Well, geez, that’s a loaded question and one I would consider a little unfair. My lifestyle could have been almost equal to that of my next door neighbor’s, but I get breast cancer, and she never does. Therein lies the problem with this deadly killer. All the negative inputs, be they environmental or the lack of nutritious food, will affect each and every one of us differently, as we are all biochemically unique. Cancer can strike anyone with a compromised immune system, and that’s why it’s so important to stack the odds in your favor.
As a sequel to my first post, I never really delved deeply into the WHY, the CAUSE of what I went through. Without getting too scientific, I’d like to write about that here. For starters, I can’t say I was living a perfectly healthy lifestyle before 2010, but I also can’t say I was at the bottom of the nutritional barrel either. I was eating the standard American diet (SAD), so what was the big stink? With respect to a tumor’s formation and growth, progression starts 8 – 10 years prior to its becoming palpable, possibly sooner with more aggressive cancers. If that’s the case, millions of cancer cells were isolating themselves and multiplying, and I didn’t even know it. I am 39 years old now, and I had the tumor removed when I was 36. Let’s see, 10 years prior in my mid 20’s, what was my lifestyle like? My recollection is that I was an athletic yo-yo dieter who was eating to stay thin and did not have an understanding of what true health entailed.
My Crazy UnSexy Diet:
I was on the professional tennis tour from 1996 to 1998, and then again in 2003, during which time I ate a lot of processed carbohydrates, such as bagels and energy bars, thinking a no fat diet would keep me thin and energized for training. I did not eat a lot of fruits and vegetables. My Auntie Cindy should remember my eating patterns best: I would always count calories and fat grams when I would go over her house to eat and then proceed to eat a sugar-loaded no fat Entemann’s pound cake and calling it healthy. Back in the 80’s, the nutrient-absent no-fat fad was popular, and that’s what I lived by – so much misinformation. In the 10 years prior to my 2010 cancer diagnosis, I consistently ate some kind of animal product, mostly beef or chicken, thinking I needed my daily dose of at least 100 grams of animal protein to rebuild muscle after training. I did not differentiate between grain-fed or grass-fed beef, or chicken shot up with antibiotics or not. Being aware of these things wasn’t en vogue 10 years ago, nor did I care. Meat was meat, and it tasted damn good.
Dairy was another culprit. I drank cow’s milk consistently, interspersed with soy milk.
I knew nothing of the hormone, insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1), found in high concentrations in pasteurized cow’s milk and meat. Put simply, if your levels of IGF-1 remain elevated as an adult, bad things may grow, like cancer. When a cell in your body turns bad, apoptosis, the mechanism of programmed cell death, is supposed to take place. High IGF-1 levels can stop apoptosis from happening, and this bad cancer cell starts to multiply. These bad cells begin to isolate themselves in a cocoon called a tumor, and their own little bad community starts to cause a lot of crime. Inside they grow, and you don’t even know it. You have to wonder why young children are hitting puberty so much earlier and are more developed than kids their age before the 1990s.
When I was not playing tennis, my weight fluctuated. I lost and then gained back about 20 lbs. from 2004 until 2006, at which I time I got skinny for my friend’s wedding, then went back to mindless, unhealthy eating from 2007 until 2010. During that time, I worked out maybe once every month IF that. And this was the same girl who had played tennis professionally and in college? I was not doing the right things for myself. I ate McDonald’s or some kind of fast food at least once or twice a week. I also loved fish-and-chips, steaks, french fries, heavy foods like pasta, and SUGAR. Sugar was my big indulgence – pastries and all the delectable Filipino desserts like polvoron, leche flan, bibinka, and cakes that you couldn’t stop eating. I did drink alcohol with friends on the occasional weekends and had a little coffee with my cream and sugar. And wouldn’t you know it: CANCER CELLS FEED ON SUGAR.
Environmental Toxins & Stress
Now I haven’t even mentioned synthetic xeno-estrogens, which mimic the naturally occurring hormones in your body. Xeno-estrogens, like IGF-1, cause things to grow and proliferate. They can come from ingredients in make-up, fabric softener, lotions, household cleaners, BPA-lined plastic containers, even your drinking water. Toxic industrial ingredients like mercury, dioxin, parabens, flouride,and PCBs, are another huge contributor to cancer risk and if your body does not assimilate or eliminate these toxins, cancer can take root. These human carcinogens wreak havoc on your hormones and thyroid. Who knows which of these toxins were living in the estrogen receptors of my breasts? The thought really irks me.
Stress is another often overlooked life event. I was working at Merrill Lynch International in NYC in 1999 and into the early 2000’s. I was super stressed and working long hours. I abused my body. My boss was a crazy Japanese Brazilian financial advisor who was constantly yelling at all her assistants. I was the only American on her team who could speak basic Portuguese to her Brazilian clients. I messed up quite a bit and was having a hard time. Fast forward a couple of years when I got into real estate. I was working on a ton of stressful short sale and rehab deals, sometimes 20 at a time. I probably worked 60+ hours a week and had no balance. My partners demanded a lot of me at the time and so did I, and that took its toll. Exercise and a healthy diet just wasn’t a priority of mine. I just wanted to do deals… Things have changed a lot since then, and daily self-care and the preparation of good food is something I take very seriously. Stress is the silent killer that needs to kept at bay. We all need to know how to unwind and get our rest.
MIND-ful Eating for Better Living
All these environmental onslaughts and a decade of unhealthy, mindless eating set the stage for the perfect storm. If the lifestyle I described above is similar to the one you live now and you don’t feel your best, I encourage you to dig deep and challenge yourself to live better not just for yourself, but your family and for the health of this nation. I get on my beloved mother about eating her greens. Surrounded by her daughter, sister, and her late mother all having experienced cancer, my mother understands that genetic predisposition is one of the many variables in getting cancer that isn’t fully understood. Incorporating a daily diet consisting of legumes, whole grains, and at least one plant-based meal which could include a juice or NutriBullet, a lightly sautéed main dish, or a colorful raw salad translates into eating for longevity and stacking the odds in your favor. Compliment that with a lower intake of inflammatory foods such as processed wheat, meat, dairy, sugar, and junky snacks, and your immune system will thank you: All the ailments, achy joints, allergies, and chronic diseases will be hard pressed to stick around. Figure out your why and how you want to feel 10, 15, 20 years from now. Let food be your medicine, and please start living your better life today.