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. Just curious…you mentioned you also had a seizure disorder. How has that been affected by your new way of eating?

    rtt wrote on July 13th, 2012
  2. Congratulations! What an awesome success story! I don’t think they get much better than this!! You LOOK amazing, healthy and gorgeous and SO young too!!
    I’m going to share on my FB!! All the best in your continued great health!!!

    Rashelle wrote on July 13th, 2012
  3. You look fantastic (and what a great suit!)! As a fellow survivor of BC, I salute you, and thanks you for the inspiration–I’m going to read your blog for more!

    Connie wrote on July 13th, 2012
  4. You go Girl!!

    Pamela wrote on July 13th, 2012
  5. YAY for Paleobird!

    Mshathvri wrote on July 13th, 2012
  6. PB – thank you so much for the info about total calories! I think the penny has finally dropped. I’ve been eating too much fat!!! I went to The Primal Blueprint and found the chapter about how to calculate your calories, etc. and, simply put, I now have more pieces of the puzzle puzzled out. Now I just have to put it into practice, and viola! Let’s all watch the fat melt away.

    Your story was beautiful, like you. Thanks again!

    Julie wrote on July 13th, 2012
  7. Thank you for sharing your success story! Not to make this about me, but it was such a good pick-me-up after after a long hard week of work.

    Congrats! You look fabulous and best wishes for continued good health.

    Mary wrote on July 13th, 2012
  8. Wow.


    Paleobird? Dat’s YOU?! WOW! You’ve had quite the life, woman! Truly amazing recovery. Thank you so much for sharing!

    primal pat wrote on July 13th, 2012
  9. Thank you paleobird, I am 46 and am eating 90 % primal. I am feeling better but haven’t sorted out my portion control. I get frustrated at the “boys in mens undies” on the forum who are quite condescending and tell 40 something women to eat up with no regard to calories.

    It sure changes after 40, and I didn’t believe it til I got there myself. Lets hope these numnuts learn a little civility and empathy as they reach TRUE manhood. 😉

    erika wrote on July 13th, 2012
  10. Great story. Really inspiring. You are one smart, strong lady.

    Love your words, especially these …

    “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.”

    There’s a ton of information out there, and no shortage of people who think their way to do primal is THE way.

    The truth is, there’s no one way. It’s up to each of us to read and think clearly and experiment to find out what works for US. And that’s what you’ve done.

    And now look at you!!!

    Susan Alexander wrote on July 13th, 2012
    • I totally agree. I go back to the triangle-balance … diet, move often then sprint, and LHT. For me it has to be all of them … especially until you get to your “sweet spot” – every body / system is slightly different. The type and amount of calories matter for your system (once your remove the crap.) That’s why I think it was brilliant for Mark to develop / write the N=1 Log Book. Our bodies can really be manipulated and changed. It’s actually fun to experiment.

      Thanks for sharing. Thanks for being strong, smart, and tenacious. Thanks for inspiring others. God Bless.

      Erin wrote on July 14th, 2012
  11. Thanks for sharing your triumph! It was great to meet you and the pup at Primal Con last year.

    superdeluxe wrote on July 13th, 2012
  12. You are an example to all women, especially those that are being duped these days by the Paleo female guru hacks. THANK YOU!

    Txomin wrote on July 13th, 2012
  13. What an awesome success story! I forwarded your story to a friend of mine who has been struggling with weight issues and has also been diagnosed with Stage 1 leukemia.

    Sandy A. wrote on July 13th, 2012
  14. Inspirational! Thank you for sharing your story. Your awesome.

    Judy wrote on July 13th, 2012
  15. Great stuff!

    I’m so glad you shared that with us.

    And the way I see it, scars are badges of honor.

    RitaRose wrote on July 13th, 2012
  16. THIS IS THE BEST FRIDAY YET! You beat it! And you look FABULOUS!

    Susan Slattery wrote on July 13th, 2012
  17. Your story is MIND BLOWING! My brain is still buzzing. You are now a spectacular example of WOW.
    I got my first clue on portion control after a recent injury. My brother and sister in law were kind enough to let me stay with them and they are a strict Weight Watchers household. I politely explained that I don’t eat grains or processed foods and that I do eat saturated fats. In the 16 days I was there, I lost 10 pounds. This happened in spite of using a walker for 4 days and very little activity. I believe PB was responsible for my relatively quick recovery but I admit to succumbing to the siren song of ice cream since then. I haven’t regained any of my 70 lb loss, but it was only a matter of time. Your story has stiffened my earlier resolve.
    You rock!

    TruckerLady wrote on July 13th, 2012
  18. You look mahvelous!

    Just remember “It is better to look good than to feel good.”

    Or is it better to feel good than to look good?

    Anyway, you look mahvelous!

    Bevin wrote on July 13th, 2012
  19. I think I love you???

    Robert wrote on July 13th, 2012
  20. Brave bold and bodacious!

    skeedaddy wrote on July 13th, 2012
  21. Absolutely amazing! One of the best success stories I’ve read. Well done.

    Lucas wrote on July 14th, 2012
  22. Isn’t having your health back amazing? So happy for you! For all the newbies out there, heed Paleobird’s warning of portion control. Eating all the fat and protein you want (a la forum advice) may very well make you gain weight! It did for me. I had 25 lbs to lose and health to regain. I gained 10 lbs by eating all the fat and protein I wanted. One yr into Paleo is when I realized “mainlining whole cream”, as Robb Wolf put it, was causing my weight gain. Have lost the extra wt ditching cream/cheese and am now *slowly* losing more eating leaner (no more bacon every day). If only I could stop mainlining coconut milk!

    Sandra Brigham wrote on July 14th, 2012
  23. Well I’ve had hundreds of customers of my Biggly software confirm that simply low-carb doesn’t shift the last few pounds.

    Calories DO count and as such it’s worth counting your calories – but as Paleobird says, mention calories around here and you tend to get jumped on…

    Re-stocking on sugar once a week or once a fortnight seems to help too, as low-carb forever tends to hit a wall.


    Alan wrote on July 14th, 2012
  24. You’ve gone and got me all teary eyed with this encredible story! I too have had to learn quantity is just as important as quality. Much thanks for sharing your story with us!

    Kim wrote on July 14th, 2012
  25. Love love love! The story and the good advice on portion vs. food type. It IS sensible to be a little more sensible about the balance between the two.

    I find that when I go completely nuts, I usually don’t feel so hot if it is meats or anything besides veggies.

    All in all, I’ve found that I don’t have to worry about portion control much if I do my weekly 24 hour fast on the weekends.

    Fasting has been the capstone for me which has allowed me to have the drive, motivation, and power to stick to primal eating long term.

    Primal Pup wrote on July 14th, 2012
  26. Mother of God!!! You are amazing!!

    Susie C. wrote on July 14th, 2012
  27. Thank you for sharing your wonderful and inspiring story!

    Marli wrote on July 14th, 2012
  28. Amazing! I’m not into pointing my husband into the direction of women in bikini’s but this, he’s got to see! What a transformation… Thank you for sharing! You are a True Survivor!!!!

    Lucy wrote on July 14th, 2012
  29. PALEOBIRD said: “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.”

    Exactamundo. I keep reading “I lost XX pounds in YY months” but that’s never happened to me; a pound here and a pound there is almost a major victory. (I have lost 40 pounds but it has been a two-year struggle.)

    It’s taken me a while to figure this out but with my trashed metabolism, I simply cannot “listen” to my body; everything it says is a lie. I must apply objective brain-power, rather than will-power, though that does come into play, if I want to lose weight. I cannot merely “eat until I am sated,” I must use my eyeball-to-brain connection and empiricism to determine the amount of food I should consume. Once I figured it out, I lost a few more pounds, if not effortlessly, at least a bit easier.

    (Want to know what really pisses me off about this whole dietary situation? Since the early 1970s and the Viet Nam War days, I have assumed everything put out by politicians and the government is a lie, yet I was a willing participant in their dietary guidlines. Shows just what a dumbass one can be.)

    Congratulations, PaleoBird.

    Phocion Timon wrote on July 14th, 2012
  30. So happy for you! And good advice about portion control. I find it easier to limit myself in the hot weather when my appetite in less, but it is easy to comfort myself too much in the winter!

    lanz wrote on July 14th, 2012
  31. You are NOT over forty. No way. I don’t believe you. 😉

    Wow, great job and truly inspiring!

    Michelle wrote on July 14th, 2012
  32. Glad to hear you’re feeling great and you’re back to health, and thanks for the wise words about not giving in to despair.

    I’m never going to say no to primal bikini pics — WOWIE — but that last one is the one that blows me away. You look like a college kid!

    Sean M. wrote on July 14th, 2012
  33. You inspire me! Thank you so much for sharing your story. I’m just starting out and am always so happy to read these success stories. Excellent job, I’m so happy for you! (You look lovely)

    Rosie wrote on July 14th, 2012
  34. what an amazing success story!!!

    roberta wrote on July 14th, 2012
  35. Great story.

    By the way, they have a new sign on the top of kili. Since it was easy, you should go take another look.

    John wrote on July 14th, 2012
  36. Lol! Great story, your comment that Kilamanjaro wasn’t that hard and your ankles don’t get puffy make me think you do not understand how awesome an inspiration you are. I have been on the fence about going 100% into this life style. You just convinced me. I’m in.

    Lisa wrote on July 14th, 2012
  37. frankly, when i look at the first two pre-paleo pictures i think “she’s just beautiful”. the transformation is impressive yes, but i like the 2 first pictures a lot … you look like a very warm-hearted and gentle person … :-) amazing story. thank you soooo much for sharing!

    paola wrote on July 14th, 2012
  38. Wow, Paleobird. You look amazing. Your little forum avatar doesn’t do you justice! Congratulations on beating cancer. Keep on hiking.

    Diane wrote on July 14th, 2012

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