Diet, exercise, mindset
Aside from the obvious reasons that Jessica’s cancer recovery and 92 pound weight loss are such an inspiration, there is a message of huge importance to underscore in her story. Jessica makes it very clear that action in three realms – what I call the 3 Pillars to Success in my writing, coaching practice, and book – each have been a leg of importance for her. 1) Diet and nutrition 2) Exercise and activity 3) Mindset and motivation. She neglected none of them.
Most people limp along on two or even one of these three legs, and their lopsided and intermittent success shows it. Jessica says: “…I live my life 90% of the time eating a VERY strict Dr. McDougall diet consisting of unprocessed, low-fat, whole foods, plant-based, starch-based foods” …”I exercise regularly”…”I am regularly educating myself through books, DVDs and trusted sites on health and nutrition, reading my Bible and talking with my God daily…” Diet, exercise, mindset. You don’t have to be anything close to religious to learn from this – it is the connection with hope, possibility, and taking positive attitude action that is the alchemist for the rest.
I’ve always considered myself pretty healthy. My weight was an issue at times, and I tried a variety of diets throughout the years, but every doctor’s visit and all the tests told me I was in excellent health. My husband and I wanted to start a family, so to be as healthy as possible I stuck to what I thought was best: a high-protein, low-carb diet. After two miscarriages I decided to heck with eating healthy—while eating “healthy” I’d lost two babies. I plunged head first into sugary treats. I was depressed and angry at my body, and gained a lot of weight, very quickly. I had noticed after the second miscarriage that lumps had begun to grow in my right breast and in my underarm. They even became quite painful at times, but I thought it was just my hormones.
After a routine doctor’s visit, I received a call on April 11, 2011 that I had an aggressive Stage 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma breast cancer. I was 29 years old and I was in shock. How on earth could I have cancer? The P.E.T. Scan revealed it had spread to my right breast tissue and lymph nodes under my arm. I asked my oncologist if I should change my eating habits, and she told me that there was not clinical data that showed substantial proof that it really made a difference. She said, and I quote, “If you want a donut, eat a damn donut.” So, for the first four months of chemo I ate whatever I wanted to.
I began chemo on April 27, 2011. As soon as they began the IV drip, I could feel the chemo going into my body. I would instantly feel more tired. I gained about 50 pounds, had major fatigue, painful fluid retention, intense body aches (so much so that it hurt to be touched), muscle tenderness, extremely painful constipation, hot flashes, night sweats, joint pain, nausea, acid reflux, mental fog, no energy, and I pretty much felt miserable all of the time. I kept a smile on my face, though, because I knew I had to keep positive to stay alive.
On September 12, 2011 I went in to have a bilateral mastectomy and also have some lymph nodes removed. Later, I got a call from my surgical oncologist telling me that four out of the five lymph nodes she removed tested positive to having active cancer cells in them, and one showed signs that the cancer had tried to move out to other cells. So, the four months of chemo shrank the cancer, but it didn’t kill the cancer. After getting four different opinions, the consensus was that I needed to start another four months of chemo before starting radiation to kill any potentially active cancer cells that may be left.
I began a new round of chemo on October 11th. My blood counts tanked and were so low that I only received two treatments because my body couldn’t handle it. I had to wear a face mask out in public and pretty much stayed secluded for about a month since my immune system was almost non-existent. Thank you chemotherapy!
While waiting for my immune system to strengthen, I began researching, including watching documentaries. On November 6, I watched Forks Over Knives for the very first time. That movie was revolutionary for me. No one had ever told me this was even an option; that actual MDs had solid scientific proof that nutrition did in fact impact our health. Through FOK I discovered Dr. McDougall and heard Ruth Heidrich’s story for the first time, and I began email correspondence with them both. Dr. McDougall sent me several articles and links to studies pertaining to breast cancer treatment and nutrition.I spent time praying about what to do after receiving all this information, because it was completely contrary to everything my doctors were telling me. The next week I went to my oncologist and I told her I was refusing any further chemo and radiation treatments.
I decided to fight recurrence and any remaining cancer cells in my body with nutrition (a low-fat, plant-based, starch-based, whole foods vegan diet) and exercise. I know cancer thrives in an acidic, anaerobic environment, so I am doing all that I can to make my body a hostile environment for cancer and any other types of diseases. Treating “possible” cancer recurrence with toxic treatments that may further damage my body and compromise my immune system did not make sense to me. And, I now know that by the time you find cancer it’s already been there for years and has gone all over your body; so, the best thing to do is to build up your immune system so that it can defend against any further cancer or diseases you could be susceptible to.
I knew for this to really become a lifestyle change I had to attend Dr. McDougall’s 10-day live-in program and become his patient. I didn’t have the funds to attend and unfortunately insurance doesn’t cover it, so my amazing friends, family and co-workers actually raised the funds for me to attend.
The McDougall 10-day live-in program was phenomenal. It was exactly what I needed. It was very hands-on and so informative. It really helped me get a grasp on all the changes I needed to make. Having the support of Dr. McDougall and the amazing friends I met while I was there has been so crucial to my success! A key moment for me at the 10-day was when I met with Dr. McDougall and he looked me in the eye and told me that I need to start living again; do what I used to love to do, go on dates with my husband and just start enjoying life again. When he said that, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders! My eyes filled up with tears because it was like I finally had permission to live again and not have CANCER hanging over my head. I went from being a “cancer patient” to being a “cancer SURVIVOR.”
Because the cancer I had was so strongly fueled by estrogen, I was told I would either need to take hormone-blocking drugs (Tamoxifen) for five years, or have both ovaries and tubes removed, causing surgery-induced menopause. This was not an easy decision to make, but I chose surgery because of the risks of taking the drugs. Going through menopause at my age has been a huge struggle for me, but I know it would be even more difficult had I not discovered Dr. McDougall and been shown what true health really is.
My life now
Since I got back from Dr. McDougall’s 10-day program I’ve been reclaiming my life. I’ve continued eating the way he taught me (low-fat, whole foods, plant-based, starch–based, vegan), I’ve hired an awesome personal trainer to teach me how to get my body to ultimate health and fitness, I’ve gone on dates again with my sweetheart, enjoying each other and life. I have to say it’s been so nice to take my life back. Since making this complete 180-degree change and becoming a McDougaller, I’ve lost 92 pounds (and still losing); gone from a size 22+ (at my heaviest during chemo) to a current size 8; all my scans and blood work show that I am cancer-free and I am healthier than I’ve ever been in my life! I’ve completed two 5k runs so far this year, with another 5k obstacle course set for the end of September. Now, I exercise because I love the feeling of my body getting stronger and healthier, especially since I know what it’s like to not be able to, and to feel weak and sick. I feel as if I’ve received a new lease on life and I plan to live it to the fullest!!
YOU can do it!
Honestly, I am still dealing with the effects of the cancer that tried to destroy my body, and it hasn’t always been an easy fight. But there is hope! Most of the diseases we face today can be prevented and treated by what we put into our mouths every day. I hope my story can be an encouragement to those that might be going through something like this, and a warning to those who think it will never happen to them. It isn’t too late; you can start eating healthy today and give yourself the best chance of living a long, happy, disease-free life!
If I can make the change from being a sick, bloated, 100+ pound-overweight, medicated, stage 3 cancer patient to a thriving, HEALTHY, cancer-FREE woman on a whole foods, vegan diet with a complete lifestyle change… ANYONE can! You just have to make the decision and stick to it. It takes one day at a time. You can’t look at this change as “temporary” while looking forward to the times when you can “cheat” with harmful foods; you’ll never last that way.
I live my life 90% of the time eating a VERY strict Dr. McDougall diet consisting of unprocessed, low-fat, whole foods, plant-based, starch-based foods, and on a rare occasion I’ll “cheat” and eat more fruit than usual or have a small piece of organic 80% dark vegan chocolate or some vegan apple crisp dessert; but those are rare occasions, and even in my “cheating” I am still 100% McDougall all the way. That’s why it’s a lifestyle, not just a diet.
I know that health comes from the totality of your daily decisions, not just from a single component. That’s why I exercise regularly, I drink half of my body weight in ounces of water daily, I sleep well, practice de-stressing techniques, and laugh often. I am regularly educating myself through books, DVDs and trusted sites on health and nutrition, reading my Bible and talking with my God daily. It’s the totality of our decisions that create an environment for true health.
Thank you, Dr. McDougall, for spending your life imparting this message to others!! I know my life will never be the same because of it!
Dr. McDougall’s Comments
Cancer is people’s greatest fear because it is thought of as an unstoppable disease. All hope is placed in medical treatments, such as surgery, followed by radiation and drug (chemo) therapy, even though four decades of scientific research has clearly established the ineffectiveness and harms of these treatments for common cancers, such as those of the breast. (There are exceptions: For a few cancers, such as leukemia, lymphomas, childhood and testicular cancer, the results are good and the patient’s life is unquestionably extended and benefited by traditional medical treatments.)
I know that my starch-based diet will improve the quality of a cancer patient’s life, and I also believe that it will increase the length of their life. The body is always healing, even with cancer. This healing oftentimes turns into a cure. For example, based on a large study of serial mammograms, doctors have determined that 22% of invasive breast cancers spontaneously regress over a six-year period. In other words, independent of any diet or other treatments, the body cures itself of about one-quarter of invasive breast cancers. Even when the cancers are late-stage and obviously spread throughout the body, people have fully recovered. To be more specific, spontaneous regression has been seen with breast cancer. Cancer is not an always unstoppable runaway train. Now is the time to fight back with better health by eating a better diet.
Common sense leads me to believe that a person in good health is more likely to experience one of these miracles of spontaneous cure than is one in poor health. The starch-based diet I recommend is the fastest and surest way to become healthy. Jessica, as clearly shown by her pictures, is now a healthy person. Every patient, and especially every cancer patient, should be told by their doctor to make the right dietary change as part of their fundamental care, regardless of any additional therapies that may be chosen.
© 2012 John McDougall
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wow what an inspiring story , congratulations on your progress and to Dr Mac Dougall who founded this lifestyle, i would not live any other way now , it is my life forever, thankyou for sharing such and an inspirational story, cheera Anna
It is an amazing story Anna – one to share with your team at the hospital and the people in the diet-change project.
Thanks for popping in with your thoughts, as always!