Would you be willing to bet your life on 50/50 odds? I’d think most people wouldn’t. But that’s the situation we’re faced with every single day when we choose to smoke, drink, forego sunscreen and neglect our health—we’re going all in. Why? 1 in 2 Australian men and women will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.
Yep, cancer doesn’t discriminate. Whether you’re male or female, young or old, we’re all at risk. And while genetics play a part, our lifestyle choices are also to blame—one-third of deaths from cancer are due to the five leading behavioural and dietary risks: high body mass index, low fruit and vegetable intake, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, and alcohol use. In other words, things we can help.
Journalist, Elle Halliwell knows this all too well. If you’ve read her story you’d know she was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukaemia 48 hours before finding out she was pregnant. Choosing to keep the baby, she was unable to undergo treatment and instead, relied heavily on changing her diet and lifestyle. While Elle was never “unhealthy” she certainly had to be more conscious. Not only was she gambling her own life, she was risking the life of her unborn child, too. But what was undoubtedly the hardest decision she’s ever faced was also the best one—she’s now a mother to a beautiful son and has her condition under control.
Ahead of Daffodil Day (August 25), we sat down with Elle to find out what changes she has had to make. Below, she shares the diet and lifestyle factors that promote prevention. With such a high incidence of cancer, it makes us wonder—should we be following them too?
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What foods have you been told to avoid?
Elle: Foods that are processed or that have ingredients I can’t pronounce and smoking are the main ones.
For me and specifically for the cancer that I have, I’m not allowed bitter fruits. I have to stay away from grapefruit because it interacts with my medication. If you’re on a medication, you need to find out what foods interact with it.
What foods have you been told to include in your diet?
Unfortunately, the standard medical community does not tell you that. They tell you to stick to a diet of moderation but I believe that there is so much more to staying in good health, especially if you have a chronic illness like cancer.
From a holistic point of view, definitely eating mainly vegetables. If you have been sick and are trying to get well, I would say 80% plant foods if you can. Not necessarily long term but if you are trying to get healthy, the main thing you can do is make sure that the majority of foods on your plate at every meal are plant foods and have not come out of a packet. I really think the 80-20 rule applies to everybody—80% clean, 20% naughty.
That being said, I believe that anything you eat, whether it’s chocolate or sweet things, if you make sure it’s as close to natural as possible then you’re ok. If you want to have a hamburger, make sure the bread is good quality artisan bread and the meat is pasture fed and organic. You can’t go wrong if you know where everything came from and there are no chemicals in it.
What other lifestyle factors have you had to change?
Exercise. I’ve always been interested in exercise but found it really hard to stick to something permanently. When I was diagnosed, I started walking every day for about 7km per day. I was also pregnant so I wanted to make sure that I was as healthy as possible and really found that that helped me so much throughout the nine months. I’ve obviously had a break since I had the baby but walking is a massive thing for anyone who doesn’t like exercise—if you have a destination in mind and just walk there, it doesn’t feel like exercise!
Yoga is also really good because health is so connected to the mind as much as the body. If you’re in the right state of mind, you’re relaxed and calm and you get rid of the cortisol from all the stress you build up in your daily life, I think that makes a huge difference to your wellbeing.
Why have you been advised on all these things? What is the link between them and cancer?
Unfortunately, conventional medicine basically says you don’t have cancer for any reason other than bad luck or a genetic predisposition. If you go to a holistic specialist like a naturopath, they will give you more guidance.
A naturopath that I saw before I was diagnosed said I needed to stop stressing. I was having a tingling in my legs and arms and she said that it was the fight or flight response because all of the energy needed somewhere to go. This is why exercise is so important because you need to release that cortisol from the stress out of the body. If you do feel like you’re stressed, go for a run because it’s good for your health.
I think the best thing is to listen to your body as well. You might be told certain things from your doctors and obviously they are experts in their field but a lot of the medical community aren’t taught a lot about nutrition. It’s a small part of their studies so if you can find somebody else who has a more holistic outlook like a naturopath or a dietician who can focus on that aspect of your health it’s really important. I think the two can work together really well.
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So what does your diet look like at the moment? Do you take any supplements?
I’m eating a lot of pre and probiotic vegetables—a lot of ginger, coconut kefir and fermented veggies. I think that’s one of the things that have kept me so healthy. Every morning, I take a tablespoon of Peace Love and Vegetables and fermented cod liver oil. I take a dirt-based probiotic every day and a normal probiotic every day. Broccoli, Jerusalem artichoke, onion and garlic are all brilliant for your gut health and they reduce inflammation so I try to incorporate at least one or two of those in my diet every day. I also have a lot of leafy greens and lemons. Lemons because they’re acidic but turn alkaline in your stomach so they’re actually one of the most alkaline foods you can have.
I also start my day with a juice that I squeeze myself with kale, mint, apple, lemon and whatever else I have lying around. Carrot juice I’m big on because it has lots of vitamin A and carotenoids, which are really good for you and I’ll have lots of oranges for vitamin C. I also keep frozen blueberries, raspberries and acai and blend them into my smoothies because they’re high in antioxidants and I drink the nectar of the Queen Garnet plum—it’s a plum from Queensland—for that same reason. I drink a lot of herbal teas too—I like jasmine and green together.
I try to reduce my intake of meat but I do love a bone broth—it’s been great for my skin. I supplement with marine collagen as well. Because my hair started to thin from the medication, I take Vida Glow Original and Beauty Blend every day and I think that’s really good for your general hair, skin and nails.
What else? I take barley green. I put turmeric in everything, spirulina as well. And I have apple cider vinegar in all of my salads because it’s good for the gut and general health—ACV, olive oil and garlic dressings. I still have a coffee every day because it’s my treat. Lollies are my crutch but they have an organic lolly at About Life by Yum Earth and they’re pretty good. I know that they’re not natural, natural but if I want a treat I’ll have that, Lindt dark chocolate or liquorice.
So that’s my arsenal. I’ve got so many things that I take but it depends on how I’m feeling that week. I eat essentially plant-based and if I really want meat, I make sure it’s good quality. Show your support for Daffodil Day tomorrow (August 25) by picking up a daffodil from your local volunteers or donating online.
“Daffodil Day is such an important public awareness campaign and one that directly impacts outcomes for patients, by enabling Cancer Council to continue its vital work. For example, ten to fifteen years ago, the cancer that I have was considered a death sentence. Thanks to research, I now have access to a lifesaving drug. A few months into the treatment, I’m currently doing well. It’s not just the research, though. Especially in the first few weeks after a cancer diagnosis, it can be so reassuring to know that there is this instant support of an organisation available—just to know that someone will lend you an ear.” – Elle Halliwell