A chef and cancer survivor opens up about her journey with fallopian tube cancer and shares her cancer-fighting eating plan.
A compelling body of research suggests that diet may be one of the most powerful weapons against cancer. Eating a healthful diet rich in fruits and vegetables is thought to be instrumental in preventing cancer, speeding recovery and preventing relapses. Below, Pam Braun—a late-stage cancer survivor, chef, former restaurant owner and author of The Ultimate Anti-Cancer Cookbook—reflects on her harrowing journey with fallopian tube cancer and explains the importance of nutrition in any cancer-fighting plan.
“In the summer of 2004, at the age of 52, I was not feeling well. The fact is that I was almost dead and didn’t know it. I did know that I was very tired. I remember talking on the phone with my best friend, whom I’ve known for 40 years, and telling her that I was as tired as I had ever been in my entire life. I had trouble getting through the day and plopped on the couch as soon as I could after getting home from work. I had a steady pain in my back that never went away.
Up until this point, I didn’t even have a regular doctor. I had always been healthy and never really needed one. If I got the flu or whatever, I just took myself to a local Urgent Care Center. So I did indeed take myself to the little local clinic thinking I had mononucleosis or the flu. They ran a few tests for the flu, mono, even West Nile virus, and really didn’t find anything. I went to a few other doctors and again, the same nondiagnosis.
Meanwhile, I just knew something was wrong. So one day, after a day of increasing discomfort, I went to a local hospital emergency room around 9:00 p.m. and told the emergency doctor everything that I had been through and all of my symptoms. He ran $12,000 worth of tests in one night—one long night. At 5:30 a.m. the next morning, when I was exhausted from tests and no sleep, the doctor delivered the bad news with a nurse in tow: He said it appeared as if I had lymphoma.
I didn’t know exactly what lymphoma was or even what a lymph node was, for that matter. I did know I was in trouble and that I had cancer. After a biopsy was done a few days later, my cancer was shown to be gynecological in nature, not lymphoma. It was just present in so many lymph nodes that it appeared to be lymphoma. My new oncologist told me that he would schedule a complete hysterectomy and then biopsy that, and they would then know the origin and type of cancer. He thought it was ovarian cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes. My heart was pounding and terror absolutely filled my soul. Ovarian cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes. That did not have a good ring to it.
While I was waiting for my surgery date, my surgeon scheduled me to have a mammogram because he knew the cancer was gynecological; he just was not sure where it originated. It could have been breast cancer. I remember him saying, “If we’re lucky, it will be breast cancer.” I thought, If we’re lucky it will be breast cancer? Oh my God ,how did I get here? I guess he figured I’d have a better shot of survival if it was breast cancer. So I went in for my mammogram a few days later hoping that I had breast cancer.
Bad news—I didn’t. The mammogram came back clean.
Two weeks later I had a very successful surgery thanks to the miracle hands of my surgeon. A biopsy was done, and it turned out to be fallopian tube cancer, the rarest of gynecological cancers. There are only approximately 200 new cases in the U.S. a year. At least I now knew what I was dealing with, but it was stage 3c, possibly stage 4. I remember sitting at my dining room table, absolutely dumbfounded by the news and the statistics because, at the time, I really didn’t feel that sick, and saying, “Well, when have I not been in the top percentage of anything I’ve attempted in life, if I put my mind to it?” There was so little I could control over this disease, but my diet was one big thing I could. So I started my food research.
Although I went the traditional route of surgery and chemotherapy, I supplemented that treatment with diet. I began researching foods that have been tested and shown to help fight or prevent cancer. Seeing that I had been in the restaurant business for years, food and the preparation thereof had become an integral part of my life. Now cancer had, too, so it was only natural that the two of them would combine, and lo and behold, the outcome would be not only be my good health but also this book. I believe that surgery and chemo cured my cancer, but I also believe that changing my diet has kept it from recurring. Although the data regarding foods and cancer recurrence is mixed and the research is still ongoing, I believe nourishing my body with a primarily plant-based diet has kept me healthy and strong.
Science has produced an overwhelming body of evidence indicating how phytochemicals—nutritive components found in fruits, vegetables, herbs, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and spices—work to prevent cancer. The line between medicine and food is blurring. Nine years after the dreaded diagnosis in that emergency room at 5:30 a.m., I not only survived, but I’m thriving.
If you are on your own cancer journey, I hope this book will help you through it. If you are not on a cancer journey, I hope this book will deter you from taking the trip in the first place.”
Below, Pam shares some recipes from her cookbook, The Ultimate Cancer-Fighting Cookbook. These no-hassle, plant-based meals are rich in cancer-fighting fruits, veggies, herbs and spices.