In this post, you will find out
- why I recovered from treatments more quickly this time,
- what happened after the birth of my 2nd child,
- how I decided to try something radical,
- what research I based my decisions on,
- what effects my decisions had- and what my life is like as a so-called “cancer survivor”!
Recovery this time was much more smooth than the first time round and I think this is for two reasons: first of all, I had “only” had surgery once and I wasn’t bed-bound for a whole week like in 2008.
Although I had radiotherapy sessions every day for a week, I was able to go out and about in between and spend time with my family.
I was also much more prepared this time, took supplements to build me up and help me through radiotherapy and my nutritional status was much improved compared to 18 months previously.
Much of the expected side effects didn’t happen: although my little girl went through a 5.15am wake up phase while I was having radiotherapy, I didn’t get overly fatigued from the treatment. I never felt nauseous (maybe because of all the liver support I was doing) and my skin never blistered.
Which, apparently, is pretty unheard of for that type of treatment!
I bounced back really quickly, didn’t have to interrupt my studies but was again unable to go back to work for another long period of time. My eye sight went downhill rapidly as had been predicted by my consultant. He basically said my vision in the right eye would be gone within 12-18 months because of the location of my tumour.
The tumour had moved so close to the optic nerve that they couldn’t avoid radiating it during the sessions, too, which would have a huge effect on my sight.
“With the permission” of my oncologist, I got pregnant again in November 2010. In hindsight, I think it wasn’t a very good idea and I should have given my body more time to recover. And, considering my history of relapse just after the birth of my first baby, I think it was a pretty brave move!
The second pregnancy was easier than the first- I didn’t have all the liver-related problems I had previously had- and I was closely monitored all the time. Our beautiful baby boy was born at home in August 2011.
Afterwards, I kept anxiously waiting for the appearance of symptoms but because my eyesight was so bad, I couldn’t detect any flickering or any of the other warning signs I had had before.
In April 2012, I was dealing with a lot of complications: cataract formation, radiotherapy-related retinopathy and I was also at risk of developing glaucoma.
There was so much going on in the eye that it wasn’t 100% sure either that the tumour was definitely inactive.
Don’t be laughing, but I was asked by my consultant whether I’d come in to do sessions with ophthalmology students so that they could examine my eye and see everything that was going on. About 4 birds with one stone, including a tumour!
Surgical intervention to deal with all those side effects was totally out of the question, so the two options at the time were to try Avastin injections or removal of the eye.
At the time, I was still feeding my little boy and the thought of having injections into the eye that would stop any blood vessels from growing frightened me. Although I was reassured that it was a perfectly safe thing to do during breastfeeding, all my instincts told me not to do it.
Of course I could have weaned him but, as many mums will understand, this would probably have caused endless sleepless nights, which I couldn’t face at the time. I was too sleep deprived as it was!
So, next option- eye removal. I had obviously been toying with that idea before but I was just not ready to give up yet.
I explained to my consultant that none of those two options presented were acceptable for me at that time and that I needed a few weeks to try something else.
There was nothing to lose, really. In the worst case I could still opt for taking the eye out when everything else failed.
What I knew was that I didn’t have a lot of time. I already had a very clean diet with very little sugar, lots of whole grains and definitely lots of nutrients. So what I needed to do was something RADICAL!
Here are my notes of my decision making process. I researched different approaches and explored feasibility and scientific basis of many others. Please note that this is based on my personal health history as well as scientific evidence.
I’m planning to update and present this in more detail in the section on “The Science behind Cancer Diets” on this website, but here’s a short summary:
The other obvious approach that I know many cancer patients investigate. For a long time, I believed as well that meat/animal products needed to be severely restricted.
I had followed Kris Carr for a while and was/am full of admiration for what she does.
But based on my experience when I was a teenager, I already knew that my body didn’t thrive on a vegan or vegetarian diet. I had developed an iron deficiency during my year as a vegetarian that took me years to recover from.
Also, I couldn’t find any compelling evidence telling me to cut out animal products completely.
Again, I liked the holistic approach developed by Johanna Budwig and acknowledged that it had certainly helped many cancer patients despite the absence of clinical trials.
One of the main tumbling stones for me was that it is a diet that heavily relies on dairy. Ever since I came back from Asia, where I didn’t eat dairy for a few weeks, I’ve had problems digesting lactose.
I had also found some conflicting research into flax seed and didn’t feel like following an approach that relied too heavily on one single food.
Of course I investigated the possibilities of working with Dr Burzynski and Dr Gonzalez. Maybe I would have been able to raise the significant amount of money to go and visit them but, to be honest, I just didn’t have the energy and the time to organise such a big venture.
The financial risk would also have been significant to me.
Of course, my health, my eye, maybe even my life was at stake.
But on the other hand, I knew I’d have to give up my well-paid job. My financial future as a nutritional therapist certainly didn’t look as promising (financially) as a corporate job and my husband had only set up his own storytelling business the year before my initial diagnosis. We had two very small children who, at the end of the day, had priority. And a mortgage to pay.
I would probably have been so stressed out by the financial burden that it would have offset the benefits of any protocol!
Therefore, whenever my clients ask me about any of the well-known cancer clinics, I look at the full picture with them.
And, in my case, I didn’t have unlimited time, wasn’t keen on being away from my family and had to get results quickly.
And that’s when I started embarking on the ketogenic diet.
It was a risk, I admit, because at the time information on how to implement the diet was scarce and there were only few case studies available but no randomised controlled trials.
But I had nothing to lose and the science behind the diet was so compelling that I wanted to try it. One paper that I was particularly focused on was a 2011 research paper written by the very well-respected cancer researchers like Robert Weinberg and Douglas Hanahan.
They already published a review article in 2000 called “The hallmarks of cancer” which highlighted 6 common characteristics of a cancer cell. It is basically a summary of decades of research that highlights and explains the main findings.
In 2011 and based on “new” observations, they added another 4 hallmarks, one of which is a changed energy metabolism in a cancer cell. Weinberg and Hanahan also mention the work of Otto Warburg.
The “final straw” in my decision was this video by Craig Thompson of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York. From minute 27, it gets particularly interesting:
If such a highly respected cancer researcher acknowledged that cancer can have its origin in metabolism, then I just HAD to give it a go. There was nothing to lose.
The other thing that convinced me to give it a go was that it was a COMPLETELY different way of eating than I had ever done before in my life.
So, to sum up, my decision was certainly based on research and how metabolic therapy works, but it was very much combined with my gut feeling.
I started by upping my fat intake. So instead of my grain-based porridge, I had avocadoes, eggs and veg, nut porridge, kale/coconut shakes or soups for breakfast.
For lunch I increased fat intake by having generous amounts of homemade salad dressing, pestos, pâtés, olives, oily fish and added them to leafy greens and other vegetables.
For dinner, I started experimenting with new recipes that were grain free, had limited amounts of starchy vegetables but were still lovely and easy to incorporate into family life.
Desserts- oh well, I just pretty much had to ditch them initially… there was so much change in my other meals that I couldn’t possibly find the time to develop dessert recipes, too! I did have some 90% dark Lindt chocolate, though.
These changes were big for my body and there were a few hiccups on the way: although I took digestive enzymes initially to help with the breakdown of fat, I felt that my digestion needed a bit more support. I did an elimination/challenge of certain foods and figured out that I was sensitive to eggs and nuts.
A blood test confirmed these results. Oh dear… I was on a restrictive diet as it was, and now I even had to do without eggs and nuts. These are an important part of low-carb diets, after all.
The good news is that I eliminated them completely for about 4 months while doing lots of gut healing. Now I’m able to tolerate small amounts of eggs and nuts about twice to three times a week without a problem.
I see this happening to a lot of people when they start cutting out certain foods.
Initially, many cancer patients get completely overwhelmed when they change their diet and keep eating the same meals over and over.
This is one of the reasons why I’m so keen to constantly develop new recipes and increase the variety of foods my clients eat.
Anyway, I’m sure you wonder what the effects of my “radical” dietary change was. All I can say is that it worked- and with pretty immediate results!
At the time, I had to be closely monitored and went for eye check ups every 3 weeks. Within a few weeks, I was out of the “danger zone” of being at risk of developing major complications.
I didn’t have to have Avastin injections. My eye is still where it belongs. And, added bonus, my vision is so good again that I can live without any restrictions.
Yes, the consultant in the UK did predict that my eye sight would be gone at the latest by 2012. But like with any prognosis, it is very difficult to translate for an individual patients. So many variables come into play and we have to take a prognosis with a (big) pinch of salt.
That’s what I did: I realised that obviously I responded VERY differently to standard treatments than the average patient. My oncologist even jokingly said once that he hadn’t come across anybody like me before, that my body seems to do exactly the opposite to what is expected…
So, fast forward to 2014: Research into the ketogenic diet seems to have taken off recently. I’m not saying it’s become mainstream, but I definitely notice that there is tons more material available online.
There are many more research papers and we have gained some insights into how the ketogenic diet can become a potential treatment option for many medical issues, including cancer- hopefully!
How did you find your path on your cancer journey? Did you follow your intuition, too? Do you think this has a place in cancer treatment?