When First Diagnosed With Cancer, I Had No Idea It Would Turn Out To Be Such A Gift
That might sound awfully strange to you…
…but you’ll understand why I feel this way, in just a moment.
Let me explain by sharing a little of my story with you, and you’ll also see that no matter what path you’re walking – whether as a current cancer patient, a survivor, caregiver, concerned friend or family member, or a ‘student’ of nutrition or health…
I’ve walked (and for that matter, continue to walk) the same path you do.
You see, as a Registered Dietitian and Program Leader at the Wellspring Cancer Support Agency in Toronto, Ontario, providing nutritional education in the form of lectures and cooking demonstrations…
As the author of “The Essential Cancer Treatment Nutrition Guide and Cookbook”
And also a cancer survivor myself…
I’ve spent my entire adult life collecting, analyzing, and distilling an incredible amount of knowledge about nutrition, about cancer, and about that area where the two overlap. And I’ve applied that knowledge in my own life, and the lives of countless others. I’ve been both a patient (during my battle with the disease) and a caregiver (during my father’s).
The kid, the nurse, and the grocer…
I guess I come by my keen interest in better health through proper nutrition, and my passion for helping others, naturally enough:
My mother was a nurse, and my father was a green grocer with his own store, well-known for fresh produce and garden plants. It was while in high school, working in the family business alongside my siblings, that I first became particularly conscious of the role “healthy eating” plays in achieving and maintaining optimum good health.
Then, when I was 27 years old, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma (stage IIB extensive) – a cancer that originates in the white blood cells (lymphocytes) and spreads to the lymph nodes.
Things were no longer looking so good…
I had masses in my neck, under my arms, and a large 15 cm tumour in my chest. By the time I reached the cancer centre, after all the preliminary staging tests, I could barely breathe. My lungs were filling with lymphatic fluid, drowning me in my own body.
When I arrived at the cancer centre for a bone marrow test (part of the staging for my cancer), I was deteriorating quickly.
Rather than being sent home after the bone marrow test, I was admitted, had my lungs cleared of fluid via a thoracentesis, and chemotherapy was prescribed. I started ABVD chemotherapy (Adriamycin, Bleomycin, Vinblastine, Decarbazine) and continued with it for the following six months.
The chemotherapy program (and the month of daily radiation treatments that followed) had its challenges, of course. I experienced many of the nutrition-related side effects of treatment, including loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting.
But now I can draw on those memories of what it was like, and make recommendations to other cancer patients from a place of genuine understanding and compassion.
And the outcome?
I’m happy to say that my oncologist and I decided “We must stop meeting like this” and he retired me as a patient. YAY! (No offence, he’s a great guy – but “YAY!” nonetheless.)
Now I have a new oncologist. I’m part of the High Risk Breast Cancer Screening Program at a cancer centre in Toronto, Canada. Apparently, since I was under 30 when I received radiation to my chest, I’m now considered higher risk for breast cancer. As you can imagine I am particularly keen to understand how diet can affect breast cancer and am eager to read the latest studies and try new recipes with cancer-fighting ingredients.
But cancer wasn’t finished with my family yet…
Then my father was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer originating in his gallbladder. Although it had been 14 years since my family had dealt with my cancer, we once again came face to face with this threat. We struggled to help my father maintain his weight and strength so he could survive not only the cancer but also the treatments that were meant to extend his life.
Unfortunately, just five months after his diagnosis, he succumbed to his illness. The treatment had devastated his body, but he took the risk.
I have learned from my father’s experience, as I had from my own, and this knowledge is woven throughout my book as well as this website.
Walking Beside You on The Journey
When I provide advice on cancer risk reduction through diet, know that it comes from someone who is walking beside you on this journey. I have the same questions you have and I will work for you to provide the answers. My advice is meant to serve you and the people you care about.
Join my community and I will keep you informed of nutrition and cancer. I will give you advance notice of new webinars and interviews and provide you will new tips and recipes for healthy delicious eating.
Yes, it really has proven to be a gift
Despite everything that happened to me during my bout with cancer – the fear, the pain, the worry, all the many side effects – I see my cancer as a gift.
For one thing, it has taught me to never take my health for granted again. I now live my life in a different way – a better way, I think.
Even with my father’s cancer and death, there was a gift there, too. I was able to communicate with my father in a way that had not been possible up until that point in our lives.
My experiences with cancer have made me a better dietitian… and it’s important to me, to be the best professional I can be.
I hope you and your loved ones are able to find a gift in your experience as well. You’ll certainly find plenty of help within this website that can make your cancer journey a little easier.
I’m here to help.
I look forward to serving you as a one-on-one mentor, group leader or on-line coach and supporter.
Wishing you well on your journey,