Healthy, with Breast Cancer

In this blog post, guest blogger Valerie Powell shares her story of how she was diagnosed with breast cancer despite living a healthy lifestyle. She debunks the myth that cancer only strikes those who don’t eat a healthy diet or exercise and advocates that all cancer patients deserve support and understanding while battling this disease regardless of their lifestyle choices.

If you’ve received a cancer diagnosis, it must be because you are leading an unhealthy lifestyle. You should have exercised. You should have eaten right. You should have dealt with your stress. Healthy people don’t get cancer!

As an example of an extremely healthy person who was diagnosed with cancer, I’m writing this blog to dispel these myths and hopefully remove some of the stigma that I’ve discovered is associated with having had cancer. 

This vegan, meditating yogi was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer at the age of 48. I ate a high-nutrient, low sugar, no-processed-foods diet, was a certified health coach, and walked three to five miles per day. I also worked in the healthcare field, conducting behavioral research with people with many different conditions and designing patient educational programs. My last project prior to my diagnosis was developing materials for HER2+ breast cancer patients—ironically, the same cancer revealed on my biopsy.

Shortly after completing chemotherapy, Valerie (wearing straw hat) and her sister participated in the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life in Flemington, New Jersey.

My sister (who lived the same type of lifestyle) was with me when I learned the results of that biopsy. To say we were shocked would be quite an understatement. I didn’t smoke or drink heavily. I wasn’t overweight. I wasn’t filling my body with processed food, pesticides, hormone-filled meat, or any meat for that matter. I didn’t even take any prescription medication. Yet, the science doesn’t lie. I had cancer that would require surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation. 

The reaction I got from the “natural health” community—like-minded friends, people at my yoga studio, and other health coaches—shocked me. I was asked if I had been eating processed food or meat. Had I failed to give up caffeine? Had I been eating non-organic vegetables? If not that, the cancer must have been caused by some spiritual defect. My energy must be blocked (and evidently, I had failed to clear it through my yoga practice). One friend suggested that I had never properly mourned the loss of my husband 10 years prior, and that pent-up grief had manifested itself as cancerous cells. These people were actually blaming me for my cancer diagnosis. This may have been more shocking than the diagnosis itself.

Even complete strangers had hurtful comments. A well-meaning person at the grocery store, spotting my fruit and vegetable-filled cart and my bald head, assured me my new eating habits would keep the cancer from coming back. A woman at the beauty salon suggested, “You should really try a vegan diet.” Rather than lash out or cry, I simply laughed.

Today, on the other side of my cancer journey, I share this story in the hopes that others won’t face this same stigma. Not every person with lung cancer was a smoker. Not every person with melanoma frequented tanning booths. Even cancer patients who lead a less-than-healthy lifestyle should not be blamed for their disease, as many cancers cannot be directly attributed to one particular factor. Honestly, what good does it do to point out a person’s past habits at that point? Adopting a healthy lifestyle going forward is important, but no cancer patient should face judgment or criticism while fighting the battle of his or her life.

Valerie Powell is Vice President of Research Services at HealthiVibe, LLC. She continues to live a healthy lifestyle and maintain a positive attitude, believing laughter is the best preventative medicine. 

Thank you, Valerie, for sharing your heartfelt story with our readers.

If you have a story to share with our readers about participating in a clinical trial, overcoming adversity, or living with a chronic condition, please let us know. We’d love to have you guest blog for us. Guest blogging helps others learn about your struggles and increases awareness and understanding. We will help promote your website and social media accounts as well as your favorite advocacy group. Contact us to get started sharing your story now!

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