When my best friend died of breast cancer,
it changed my life, as well as hers.
TWENTY YEARS AGO this May, my dear friend Barbara died of breast cancer. She was beautiful, smart, witty, a loving mother, and a great friend. We lived across the street from each other, spent a lot of time at each others’ houses, and our young kids ran around the neighborhood together. We were family. When she was diagnosed, we were stunned. When she died, it left a hole in our hearts that I don’t think has ever healed.
I have never told this story before, but I think Barbara would want me to, especially if it can help just one other woman. After all, in the 20 years since she died, the “war against cancer” hasn’t turned up a cure, and prevention is still a woman’s best defence.
Cancer for Barbara was a wake-up call. She was raised in the South, and had always been the quintessential “good girl,” doing everything her parents expected of her, including getting her pilot’s licence, even though she hated flying. She shone in school, earned a PhD in marine biology, and moved to Cape Cod where she started a non-profit organization that studied the ecology of the coastline and the surrounding waters. One day, when her youngest son was just a few years old, she went for her usual mammogram and was given a clean bill of health. A few months later, she felt a lump. It turned out to be malignant. These were the early days in cancer research, and, like the scientist she was, Barbara searched diligently and methodically for some good people to help her. She had the good fortune to find Dr. Susan Love—before she wrote her seminal book about breast cancer and became famous. She also sought out Bernie Siegel, and the two of them guided her through her fight against her very aggressive cancer.
Barbara’s wake-up call meant she had to take a long, hard look at her life. And it was a sobering moment when she realized she was not living a life that she would have chosen for herself. She began to question it all—her choice of career, choice of husband, choice of home town. But most of all she questioned her lifestyle—her attitudes, her belief system, and her diet. She was a “yes” person. She never said no, and sometimes her life was chaotic and stressful because of it. You could almost see her gritting her teeth as she determined to be a “good girl” and please everyone—except herself.
She shared these epiphanies with me, and I remember some of her comments vividly. “Even if my body isn’t healed and I can’t cure the cancer, I can still heal my Self,” she told me. I had thought they were the same thing; I also did not realize there was a difference between healing and curing. It was news to me that we can heal our spirits, even if our bodies succumb to illness. She gave me books to read, many of which I still have: “Love, Medicine and Miracles” by Bernie Siegel; “You Are What You Eat” by Victor Lindlahr; “Getting Rid of the Poisons in Your Body” by Gary and Steven Null, one chapter of which is entitled, Sweet Suicide. In those days, reading these kind of books was considered a bit strange, but I sensed they told the truth and I devoured them.
As her disease progressed and she went through debilitating surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, we helped her celebrate each milestone, going out to dinner to show off her new wig or mark the end of a series of treatments. But a sense of resignation crept in. We knew she was losing the battle. “I’m only doing this, going through this treatment, for the sake of my boys,” she said to me once, knowing it would only give her a few more months, maybe a year. Her sons were both under the age of 10. At the time she died, she was studying for a master’s degree in clinical psychology in Boston. She would have made a terrific psychologist. But she never had that chance.
By witnessing her agonize over her treatment options and life choices, I received the gift of realizing that I too could change my life, but without the horrific challenge of fighting breast cancer. I was so grateful to be healthy that I decided to embark on a path of cancer prevention and all that it entailed—changing my diet, changing my attitudes, examining my belief system, and taking my first hesitatant steps into the new world of psychotherapy. As the years went by, this path led to AlAnon, membership in the Unitarian/Universalist Church, and a deep sense of connection to the spiritual world. But what I want to share with you here is the thorough understanding that I learned about the role of diet in degenerative diseases, especially cancer.
During this time, I too had taken a hard look at my life and changed many things. Even so, a few years later I began to experience chronic fatigue. I could not drive to our nearest town without stopping for a nap or drinking a Coke. My hair and nails became brittle, I couldn’t think straight—I had what I can only describe as “brain fog.” I would wake up in the middle the night thinking my hands had dropped off, they were so numb. Then I had a hard time going back to sleep, lying awake for hours. And I was plagued with digestive disturbances. I felt sick all over.
By some serendipitous event, I discovered that I had Candidiasis, a systemic yeast infection, something that doctors then (and now) refuse to consider a true condition. I started on the road to health by visiting alternative medical professionals on the Cape who understood this condition, and through reading and researching everything I could find to make myself feel better (not so easy in those days before the Internet . . . ) I set about curing myself of these symptoms and of the food allergies that blood tests showed I had. I went cold turkey. I could only eat tomatoes, carrots, chicken, salmon and rice. No grains, dairy, sugar, alcohol, or fruit. I did okay for about five months and was really proud of myself. I felt great. In fact, I felt fantastic. I had come alive again. But then I had a slip, a big one, in the form of a large French fruit tart. I devoured it at one sitting, and that was when I realized I had a big problem. I was addicted to sugar. And I realized I could not control this addiction just by telling myself I shouldn’t eat sweets. I really had to know WHY I couldn’t eat sugar, so that I literally didn’t want to put it in my body. So I read everything I could about sugar addiction and what I learned startled me, so much so that I put together this list to remind myself why I would not want to ever become addicted to sugar again. Simple carbohydrates—refined sugar and white flour—have now been shown to be the fundamental cause of the epidemic of degenerative diseases that we now face, and I knew that eliminating them from my diet was essential. Other people may be able to cut down (and I hope you will), but for me, like an alcoholic, it was “all or nothing.” And I chose nothing. In the nest column is the list I put together.
Slowly Does It
A few years after embarking on this diet, I was diagnosed with suspected ovarian cancer, with tumors the size of tangerines. After surgery, the pathology report showed no sign of cancer, and my doctor told me she believed it was because I had been on what she termed an “anti-cancer diet.” So whether you just want to cut back on refined carbs or to aggressively change your diet for the better, I know this list will help.
The idea is to cut down gradually. Read food labels. Wean yourself off processed and packaged foods. Fully understand the detrimental effect that sugar and other sweeteners have on all aspects of your health.
The easiest way to avoid the sugar trap is to banish sweetened foods from your home. Fill your refrigerator with healthy snacks, such as carrot sticks and hummus, corn chips and salsa or guacamole, rice crackers and peanut butter, nuts and seeds, and popcorn.
Keep on hand a plentiful supply of the power-house fruits and veggies such as avocados, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, tomatoes, oranges, apples, grapefruit, pomegranates, and berries. For protein, eat fish, chicken, or other fowl such as duck and turkey (organic if possible). Eat red meat sparingly, and NEVER eat processed meat. If you are not allergic to gluten, you can eat whole, organic grains and bread, but NEVER eat packaged white bread. And I’ll say it again, NO PROCESSED FOOD! And no processed fruit juice, it’s pure sugar—much better to eat the whole fruit. Get to know your local health food store, it’s amazing what delicious things they have to offer that you may not have tried.
Try not to eat sweet foods for breakfast or lunch. If you need to have something sweet in your diet, have it as a treat late in the afternoon. For sweetening coffee or tea, use Xylitol. When you eat out, try to eliminate dessert. Before I go out to dinner, I program myself to know that dessert is not going to be part of the meal. I will often have a cup of de-caf coffee with cream and Xylitol as my dessert.
Continued in next column . . .
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Responses to the Cancer
Article in the Fall Issue
Click here for article
CapeWomenOnline invited you to begin a dialogue with Cape women and myself concerning your questions on the all aspects of cancer; spiritual, psychological, and physical. You responded with heartfelt e-mails. It is my goal to answer all of your questions, and by doing so, help other women suffering from this disease of epidemic proportions.
Unless you specifically request otherwise, I will keep all names and e-mail addresses confidential. Since CWO reaches women all over the country, via the Internet, please write your town and state on the bottom of your e-mail. I will immediately answer your questions by e-mail, and later your question and answer will be published in this magazine to help other women dealing with similar issues.
Address all e-mails to: email@example.com
We want to hear from you. Thank you!
I read your article with great interest. Did you take the same chemotherapy for both breast cancers? Were your breast cancers hormone receptive?
— June, Yarmouth, MA
I had two different types of breast cancer. The first one, diagnosed in 1999, was invasive ductal carcinoma (ID), the most common form of fast growing breast cancer. My first chemotherapy was Adriamycin/Cytoxin (A/C) which treats fast growing cancers.
My second breast cancer, diagnosed five years later, was invasive lobular carcinoma (IL), a slow growing cancer. My second chemotherapy was Cyclophosphamide, Methotrexate, 5-florouracil (CMF).
Both of my cancers were ER+, estrogen hormone receptive despite being on the drug Tamoxifen; a selective estrogen receptor modulator (SERM) to reduce the chances of hormone receptive breast cancer recurrence. Unfortunately, it has been documented that Tamoxifen often stops working after two or three years. I believe that is what happened to me and why I got hormone receptive cancer again. I am now taking Arimidex for five years. Arimidex is another hormone receptive cancer drug that has been found to be more reliable and has less side effects than Tamoxifen.
My mother has an inverted nipple. Her doctor told her that an inverted nipple is not indicative of breast cancer. What should she do?
— Jill, Centerville, MA
I can only relay my experiences and a conversation I had with a woman I mentored for the R.A. BLOCH CANCER FOUNDATION HOTLINE. She had consulted her doctor concerning an inverted nipple. The doctor said not to worry, that an inverted nipple was not a cancer “red flag.” Four months later, the woman called me to mentor her through her mastectomy and breast cancer treatment.
An inverted nipple can be a sign of cancer and second opinions can be very helpful in this matter. When I knew I had breast cancer that was not showing up in medical tests and did not jive with doctors’ opinions, I meditated, listened to my body and then self advocated for the treatments that I knew were necessary to get the correct diagnosis and cancer treatment. We are responsible to and for ourselves. I hope this answer will help your mother make the right decision for her future.
I was very moved by your article "We Are Not Alone . . . " in Cape Women Online and know people who have had the intuition you describe with that special spiritual connection, however, I have not.
Can you describe for me what you did to connect with your body on that spirtual level, i.e., to be able to feel the presence of the cancer in your body when medically it did not appear? Is there some kind of ritual, meditation, or form of relaxation which you do to become "in tune" with your body to be able to detect these things?
Your article was inspiring and intriguing and I look forward to hearing from you.
— Diane Karel, West Chatham
I meditate nightly to stay "in tune" with my inner guides and inner selves and often fall asleep in this relaxed 'state of grace.' I don't do any other form of rituals and never felt the cancer in my body. My guides communicated my health issue to me through dreams and meditations, which helped me self advocate for the correct tests and treatments. I feel speaking with our guides is much like talking to ourselves and/or remembering our dreams.
How often have we heard the saying, "Sleep on it," to solve a problem? I often solve challenges by 'talking to myself', which is communication with my inner-selves. There are many helpful tapes and books on meditations, but I chose to have fun and create one that was meaningful to me and met my needs. My meditation evolved as my needs changed.
To meditate, I would get in a comfortable position in bed, close my eyes and thank God for allowing only that which is of the highest and best to share in my meditation. Then I asked my guides to take me to a special place where we could communicate. While they filled me with healing golden light, I simply followed their lead until I fell asleep. I believe any mediation is good if it makes you feel refreshed emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Kathleen O’Keefe-Kanavos was born in Germany and raised in Europe. She lives on Cape Cod with her husband of 25 years and their four cats. Kathy is in the process of finding a publisher for her book: "SURVIVING CANCER: A Memoir of the Psychic Aspects of Healing. "
For the past seven years, Kathy has counseled women all over the world with breast cancer as a phone counselor for the Bloch Cancer Foundation, which reaches all US States, plus seven foreign countries, www.blochcancer.org (800) 433-0464. She has also worked as a mentor for WE CAN on Cape Cod.
Please email your questions to Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org
We invite you to share your own story with us. If you are traveling this uncertain path and would like to publish your story in future issues, please write to email@example.com
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Ten Reasons Not to Eat Sugar
(includes white flour, alcohol, orange juice, etc.)
1. Sugar (glucose) is the primary food of cancer cells. Every form of cancer cell requires 10 to 50 times more glucose than normal healthy cells, called The Warburg Effect. Eating sugar is like giving fertilizer to cancer cells to make them grow. To detect where a tumor may be present in the body, doctors use a PET device (positive emission tomography), regarded as one of the ultimate cancer-detection tools. PET scans use radioactively labeled glucose to detect sugar-hungry tumor cells.
2. Sugar feeds the “bad” bacteria in the gut, causing a build-up of the yeast Candida Albicans, resulting in Candidiasis, a systemic fungal infestation that causes chronic fatigue, brain fog, severe constipation and intestinal disorders, and a feeling of being “sick all over.” This condition needs to be taken even more seriously based on new research that has shown that hard cancers are held together by a fungus, forming an acid-based glue that hold it and the cancer cells together. And this fungus is Candida. Cancer treatments make Candida worse; the US magazine “Contemporary Oncology,” April 1993, wrote: “Cancer patients undergoing radiation or chemotherapy did not finally succumb to the cancer itself, but to an infestation of Candida Albicans.” Candidiasis is prevalent in those who consume a diet high in refined carbohydrates and who have taken more than a few courses of antibiotics, which kill off the “good” bacteria in the gut as well as the bad bacteria in the body. If you take a course of antibiotics, you MUST take acidophilus (probiotics) daily for at least a few weeks afterwards to replenish the flora in the gut. I have taken acidophilus daily for 20 years.
3. Refined sugar suppresses the immune system by impairing the ability of white blood cells to fight germs. “One hour after a group of volunteers swallowed approx. one teaspoonful of refined sugar, their white blood cells could only destroy half as many germs as before. And the white blood cells didn’t recover their full ‘germ-eating’ capability until four to five hours later.”—Jonathan V. Wright, MD
4. Sugar is highly acidic and causes hardening of the arteries and heart disease. Excess sugar intake increases the likelihood of acidosis, a condition in the body that creates a perfect acid environment for the growth of disease organisms such as cancer and arthritis. Acidosis causes cholesterol levels to shoot up and the blood to thicken and over-coagulate, so there's less oxygen in the blood, and this speeds up the aging process. Our bodies need to be more ALKALINE to avoid disease, so eat plenty of fruits and veggies. Wheat, meat, alcohol and sugar make the body acidic.
5. Sugar depletes the adrenal glands, causing adrenal exhaustion and chronic fatigue. And a combination of sugar and caffeine creates a double-whammy to the adrenal glands. Add stress on top of that, and your endocrine system is in real trouble.
6. Sugar causes diabetes. Excess sugar in the diet creates fluctuating sugar levels in the blood, causing insulin problems and eventually diabetes, for which there is no cure. Diabetes can lead to renal failure, blindness, and heart disease. People with diabetes age one-third faster than non-diabetics because of the toxic effects of sugar. And here’s a real cautionary note: Alzheimer’s is now being called “diabetes of the brain.” Brain cells absorb 20 percent of the body’s food intake, and need fat and protein to nourish them, not carbohydrates. I repeat, brain cells need FAT and PROTEIN to nourish them.
7. Sugar causes the skin to age by a process called GLYCATION, a condition where glucose attaches to the proteins of collagen, making skin stiff and inflexible, leading to wrinkling and aging. Glycation also adversely affects the tiniest capillaries in the body, seriously affecting the eyes and the brain, according to the extensive research of dermatologist Nicholas Perricone, M.D, author of many best-selling books including “The Perricone Prescription.”
8. Sugar causes brittle bones, osteopororis, and arthritis. In order to utilize refined carbohydrates, the body must rob healthy cells of nutrients they need to survive. Sugar causes degenerative diseases because “to digest sugar, the body leaches precious vitamins and minerals from itself, inducing a crisis state. Trying to restore an acid/alkaline balance to the blood, the metabolic system draws sodium, potassium, and magnesium from various parts of the body, and calcium from the bones. The results is brittle bones” (Gary and Steven Null), and leads to arthritis and osteoporosis.
9. Everyone knows that sugar causes tooth decay. This may not seem such a big deal—until you get a bill from the dentist. Incentive enough to never to eat sugar again! There is an excellent sugar-substitute called Xylitol which looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, and has a third less calories. It does not cause tooth decay; and is actually good for the mouth/nasal area. Just as important, it does not feed Candida yeast in the gut. Also good is Stevia, it has a slight aftertaste, but no calories.
10. Sugar causes obesity. Sugar provides nothing but empty calories, and sugary foods and other simple carbohydrates such as pastries and bread are a major cause of obesity. Being overweight is generally bad for your health, means you are at higher risk for diabetes, heart disease and cancer, and makes you less likely to want to exercise.
CANCER DIET Continued from left hand column:
Sugar is so addictive that I found the only way to deal with it was zero tolerance. And the most amazing thing is that once you kick the habit, you don’t crave it, so you don’t miss it. Honestly! Your body will thank you for it, and so will the people in your life who care about you and depend on you. You will be healthier, feel better, look better, and live longer. It’s not easy, but it’s SO worth it.
All material in this article is provided for information only and may not be construed as medical advice or instruction. Readers should consult appropriate health professionals on any matter relating to their health and wellbeing. The information and opinions provided in this article are believed to be sound and accurate, based on the best judgment available to the authors, but readers who fail to consult with appropriate health authorities assume the risk of any injuries.
Much of this knowledge and information has come from the many alternative health newsletters I receive every month, some of which I’ve subscribed to for nearly 20 years. These include the “Alternatives” newsletter by Dr. David Williams www.drdavidwilliams.com, “Nutrition & Healing” newsletter by Dr. Jonathan V. Wright www.wrightnewsletter.com, “Real Cures” newsletter by Dr. Frank Schallenberger, “Second Opinion” newsletter by Dr. Robert Jay Rowan, and the Bob Livingston Letter www.bobivingstonletter.com
This information is also available on the Internet if you know where to look for it, an excellent web site is that of Dr. Joseph Mercola at www.drmercola.com
A good resource on the Cape is Kim Allen, P.A., Licensed Clinical Nutritionist in Yarmouth (508) 760-2423
Suggested reading and resources:
“Sugar Blues” by William Dufty; “The Perricone Prescription” and “The Perricone Promise: Look Younger, Live Longer in Three Easy Steps” by Nicholas Perricone, MD;
“The Yeast Connection” by Dr. William Crook
“Cancer is a fungus” by Dr. T. Simoncini www.cancerisafungus.com
Candida websites: www.stopyeast.com
Cancer/sugar connection: www.mnwelldir.org/docs/nutrition/sugar.htm
Gillian Drake is the owner of Shank Painter Publishing, publisher of Cape Arts Review magazine, CapeWomenOnline magazine, and local cookbooks and guidebooks. She lives in Eastham and works with a limited number of people as an informal food and wellness coach.