Disclaimer: I am not a doctor or healthcare professional. The information provided is based on my personal experience. Please consult with a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional for any medical concern you may have, as well as before starting a new diet or exercise program. Full disclaimer
At the age of 20 I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I had no idea that nutrition played a role in disease prevention or treatment. My father is also a cancer survivor and there is a lot of cancer in my family history, so I just thought I had bad genes and bad luck. So I underwent conventional treatment – two surgeries and chemotherapy. I have now been cancer free for over a decade. Let me know if you’re interested in a separate blog post about my experience with cancer specifically.
Chronic Health Issues
After cancer treatment and recovery, I suffered with many strange symptoms that didn’t seem to be connected and that escaped diagnosis for a long time. My symptoms would flare up and subside without any discernible pattern that I could ever work out. I dealt with chronic pain and fatigue. I went through periods of time where I would wake up with a massive headache and my entire body felt like it was on fire. It was difficult to get out of bed in the morning and do activities of daily living. I felt like I was sick all the time with a chronic cough and sinus issues, that eventually was diagnosed as severe adult-onset asthma. I also dealt with severe pain around my periods and was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis. My chronic pain and fatigue were never formally diagnosed. Doctors thought it may be an autoimmune condition that hadn’t progressed to the point where it would show up in my bloodwork, or that it may be fibromyalgia. I was ill in some way or another my entire adult life, and I didn’t know that I had any power over my symptoms and my conditions. I would do my best to deal with symptoms as they came up, take medications, and then try to forget about it until things would flare up again.
Going plant-based back in 2016 did initially help my symptoms and increase energy. I lost 60 lbs in the first year. Unfortunately, I gradually reincorporated processed foods into my diet and my health declined as a result. At the time, I didn’t realize that this is what was happening. I just thought I was eating a mostly whole food plant-based diet with the occasional junky vegan treat at home or meal out. These occasional occurrences increased without me being very mindful about it. Looking back I can make the connection, but at the time I couldn’t. I would go back and forth trying to be as whole food plant-based as possible and then spiralling into consuming more processed foods and the cycle would repeat over the next few years.
CONSULT WITH A PLANT-BASED DOCTOR (OR OTHER QUALIFIED HEALTHCARE PROFESSIONAL)
I was having a fairly healthy streak last summer. I had an appointment with a plant-based doctor that I almost didn’t go to because I was feeling fairly well at the time. I was still on medications, but was feeling ok. I thought I would check in to see if I was on the right track, and if there was anything else I could do to heal. I also wanted to know what I could do in the event of another flare up. I was on a pretty good track at the time – eating a mostly whole food plant-based diet, trying to get more active, and practicing yoga. Unfortunately, in September of 2019, I had a terrible flare: I was stressed out and had been eating more processed foods and everything flared at once – asthma, endometriosis, pain, fatigue, brain fog. I had to quit a dance teaching job, I felt like a failure, and I was at a complete loss. Enough was enough. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I remembered that the plant-based doctor I consulted with recommended that I could try Dr. Brooke Goldner’s Hypernourishing Protocol if I had another flare.
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DR. BROOKE GOLDNER’S HYPERNOURISHING PROTOCOL
I watched Dr. Goldner’s free classes online, and decided to try her hypernourishing protocol. The protocol is essentially is a raw vegan diet that is free from added oils. It focuses on maximizing water intake, omega 3 intake, and the consumption of the most nutrient-dense foods – vegetables, especially green veggies. In the first couple of weeks I started to see improvements in my breathing and pain. I stayed on the protocol for about 2 months and decided to gradually try to re-incorporate cooked foods into my diet. I started with oats, potatoes, and tofu. I still felt great!
Stress also contributed to my symptoms flaring up. We live in a culture that often values productivity, sometimes to the detriment of mental health and the ability to cope with stress. I also tend to overthink things and tend towards anxiety by nature. Yoga, mindfulness, and breathwork have been helpful in managing stress.
GOOD SLEEP HYGIENE
Making a sleep schedule and getting into a good sleep patten also helped immensely in my healing process. I would put thought and effort into winding down before bed. I tried to go to bed at the same time at night, and wake up around the same time each morning.
Healing is possible. In the past I would try to be amenable to others – eat what they were eating, went out where they wanted to. I needed to shift my focus and my mindset around food and healing. I had to view food as fuel and focus on consuming healing foods to regain my health.
HEALTH = #1 PRIORITY
Continuing with the healing mindset and changing my perspective on food and healing, I also had to be selfish. I had to make my health the absolute number one priority in my life. I had to focus and refocus on this again and again. It took time to develop new patterns of behaviours. I brought food with me and declined processed foods and meals out for an extended period of time.
INNER WORK – PSYCHOLOGY OF HEALING
I read Dr. Goldner’s books Goodbye Lupus and Goodbye Autoimmune Disease. Goodbye Lupus goes into the steps to take to heal – what to eat and what to avoid. Goodbye Autoimmune Disease goes into depth about the psychology of healing and I would highly recommend reading it and completing the exercises in the book. I found it extremely helpful and valuable to reframe my disease and shift my perspective on food, health and healing.
CONSISTENT WHOLE FOOD PLANT-BASED DIET
After doing Dr. Goldner’s protocol and gradually re-incorporating cooked foods into my diet, I now consume a whole food plant-based diet free of added oils. I avoid processed food the vast majority of the time and I still include a lot of water, omega 3s, and raw food in my diet.
I’m feeling amazing! I’m completely medication free and have been enjoying the greatest health I have ever experienced! I’m grateful every day for my health and renewed zest for life.
I was not always in a position where I could move my body. I have had times in my life where I have been a dance and fitness instructor, but I also have had to quit those positions at times due to illness. I am thrilled that I can walk and run and have adventures with my family. I have been able to rejoin the gym (I had to cancel my membership previously due to illness). Being active and fit makes me feel vibrant and alive.
RE-IDENTIFY SELF AS A WELL PERSON RATHER THAN AN ILL PERSON
I identified myself as a chronic illness warrior and as a spoonie. I was someone with invisible illnesses and I felt connected to others who also had chronic conditions and undiagnosed illnesses. There is great support to be found in these communities and it was so helpful and comforting to know that I wasn’t alone. However, to get into a healing mindset, I had to let go defining myself by my illness, or defining myself as an ill person. Making that shift was extremely difficult, but it allowed me to have hope and shift my perspective towards healing.
PERSEVERE – Don’t Give Up
I dealt with so many health issues over the years with so many tests, scans, medications, and appointments with doctors and specialists. I sometimes felt lost in the sea of the medical establishment. I was helped by traditional doctors who would prescribe medication to help with symptoms, but I was so frustrated that they would not seek to find the cause of disease or try to find alternative ways to take me off of my medication. I was frustrated and wanted to give up at times. I kept those doctors and continued to work with them; but also found plant-based doctors who had a different understanding of disease and could help me with lifestyle recommendations. I still make mistakes and I am always learning. The healing journey is so worthwhile. If I make a mistake I do my best to get back on track as quickly as possible and try to improve my situation. I try to keep going and keep growing. I refocus on my health again and again.
THERE IS HOPE
I have had many ups and downs in my healing journey. There were many times when I felt hopeless and thought that my life would continue to be completely absorbed by illness. I had no idea that I could make lifestyle changes and feel so good. There is hope. Healing is possible.
In changing my mindset, diet, and lifestyle, I was able to shed my illnesses and become a new person in a lot of ways. I still have asthma symptoms if I run when it’s cold outside, but I am completely medication free and am enjoying the best health of my life. I have taken control of my future and will always be so thankful to Dr. Purdy and Dr. Goldner for allowing me to see that healing and recovery is possible. My life is forever changed. I didn’t know it was possible to feel this good!
*I acknowledge that not all diseases are preventable or curable with lifestyle medicine. However, it is likely that you have way more power and control over your health outcomes than you ever thought possible. I know that was true for me. So, if you’re seeking healing, go after it!
- Nutrition Facts
- The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM)
- The T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies
- Dr. Brooke Goldner
- Dr. Brooke Goldner’s online classes
- Find a plant-based doctor