Bye Bye Breast Cancer
We Can Reverse the Cancer Epidemic if We Make the Right Choices
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Jane was an attractive, active 56 year old woman who grew up and resided in Washington DC. She was a care taker of her mother, children, and many of her relatives and friends. Before getting married, she worked as an economist for Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She loved sports and regularly golfed, bowled, and did yoga.
One morning, in the winter of 1978, Jane noticed a marble sized lump on her left breast while in the shower. So she made an appointment with her family physician for an evaluation. He conducted an office exam, confirming a suspicious mass of about 1.5 cm or about a half inch in diameter. He suggested she do a needle biopsy, which she did. When the result came back, the mass was identified as a malignant tumor, with no lymphatic involvement. The recommendation at that time was for a full mastectomy, which Jane agreed to do. The procedure was pronounced a success and Jane was given a boost of confidence by the statement, "we got it all." She was advised no further treatment, as by all indications she was a healthy woman, with normal blood chemistry values. She did lament the loss of her breast, though mostly to herself.
What the doctor didn't know, because he didn't ask, was that Jane smoked one pack a day of non-filtered cigarettes and had been doing so for nearly 40 years. She typically drank a pot (4+ cups) of black coffee in the morning with only a slice of white toast. She was a careful eater to maintain her slender figure, with a lunch and dinner of meat, potatoes, vegetables and an occasional indulgence with cheese cake or a chocolate dessert. She used saccharine to sweeten the 16+ ounces of iced tea she drank during the day. In cooking roast beef, lamb chops, and sirloin steaks or hamburger, she liberally applied Accent, a tenderizer and flavor enhancer made up exclusively of monosodium glutamate.
Every afternoon at five, Jane would settle into her favorite chair in the living room and pour herself 3 ounces of VO (very old) whiskey, and sip that until dinner. This was her ritual and was very comforting to her. Her social set was raised in the Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall generation. Jane loved to entertain and often said she would rather drink and smoke than eat at parties and social functions.
Jane's son was a 32 year old nutrition consultant (that's me) at the time, who loved her dearly. When she was diagnosed with cancer, I gently reminded her that cancer was a systematic disease, not a local inconvenience. It was a signal that the body's immune system was compromised and that the person needed additional nutrients to provide greater protection against environmental hazards and internal endocrine imbalances.
I learned that my mother had received Premarin, a hormone replacement therapy when she was having a hard time with menopausal symptoms. She had been taking it for seven years prior to her diagnosis of breast cancer. I made an appointment with her oncologist to discuss how my mother might alter her lifestyle, improve her diet, and take additional antioxidant dietary supplements such as zinc, selenium, vitamins A, C, and E. At the time, I showed the oncologist a book, A Cancer Therapy: Results of Fifty Cases and the Cure of Advanced Cancer by Diet Therapy by Max Gerson, M.D., which documented how patients, even with late stage cancer, showed significant improvement in slowing the illness and increasing life span by adding fresh, whole foods, the juice of fresh fruits and vegetables, and an array of nutrients. The oncologist respectfully declined to read the text and stated that Jane was indeed very healthy and showed no deficiency signs which would warrant her undergoing a rigorous nutritional regimen.
Two years after the initial breast surgery, Jane felt soreness on the other breast and around each armpit. Returning to the oncologist, she was tested and found to have metastatic cancer that had invaded the liver and bones as well as the breast. The treatment response was immediate and powerful: chemotherapy, followed by radiation. Shock replaced the joie de vivre that Jane had previously exhibited. She became depressed, weepy and withdrawn, and remarked at how embarrassed she was over her hair loss, facial puffiness, and weight gain from treatment.
Addicted to alcohol, she was unable to give up drinking, though she cut down and switched to white wine. Regrettably, Jane experienced severe hepatitis from the interaction of chemotherapy and alcohol, and later developed tuberculosis. I came to cook for her and add nutrients to her program--but by this time, she was often too weak to eat. She did enjoy fresh carrot and apple juice, as it was cool, pleasant, and easy to get down. Within six months, her blood counts dived for both the red and white cells. Her liver enzymes elevated. She was put on anti-depressants which did not alleviate her sadness and self-blame for her situation and the trouble she was causing her family and friends, who were numerous. As the disease progressed, Jane lost her appetite. Her beloved husband had her undergo several expensive experimental treatments in a last ditch effort to save her life. These were unsuccessful. Jane passed away in 1981 at the age of 61. She is greatly missed by those of us who knew her and loved her.
Jane's breast cancer introduced me first hand to the reality of patients, family, doctors, insurance companies, and community that are affected when a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer. While most of us know that breast and other cancers are on the rise, and that we all have some degree of risk for cancer, especially if a family member has had cancer, few of us understand how we can slow down or reverse a disease process with daily health practices such as diet, physical activity, stress management, and a greater understanding of our unique genetic and biochemical individuality. So let's look at some "what ifs" in Jane's life and relationship to cancer.
#1 What if… Jane stopped smoking once she graduated from college. That would have alleviated her of 30 years of inhaling a variety of chemical carcinogens that added a burden to her liver, lungs and immune system. What if she took a deep breath every time she felt the urge for a cigarette.
#2 What if… Jane realized she had a drinking (and smoking) problem prior to the conception of her first born child. What if she drank a cup of green or herbal tea in the afternoon when she wanted to relax.
#3 What if… Jane drank one cup of coffee a day instead of a pot; had only one drink a day, and added fresh fruit or vegetable juice to her daily diet; had purified water with lemon squeezed into it rather than iced tea.
#4 What if… Jane threw out the Accent (MSG) when her son informed her that it was a neuro-toxin, replacing it with herbs--and while she was at it, dumped her saccharine and switched to honey, agave, or maple syrup.
#5 What if… Jane did some biochemical testing when she hit menopause and determined where her endocrine imbalances were--most likely low adrenals, low estrogen, progesterone and thyroid. Rather than taking hormone replacement therapy, she boosted her nutrition, took supportive herbs, and went to an acupuncturist.
#6 What if… Jane had significantly improved her diet, taken additional nutrients as advised by a knowledgeable nutrition consultant, and her oncologist concurred that cancer indicated a weakness in her system that could not be fully managed with surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation alone.
#7 What if… Jane had a team of health educators and oncologists who worked together to consider her state of being, feelings, strengths and weaknesses, and devised a cancer treatment program that took all this into consideration.
Would Jane's outcome have been different if any or all of these 7 "what ifs" had happened? We don't know, but it is likely that she would have had a longer, sweeter life and had a less catastrophic impact from breast cancer.
We are in a new era of health promotion and disease prevention. The place to start is as early in life as possible, to teach people how illness happens, how they can slow or prevent it. If an illness comes to the surface, what is the nature of the circumstances that promote this illness and what is the nature of the conditions that can protect a person from it progressing?
Medicine is remarkable in treating urgencies and emergencies. But diet, lifestyle, and attitude are the prime determinants of well-being. With the advent of genetic testing to better understand inborn tendencies and predisposition to illness, those who receive this information can work with capable health providers to help them identify the right molecules in food, herbs and in medications to strengthen weak systems.
The best recipe for breast cancer protection combines the diagnostic precision of modern Western medicine with the best of traditional whole, natural foods and biochemical support with nutraceuticals or pharmaceuticals--plus self-care practices such as yoga, meditation, exercise, and prayer. This integrative approach works for the person who wants to learn, practice and be involved in living life as fully and mindfully as possible. Sometimes, it takes a serious illness for a person to "wake up" and smell the roses.
Currently one in three men and one in two women will manifest cancer in their lifetime. The reasons for this include early detection, longer lifespan, genetic coding, environmental pollutants, and powerful medical treatments for other illnesses that keep people alive longer, but not optimally well. This is not what most of us want to look forward to. The new health paradigm of holistic and integrative health is to teach people to take better care of themselves before cancer is evident, to slow its progression if it is detected, and to prevent its recurrence once it has been treated. Nutrition, lifestyle, and attitude are the 3-legged stool of health. Add positive social support and a culture based upon health and human values and we can reverse the cancer epidemic.
Dr. Ed Bauman is the Director of Bauman Nutrition, a natural health clinic in Penngrove, CA, where he and his staff provide nutritional consultation for the public. Dr. Bauman is also the Founder of Bauman College of Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts. You can learn more at www.baumancollege.com
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