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. holy shitake mushroom! i audibly gasped when i saw the after pics. but, even better, so happy to hear you’re healthy!

    jenny wrote on July 13th, 2012
  2. Paleobird, I couldn’t WAIT to read your success story and it’s no less inspiring or thrilling for knowing a good bit before hand. I was shocked to see the before pictures, you really are the butterfly who shed more than just pounds while reclaiming your health.

    Thank you for reminding us to return to the basics of Mark’s Primal Blueprint. Primal is more than the black or white extremes that are often argued about in the forums.

    KerryK wrote on July 13th, 2012
  3. Wow. Congratulations!

    kquass wrote on July 13th, 2012
  4. You look amazing! Cheers to being healthy and happy!

    Shavonne wrote on July 13th, 2012
  5. I am a pig. The twins look spectacular!

    Paleo Bon Rurgundy wrote on July 13th, 2012
  6. Loved this story, a true inspiration tale. Congrats!!

    Marlene wrote on July 13th, 2012
  7. Wow! It’s so awesome to read your story! I met you at primal con in 2011. Continue to be the awesome inspiration that you are!

    Primal Toad wrote on July 13th, 2012
  8. Absolutely and simply AMAZING! Such an inspiration! Thank you for sharing your story and CONGRATS!

    Stephanie wrote on July 13th, 2012
  9. This is an amazing, amazing story. I emailed it to a friend of mine with the subject line: THIS! Holy Heck THIS!

    I thought I was the only one with the portion control observation. Thank you for the story and the validation.

    dervishspin wrote on July 13th, 2012
  10. Awesome! You are my new true hero and have inspired me to share my story of living with and stabilizing Pulmonary Fibrosis. You’re an inspiration and thank you for sharing.

    Bill Vick wrote on July 13th, 2012
  11. CONGRATS!!! What a great accomplishment!!

    Eric wrote on July 13th, 2012
  12. “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”

    This is soooooo true and I’ve recently come to this realization. I don’t know who these people are that can eat all the fat and bacon in the world and still lose weight, but it’s not me. I’ve started tracking again, watching portions and total calories, still keeping carb grams between 30-70 and the weight is coming off again.

    I think I’ll reread the book again too.

    Melissa wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • You look great, by the way!

      Melissa wrote on July 13th, 2012
  13. Amazing! What an inspiration.

    Grok on.

    Onge wrote on July 13th, 2012
  14. My favorite post and “post” pose. 50 yo cancer and more survivor and thriver. Thanks a million beautiful Paleo Bird!

    pmpncali wrote on July 13th, 2012
  15. I have seen this lady and story somewhere before? Is there not one doubter in the crowd? I’m just sayin’. Testimonials are all well and good but do you have a fact checker or even want one?

    Angele wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • Where do you think you’ve seen her?

      Melissa wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • I’m guessing you saw her and her story on these forums. She’s been on this site for a while. Kind of lame to make an accusation that has no basis.

      azleah wrote on July 13th, 2012
  16. Remarkable! I love your honesty about food.
    Congrats on your success and excellent health!

    Susan wrote on July 13th, 2012
  17. You got it right. CICO still applies no matter what you’re doing. For those who have trouble with controlling their portions, i recommend IF. This is pretty much the only way to make “reckless abandon Primal” work. If you throw in two 24hr fasts a week, that’ll definitely put you at a calorie deficit. Props to Brad Pilon and ESE. Mixed together PB and ESE are untouchable.

    JPizzay wrote on July 13th, 2012
  18. Simply amazing! Thanks for sharing your story.

    Meg wrote on July 13th, 2012
  19. What an inspiring storey! Thank you!!

    Susan wrote on July 13th, 2012
  20. I too, believe in finding a balance with regard to fat, calories and portion. Jump starting the metabolism after years of SAD abuse takes a bit of fine-tuning. You look amazing and sounds as though you fee that way, too. Grok On sister and God Bless.

    Katie wrote on July 13th, 2012
  21. Congrats, PB. Thank you. :)

    Steph wrote on July 13th, 2012
  22. OMG what an incredible story paleobird! Thank you for sharing it!

    mars wrote on July 13th, 2012
  23. R-E-S-P-E-C-T!

    And what a bod! 😉

    Yolanda wrote on July 13th, 2012
  24. Wow! You look amazing! That is what I love about being Primal. It is so much more than losing weight-it really heals your body.
    Also, I agree with you about the quantity issue. Too much of great food is still too much. Especially for people who have unknowingly screwed with their body for too long.

    Katie wrote on July 13th, 2012
  25. I LOVE fridays. Reading each story is like my dessert after lunch. Your story is inspiring, full of hope and so encourages me to GrokOn! Thank you for sharing. And congrats on your success!

    Candi wrote on July 13th, 2012
  26. Thank you for sharing your amazing story. It will be such an inspiration to others. Great Job!

    Pam wrote on July 13th, 2012
  27. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I had an instant gut recognition for your comments about the number of CICO as a complement to the right calorie sources. Particularly that it is not as simple as “just listen to your body” when your metabolism is recovering. So many aspects of my health have drastically improved eating primally, but the weight loss has not come. You’ve given me new-found motivation to hunker down on my primal eating.

    marylouh67 wrote on July 13th, 2012
  28. What stage breast cancer did you have? My sister got diagnosed with stage four last year and it has been rough going.

    Johnny wrote on July 13th, 2012
  29. hats off! to climb back from a hole as deep as that, wow! good reminder for the more fortunate who never had serious illness, not to be whining about relatively small problems like “just” being overweight with messed up metabolism.

    einstein wrote on July 13th, 2012
  30. What a wonderful story. As someone just starting out on their paleo journey, coming out of very ill health and cancer risks on the left and right hand, this was very helpful. And as a fiftysomething female? Very inspiring! Thanks so much. Great pics. Rock on, PB.

    Becalope wrote on July 13th, 2012
  31. a great success story and inspiring transformation, paleobird.
    I had malt lymphoma 10 years ago, but my wake-up call wasn’t till 6 years ago — I hit 265 on 6′ and it was double-bypass time.Then I found Mark, and other paleo sites — lost 80 easy. Did a lot of reading in addition to mark — peter, richard, masterjohn, weston price society and others — always with an eye on cancer. Now I post occasionally on several different cancer boards, on nutrition issues — and sadly, the message is mostly unwelcome, nearly scorned. Our entire consensus-based nutrition belief system promotes a plant-based diet for fighting disease. And the people on the boards aren’t looking for any challenge to their beliefs. They want to juice, and supplement, and sip fruit smoothies. It’s frustrating…and i post less…
    Last year I had a clean CAT scan and upper endo — 10 years, lymphoma free.

    mehitabel wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • hi ron congrats with those 10 years ! me too I sometimes feel desperate for friends with cancer who just can´t believe there´s a way beyond going juicing and ditching animal protein … Do keep posting ! Anette

      Anette wrote on April 9th, 2016
  32. love u, paleobird..
    have learned loads from you~
    such willpower and drive!

    Judybird wrote on July 13th, 2012
  33. this is just the kind of inspiring story i need to hear

    Anna wrote on July 13th, 2012
  34. You are awesome! I am totally inspired by you!

    AmazonWarrior wrote on July 13th, 2012
  35. Awesome job!

    Graham wrote on July 13th, 2012
  36. Amazing! I’m 5’10” also, and when I was 145 years ago, I wore a size 10!

    Vivian wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • yes sizing has definitely changed, i think. but 145 is a very good weight for a 5’10” frame. Right now I would be satisfied @ 155 (am currently around 160)

      Gayle wrote on July 13th, 2012
  37. Your journey is such a powerful story of change, hope, and perseverance. Thanks for writing this!

    nalani wrote on July 13th, 2012
  38. WOW! Amazing story and you look damn sexy in that swimsuit. I wish you all the best and continued good health! :)

    PrimalNewborn_M wrote on July 13th, 2012
  39. Awesome story!!! Good on ya!!!

    jacquie from Oz wrote on July 13th, 2012
  40. You look Fabulous! Nearly unbelievable, your transformation.

    Kudos and Namaste, Bird.

    Juan Matus wrote on July 13th, 2012

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