Success Story: Traveling the Cancer Journey

keto cancer

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 as long as they keep coming in. Thank you for reading!

Folks, I have been grateful for every story that has come my way over the years. It’s an incredible privilege being on the receiving end of your reflections and evolutions, and they are why I’ve kept at it all these years—knowing the message and information have made a difference in people’s lives. I appreciate every single one. This success story comes from Registered Dietician, Primal Health Coach, and cancer survivor Martha Tettenborn. She takes us through her journey from learning to advise a low-fat, high-carb lifestyle to beating cancer using Primal principles. Enjoy! —Mark

It has become my passion to share the power of nutritional interventions for improving health overall, but especially in the treatment of cancer. I have come to this from personal experience…

I studied at University in the early 1980’s to become a dietitian, because I had an overwhelming interest in nutrition and wanted to be in a helping profession. At that time, the cholesterol and saturated fat theory of heart disease and overall health was considered cutting edge science and we were fully indoctrinated into the low-fat approach to almost all health issues. The only exception was using a high calorie, high protein approach to under-nutrition (such as with failure-to-thrive or cancer patients), and in that situation, we recommended using sugar or honey, butter or cream, and other added fats and simple carbs to increase the caloric density of foods.

I have been a Registered Dietitian for over 30 years, basing my practice for most of that time on the standard paradigm of low fat foods, heavily carb-based meals, fruits and vegetables, lower fat meats. Personally, our family spent many years eating no red meats, using turkey “bacon,” ground chicken and other processed foods, but avoiding beef and pork – and feeling virtuous while doing that.

Professionally, I have spent the last 20 years working in geriatrics, contracting my services to long term care facilities. I care for many residents with the end stage consequences of the Standard American (and Canadian) Diet – diabetes, strokes and of course, dementia, both vascular and Alzheimer’s. It is rare that a resident has simple osteoarthritis or other simple wearing out of old age. Most of them are younger and slowly dying for years with the chronic “diseases of civilization.”

About 10 years ago, I started down the path of alternative nutrition, starting with Seth Robert’s ideas, called the Shangri La Diet, using flavourless oil shots to impact on appetite control in the brain. I was successful in losing about 18 lbs that had been quite stubborn prior to that time. Shortly after that, I found Mark’s Daily Apple and the concept of the Primal Diet, eating an Ancestral pattern that suited our physiology. It resonated so strongly with me that this was correct, although it went against all of my training. The strength of the science won me over; however, I spent hours on the MDA forums, reading scientific discussions, success stories, recipe and meal planning ideas and journals from the MDA community.

About 3 years ago, I decided that I wanted to take my interest in low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) and start up a private practice. In order to update my knowledge, I completed the Primal Health Coach certification – an excellently presented and in-depth course. As an RD and member of a Registered Health Profession, with a regulatory college, I had to establish a private practice that met with the regulatory guidelines of my
profession, so I started Primal RD in July 2017. Because of my counter-conventional approach, I have had no support from local doctors and getting my practice going in my small Ontario community has been slow.


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Last summer, I discovered the presence of a large ovarian cyst in my abdomen and had it surgically removed in late September. The cyst was a simple fluid-filled balloon, but huge, holding 1.5 litres of fluid (over 50 oz – 6 cups!). Despite nobody expecting it, it turned out to be Stage 1 high grade serous carcinoma – ovarian cancer. It had been intentionally ruptured to make laparoscopic removal possible, so that was considered a “spill” and a second surgery for hysterectomy and chemotherapy were highly recommended.

I was 58 years old and in stellar health prior to this diagnosis. In fact, a great deal of my self-identity was wrapped up in being “super-healthy” and this sudden change to “cancer patient” was a huge crisis for me. However, as a naturally optimistic and curious person, I headed down the rabbit hole of research to determine what I could do for myself to impact on my health journey and return myself to my formerly stellar good health.

What I discovered was startling. That cancer is no longer considered by some to be a genetic disease, but rather a disease of disordered metabolism. That this information was first discovered and described by Otto Warburg in the 1920’s, for which he received a Nobel Prize. That this scientific information was then lost by virtue of it being of German origin, and the Germans lost the Second World War. And that this critical understanding of the metabolic nature of cancer has only been brought back to light in the past 10 years through the work of dedicated researchers who are working outside of the medical establishment.

Cancer, although it is thought of as a genetic disease, and that it is thought of as many different diseases, has one almost universal underlying common characteristic. Almost all cancers have damaged and malfunctioning mitochondria, the fuel-processing organelles that create the energy for all cellular life. Instead, they produce energy by the ancient process of fermentation in the cytoplasm of the cell, an inefficient process that is entirely dependent on glucose or glutamine for substrate. Cancer cells have no ability to burn fatty acids or ketone bodies. That’s their Achilles heel.

keto cancer

By using a ketogenic diet throughout my chemotherapy, I was able to deprive any remaining cancer cells from having access to elevated circulating insulin or glucose. And by producing ketones through the diet and through fasting for 72 hours each chemo administration, I was able to starve the cancer cells of their preferred fuel, while putting my body further into ketosis, thus supplying my healthy cells with adequate fuel. My healthy cells down-regulated their metabolism in response to the fasting, going into “stealth mode” and escaping notice by the chemo drugs (essentially poisons aimed at fast-metabolizing cells). This turned out to be powerfully protective in preventing most side effects. I had no nausea, emesis (vomiting0, gastrointestinal damage, nerve damage, tingling or neuropathy, no joint or muscle pains. I did experience hair loss and bone marrow suppression, the 2nd week effects of the chemo, but these were moderate, not requiring any additional medication. Overall, I sailed through chemo with a few “low energy” days, but mostly it was life as normal, just with no hair. This was decidedly NOT the expected course for this type of chemo.

A friend said to me when I was starting down the cancer path that it appeared that everything in my life to this point (becoming a low carb dietitian, the PHC certification, and my passion for researching health) had prepared me for this day – that I would be the “Keto Cancer Dietitian.” The idea stuck, and a passion for sharing what I had learned about how powerful nutrition can be in the cancer journey was born.

As I went through chemo, I started blogging about my experiences and my journey so that others could read my story and gain hope and understand the power that we each have to impact on our own health, even in the face of daunting obstacles like a cancer diagnosis. I write about my experiences at my website, Powerful Beyond Measure, at www.marthatettenborn.com.

I feel very blessed for so many reasons. Firstly, that I had found the low carb Primal way of eating and had a solid basis of good health prior to starting this cancer journey. Secondly, that I had the knowledge and skills to research the metabolic nature of cancer and implement specific nutritional interventions (namely ketogenic diet and therapeutic fasting) for impacting on the chemotherapy experience. And thirdly, that I am now able to share that knowledge with others so that we can change the cancer and cancer treatment experience for the better. I was not a helpless “victim” of cancer and I was not fighting a war against my cancer. I was an empowered and effective partner in my own healthcare, positively impacting my response to conventional treatment.

That’s what I wish to share with others.

Mark has been so generous to share his knowledge with the goal of changing lives and that’s what I hope to do as well, from the perspective of a Registered Dietitian, a Primal Health Coach, a lifelong “healthy eater” and a cancer survivor thriver. I’m just at the beginning of that journey.

Martha Tettenborn, RD
Owen Sound, Ontario, Canada

TAGS:  Keto, ketones, low-carb

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15 thoughts on “Success Story: Traveling the Cancer Journey”

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  1. Wow, what a story. Thank you for sharing your journey. All the best in the future.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Martha. My father passed away from cancer several decades ago. Soon after that I began learning that cancer does not have to be my story. The potential is there, as it is with all beings. Yet, at this time, I still have the ability to turn the genes off.

    May we all be safe in this time.

  3. Hey Martha! All of us here should be taking inspiration from your strength and courage. Thank you so much for sharing your hope and your knowledge with others who need it. You are a true inspiration for us all. Keep being amazing!

  4. Thanks for sharing and for the work you do. My dad is currently a stage 4 cancer patient so this is an issue close to my heart. It makes me sad that there is no diet/nutrition advice like yours. As you alluded to, he’s just been told to eat high fat, high sugar – anything to keep his weight up. I’ve tried to support and tell him about keto, but his trust is with the medical team, which is understandable when you are in such a vulnerable position. I hope that your message will spread and grow. Best wishes.

  5. Thank you, everybody! I’m writing a book to share this particular protocol for ketogenic diet and targeted fasting to impact on chemotherapy. It will hopefully launch this Fall. It’s so powerful, yet safe and evidence-based. It will be called Powerful Beyond Measure: Using Nutrition and Spirit to Journey Through Cancer. Part my story, part what I learned and a thorough ketogenic diet primer, plus the Chemo Fasting Protocol. I’m hoping that I can get the word out to many others that we have the power through our food choices to majorly impact on our health journey.

  6. Thank you for sharing. My dad has cancer at 94 years old. He said “how do I get rid of this?” The doctor wants to put him on hormone blocking pills and chemo, but when he asked about the benefits or consequences the doctor explained that the benefits would be slight and the consequences to his health and quality of life would be horrible.
    So, we (my sisters and I) told him that he can just stop eating low fat/high carb and try to starve the cancer by a keto approach. He “side effects” would be much more pleasant. He’s trying the high fat/moderate protein/very low (zero) carb method. I know he is full of cancer in his bones and may not be able to turn this around but he will still feel like a man and in control of his life and his quality of life by doing his best in this time.

  7. Hi
    Hi Martha
    Thanks for the information and sharing of your story I have been considering the 72 hour fasting or a modification to the number of hours. . I’m wondering how many hours passed after treatment before you started eating again? Are there ever situations where there would be concerns of cachexia?

    1. I would wait 24 hours after the end of my chemotherapy before starting to eat again. My chemo protocol took about 10 hours. The research suggests anything from 24-48 hours after chemo and 36-60 hours prior.

      It’s definitely something to approach with caution if advanced cachexia is already present. But cachexia is not just an issue of not enough caloric or protein intake. It’s a metabolic derangement. You won’t get cachexia by doing a fast around your chemo treatments, or by doing a ketogenic diet.

  8. Amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing Martha. My uncle passed recently in his early 40’s due to cancer. It had started in his kidneys and spread rapidly after having them removed. He had worked at GE some 20 years I think and had been exposed to tons of radiation, but his diet was also the standard American diet, plus heavy alcohol consumption. It was heartbreaking to attend his funeral and hear his youngest daughter (18) speak. I just can’t imagine the ache…
    My grandfather also died of cancer, pancreatic, in his sixties. He was exposed to agent orange. I only wish we could control the toxins in our world as much as we can our diets.

    Your story is amazing. and I truly hope your book spreads this knowledge to more and more people so that this may one day be the standard recommended diet for cancer patients. It will help so many people. Thank you again. You’re a beautiful soul. 🙂

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I lost my mother to metastatic breast cancer when I was 18. She had eaten a farm-grown diet growing up and a fairly clean 1960’s diet through my childhood, but she had suffered with polio in the 1930’s and had who-knows-what done to her and given to her. I really feel that her pre-menopausal cancer likely originated from that experience.

      I feel for your loss.

      M.

  9. Congratulations Martha. It takes great courage to fly in the face of conventional wisdom when the consequences are dire. Thank you.

  10. Owen Sound is lucky to have you! Glad to know there is an RD out there taking this approach. Best, from a fellow Ontarian.

  11. Thanks for your sharing, In my opinion, not only with cancer, with all other diseases, diet has always played an important role in improving disease status.