Michelle is not only an incredibly brave human being, resilient, beautiful (with and without hair) a great friend, a talented artist (those of you who have visited me at my clinic will have seen one of her earlier works, a rather gorgeous olive oil bottle watercolour) but Michelle is also a client of Glorious Food and much, much more importantly, a breast cancer surviver.

Today I am proud and pleased to be able to share Michelle’s incredible journey and her love hate affair with food, in her own words…

My Cancer Story

Hi, my name is Michelle, and I am a client of Helen’s.  After being diagnosed with Breast Cancer in November 2016, I have looked at ways to change my diet to try to prevent a recurrence of the cancer or for any metastasis of any kind. After a discussion with Helen, we both thought it would be something good to share with you all, so here is my story.

On 30th November 2016, I was diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma Breast Cancer.    I was told they had caught it early, the lump was relatively small and could removed via surgery, classed as a Lumpectomy.  I couldn’t believe that I had become a statistic.  They say the chances of a woman in the UK getting breast cancer is 1 in 8.  I had become the ‘1’.  How had this happened to me?  I had always looked after myself, wasn’t a heavy drinker, didn’t smoke, ate a relatively healthy diet, did plenty of exercise – so why me??  The course of treatment prescribed was surgery first to remove the tumour, followed by 6 rounds of Chemotherapy, 23 sessions of radiotherapy, more surgery to remove my ovaries and 10 years of hormone blocking medication.  Wow.  This journey was going to be a lot longer than I originally anticipated, but I just got on with it, taking each day as it came.  I had more scans, more tests and finally surgery – or “eviction day” as I like to call it, on 12th December 2016. 

Chemotherapy was brutal, but I thought of myself as fortunate as I didn’t have as many side effects as some ladies that I spoke to were experiencing.  I did lose my hair, I decided to shave it off after 2 weeks as it was falling out at a rapid rate.  My diet left something to be desired during my course of Chemo as one of the side effects is that you lose your taste.  The only thing I could taste was Chilli Heatwave Doritos and sherbet lemon sweets.  Water was absolutely disgusting, but I knew the importance of keeping up my fluids so it was mixed with lots of blackcurrant cordial or I diluted pineapple juice to make it a longer drink. Needless to say, with my poor diet and with the help of the awful steroids I gained weight, which I wasn’t happy with, but I had more pressing issues to deal with. 

After all my treatment was over, and I started to feel like me again, I started to look into the role of diet and its affects on cancer.  One of my hobbies in my pre-cancer life was going to the gym and lifting weights, so I always ate a high protein diet to help build muscle, so lots of chicken, fish, eggs etc.  A friend of mine recommended that I read “The China Study” book by Colin T Campbell, a nutrition researcher.  This book highlighted the dangers of a diet high in animal protein and the benefits of switching to a plant based, whole foods diet.  I also read other books, such as “How Not to Die” and “The Complete Guide to Breast Cancer” to name a few.  I became hooked on gathering information to help my health, there was no way I ever wanted to go on this cancer journey again.  Im not a nutrition expert, nor am I a medical Oncologist.  Whenever I asked my Oncologist his opinion on diary, soya, alcohol, eating meat etc, the answer was always “we recommend eating a healthy diet – everything in moderation”.  They are not trained in nutrition and that’s why I wanted to make my own informed decision.

I decided, following the research I had done that my main culprit (for breast cancer and prostate cancer too as that is also hormone fed) was that I needed to cut out diary, due to the protein Casein, which can encourage the cancer cells to reproduce.  Sadly, no more cheese, no more cups of Yorkshire Tea with cows milk in, the rest I could live without.  I tried out various milk alternatives, almond, soya, but finally settled on oat milk, and even though getting a decent cup of tea is almost impossible, it actually tastes nice in coffee.

The more I researched about animal proteins, the more I decided that actually, we can live without it.  As a family we don’t really eat much red meat – the odd bit of mince in bolognese, but we do eat chicken and fish.  I started to mix beef mince with vegan mince when I made a bolognese or a chilli, and my children – now aged 16 and 19, didn’t mind the change, so I gradually weaned out the meat, and now we have a totally vegan bolognese or chilli and they prefer it.  My son isn’t a big vegetable eater, so I started to make my own vegetable packed pasta sauce – which I add to most things – so he doesn’t know he is eating the vegetables he apparently dislikes.  It reminds me of when the children were babies and I hid vegetables in their food!

As a family we have progressed on our plant based diet.  There are allowances made as a family, the kids wont eat Tofu unless it has been marinated first and taken on a lot of flavour, I make a vegan version of Katsu Curry, and we are getting a lot more adventurous in trying out new meals.  One of our favourite meals is “Creamy Pesto Lasagne”, the recipe of which I have shared for you all to try.

From a health point of view, I feel in a lot better place knowing that I am trying my hardest to remain healthy and hopefully be here for many years to come.  The research outlined in the books I have read isn’t publicised, and there are many theories about why, the biggest being that if we all ate a plant based diet and looked after our own health in this way, then the Pharmaceutical Companies would go out of business.  I would hope that this isn’t the case, and I do have my own views on this.

I have now lost the weight I gained on chemo, mostly through eating better choices and just getting back to my pre-cancer diet.  One thing that is so much better since changing my eating habits is my IBS.  I was a big sufferer of bloating and cramping, neither of which I suffer from any more, my stomach has never been as flat!  Another benefit I have found is my energy levels have greatly increased.  Unfortunately, one of the side effects from the hormone blocker medication I take is fatigue, and this was starting to get to me.  I lost my “get up and go” and things were becoming more of an effort than previously.  The changes in my diet have really helped with this, and I am now back to doing everything I used to do before, despite being a few years older.  My hair has grown back really healthy, thick and curly, even though it was straight before I had Chemo, but again, this is another side effect as the chemo damages the hair folicle. 

The whole vegan/plant based way of eating has been so enlightening.  I decided to take an online Diploma in Vegan Nutrition to further my education in this area.  I wished I had done it sooner.  It’s not just about eating more fruit and vegetables, its also ensuring you get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet on a daily basis.  It can be easy to think that just by omitting animal proteins in the diet that you are eating healthily, but we need to ensure that we consume enough calories, protein, iron and where to source things like Vitamin B12 from.

Making the transition can be done by going “cold turkey” or you can take your own time with it, starting out by eating 1 plant based meal a week, progressing onto 2 meals a week etc.  My approach was to eat a plant based breakfast, lunch and snacks and to eat the same meal as my family at dinner, wether it was plant based or not.  I still generally tend to stick to this method, although our dinner is now predominantly plant based too. 

If you have any questions about anything in my Cancer story, or about transitioning to a plant based diet, you can email me at michelle.j.allen@sky.com

Michelle x

Photos in order:

1.  Me before chemo
2.  My first chemo session
3.  After having my head shaved at the hairdressers
4.  After my first radiotherapy session
5.  Getting a “breast cancer ribbon’ tattoo
6.  1 Year after chemo – hair growing back
Note from Helen Mileham:
I am truly honoured that Michelle has allowed me to share this incredible journey with you and I hope that this brings you some hope and faith in the food that you put Ito your bodies each day, as well as the sheer determination and willpower to succeed in anything you want to achieve. 
What an incredible journey, makes me cry each time I read this through, but also is give me faith in humanity and in the absolute importance of good health and wellbeing 
Lots of love
Helen xxx