Karen Hellier is a freelance writer and eBay entrepreneur. She lives happily in the mountains of North Georgia with her husband and her dog.
My Breast Cancer Diagnosis
On October 24th, 2019 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was quite a shock to me because breast cancer does not run in my family, and I had nursed all three of my children, so I thought I was safe from getting it.
After being diagnosed and researching as much as I could about breast cancer and possible causes, I knew I had to change my lifestyle because I wanted it out of my body and never get breast cancer (or any other kind of cancer) again.
I am happy and blessed to be able to say that fifteen months after my diagnosis, I am cancer-free, and hope to stay that way forever.
Below I have outlined the major changes I have made in my life to avoid getting breast cancer again. Now I know there is no guarantee, but I am willing to do whatever I can to cut down on those chances.
Some of these changes were harder to make than others, but the bottom line is I am very motivated and will do what I need to in order to stay healthy.
1) Changed My Eating Habits
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I have had to radically change my eating habits. After being diagnosed with a heart issue 15 years ago, I stopped eating fried foods, and foods high in fat, and cut out all added salt. But now cancer once again changed my eating habits.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, I:
- Stopped eating beef and pork
- Cut out almost all dairy
- Cut down on my sugar intake
- No longer eat white bread and try to avoid anything with white flour, choosing whole grains instead
- Continued to stay away from all fried foods
- Cook exclusively with olive oil
- Eat mostly vegetables, legumes, nuts, beans, fruit, and have chicken, turkey or fish only about two times per week.
- Am actually having fun researching and creating vegetarian and vegan recipes on the internet
- Drink 48 - 64 ounces of water and herbal tea every day. I always include at least two cups of green tea each day because green tea has cancer-fighting properties. And since I don't like the taste of green tea (it tastes like I am drinking grass...although I have never actually tasted grass) I add a second flavored tea bag to my water to disguise the taste.
I have found two favorite cookbooks to help me eat healthily. I love using my crockpot and I found a Crockpot Cookbook called, "Eating Clean."
The second cookbook I love is one my breast cancer surgeon recommended. It is called the "How Not to Die Cookbook." Catchy name, don't you think? My doctor is very big on eating very healthy so I took her advice and got it. My favorite part of that cookbook is that the doctor who wrote it gives an easy chart with a checklist of all the foods you should be eating daily. You can just copy it and post it on your refrigerator and mentally check off all the foods you eat each day that coincide with the list.
I spend a lot more time now planning what I am going to eat these days, but the end result is that I am eating much more healthily and because of the green tea and many vegetables, I don't ever have trouble with constipation.
And eating healthy and exercising daily has helped me lose 21 pounds in a year.
2) Stopped Drinking Alcohol
It turns out that women who drink alcohol have a 15% higher chance of getting breast cancer than those who don't. If you never knew that, you are in the majority.
I had a heart attack in 2005 and my cardiologist told me drinking red wine is good for my heart. Not white wine, and not other alcohol, but red wine. So, of course, trying to be a good patient, I was having a glass of red wine a few times per week to keep my heart healthy. Who knew I was increasing my chances of getting breast cancer by doing that? Certainly not me, and probably not my cardiologist either!
But according to breastcancer.org, in a post dated September 11, 2020, "Research consistently shows that drinking alcoholic beverages -- beer, wine, and liquor -- increases a woman's risk of hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer. Alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with hormone-receptor-positive breast cancer."
My breast cancer was hormone receptive. When I told my breast cancer surgeon I had been having red wine at the advice of my cardiologist and asked why no one ever told me it could cause breast cancer, she told me that is because cardiologists are mostly concerned about what will affect their patient's hearts and make recommendations based on that. I asked her if I should stop drinking alcohol altogether, even though I only really drink red wine for my heart a few times a week, and have an occasional beer. She nodded her head yes. In subsequent conversations since I had that initial conversation, she has mentioned that there are some studies that say taking folate when a woman has alcohol can possibly negate the effects. But I decided since I don't drink that much anyway, I would just stop drinking alcohol altogether.
She did say non-alcoholic alcohol is fine. After doing some more research, I found a couple of different non-alcoholic wines on Amazon and decided to give them a try. Still looking to drink red wine, I tried both Merlot and a red blend by Sutter Home called Fre, and a Cabernet Sauvignon by Ariel. My favorite by far is the Sutter Home Fre. For Christmas, I did have a few sips of actual red wine with my husband and decided I like the non-alcoholic wine better. This particular non-alcoholic wine has the alcohol removed.
I thought I would miss drinking red wine, but with Fre I am still able to enjoy a glass of wine at home with my husband, on our back deck looking out at the mountains.
3) Changed My Hair Dye to Natural Henna
I have always been afraid to put chemicals on my hair that might permanently damage it. When I was in my forties, the gray started appearing in my hair. It was not a look I was happy with, so I did a little research and started to use Clairol Natural Instincts hair dye. I felt safer with that because instead of being a more permanent hair dye, it washes out in size weeks or twenty-four washings.
But once I had cancer, I didn't want to use anything permanent or with chemicals. I hopped back on Google and there are some articles and Youtube videos about using sage tea to dye hair naturally, as well as a coffee hair dye. I tried both...what a rigamarole it was to use these techniques, and they made a mess. And honestly, there was hardly any difference in my hair color. I could still see the gray, but maybe it was a tiny bit faded. I definitely don' think it was worth the mess it made on my towels and then my clothing while I had to sit and wait for it to work it's supposed magic and it dripped onto my shirt.
It was bad enough that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer and lost a breast. I didn't want to look in the mirror and see a gray-haired old lady too.
So back to the research I went. I kept seeing that henna was a natural hair dye, but I had heard that really stains and had always been afraid to try it. But out of desperation, I ordered some from a company that seemed reputable and had good reviews.
Yes, dying my hair with henna was messy. And yes, it did stain my towels and clothing. But it worked! And it lasted for about two months so I am thrilled. My husband even commented about how nice it looked. It doesn't turn my gray hair the same medium brown as the rest of my hair, but it gives the grays a nice golden brown tint and I feel good knowing the gray is hidden and it looks natural.
I used medium brown hair dye from Henna Color Lab, but can't show you any photos of the procedure because I plan to write a separate article about that. Let me just say I looked like the Creature from the Green Lagoon (instead of the Black Lagoon from that old horror movie) and it made me laugh out loud.
But I will share some photos of the process with the coffee dye below.
4) Changed My Beauty and Hygiene Products
Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn't really pay much attention to the ingredients in my make-up and beauty products. But afterwards, I made the decision to use products with only natural ingredients.
I had been a representative for a catalog/party company for a long time, and after looking at the ingredients in the make-up and other beauty products I was using. I was horrified at all of the ingredients listed, and some did not score well on the consumer safety lists, so I decided to switch products. I use a lot of coconut oil now as a moisturizer for my skin and hair. I also use Lemongrass Spa products but am careful to research the ingredients in any product I consider using.
You may have heard this before but our skin is our largest organ, and what we put on our skin can be absorbed into our bodies. Now I am not saying that I gave myself cancer by not paying attention to what health and beauty products I put on my skin, but you can bet that going forward I will be a LOT more careful with the health and beauty products I choose for make-up and skincare.
5) Have Become My More Authentic Self
You might be wondering exactly what it means to be my "authentic self?" Well, it basically means I don't want to hide who I really am because of what other people might think. My mom ingrained in me at a young age that you must wear clothing that looks good to others. And that classic clothing is a safe bet.
As I grew older and shopped for clothes, that was always in the back of my mind. But that meant that over the years, I passed on a lot of clothing/shoes/boots that would have made me feel great if I had actually bought them and wore them.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer, I decided to throw my mother's fashion advice to the wind, and wear what makes me happy. My husband's tastes are more classical like my mom's as well. But after surviving cancer, I decided if he doesn't like what I wear, he doesn't have to go out in public with me when I am wearing clothes he doesn't love.
Also, I am more vocal now about my religious beliefs and how God got me through breast cancer. If people don't want to hear it, they don't have to listen.
And I used to have a list of goals I made with a friend every year. I was very motivated to reach my goals every year. But since breast cancer, my most important goal is that God will help me be a blessing to my husband, mom, dog, and at least one other person every day. I actually pray that every morning! I feel so blessed to still be alive that I want to share God's love with everyone around me. That is more important to me than all of my other goals put together. And when I realize I have actually been a blessing to someone during a particular day, that makes me happy, and I can't wait to be a blessing to someone else the next day too!
Getting Breast Cancer Made Me Healthier
Isn't that a strange statement for someone to say, "Breast cancer made me healthier?" But it actually did. After reading the five things I do differently after being diagnosed with breast cancer, you can see it is really true. My weight is down (although still have 11 pounds to go), I no longer drink alcohol which is better for my brain cells as well as my liver, I don't use chemicals on my hair or skin, and I feel freer to be myself.
I hope you have enjoyed reading how my life has changed since cancer. Thanks for reading about my journey to better physical and emotional health.
Please feel free to leave a comment or contact me with any questions about my experience, especially if you are a breast cancer patient or survivor.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2021 Karen Hellier
Karen Hellier (author) from Georgia on January 28, 2021:
Thank you very much. I am glad too!
Adrienne Farricelli on January 26, 2021:
You have shared precious tips. Thank you for taking the time to share them. Diet is so important as food is introduced to our bodies every day. I am glad to hear your are feeling better and have made such significant improvements.
Liz Westwood from UK on January 25, 2021:
This is an extremely thought-provokingand helpful article. It has certainly made me re-examine my diet and challenged me about talking about Christian faith.
Karen Hellier (author) from Georgia on January 25, 2021:
Thank you FlourishAnyway. I appreciate your comments.
FlourishAnyway from USA on January 25, 2021:
You’ve made some inspirational changes for your health that others can borrow from. Eating less meat and avoiding alcohol are certainly helpful as well as those natural skincare products. Best of luck to you in all you do.
Karen Hellier (author) from Georgia on January 25, 2021:
That is great. It's never too late to take better care of ourselves. After all, the Bible tells us that our body is a temple to God. I am glad you have never had cancer! Good luck with making some changes and may God bless you!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on January 25, 2021:
I think this is a terrific article, Karen. I have made some changes as I have aged, but I have not done as well a you. I did let my hair turn gray as I got tired of dying it. I haven't had cancer, thank God, but I have many health problems. I read the Bible every morning and pray, asking God to guide me to help others. My diet still needs to improve as I eat some meat.
I am going to think about everything you said and try to make some more changes.