From Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul

A Diet for Life—Literally

The first wealth is health.


My mother is a fighter. A fighter who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of forty-eight and then diagnosed a second time with terminal liver cancer at fifty-two. The first time around had been rough—surgeries to literally cut out the cancer-ridden cells, chemotherapy that ravaged her petite body, and medicines that manipulated her moods and left her feeling sick and weak.

When she found out four years later that the cancer had returned, and much worse than before, she decided to take a different approach. Since it was impossible to remove the cancer surgically, she set about to transform her body from the inside out. This meant enlisting the help of an “alternative therapies” doctor, someone who would coach her on the path to recovery through mind, body and spirit.

Always an active and healthy individual, my mother was shocked the day that her doctor sat her down and began to rattle off the dramatic dietary changes that she would need to make during her treatment. No meat, no eggs, no dairy, no sugar . . . the list went on and on. At the time, the diet was not merely a suggestion or option, it was my mother’s livelihood, and so although it seemed a bit drastic to all of us, we encouraged and aided her from the very first day. Her new diet consisted of hearty meals that were restricted to organic whole grains, vegetables and the occasional piece of fruit or white seafood.

None of us had anticipated the impact that my mother’s diet would have on our lives. Gone were the evenings when we would come home to the delicious smells of freshly baked cookies wafting through the air. Instead, we found dinners of brightly colored steamed veggies (embarrassingly, some were unrecognizable to our meat-and-potato palates), organic brown rice and whole-grain breads with hummus and olive oil. We had known that this would be a huge task for our mother but never considered (or imagined) how greatly her new eating habits would affect the rest of the family. Needless to say, my initial reaction urged me to grab take-out more than once on drives home from work.

Yet over the course of a couple of months, our family became accustomed to steamed instead of fried foods, bright foods instead of boxed foods. We developed a taste for those unpronounceable vegetables, especially when we added a bit of olive oil and garlic and sautéed them. In fact, they tasted even better than they had before, when they were drenched in salt and butter.

We spent more time on the patio, grilling fresh fish with vegetable kabobs, enjoying the warm summer breeze. We created our own organic garden in the backyard, tending to the tiny plants until they grew strong enough to produce ripe foods, perfect for spring salads and fulfilling in a way that only homegrown goods can be. We started an herb garden and then taught ourselves how to use the fresh sprigs to bring out natural flavors without heavy calories.

Without chocolaty sweets strewn about, fresh fruit Popsicles became indulgent treats. A plump orange or tangerine satisfied a semisweet tooth. And even the worst of late-night cravings was nothing that a sliced apple and yogurt for dipping couldn’t quench.

We began regularly taking the vitamins and supplements that our bodies were deficient in, fueling ourselves the right way. Late-night strolls became commonplace, and Libby, the family dog, finally received the long daily walks that she deserved.

Most importantly, we saw our mother become stronger, happier and healthier. The rest of us shed the extra pounds that had been lingering in unpleasant places and felt our bodies grow leaner every day. A renewed sense of spirit and self took over each one of us, and its dazzling positive energy filled our home.

Four months after her second diagnosis, my mother’s “alternative” doctor called. There was news, and whether it was good or bad none of us knew. The week before she had gone in for a complete body scan that would reveal any other spots that the cancer had quietly crept into. We all spent that night awake, lying in bed in silent prayer. How much longer would we have with this woman who was so eager to take on life full-force when most would give in and give up? Another year? Another month?

The next morning a smile played on the doctor’s lips as he sat my mother down and told her that the traces of cancer had vanished. It had left her body; leaving only minimal scarring in the areas it had once inhabited. Her body was healthy—on the inside as well as the outside.

Celebration was in order—a feast of all the wonderful foods we had grown to love. Although the cancer was gone, there would be no chancing it with chocolate cake relapses and soft, chewy candy. We had given her body the best shot that it had—a healthy, fresh and natural diet, full of the good things that Mother Nature intended to nourish us.

It took a strong family and a strong heart to take on an entirely new diet with such ambition and eagerness. It took driving a few miles out of the way to find a natural grocery store with organic produce, and a few extra dollars to buy the fresh stuff instead of what was prepackaged or boxed. It took a bit of determination to get off the couch, flip off the TV, and head outside for sunshine and exercise. Yet the change that it made in my life, my mother’s and my family’s is undeniable. My mother continues to do well. She still undergoes the medical preventative treatments while maintaining her alternative life changes, and no cancer has returned thus far.

I won’t say that I never get a sudden urge for sweets (or that I never indulge just a tiny bit), but I realize now how amazing the human body is and to give it any less than the wholesome things it deserves is truly only cheating yourself.

Jessica Blaire

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