[back] Raw food and cancer
Breast cancer patient foregoes traditional treatment for raw diet
Wednesday, 29 October 2008 http://www.heraldextra.com/content/view/286151/17/ http://www.greensmoothiegirl.com/blog/?p=335
By the time Shelley Abegg found out she had breast cancer in 2001, it had already advanced to Stage III — at which stage roughly 40 percent of patients die within five years.
Shelley, now 51, never saw it coming because she never felt a lump in her breast. Instead, the cancer was spread across several smaller deposits, leaving her unable to detect it by touch. In fact, the only reason she got a mammogram was because her doctor suggested a woman of her age -- 44 at the time -- should consider getting one.
So she made an appointment in mid-July 2001, not thinking much of it. Dozens of pictures later, she remembered, she knew something was wrong. Doctors called her back the next day to break the news: There was a 70-percent chance she not only had breast cancer, but a particularly advanced case.
"I still get emotional," she said, tears clouding her eyes in the living room of her north Provo home. "I drove home that day bawling. I think the biggest thing for me was the fear of unknown."
That August, a surgeon tried to remove the cancerous tissue from Shelley's breast. Subsequent tests revealed that the malignancies had spread beyond the margins of the surgery. In short order, doctors recommended more surgery, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
But something about that didn't sit right with her, she said -- something like an inexplicable feeling that she wouldn't survive it.
"It was like pictures came into my brain: 'You will not win this,'" she said.
So the former Miss Orem kneeled and sought an answer in prayer. An impression came strongly -- but it was every bit as mystifying as it was powerful, she said.
"Even when I went into prayer, that was just as scary," she said. "I was thinking: 'Food?'"
Shelley grew up in a home that preached healthy eating, and had conveyed the same emphasis to her son, Taylor, now 17. But never before had she tried eating just raw foods, a notion she felt becoming a "deep, deep conviction in [her] heart" after the prayer. Worse than that, friends, neighbors and doctors almost universally condemned her decision to decline conventional medicine in favor of a holistic approach.
"First, people looked at me like I had leprosy and like I'd lost my mind," she said. "When I made a decision not to take the chemo and radiation, I was just so shocked at the response I got."
What followed was a bout of loneliness unlike any she had endured before, she said. Several friendships were broken up over her decision, and though she stuck with it, she lived in fear of it every day.
"My constant battle was fear more than the disease," she said. "We had to really travail a lot of things. I never knew anyone who had done it."
If it wasn't for the support of her son, she wouldn't have stuck with the decision, Shelley said.
"He was the reason why I was determined not to die," she said. "He said, 'Mom, I'll do this with you.'"
Taylor remembered not quite grasping the gravity of the situation as a young child.
"When you're 9, you don't understand it very well," he said. "My mom was afraid, so I was pretty terrified."
The first raw meal Taylor remembered was a butternut squash soup. Healthy, maybe -- but it would be a while before his mom perfected the flavors of raw cuisine, he said.
"She was just winging it," he said. "It wasn't necessarily tasty at first."
Another setback came when one of Shelley's friends, a fellow breast cancer sufferer, succumbed to the disease in the midst of trying a holistic approach. She had tried chemotherapy and radiation three times before trying alternative medicine, but it was still a shock to see someone trying similar methods pass away during the fight, Shelley said.
But still she forged on, never reversing her decision.
"Every individual has their own journey," she explained.
The first year of the diet was the toughest, Shelley said. Not only was she new to raw food preparation, but the cancer was continually hampering her spirits. She took classes and met from time to time with Dr. Kim O'Neill, a professor of microbiology at Brigham Young University and author of "Plant Power," a book about the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. O'Neill never diagnosed or treated Shelley -- in fact, he confessed he was worried when she told him she was passing up chemotherapy and radiation. Instead, the two would talk about the latest in food research.
"Shelley had been interested in trying to look for different ways to comb cancer, and had talked to me about her breast cancer and about how she was approaching it with raw foods," O'Neill said. "I definitely recommend conventional medical treatments, but also I know that there's a lot of power in fruits and vegetables."
Gradually, the cuisine improved, Shelley said. Surprisingly, so did how she felt.
"Back in 2001, I was so weak and getting worse," she said. "When I would eat the food, the energy came back. I wasn't tired anymore."
People started commenting that Shelley looked younger than ever before -- glowing skin, shining hair. Nothing like a cancer patient should. At the end of the first year, tests showed she was winning the fight. That was a huge psychological boost, she said.
Seven years later, the Abeggs are cancer-free diehard raw food converts. Shelley now uses cuisine as an outlet for her artistic leanings, having started a business online called Raw Food Art. She says she's never felt better -- but stresses again and again that she doesn't claim to have the cure for anyone else.
"I am teaching the art of raw food as a career, not as the answer for curing cancer," she said. "It depends on the individual and where they are for themselves."
But she lives by a new mantra -- "If you do what you've done, you'll get what you've got -- and encourages other cancer victims to reassess their lifestyle choices and consider taking a more active role in making their bodies healthier.
That's a notion mainstream medicine is comfortable with, said Dr. Gary Garner, area medical director for VistaCare Hospice.
"Very little focus is on nutrition, very little focus is on keeping the body healthy," he said. "I tell patients to be cautious and do as much research as they can. I think it's supported very strongly."
As for raw food and other specific holistic approaches, the verdict from the medical community is still out, Garner said. Alternative medicine has not benefited from the huge amounts of testing that conventional means have, he said.
"Many of the herbal therapies have been challenged with rigorous scientific studies. Some have fared well, some not very well," he said. "I think that there's a place for healthy nutrition. I think there's a place for physical activity."
O'Neill agreed, but said history has shown conventional medicine offers the best chance to fight cancer.
"Certainly there's always going to be people who say, 'Well, I did this and I'm cancer free,' but they're definitely not the norm," he said. "I would definitely counsel to seek professional medical help. If on top of that they want to supplement that with some of these other alternative medicines, that's fine."
Shelley's son, Taylor, is now a junior at Timpview High and thinking about his career options. High on that list is working in the medical field to put substantive evidence behind the healing abilities of food, he said.
"[Doctors] tend to frown upon a holistic method like this," he said. "I think there needs to be some sort of research."
Shelley, ever the proud mom, loves that idea.
"If more people could have some science instead of bumbling along like I did, what an advantage," she said.