for going public with this story because it brings the conversation about breast cancer and the larger picture of preventative health care into the spotlight for conversation. I immediately combed the articles about Ms. Jolie for any mention of lifestyle prevention that might be suggested along with this drastic – it is called radical mastectomy, after all – decision.
Nowhere did I see any reference to the effects of the most controllable aspect of our environment on the advent of cancer – diet. A plant-based diet has been proven over and over again to aid in the reversal and prevention of many diseases such as heart disease and many forms of cancer – as anyone who’s seen Forks Over Knives, the #1 selling documentary on Amazon.com for almost all the time since its release in August of 2011 knows. And while I’m not suggesting that Angolina Jolie should make any other decision that the one that she did for double mastectomy – none of us can second guess another’s choice in these difficult matters – I immediately asked, what about the food? Does it take more bravery than this radical surgery to diminish the role of animal foods in the diet and eat more plants? Why is a whole foods, plant-based diet that minimizes the role of animal foods perceived as ‘extreme’ and ‘radical’? And if not as preemptive for the mastectomy, what about the importance of addressing diet along with any other forms of treatment – something that the millions off people reading about Angelina Jolie’s situation can utilize as immediate, simple action steps to take or their own health?
I have friends who have elected for the same surgery as Angelina Jolie, and know that this decision does not come easily and I want to make it clear that I am in no way criticizing anyone for this decision. Rather, I want to take a stand for bringing other measures of prevention into the spotlight – what we put on our plates and forks and the benefits of a plant-based diet.
Ellen Jaffe Jones: Mom Aunt BOTH Sibs Breast Cancer-No Mastectomies for Me, Angelina Jolie
The Jolie mastectomy news has already inspired voices from the plant-based diet community that brings benefit to us all – and there are two of them that I’d like to bring to your attention right away.
First, the above video response from Ellen Jaffe Jones. Ellen adds these notes to her video presentation:
If anyone should be terrified of breast cancer, it should be me. My aunt died of it in our home when I was 5. As I say in my video, figuring out the truth about food and how to avoid breast cancer has become the investigative reporting job of my life. Many newspaper articles have been written about my apparent success in defying the odds.
When I worked in TV, I met a doctor who suggested my family “donate” our blood and genes to become part of the original BRCA1 and BRCA2 breast cancer gene studies done by Myriad Genetics. My sister was undergoing surgery at the time (one of the rare times you can get blood from a breast cancer survivor…how many consider that when undergoing voluntary mastectomies?) and I drove her blood sample in a refrigerated container to the airport where it was flown to Myriad’s labs in Nevada. Our family really felt like we were contributing something valuable to the world. Yet because of pre-existing conditions in insurance, I’m the only one who has ever talked about it, as far as I know.
Studies don’t disclose if you test positive or not. But no one in our family needed a study to tell us what we already knew. I’ve had doctors offer to get me tested privately. But they all say, other than a mastectomy, “We know you wouldn’t and shouldn’t change a thing about your vegan and running lifestyle.” Testing positive before I go on Medicare in 4 years is considered a pre-existing condition.
Both of my sisters led public lives, so much of the information I relate here is already “out there.” The one sister who has had breast cancer 3 times, breastfed her 4 children about 6 months each. So that still wasn’t enough to defy the genes. My other, second sister had diabetes and heart disease for decades. She went in for “routine” surgery and got MRSA…antibiotic resistant staph infection. She is now paralyzed and in a nursing home for the rest of her life. Within a year of that, she got breast cancer. The day she got MRSA was the same day my dad died in the intensive care unit. They had beds next to each other. We used to joke in our family that family reunions took place at hospitals.
The year my first sister got breast cancer was the same year I almost died of a colon blockage. Docs in the ER said they’d never seen a blockage so large in someone my age and I would need to be on meds the rest of my life. That’s when I ran to the health food store and read all 5 books on fiber and changed my eating habits big time. I began running too, and I believe it has made all the difference.
I had breastfed all of my children. I became the Missouri Associate Coordinator of Leader Applicants for La Leche League International, a great breastfeeding and information volunteer support group. Doctors again were telling me, “You better do something different with your life or you’ll end up like everyone else in your family!”
Let me stress I don’t pretend to second guess Angelina Jolie. However, it is ALL about making informed choices for the rest of us who must pick up the pieces after her ringing endorsement of this expensive, painful and perhaps unnecessary decision. Most docs don’t get a single nutrition class in medical school. I saved myself from a hysterectomy returning to a vegan diet because I had an OB who courageously said, “Go back to that vegan diet and call me in the morning.” Within 3 weeks, all signs of menopause were gone.
How many hysterectomies and breast removals could be avoided if more doctors said that! How many voices like mine are out there saying, “Wait…changing your diet could be so much easier and cheaper and even enjoyable!” It’s about informed choices. Please get all of the facts, options and multiple opinions before digesting mastectomies as routine and easy as swallowing a magic bullet pill. I’ve seen many mastectomies end up with horrific complications or side effects the patient had no clue could happen. Changing a diet is much easier. ~ Ellen Jaffe Jones
Thank you to Ellen for coming forward with this deeply personal story, reiterated in her video.
Angelina Jolie’s Double Mastectomy—People Are Desperate for Change, by John McDougall, M.D.
The other response I would like to be sure you see today is that of Dr. John McDougall. Dr. McDougall has just published a lengthy response. Here is an excerpt from Dr. McDougall’s response; the full report is linked below for convenient download.
I have no intention of criticizing the famous actress, Angelina Jolie, for her decision to have both breasts removed in an effort to improve her chances for a longer life. (National headlines on May 15, 2013.) I have treated nearly a thousand people with breast cancer over my 45-year career in medicine. From my experience, I can safely say that she has agonized over this decision. Her radical treatment may have helped her; time will possibly tell.* All we know for sure is that Ms. Jolie has made a great sacrifice today for a theoretical benefit in the very distant future—say one to five decades henceforth.
*If she develops breast cancer then we can assume this prophylactic treatment failed. If the cancer never appears there are two possibilities: one, she may never have been destined to grow, or die of, breast cancer—in this case a double mastectomy would not have been necessary. The other possibility is that the treatment saved her life. Neither disease-free outcome can be proven for her as an individual.
Shining light on a subject will reveal the truth. With mastectomy back in the headlines, stories should again be told about how more than sixty years of medical research has unarguably shown no survival benefits of mastectomy or lumpectomy with radiation, over a simple removal of the lump. As a result of this science more than 18 states in the US have “informed consent laws” that force physicians to tell women facing breast cancer tests and treatments the facts about the failure (and benefits) of breast cancer treatments. In the state of Hawaii where I helped get the 3rd informed consent law passed in the US, women have also been told by state law since 1982 that they need to change their diet.
I applaud Ms. Jolie for making her story public. I do hope her life has been prolonged by this radical surgery. I would, however, discourage this approach for my patients, because I believe the harms far outweigh the benefits. Irrespective of any decisions about mastectomy, or any other medically prescribed treatments, all women and men need to have the opportunity to benefit from a starch-based diet. In 1984, I performed the first study ever published in a medical journal showing the benefits of a healthy diet for women with breast cancer (the McDougall Diet). Since then, dozens of other scientific papers have come to similar conclusions. Yet, doctors rarely mention the importance of food, as they send their patients off to therapies that they (in fact) know will have disastrous consequences. ` ~ Dr. John McDougall
You can download Dr. McDougall’s full and timely response in pdf form here: Angelina Jolie’s Double Mastectomy—People Are Desperate for Change.
Thank you to both Ellen Jaffe Jones and Dr. John McDougall for coming forward so quickly with information that can provide additional insights and inspiration into this timely and sensitivie topic, breast cancer treatment and prevention.