From Survive to Thrive: Patty's Cancer Journey
I followed Dr. Carney's blogs online for a long time before making my first appointment. Three years earlier I had become plant based due to a breast cancer diagnosis. That was an adjustment. I finally started to get into a groove with support groups and books I was reading but found myself disillusioned in a system that I did not want to be part of. It was essentially a "sick care" system when I was yearning for a "health care" system that would support my desire to thrive. I wanted a way out of the sick care system and my next step was to find a doctor I could trust.
Dr. Carney's blogs were right up my alley, they agreed with the books I was studying, and it seemed like since she was also local, she was the obvious match for me.
At the time, I had three doctors: a medical oncologist, a surgical oncologist, and a gynecologist. I was required to see each once a year. They told me to stagger my appointments so that I would be seeing one doctor every four months. There was no end in sight. It seemed this would continue for the rest of my life. After becoming diagnosed with cancer you apparently become 'really good friends' with your doctors. I didn't want to be stuck in that environment.
My oncologist recommended I take hormone blockers. They gave me some bad side effects: heavy, continuous bleeding for two months straight. A few months after starting the hormone blockers, something grew in my uterus which then needed to be surgically removed. After that surgery, I decided to get off the medications even though I was supposed to stay on them for ten years. I thought "forget it, I am done with this, it is not creating health in my body."
At my next appointment with the oncologist she recommended that I get my ovaries removed and get on some other hormone blocking medications. None of this felt right to me. So, I brought in a copy of the Kaiser Permanente guide for doctors on plant based eating. She basically brushed it to the side. I felt that we were just not on the same page. The doctors were nice people but they just did not have anything to say about preventing recurrence of cancer with diet. I had to find this information myself.
The next allotted time I needed to see a doctor I decided to make an appointment with Dr. Carney, a plant-based doctor, and have all my records sent to her so that they would all be in one place. I felt I needed to stop all the regular trips to the other doctors. So that is what I did, and I haven't looked back. In my first appointment with Dr. Carney, she gave me some delicious recipes, and she also had additional information that I hadn't considered which was helpful. What a relief! I'm out of the sick care system! That was two years ago.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer I was already familiar with the macrobiotic diet which I have heard is helpful for people with cancer. I knew there was no meat in that diet. As soon as I was diagnosed with cancer I immediately became fearful of eating meat and gave it up right away. But, even though I was not eating meat, I was also not eating properly. I was not consuming enough calories.
Previously my husband and I would get a lot of calories from the oil added to our stir frys. We also ate a lot of high fat foods. When I removed the oils and the high fat foods I did not replace them with a larger volume of plant based foods. I am a visual person and I ate what looked like the same amount of food. But, it was no longer enough to be satisfied. I began feeling weak and losing weight. I thought that the vegan diet might not work for me because I was feeling weak. I attempted to go vegan about 10 years prior and ran into the same roadblock which is why it didn't last. Fortunately, this time I learned that I simply needed to eat more, and to eat more starches which are satisfying and would fill me up. Once I got that, then everything worked out. My energy levels are now excellent.
I did do some conventional breast cancer treatment. I had a lumpectomy and struggled with whether I should do radiation. Unfortunately, I did not know about Dr. McDougall at the time. The doctors put pressure on me to do the radiation. My surgeon told me she would not perform the surgery if I did not agree to do the radiation. I went through the radiation treatments which I regret now. I later learned that the radiation doesn't even extend your life, it only prevents local recurrence and local recurrence has never killed anybody. So, I feel that I went through all of that for nothing.
Currently, I don't rigorously look for a cancer recurrence. I have done occasional self-examinations though I try not to look too hard. I am no longer doing cancer-related blood tests, mammograms, and MRIs. I learned research studies show that cancer found on a mammogram versus palpable lumps do not have a difference in the prognosis. Sometimes the really small cancers that can only be found on a mammogram may even disappear. That said, I did find a lump on my other breast shortly after starting to see Dr. Carney and she ordered a mammogram at that time. We wanted to be sure that it was not cancer. Everything was ok.
I was diagnosed in March of 2012 and went to visit Dr. Carney in May of 2015. I sure wish I had known about Dr. Carney in 2012 when I was first diagnosed. That would have saved me so much stress from the hardships of not knowing if this diet was safe and from the problems I had from not eating enough.
It was important to me to have a doctor that I trusted when I went to Dr. Carney. I had been through such a horrible scary thing in my life and I just didn't feel on the same page with any of the doctors who just seem to prescribe procedures and medications. When I was told I had cancer, I wanted to take control of my own health and to thrive and be healthy. I felt treated like a number in the cancer system. My expectation with Dr. Carney was just to have somebody in my corner who thinks like I do regarding plant based eating. She was like my stepping stone to transitioning away from the sick care system to the way I wanted my life to be which was healthy and thriving and happy. She very much exceeded my expectations and helped guide me towards the thriving lifestyle.
Some of her advice surprised me. I was not aware of the effect of products that were made into flour and so I began to focus even more on whole unprocessed foods. She also taught me about intermittent fasting. I now eat my evening meals earlier rather than later in the evening and I do notice improvements in my energy. Another issue I had since starting with her was some bleeding after strenuous exercise. Through an ultrasound we found another polyp. Dr. Carney suggested I might want to replace the oat groats I was eating every single night, since they are high in fat for a grain. She suggested that I try to lower my dietary fat even more by changing from oat groats to sweet potatoes for dinner. I tried it, the bleeding stopped completely and I no longer have that problem. I was relieved as that saved me from another surgery!
Dr. Carney also encouraged me to eat larger meals earlier in the day and smaller meals in the evening and not eating in between meals. I try to make my dinners lighter and eat heavier for breakfast and lunch. I feel good eating this way. My digestion is wonderful and I get up in the morning ready to tackle a hearty breakfast.
I really appreciate Dr. Carney for her support and commitment to turn people's lives around. I don't believe my sister would have changed if it were not for Dr. Carney and I used to be very worried about her. It is great to have a doctor involved who can not only order blood tests but also explain the results and then share the scientific evidence for what changes in lifestyle are needed. The work that she is doing is very important and I have no doubt she is saving many, many lives every day!
My health is better than ever because of all that I have been through. I had residual emotional problems because of my mother's unexpected death from cancer treatments when I was a child. It was especially hard for me in college. I was plagued with negative thinking and feeling sorry for myself. It was like having a cloud over my head. I was always thinking "I am worse than everybody else in the room" and "Everybody else is luckier than I am." After the cancer, my priorities shifted. But, although it's hard to explain, truly eating so much starch does something positive for the brain. Now that I'm eating the Starch-Smart way, I never go down to the lows that I used to get to, not even on my lowest days. My lows now are probably above where my highs were before. I am at a completely different level of happiness that you can't even compare to my previous state of mind.
I have so much energy now that I enjoy challenging myself physically like never before. Unlike before becoming vegan, I'm now an active runner, weight-lifter, cyclist and yogi. I recently competed in my first triathlon and placed 2nd in my class. I feel like I am living a completely different life.
The hardest challenge I faced through my experience was a lack of social support. There were times I felt very alone. My husband tried to support me but he was also very worried because I was losing weight. And early on I was not making very tasty food, which didn't help much with the marital harmony. I was willing to eat cardboard if that is what I had to do, but my husband was not going for that! Up until then we always enjoyed preparing food and eating together, so before I met Dr. Carney my sudden dietary changes very negatively affected one of our favorite activities. Not now! Since then, I found many online support groups and learned many delicious recipes and strategies for making this way of eating simple. Also, last year, some friends and I started a PlantPure Nation pod, an Austin support group called ATX Alive, which hosts monthly potlucks where many delicious recipes can be sampled and shared. Dr. Carney is a frequent speaker at our potlucks. She loves teaching about this lifestyle and answering people's questions. She is a walking encyclopedia and we are lucky to have her. I now have many wonderful outlets for my passion for plant-based eating for health. And things have greatly improved at home too. My husband and I are enjoying cooking and eating together again. My food tastes much better and my husband is supporting my whole foods plant based no oil diet. In fact, he is now making sure that his mother's care givers do not put oil in her food as well.
Before my cancer diagnosis nobody came to me for advice for anything outside of my job, but I really dove into the nutrition, got the eCornell Certificate, read many books on cancer, watched many related webinars and really dug in to understand. I have been able to retain the knowledge because I am so passionate about it. Now I am contacted almost every week by people who have been diagnosed with cancer and are interested in changing their diet. This prompted me to collaborate with my friends to create ATX Alive which grew into such a successful potluck so fast that soon we were no longer able to fit in people's homes. We now have around 50 to 70 people attending monthly on the third Sunday of every month.
I also created two Facebook groups to provide inspiration and support. The inspiration support group is called "McDougall Success Stories" and the cancer support group is called "Dr. McDougall's Cancer Thrivers." Anyone with cancer can join. Quite a few very well-known cancer survivors have joined, including Dr. Ruth Heidrich who healed her stage 4 breast cancer by switching to a plant-based diet more than 30 years ago.
I am happy to talk to anybody who has cancer and wants to change their diet to help fight the cancer and/or prevent a recurrence.
For people who are like me five years ago and are feeling healthy and eating meat and extra virgin olive oil, and for those who are on the fence, I would say "Don't take your health for granted." You are just one diagnosis away from potential disaster. Get educated about this way of living, give it a try for 30 days. I guarantee you are going to love it. Just do it. Don't wait for something bad to happen to you before you make the change.