I believe that there is not one single thing that “causes” breast cancer, but a whole series of things that combined with a bit of bad luck create the perfect environment. Some of the things can be controlled, some can’t, and some you just choose not to. Here are the reasons I chose to become a plant-based eater.
In the years BC (yes, that’s “before cancer!”) I was leaning more and more towards vegetarianism, but I hadn’t actually made the leap. I was not eating beef at all as my one small contribution towards the environmental issues caused by beef production.
I was travelling in Europe, and while relaxing in our hotel room there was a documentary showing in German, with English subtitles. I didn’t see all of it, but I saw just how much impact beef production was having – it was exponentially more than lamb or pork. I wish I knew exactly what I was watching, but I didn’t take note, it was just one graph that stuck with me.
Soon after, no matter how much I loved a good steak, I just cut it from my diet. I’ve never been a big pork eater, but I did still enjoy a good lamb roast or some lamb chops once in a while.
I toyed with the idea of becoming vegetarian, but it just seemed too hard. I admit, at that time, I’d not ever really looked into it.
My breast cancer diagnosis changed everything. Even before I was officially diagnosed I had started to research. I quickly discovered that processed meats (all my favourites!) were definitely considered to be carcinogenic, and red meat was probably carcinogenic (you can see the full list here) so as soon as I heard “those words” I gave up almost all meat.
It was actually much easier than I expected. I really didn’t miss eating meat, and I enjoyed discovering new products and ideas that made life easy.
About five or so years ago my daughter became vegetarian. She didn’t eat meat from when she was 16 to 18. I had so much trouble finding options for her. In such a short time it has changed a lot. There are so many meat-alternatives on the market now, and each week I am finding more.
Things were going along nicely. I would have the occasional fish meal if we were out somewhere and they didn’t have a vegetarian option, but other than that, I found it pretty easy to stick with my resolve.
Funnily enough one of the hardest places to eat was when I was in hospital for my DMX. I was there for five days (normal here in Australia!) and I had a cheese, lettuce and tomato sandwich each day for lunch because that was all that was offered. Dinner was just as bad. They made me up a veggie stir-fry the first night, which consisted of noodles, carrots and onion. After that I had my family bring in food for me each evening. Breakfast luckily wasn’t an issue – my beloved Vegemite-on-toast is already vegetarian.
I had been vegetarian for over a year before I became plant-based. I was in Sydney with my daughter (these things seem to always happen when I’m on holidays!) and came across this video!
It rocked my world. I vaguely knew that meat was an issue, but this video takes it further by including eggs and dairy. It explains complex scientific experiments in plain English, and boy oh boy, is it clear that animal proteins in the blood increase the risk of cancer!
I did hesitate after seeing this. I mean, a plant-based diet was going to be hard! I eat out regularly, and if places didn’t always have a vegetarian option, there was no way they were going to provide vegan options. And what about when I ate at friend’s houses? It would be so much more difficult for them to cater for me.
And what the heck was I going to do about my cheese addiction?
As it works out, nothing! I decided to cut out all animal proteins and opt for a plant-based diet and see how I went. I swapped out my milk for a plant-based version (my current favourite is a Coconut/Almond blend) replaced my cheeses with an assortment of plant-based options (with mixed results. I’m still learning to like plant-based cheeses!) and cut out eggs altogether.
This was the start of a huge learning curve, and much reading of ingredients on packets as I browsed the supermarket shelves with despair and longing. I’ve now stuck to it for more than a year.
It’s not been perfect though, there have been things I didn’t even think of. It was probably about four months in when I was taking my morning vitamins and I stopped short – I was still taking fish oil! Whoops.
I also hadn’t considered that wine often has trace amounts of animal proteins too. This only occurred to me when I saw certain wines listed as vegan. I haven’t been drinking a lot anyway, (alcohol can be worse than meat for cancer, but that’s a whole other story!), and in the end decided that for the little wine I was having, I wasn’t going to worry about it.
Of course I didn’t stop researching and reading. A quick Google search will provide dozens of results from reputable websites that discuss plant-based diets and breast cancer. I’ve read through many of them, and I’ve not yet come across one that says a plant-based diet is not beneficial to cancer prevention.
Another of my favourite things I have come across is a podcast featuring Dr Kristi Funk, the breast surgeon who treated both Angelina Jolie and Sheryl Crow, and the author of “Breasts: A Users Manual” a popular breast cancer prevention book.
I really resonated with so much of what she said in this and I really recommend listening to it – and encouraging your family and friends to do the same. I immediately sent it to my daughter to listen to.
I’m all about providing as much information as I can and then letting people decide for themselves what they want to do. A plant-based diet is not for everyone. But it is becoming more and more popular, and it seems that there is plenty of scientific proof that it is beneficial to cancer.
It’s still entirely possible that those on a plant-based diet will get cancer though, just like those who have never smoked a single cigarette might still get lung cancer.
It seems that the chance is much lower, and I am more than happy to keep eating this way for as long as it makes sense for me to do so to keep myself healthier.
Want more ways to live better with cancer? Try this blog post
Tips for Coping with Breast Cancer
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