There are some moments in life you’ll always remember. Maybe it’s the day you learned to ride a bike. Or when that special someone said “I love you.” Maybe it was the moment you realized there are no guarantees in life.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis is undoubtedly one of those moments. Time seems to stand still as you hear the words you either feared or never expected to hear.
I was 27 when I was told I had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Four years later, I wrote Kicking Cancer in the Kitchen to help others cook their way through crappy cancer. But let me back up a bit.
Welcome to Cancer World
I had been working for a few years in a job I always thought I wanted, even though I worked very long, stressful hours.
Because of my schedule, I ate poorly — too many sweets and pizzas. I did what was quick and gave me a bit of energy, only to crash later. I had no idea the toll this lifestyle was taking on my body. I paid no attention to the migraines, headaches, and digestive issues I suffered from daily.
One morning I started having chest pain. A CT scan revealed a mass behind my sternum. After a referral to a cardiothoracic surgeon, who said the mass could not be biopsied without removal, I was scheduled for major surgery — a full sternotomy.
In surgery, they found that the tumor had attached to the major vessels of my heart and to my thymus gland, and had wrapped around my right phrenic nerve (which is attached to the diaphragm). My surgeon removed much of the tumor as well as my thymus gland and cut the phrenic nerve, leaving one side of my diaphragm paralyzed. Recovering from this surgery was exhausting and painful.
Next came the biopsy results. When my surgeon called, he spoke with my husband first, and I could see it in his eyes as he listened to the doctor and looked at me. Cancer.
After consulting with a couple different oncologists, I opted for chemotherapy.
I won’t lie: Chemo was tough. I felt heavy, weak, exhausted, emotional, and nauseous. By my third treatment, I was dreading the drive to the treatment center, my hair was falling out, I felt anxious and depressed. This didn’t seem to be the right way to heal. I worried about damage the chemo was doing to my healthy cells.
The Healing Power of Food
From the moment I was diagnosed, I knew I couldn’t sit back and let my doctors take control, hoping everything worked. I needed to be proactive. Before starting treatment, I asked one of my docs what else I could do to help fight this cancer. Should I eat certain foods? Not eat certain foods? I was told there was nothing I could do. I didn’t know then what I know now, but I did know this doctor had to be wrong.
I began changing my diet. I ate more leafy greens and cut back on processed foods and refined sugars. I learned how to make nutrient-rich smoothies. Lo and behold, my recovery time between chemo treatments shortened. I got my strength back sooner and wasn’t quite as tired. Food gave me energy. I even felt happier and more capable of handling my treatments.
Besides feeling stronger and more energized, I also felt a sense of empowerment. I knew I was doing something amazing for my body that would help me through treatment, support my body in healing from the disease, and help prevent recurrence.
This tremendous change motivated me to enroll in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York. I decided it was time to learn all I could about food and how it affects our bodies.
Beyond my own positive experience with food, I learned that studies have shown that a plant-focused diet reduces cancer mortality rates, and that vegetarians live longer and have lower cancer rates. Studies have also shown that a healthy diet helps prevent late effects – treatment-caused health problems that occurs months or years after a disease is diagnosed.
In a world in which so much is out of our control – like genetics and the environment at large – what we put on our plates is a decision over which we do have control. It is something we can take into our own hands and use to support our health. When you frame it this way, getting into your kitchen to make a meal changes from dreaded chore to radical self-care act.
Sharing Advice, Compassion, and Recipes
In learning a better way to eat through my cancer experience, I also found there were limited resources available that offered what I wanted to eat and live better. So I created new resources for myself and other women.
Now, I am six years cancer-free and enjoying food in a way I never thought was possible. I love getting fresh kale from my garden. I can’t wait to visit the farmers’ market. I enjoy being in my kitchen, trying new recipes, chopping veggies, and blending smoothies. I feel happier and healthier than ever before. I entered Cancer World sick, stressed, and completely off-balance and was grateful to come out of it with a fresh outlook on food and life.
By Kendall Scott