The Flaming Vegan

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Dear World:  Stop Asking Breast Cancer Survivors About Their Scars.  Start Asking About Their Dinners.
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Dear World: Stop Asking Breast Cancer Survivors About Their Scars. Start Asking About Their Dinners.

This week, ABC news correspondent Amy Robach announced her breast cancer diagnosis on Good Morning America. Can celebrity diagnoses be a catapult into real conversation about dietary and environmental causes and prevention?

I’m not sure they can. In the last decade or so, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Ethridge, Christina Applegate, Robin Robertson, Guiliana Rancic, and now Amy Robach have all been diagnosed with breast cancer. Angelina Jolie had a preventative bilateral mastectomy after learning she carries the BRCA1 gene mutation.

If Angelina can have her breasts removed preventatively, without a cancer diagnosis, and be hailed by the public for her bravery, it seems that real conversations addressing environmental causes or using diet as prevention are pretty far off. After all, traumatic, mutilating surgeries make for better headlines and news stories than vegetables and clean living, don’t they?

When Robin Roberts showed her chemo-induced bald head to the world on Good Morning America, she too was revered for her strength and her bravery! Would a clip of her eating kale or drinking green juice have produced the same ratings and reaction from the world? I sincerely doubt it.

Before you get angry and flame me in the comments, realize that I have room to talk about this. I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 32 years old. I had a bilateral mastectomy to treat my cancer. I carry the BRCA2 gene mutation. I lost my mother, aunt, and grandmothers to cancer. I have spent about half of my life watching a close family member go through chemo and radiation, and then eventually die from the disease anyway.

So when I was diagnosed with cancer and told by three different sets of doctors that I would be a fool to do anything aside from pursuing a bilateral mastectomy, I listened. I did what the doctors told me. I felt completely helpless and terrified.

Never once did any doctor suggest that I might have some power over my situation. That I could take control of my health with a daily decision to eat clean food and live in a clean environment. They treated me like a victim. And I felt like a victim.

I would guess celebrities receive roughly the same information that I did from doctors. Doctors tell you about chemo regimens, radiation schedules, and types of surgeries, but they say next to nothing about environment or diet.

I would also guess a celebrity feels roughly the same way the rest of us do when we were told we had cancer. Helpless. Afraid. Panic-stricken. Terrified. Celebrities aren’t brave or strong any more than I was brave or strong. Celebrities, just like anyone else with cancer, are grasping for anything they can possibly do to prevent the cancer in their bodies from killing them.

The only difference with celebrities is the whole world is right there waiting to watch their life-and-death drama play out. And humans love watching a good drama play out, don’t they? Humans love not knowing how the story will end, and they love seeing just how much one of their fellow humans will endure to stay alive.

I have heard a million times how brave and strong I am for having my mastectomies. How amazing it is that I can hold my head up and lead a happy life in spite of losing all the women in my family to cancer.

It’s exceedingly rare for anyone to call me brave or strong for sticking firmly to a plant-based diet and a weekly exercise regimen of running, strength training, and yoga. I have found that I’m far more likely to hear that I’m crazy, stupid, unhealthy, or all of the above for eating and exercising the way I do.

And the funny thing is, I don’t feel brave or strong for enduring my mastectomies. I don’t feel brave or strong for slogging through the grief of watching my family members die, one after the other. Those parts of my life are simply me doing what I felt I had to do in order to deal with events that were beyond my control.

Eating a plant-based diet and exercising makes me feel brave and strong. It’s empowering to know I get up every morning with the intention of making the healthiest choices I can, and that I go to bed every night knowing I did everything I could to make choices that will keep cancer out of my body.

I’m no celebrity, but I’ve found that people get more excited about my scars than they do my dinner. They’d rather hear about whether I still have nipples or not than they would about my yummy green smoothies or how I clean my house with baking soda and vinegar. Until the world decides to sensationalize and celebrate prevention, clean eating, and clean environments more than the drama of mastectomies and chemotherapy, celebrity diagnoses aren’t going to do a damn thing to help spark conversations about prevention.



 *Image courtesy Flickr creative commons.

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  1. LaDonahue
    You my dear are a freaking ROCK STAR! It takes courage to balk what is culturally and socially acceptable and do what is best. Keep speaking out! Education is the key! Share your message and let others learn from your example!
  2. yogayoda
    Thank you for sharing this. There seems to be a kind of mental comfort in believing that cancer is one of those things that can get you no matter what you do. While that may be partially true (for example with genetic dispositions), what medical science has concluded is that we can drastically reduce our chances of getting cancer through lifestyle choices like diet and exercise. It is empowering, but also terrifying. Most people would rather believe they are powerless against cancer than have to take responsibility for reducing their chances by changing how they live.
    1. robz
      I agree completely with what you're saying about our attitudes to cancer (my partner is having treatment right now), but just wanted to point out that even genetic predisposition is only one factor affecting our risk. Our inherited DNA affects our gene expression but diet also affects it, as does the presence of chemicals or contaminants. There is research showing differences in gene expression transcripts between plant based wholefood diets and "western" diets (refined, sugar-rich, dairy and meat-based) and the genes expressed differently are related to those seen in cancer and other chronic diseases (here's a link:
      1. Veganara
        Yes that's so true Robz, that is exact;ly what I discuss in my latest blog here, please check it out:
  3. Melissa Nott
    Melissa Nott
    Thanks for sharing your story, and brava to you for attacking bad genetics with good eating habits. I suppose changing the worlds' perception begins with blogs like this!
  4. Veganara
    Voted. Great blog. You are so right - it's all about headline-grabbing tactics with celebrities, isn't it? As you say, mastectomies and chemotherapy-induced bald heads make for much better stories than someone preventing or curing their cancer through a vegan diet. Sad, but true. I wrote about this topic too, but from a different angle, the science behind it, so you might find my blog of interest: . Please check it out if you have time, and keep up the good work, with awesome blogs like this! I intend to share this one.
  5. Norma Plum
    Norma Plum
    Thanks so much for sharing your story. You are a strong woman. It makes me wonder why people criticize us so much... "I have found that I’m far more likely to hear that I’m crazy, stupid, unhealthy, or all of the above for eating and exercising the way I do." I just got a call from an aunt yesterday telling me how mean I am for not feeding my husband well. I make him really healthy meals every day (which he loves), but I guess I'd be a better wife if I just sent him to the gas station to buy himself a couple of hot dogs. I just found this online and loved it: ”I feel sorry for you, that you can’t eat .” For one thing, let’s talk about that word “can’t.” Unless a vegan also happens to have an allergy to meat, dairy, or eggs, the more applicable word is “won’t.” I can eat whatever I want. I choose not to eat animals. I find it is much more empowering to view it in this way. So please don’t feel sorry for me! I am happy with my choice and I enjoy the wide variety of plant foods that I eat every single day. Even though we may have once loved steak, the longer we are vegan the more we start viewing it as an animal’s dead body, and some of us are actually turned off by the sight and smell of meat. ( Top 10 Things Never to Say to a Vegan) Congrats again and keep up the good work.
  6. J9
  7. OliverLocke
    Truly appreciable story. Breast cancer is considered as the problem arising in the mammary glands. As such this problem occurs in both men and women, but it is largely found in women. It generally begins in the inner lining of milk ducts or the lobules that leads to death as well. Hence it’s important to spread awareness about the breast cancer screening easily done by the help of devices like you can see at without invasive surgeries or pain. Early screening help doctors find and treat this cancer effectively before the problem gets out of their reach.


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