That set in motion a lifetime quest to dodge genes that would get our family enrolled in the original breast cancer genes research. As I often say, dodging breast cancer became the investigative reporting job of my life.
The researchers at Myriad Genetics in Nevada conducting the cancer research wanted to exhume some of our dead relatives that were known to have died from the disease. No one in our family agreed to that.
Although the research results remain confidential, even to participants, our family didn’t need a study to tell us what we already knew…the breast cancer gene or genes were alive and well in our family tree. The odds of any female in our family getting breast cancer was 1:4. The national average is about 1:8. I come from a family of 2 sisters, who both got breast cancer. I have 3 daughters. Now you know one of the core reasons why I do what I do. Living by example speaks more loudly than any words.
At hospitals where our family would gather, someone would joke wondering which new hospital wing would benefit financially from our current family member’s long hospitalization. Or we would laugh that the current family reunion was underway in the large hospital room suite that cost extra money, just so all of the family members could congregate. There was something almost remotely traditional and comforting because we spent so much time together in the hospital hallways and rooms. The endowment office staff always made a house call to the room. They knew our family was golden. Indeed we were.
We would joke about this because it was the only way we knew how to deal with constant disease. Until it was our turn. I vowed it would never be my turn.
My father, who owned a successful small business, told me he was asked to leave the business because the store could no longer afford his health insurance. It wasn’t just cancer that brought our family down. Here’s how the family tree of diseases stacked up:
Heart disease and diabetes: mother, father, sister, two grandparents
Alzheimer’s: mother, grandmother, uncle
Colon disease: Everyone. Dad had a colostomy.
Osteoporosis: All women except 1 sister
But wait…it gets worse. The sister who didn’t have cancer yet, went in to the hospital for “routine” (don’t you love that word?) herniated disc surgery, most likely caused from a lifetime of poor eating and inactivity which ignited her diabetes in her twenties. With a compromised immune system going into surgery, she flatlines on the table, almost dies and comes out with MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics).
I had been called to my father’s bedside the same day. I didn’t make it there before he died. My sister was next to him, in a coma, in the intensive care unit. She ended up becoming paralyzed in most of her limbs and now lives in a nursing home for the rest of her life. A year after that was when she got breast cancer. I was told by family and doctors alike: The diseases are all genetic.
I was the only healthy person. By a long shot.
It wasn’t always that way. At age 28, I almost died of a colon blockage the same year my other sister got breast cancer for the second time. Doctors in the emergency room said they had never seen a colon blockage that large in someone my age. They said I would need to be on medication the rest of my life. Later, bariatric tests showed I that my colon was an extra foot longer than normal from the chronic constipation and distention in my early years.
I would go on to have natural childbirth 3 times. Nothing compared to the pain of that colon blockage. All I knew was that at 28, I was way to young to be on any kind of medication for the rest of my life. So I ran to the health food store and read all 5 books on fiber. That’s all there was at the time.
The research of Denis Burkitt stood out. He wrote about recording the bowel habits of some African tribes, finding that bowel movements for them was normal after every meal. Double take! “Normal” in our house was 2-3 times a week. My sister and I would giggle about her hanging out in the bathroom after dinner mainly to avoid doing the dishes. But it originated with the serious, underlying problem. Magazine racks in bathrooms abound where constipation abounds.
I watched my sister go through the ravages of chemotherapy and radiation twice. As she wretched in pain, agony, and constant vomiting, I thought, “There just has to be a better way.” I began to read more, and have never stopped. The connection between unplugging the colon by flushing away putrefying toxins with high fiber foods and water seemed so obvious. Anytime I thought of returning to my previous way of eating, the visual of my sister suffering popped into my consciousness. No one, no animal human or otherwise should suffer from preventable disease. Not in our country. Not in this day and age.
I began with a macrobiotic diet, popularized by the book, “Recalled by Life.” It was written by a doctor who said the diet reversed his own cancer. But the macrobiotic rules were too stringent for a busy TV reporter whose only chance at food some days was a quick drive through Taco Bell. I morphed to eating vegetarian, and then vegan.
In case you think it is too difficult to go vegan, it really isn’t. Just this week, I woke up to a ton of posts on my social media pages telling me about an article I was featured in called “11 Convincing Reasons That Eating Vegan Isn’t Crazy.” The article appeared in the online version of Reader’s Digest which says it has 4 million online viewers. Not to mention that it is the 2nd largest paid subscription magazine in the US. Reason 4 in the article, on page 4 is “Eating Vegan is Cheap!” And it had a huge picture of my book. I didn’t even know that this was happening. You don’t get more mainstream than Reader’s Digest. Though I’m told that there are not plans for this article to make next months print edition, unless it goes even more viral than it already has. You can read about the other great reasons to go vegan here:
That a mainstream publication would even “print” such an article is beyond imagination. The source of the story was the force behind a great vegan movie called “Vegucated.” It’s about 3 people who turn their lives and health around eating vegan. These stories are so common now, the VegNews has started a column called “Veganism Saved My Life.” Yes, Virginia, results ARE typical! When is the medical establishment going to shake off the powerful influence of drug companies and smell the cilantro?
I know this article was also great for so many who have been told by well-meaning family members or friends that they are crazy. I don’t know…it always seemed that as I watched my sisters have a chest cracked open for heart surgery, or watched them lose limbs and eyes to diabetes, or be up close to the ravages of chemo…changing your diet seemed to be so much easier and rational. More doctors are understanding this now, though much still needs to be done to inspire the studies it will take to change conventional medicine. No money in broccoli though.
I’m Ellen Jaffe Jones, The VegKoach and the broccoli rep, because who else is?