Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
13 Jul

From Cancer Back to Health

It’s Friday, everyone! And that means another Primal Blueprint Real Life Story from a Mark’s Daily Apple reader. If you have your own success story and would like to share it with me and the Mark’s Daily Apple community please contact me here. I’ll continue to publish these each Friday as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

Hi Mark,

I’ve been holding off on writing up any “success story” about myself even though I have met and even surpassed my weight loss goals with Primal eating and the Primal Blueprint Fitness plan.

That is because this journey, for me, has been much more about regaining and maintaining my health for life. Looking good in a swimsuit is just a side benefit.

Five years ago, at the age of 45, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, a fast growing invasive bugger that surely would have killed me without medical intervention. Over the course of two and a half years, I had eight surgeries and six rounds of chemo. That is a lot of time with a lot of enforced inactivity and the pounds just piled up. Chemo also does a number on your thyroid function which didn’t help any.

And then there is the psychological aspect of being seriously ill. The feeling of, screw it, I’m going to finish the pizza if I feel like it. I have cancer. A few extra pounds are the least of my problems.

As it turns out, those extra pounds were a major problem. When I asked my oncologist what I should be doing to help prevent a recurrence, his first words were a no-nonsense, “You need to lose weight. Extra fat cells are a source of estrogen which can trigger cancers such as this.”

That was the kick in the pants that I needed to start doing something about the problem. But where to start?

I had always been an active, healthy kid and young adult, into surfing, backpacking, hiking, swimming and even taken a detour into bodybuilding in my 20’s. My diet had always been the health food version of CW, lots of veggie and tofu stir-fries with brown rice, never the SAD at all.

A few pounds had crept up on me as I passed 40, but during my illness I ballooned up to a size 16 and 210 lbs. I am 5’10” but that is still too big.

Note my chin’s evil twin and the tank top strap disappearing into squishy stuff.

I tried white knuckle calorie restriction and got nowhere. A friend had some good results with Atkins so I started looking into lower carb eating and came across several interesting articles about ketosis as an adjunct to cancer treatment.

In addition to battling cancer, I have also had a seizure disorder since college. I had also been doing some research into the ketogenic diets that have worked so well for many with epilepsy.

At Johns Hopkins they are using something they call the “Modified Atkins Diet” or MAD in the treatment of epilepsy with excellent results.  This spurred me to look further into Atkins, but I was dismayed by all the fake ingredients in the bars and shakes you supposedly need to do their program.

So, both my cancer research and my epilepsy research were pointing me in the same general direction as I went looking for an all natural alternative to Atkins.

On the way to Primal I stopped off for a while with the book called “Diet Evolution” by Dr. Stephen Gundry. Its induction phase is basically the same as Primal and it worked beautifully. I lost 30 pounds like falling off a log. Gundry explains about neolithic/paleolithic dietary changes and that made a lot of sense to me. But then Gundry goes on to “evolve” the diet further back in time so that you are basically eating like a gorilla, only veggies with a protein garnish and then he re-introduces grains. At that point it stopped working, surprise, surprise.  That’s where he lost me and I went looking again.

So this was my long and winding path to Primal. I thought I had found the holy grail. I lost five pounds in the first week, in hindsight probably water weight due to ditching the dairy and soy.

I was already grain and sugar free and had always been a big fan of lots of veggies and salads all my life. Primal just gave me “permission” to embrace all that evil animal protein and fat. And I did, with a passion and with excessive portions.

This is where I would like to say to all newbies around here: READ THE BOOK FIRST before you listen to forum advice. In The Primal Blueprint there is an entire chapter on portion control and calorie targeting. Much of the forum “wisdom” however said to chuck your scale out the window and just eat your bacon and be happy and the pounds would fall off magically.

Guess what. Didn’t happen. I gained back those first five plus five more and then read the book and realized I needed to cut portion sizes and get my calories under control. I think Taubes got part of the story right. There are good calories and bad calories, but even with just good ones, too much is still too much.

I dialed back on all that yummy fat and increased my lean protein intake while cutting overall quantities of food. The scale started moving again and kept going down for another 35 pounds to 145, five pounds under my goal of 150 and a size 6 when my goal had been an 8.

Since then I have put on a few pounds by taking a cruise, and taken them off again the same way, Primal with sensible portion control. All in all I have been maintaining here quite easily.

Every time the subject of calories comes up on the forum, people seem to square off into two extreme camps. One side is the “It doesn’t matter what you eat, only how much you eat” strict CICO approach. In the other corner there are is “CICO is bogus, you can eat as much as you want as long as you eat the right things.”

And then there is me saying wait a minute. Why does it have to be either the quantity OR the quality of the calories. I think it’s BOTH. Eating the right kind of foods (Primal) makes it easier to restrict the quantity of food without feeling like you are going to faint from hunger.

The people who say that you can just “eat when you are hungry, stop when you are not” don’t get what it’s like to have a completely messed up metabolism. When you can’t just “listen to your body” because it’s telling you lies about how much to eat, you need to impose some control on the situation from the brain down.

Now that I am at a healthy weight with a well functioning thyroid, I can listen to my body and trust what it’s saying. It’s wonderful.

Last year I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and it was pretty easy. My knees don’t hurt anymore. I don’t get puffy ankles like I used to when I was heavy.

Then a couple of weeks ago something wonderful happened for me. I had my five years post cancer check up including mammogram, bone density scan, and blood work.

The mammogram was clean and the post chemo osteopenia I had is gone. My thyroid is healthy again and I have healthy levels on all the vitamins and such.

This all-clear was the news I was waiting on before calling myself a success.

I want to shout out to all the people out there who have suffered an accident or illness that has put them way deep in the hole of despair mentally as physical health spirals out of control. I know how you feel. But, please don’t give up on yourself. Yes it is hard to battle back from the bottom of that hole, but it is SO worth it.

I am so glad to be to be healthy again.

Sure, there is scar tissue. I don’t care. I’m alive.

These undies (NSFW – scroll to last post in thread) were something I bought for a cancer fundraising campaign when my size 16 behind would never have fit into them. Now cancer can kiss my size 6 behind.


You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. AWESOME story! Congratulations on getting your life back – and here’s to another few decades of good (and healthy) living!

    Chris Butterworth wrote on July 13th, 2012
  2. Congratulations! You look stunning and feel great. Good for you! Thank you for sharing your amazing story.

    Jessica wrote on July 13th, 2012
  3. So happy for your health and success. Here’s to many, many more cancer-free years!

    Decaf Debi wrote on July 13th, 2012
  4. What an amazing story. Congratulations on your health!

    Julia wrote on July 13th, 2012
  5. Woooohoooo ! You are Awesome !

    Orannhawk wrote on July 13th, 2012
  6. this is so inspiring! you go, girl! i’d love to hear about your workout routine.

    Marissa wrote on July 13th, 2012
  7. You look terrific and sound like you feel terrific too. Congrats!

    karen wrote on July 13th, 2012
  8. What a wonderful and inspiring success story – Congratulations!! I totally agree with your approach to eating and calorie control. I eat 90% Paleo but also keep my net calories in a negative balance when losing weight (fat).

    John wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • Congrats on your amazing story, so great to hear!!

      Thanks for sharing that John, very helpful.

      Patrice wrote on July 14th, 2012
  9. Wow! This one blew me away. Congrats.

    samui_sakana wrote on July 13th, 2012
  10. OMG that second photo FABULOUS!!! how inspiring!

    Gayle wrote on July 13th, 2012
  11. Congrats! You have much to be proud of!

    Bagwell wrote on July 13th, 2012
  12. I am 5’10” as well, about the same age(48) and about 160 lbs. Trying to get to 155 your story inspires me to get there!

    Gayle wrote on July 13th, 2012
  13. You are looking amazingly awesome. 50 is truly the new 30, if one uses PaleoBird as the standard. Here’s to many more years of vibrant health, and cancer ever more distant in the rear-view mirror.

    Joy Beer wrote on July 13th, 2012
  14. Wow, this one brought tears to my eyes. I’m a cancer survivor too, but my non-Hodgkins lymphoma took my thyroid. Like you, the chemo treatments made me balloon in weight. Like you, I’ve now found Paleo and am once again at a weight that I am pleased with. But, more importantly, I have my health back. I will need to take thyroid meds all my life, but am just happy to be alive. Congrats to you for kicking C’s butt. Congrats to you on all your achievements! Wow!

    Donna R wrote on July 13th, 2012
  15. This is a really inspirational story. To be in such a difficult situation, put on weight, and then take it off, all in that difficult situation is really amazing. Congratulations. Just goes to show, no excuse is a good excuse.

    Max Ungar wrote on July 13th, 2012
  16. Wow! You look amazing, healthy and young! Congratulations for being cancer free and restoring your thyroid health. Truly inspirational.

    Shara wrote on July 13th, 2012
  17. Paleobird, you are such an inspiration to us all. And omg on that bikini pic! Didn’t realize what a hottie you are!!

    Heidi wrote on July 13th, 2012
  18. WOW!! Congrats to you on all fronts!!

    AustinGirl wrote on July 13th, 2012
  19. Thank you for bringing up portion control. I think especially in the beginning, it is so important to be mindful of calorie intake. You look so “alive” and happy in that climbing photo. Congratulations!!

    primal aly wrote on July 13th, 2012
  20. Truly awesome, Paleobird, and very, very motivating! Thank you for sharing your story!

    Sol y Sombra wrote on July 13th, 2012
  21. Wow. The before and after pictures made me swear out loud. My mom is a breast cancer survivor. I want her to read this.

    rabbit_trail wrote on July 13th, 2012
  22. so amazing =) much love!

    steffo wrote on July 13th, 2012
  23. Last year I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and it was pretty easy”

    That’s the craziest f#@%ing sentence I’ve ever heard, you recovered from breast cancer and a life time of bad food eating, and you it was easy. You’re awesome.

    Carlos Morales wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • ^ Agreed!!!

      Amy wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • HA! AGREED!

      primal pat wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • +1!!!!

      Dave wrote on July 14th, 2012
      • Totally agreed. You rock!

        Erin wrote on July 14th, 2012
  24. What a fantastic success you have shared, and good points you’ve made :) Thanks for sharing your awesome!!!

    yoolieboolie wrote on July 13th, 2012
  25. Truly inspirational, and you look Paleo Hot to boot! Love the suit.

    Danogrok wrote on July 13th, 2012
  26. You look amazing, healthy and full of life. Recovering is never easy but knowing about people like you gives hope to those fighting -and feeling terrible about it.
    Who cares about scars, if you ever care about it cosmetic surgery removes them all (I wear mine proudly, they show I beat the hell out the “end stage” concept all the way). And as a photographer I’ll be more than happy to have a model with an attitude like yours.

    Luce wrote on July 13th, 2012
  27. I needed to hear the reminder about calories. Thanks for the encouragement. Your story is inspirational.

    edearl wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • This.

      A great reminder that not all of us can sit down with a package of bacon and a half-dozen eggs every morning and expect the weight to come off….

      Jules wrote on July 13th, 2012
  28. Best. Success. Story. Ever.!!!

    Lots of love to you,

    Ida wrote on July 13th, 2012
  29. Wow, what a dramatic transformation. So glad you are are physically feeling great and are free of cancer!

    Melissa wrote on July 13th, 2012
  30. What an inspiration, totally amazing. Also made excellent point re the calories, too many people on primal here seem to think calories don’t count and it’s all about low carbs.

    greg white wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • Sorry but they don’t count

      Andy wrote on July 15th, 2012
  31. Great story..!! Thanks for sharing, I feel encouraged and inspired! thanks for the calorie reminder, I just adjusted mine and have seen great results from it.

    RobynHoney wrote on July 13th, 2012
  32. That bikini shot for the “after” picture is amazing. Congratulations on the transformation.

    I personally believe that everyone can make this quantum jump to amazing bikini body with paleo.

    Unbelievable stuff all in all, I wish had known this method 10 years ago.

    Rickydee wrote on July 13th, 2012
  33. All I can say is WOW. Just wow. I’m so happy for you! I actually felt tears in my eyes when I saw you looking so gorgeous and healthy in that tiny little bathing suit. And again when I saw you standing on Kilimanjaro.


    AndreaLynnette wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • Ditto! You Rock in the leopard suit sister!

      Barbara wrote on July 13th, 2012
  34. What an inspiration you are for all those out there going through cancer treatments, who may be reading your post, but are weak, unable to reply, yet are utterly drinking in all this hope, optimism, uplifting story of recovery, and how primal can be of healing aid to them. Amazing story, glad you shared!

    Paula wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • Yes! I am one of those people! I was diagnosed last week and am currently going through testing to determine how invasive the cancer is and treatments I will need. I was just sitting in my car this morning, weeping and feeling sorry for myself, when I decided I needed to find something positive to focus on and I came across this post. This is 4 years later, mind you – but thank you!!

      Amy wrote on August 9th, 2016
  35. What an amazing story! Many congratulations, and, may I say it you are SMOKIN’!

    chris meredith wrote on July 13th, 2012
  36. What an inspiring example! Congratulations and may you have many more healthy years!

    Stormi wrote on July 13th, 2012
  37. Paleobird, I’ve stalked your journals since I started eating primally. Your view on calories has gotten me past more than one stall on my own journey. When Ive stopped noticing changes in my body I inevitably have been abusing the CICO. Your view on CICO may be unpopular but it has proven itself true for me.Congrats on the All-Clear, you go girl!

    Yvette wrote on July 13th, 2012
  38. Wow, thanks SO much for your mention of portion-control. I’ve gained 10 pounds of pudge around my middle in the last year, and I’ve begun to suspect portion sizes. I have no memory of Mark writing about portion control in PB–so I’ll have to go back and look for that.

    And congratulations on all your success!

    wilberfan wrote on July 13th, 2012
  39. Great story….thanks for sharing. You look Cheetah-mazing 😉

    Paul Grosenstein wrote on July 13th, 2012
  40. Looks like you’re kicking everyone’s butt! I’ve read about your story in the forum and I think you are a great inspiration. I had to stop reading the forums because there is a lot of misinformation on there. I just read Mark’s articles, books and the success stories!

    Pure Hapa wrote on July 13th, 2012

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