By Michelle Mandel, diagnosed at age 32 & Melissa Porcelli, diagnosed at age 37
When women think of breast cancer treatment, the first thing that comes to mind are the “big three” surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. A lot of people assume that when treatment is over, you’re done with breast cancer. It’s gone. You can move on now. The truth is that once you are diagnosed the fight never ends. Although your active treatment may be over, the fight against recurrence continues. We struggle with this thought every day. We can’t control if or when cancer may arise but we can take steps to reduce our chances. There are medications that can assist to limit our chance of recurrence, but we all know medication alone is not the answer and does not work with every form of breast cancer. We’ve learned through doctors and nutritionists that it’s nutrition that plays a significant role in our fight.
Michelle Mandel’s Story: “I’ll never forget the day I sat in my living room with my wonderful husband, amazing 3-year-old son, and beautiful 4-month-old daughter, because I looked at my family and said my life was now perfect. The next day I went to have a “cyst” drained and my life changed forever. Luckily, my mother came with me to this appointment even after I said not to. My OBGYN previously told me it was just a cyst so I had no reason to be concerned. I didn’t have anything unusual in my family history that would put breast cancer on my radar, but two weeks later I was being prepped for surgery and was diagnosed with Stage III-C breast cancer. As it turns out, estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer and a pregnancy don’t mix well. After diagnosis I told my family, friends, and doctors that I would do whatever it takes to beat this. I wasn’t going to let breast cancer take me from my family at such a young age. At that time, I didn’t know it would include 12 surgeries, 16 rounds of chemo, 30 radiation sessions, and a week with sepsis in the ICU. I’m still in shock thinking back about all I have been through and most people don’t believe me if I tell them. Or they just can’t believe that at the age of 35 I have been to hell and back already. But now I’m a 3-year survivor and I would do it all again to have the chance at a long life with my amazing and supportive family. I got through the past 3 years with love, laughter, and a smile on my face (some of the time). My “whatever it takes” attitude now continues after my active treatment ended with medication, exercise, and nutrition.”
Melissa Porcelli’s Story: “My case was different as I expected to be diagnosed with breast cancer, I just didn’t know when. After my mother was diagnosed with the disease in 2007, we found out we had inherited the BRCA1 gene mutation, which increases your risk of cancer, particularly breast and ovarian. Because of this, I was being monitored very closely and going for routine mammograms, sonograms, and MRI’s every six months. In January of 2015, I went for my yearly routine MRI. As usual something showed up and I needed a biopsy like I had about 9 times before. On February 9th, 2015 at 37 years old, I received a call that would change my life forever. It was a normal Monday morning. I was sitting at my desk at work having my usual coffee talk. It was exactly 9:01am when my cell phone rang. When I looked down at my phone and saw it was my breast surgeon, they didn’t even have to say anything, I already knew. When your doctor calls that early on a Monday morning you know it can’t be good. My heart sank and I immediately panicked as I picked up the phone to receive the news that the biopsy was positive for invasive breast cancer. Without hesitation I knew what I had to do for myself and for my family. Exactly 2 weeks after diagnosis I had undergone surgery to remove the cancer. Because it was caught so early at Stage 1, it was recommended that no follow-up treatment was needed. Unfortunately, due to the type of cancer it was, triple negative, there really isn’t any medication that I can take to prevent the cancer from returning. This is where I use Nutrition and exercise to fight off any recurrence and prevent any future cancers that may arise.”
Nutrition: “Before we were diagnosed, we always tried to eat healthy and take care of ourselves. After our diagnoses that became more important than ever. Eating certain foods and maintaining a healthy diet can help keep the risk of recurrence as low as possible. Thankfully through nutritionists and health coaches coordinated through 5 Under 40, we’ve received recommendations on how eating right can help reduce our risk of recurrence.
Those nutritionists’ main recommendations have been to cut out certain foods from our diet like sugar (which apparently fuels cancer cells and helps them thrive), red meat, and processed foods. They also recommended incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into our diet like blueberries, tomatoes, green leafy vegetables, and fish high in omega-3 fatty acids. Even more surprising was learning that certain foods mimic estrogen, such as flaxseed, soy, certain legumes, and animal proteins. These are a must to avoid especially with Estrogen positive cancers. Although we both enjoy a glass of wine every now and then, we also need to limit our alcohol intake. After learning all we have about the relationship between eating well and reducing our risk of recurrence, our kitchens are now stocked with foods such as hormone-free dairy products and organic fruits and vegetables.
There are many studies and books teaching you about different diets to lower your cancer risk. Your head might spin trying to decide what’s best for you. Unfortunately, there is no right answer and what’s best for you might not be best for the next person. After diagnosis to remove acidic foods from her diet, Michelle became a pescetarian, which is eating no animal protein except for seafood. There has been a lot of research about lowering your recurrence risk by eating more alkaline foods such as fruit and vegetables and less acidic foods like meat, processed foods, and sugar. Melissa considers herself a “nutritarian”. A term coined by Dr. Joel Fuhrman to describe a diet that is nutrient dense and plant rich, and includes anticancer superfoods which are full of micro nutrients, vitamins, phytochemicals and minerals.
We know better than most that life has its challenges and can be very unfair. We need to do everything we can to stay healthy and hopefully prevent any chance of recurrence. Breast Cancer may have disrupted our lives at a young age but we will continue and are determined to win this fight!”