Happy Herbivore Blog

November 21, 2013

Herbie of the Week: Sally (she beat late-stage ovarian cancer!)

Sally left the following comment on Pamela B.'s Herbie of the Week interview:

As an ovarian cancer survivor, I can attest to the power of low-fat, plant-based foods to prevent, and even reverse, cancer progression, especially for women's cancers.

Of course I immediately emailed Sally and asked her to share her story with us.

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My journey in discovering the power of eating whole, plant-based foods:

My "wake-up call" came shockingly and abruptly—in August 2007, I was diagnosed with late-stage ovarian cancer. I was especially stunned because I considered myself to be in excellent health; that is, I ate a low-fat diet (which, of course, included lots of dairy products, eggs, poultry), exercised regularly, maintained a healthy weight, and followed through with recommended healthcare check-ups and screenings. Immediately I had surgery, followed by chemotherapy, which put me into remission. However, I was ever-vigilant about if and when the cancer would return. [Ovarian cancer is notorious for: 1) being diagnosed at an advanced stage because of the subtlety of symptoms and lack of reliable screening tests, and 2) stubbornly recurring.]

In 2008, I read an interview with David Servan-Schreiber, a busy doctor and neuroscientist who found out that he had a brain tumor at age 31. In his book, Anticancer: A New Way of Life, he detailed the roles that nutrition, along with environmental toxins, physical activity, and emotional health, have in keeping cancer at bay. This book opened my eyes to the relationship between foods and health; as Servan-Schreiber stated: "Every day at every meal we can choose food that will defend our bodies against the invasion of cancer." Finally, I had a tool (i.e. food) that could help me fend off cancer recurrence—what an empowering feeling! Realizing that the foods consumed on a day-to-day basis have an immediate and lasting impact on health and well-being I began my journey into the realm of plant-based eating. And, I have never looked back.

In my quest to learn more and more about plant-based nutrition, I’ve earned a Certificate in Plant Based Nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Foundation (I learned so much—I highly recommend!); attended a Farms-2-Forks Weekend Immersion with the Esselstyn family, Doug Lisle, Jeff Novick, and others (a transformative experience!); went to PCRM’s Food for Life Seminar in Washington, D.C.; and gained much from inspiring speakers, workshops, and plant based camaraderie at the North American Vegetarian Society’s annual Summerfest conferences.

Though still working as a professor of education at a local university, I continue to seek out more opportunities to gain knowledge and share information about plant-based nutrition. I love reading Lindsay’s insightful, wonderful blog, as well as research, newsletters, and books from the other champions in the field – Esselstyn, McDougall, Campbell, etc.

For my daily eating regimen, I refer to Dr. Campbell’s guidelines for daily calories: 80% from complex carbohydrates, 10% from protein, and 10% from fat. Eating whole, plant foods definitely has changed my taste buds—I never thought that I would be craving fresh arugula in my morning oatmeal! Although I still have my daily piece of 72% dark chocolate, I cringe at the sweetness of most desserts and processed foods; I’ll eat a baked yam over a piece of cake any day! Plus, the description of sugar as "the fuel of cancer cells" keeps my sweet tooth in check.

In no way do I miss animal foods, especially the dairy products that I used to consume daily. I view food differently now. Hippocrates’ quote rings true: "Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food." I consider food to be tasteful, delicious, nourishing, multi-colored medicine for my body.

Fewer than 50% of the women with advanced-stage ovarian cancer live five years after diagnosis. I am one of the fortunate survivors—six years after diagnosis I remain cancer-free. I am convinced that adopting a plant-based diet, along with a routine that includes yoga, family, friends, and loads of gratitude, keeps me cancer-free.


The more I read about and experience whole, plant-based nutrition, the more impassioned I have become about advocating this lifestyle to others. Through workshops, discussions, and handouts, I strive to inform and support fellow ovarian cancer survivors about how they, too, can use food as a powerful weapon in their journey toward healing and long-term health.

I became a plant-based advocate after diagnosis of late-stage ovarian cancer 6 years ago. I am convinced about the powerful effects of eating whole, plant-based foods to heal from and protect against cancer. My passion now is to spread the word to other ovarian cancer survivors, and you have helped me do just that!

You are amazing Sally!!!

UPDATE (November 2013)

I continue to be cancer-free 6+ years after diagnosis. This is a photo of "Team Sal's Pals" at the 2013 National Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC) - Pittsburgh chapter, annual walk to raise money for survivor support and education.

This month my husband and I are leading another workshop at Gilda's Club of Western Pennsylvania. Also, I recently created a non-profit organization, named Food for Health, to assist in my continued quest to educate other cancer survivors about the power of plant-based foods!

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