Updated: Dec 15, 2021
The day after my breast cancer diagnosis I changed my diet. I didn’t have to research the change; I already knew I wanted to contribute to my healing by going vegan. I no longer wanted meat, seafood, dairy, or processed foods. Now it’s only been a few months so I hope I can continue without a problem. One of my earlier attempts at being pescaterian ended after half a year when I became listless and tired. It got so bad I made an appointment with my internist. She told me to start eating meat again. Maybe I don’t know how to be a vegetarian? Perhaps I wasn’t eating enough protein? I’m not really sure.
I do know that the lure of being an omnivore is great and culturally it’s baked into the American and the Chinese way of life. Tofurky on Thanksgiving? Having dim sum with the family without having seafood, char siu (barbequed pork) baos, and dan tat (egg custard tarts)? Close to impossible.
But now that I’m eating vegan, I feel great! Before cancer, I was relatively healthy, not eating much red meat, having my five daily servings of veggies and fruits, mostly organic. And in the last year, about the only dairy I had was yogurt, which I made myself with an organic starter. This isn’t true for my childhood. Then I had lots of Twinkies, bologna sandwiches, potato chips (OK, I still have chips), milk, cereal, the whole enchilada...
During the pandemic my cholesterol spiked which probably had something to do with all the beef, lamb, and bacon my husband was buying when it went on sale at Safeway. Under doctor’s orders, I stopped all the red meat, ate my oatmeal and took flaxseed oil or fish oil pills. By this year’s physical in Feb 2021, my cholesterol returned to the happy zone and I celebrated that my diet could create positive change in 6 months.
So what’s the connection between cancer and meat and dairy? I’ve known about the connection for many years. I saw the documentary, Forks over Knives (now free) which refers to the famous The China Study. I remember forcing my son and husband to watch Super Size Me so they’d understand the evils of fast food and why we laugh at the acronym for the Standard American Diet...SAD.
I had always wanted to be a vegetarian and had as many vegetarian cookbooks as omnivore cookbooks. When my daughter Vanessa was about eight, I took a vegan cooking class and intellectually understood the benefits of a macrobiotic diet. I’m ashamed to say I didn’t become vegan because of cruelty to farmed animals or the destruction to our planet, which are compelling enough reasons!
I became a vegan because I wanted to avoid the sword of Damocles, the immediate peril that eating meat, seafood and dairy were doing to me. By the way, I had to look up what the sword of Damocles is. According to the story, this 4th century BCE courtier Damocles whined to the king of Syracuse in Sicily about how lucky the king was to be wealthy and powerful. The king offered Damocles a day on the throne and arranged that a sword be hung above the throne to remind whoever sits there about the dangers lurking. You can interpret this story in many ways, but in my situation, it doesn’t matter to me how delicious meat, seafood, dairy, and processed foods may be, cancer now hangs over my head. And I’ll be damned if I knowingly contribute to my own demise.
For breast cancer survivors, in particular, there’s a link to dairy consumption and breast cancer through bovine leukemia virus.
Now I need to restrain myself from self-righteously lecturing my friends and families to become vegan. After all, had it not been for my cancer, I would still be enjoying coffee ice cream and fried chicken. Count yourself lucky that you can read this blog and click the window closed. My family gets to hear my daily rants.