Dubbed by friends as somewhat of a “health nut”, always exercising, eating healthy food, Mandy D’Aoust wouldn’t have surmised she would end up a cancer candidate in her early 40s. After all, she seemed to be taking all the right steps towards healthy living. So when doctors informed her she had breast cancer she decided to put her life under a microscope, forfeiting conventional medical approaches to recovery, and in doing so, realized that the signposts for her imminent cancer had existed well before her breast cancer surfaced.
D’Aoust, a resident of Oshawa, ON with family roots in Northern Ontario, faced one of the most difficult decisions of her life four years ago after doctors informed her of her breast cancer – undergo a full radical mastectomy, radiation treatments and hormone therapy – the conventional medical approach recommended by her oncologist, or choose the least invasive treatment possible and allow her body to naturally heal itself. She chose the latter, and, in doing so, she experienced a better quality of life for herself, she says.
Doctors argued if she didn’t go ahead with the recommended course of treatment as quickly as possible, she might die. Instead, D’Aoust opted to spend six months after diagnosis to research alternatives for treatment before making any decisions.
“The surgeon was belligerently adamant saying I was being stupid and didn’t know what I was talking about because I had decided not to undergo conventional treatment.”
She grilled the radiologist at the local cancer centre to determine whether radiation therapy was worth the risk, she conducted her own research over the Internet and held discussions with breast cancer patients who had post recurrences before finalizing her decision. Six months later surgeons removed only the tumours, a small amount of surrounding tissue, and a few sentinal nodes. Cancer screening bloodwork revealed she was cancer free.
“You are your own best health advocate,” D’Aoust says. “If (a treatment) doesn’t feel right for you then it isn’t. You don’t need to suffer to be treated. You don’t have to have a poor quality of life. Your treatment doesn’t have to make you sick or kill off healthy cells.”
Her lifelong journey, with the guidance of a naturopath, was set to begin. “I am very intrigued with the fact that you can heal yourself by letting your body do its magic.”
Her first course of action began with extensive blood work through her general practitioner, heavy metal testing through urine and bowel samples, pH sampling and live blood cell analysis. The live blood analysis indicated an intolerance to wheat and
dairy, which in turn was creating inflammation in her body. The naturopath suggested she pursue a food elimination diet to help determine which foods exacerbate her inflammation, because there is a strong association between chronic inflammation and cancer.
“I discovered I was very sensitive to any kind of melons, whole wheat and night shade vegetables, all of which were creating symptoms of bloating and headaches” – bloating and headaches that had persisted for years before her cancer was diagnosed.
“I realized along the way that there was definitely a pattern going on,” D’Aoust says. “When I started looking at my past history I realized I had always had painful periods, endometriosis, anemia, headaches and migraines.”
Her naturopath also worked with her to improve her immune system, liver and kidney function, thyroid function, and to eliminate extra estrogen from her body. She used the healing power of foods to help prevent the cancer from returning. That meant eliminating
foods that create inflammation and consuming fibrous foods like celery and ground flax seeds, which act like a sponge to help draw out the extra estrogen and toxins from her body.
“I started on a regiment to cleanse my body of extra estrogen,” which was revealed through initial tests. One of her habits now is to ensure she consumes a handful of
organic raw celery and carrot sticks daily, as recommended by her naturopath. With her new understanding of xenoestrogens, environmental hormone disruptors, she better understood how the estrogen levels had increased in her body. She had never made the
connection between years of recurring endometriosis and her exposure to xenoestrogens. Nor had she linked her continuous migraines with extra estrogen in her body. People
are bombarded with xenoestrogens all the time, she says. They just don’t realize it. Sources of xenoestrogens can come from pesticides, hormones in meat and dairy products, phthalates found in baby lotions, shampoos, soaps and cosmetics, and
common household products.
Scrutinizing her household habits, she realized that even that small amount of chlorine bleach she was using for laundry exposed her to xenoestrogens each time she dunked her hand in to push clothes into the washing machine. Bleach, her naturopath had advised, was an absolute no-no that needed to be eliminated from her home. So too was the scouring powder she was using to scrub the bath tub. That too, she was told, was a source of carcinogenic chemicals she was inhaling each time she used it. In fact, her naturopath had asked her to create a list of all the products in her home. Everything blacklisted with an ‘X’ by the naturopath would need to be eliminated. Despite the fact she had already minimized toxic exposure in her home due to her daughter’s asthma, there was still room for improvement, she says.
Today her home is toxin free, and her bath and skin care products are all organic and natural. She shops at the local health foods stores more often now than before her illness and her awareness of environmental exposure to toxins has expanded.
“I used to eat corn all the time,” she says, “but with concerns about GMOs (genetically modified organisms), I avoid corn products if they are not organic.” She avoids pesticide laden produce – only eating certain foods in season.
Heavy metal testing revealed she had excessive amounts of mercury in her system. Piecing the puzzle together, she now realizes the heavy metal content in her body was indicative of the environment she was exposed to as a child growing up in Hamilton amongst the Stelco and Dofasco manufacturing plants. Chelation treatments were prescribed to help rid her body of heavy metals, and she also did infrared sauna treatments to help detoxify her body.
She worked with an herbologist to determine what tinctures to take to help boost her system and her naturopath prescribed supplements and herbal vitamins and tweaked the prescription based on her bi-annual blood work. She still continues ongoing visits to her naturopath. Irregular bowel movements were also a concern, she says, due to toxic build up in the body.
“I had never been able to go to the bathroom every day. Now I make sure I have a bowel movement daily. I always had issues with acne. Looking back, I realized (the lack of regular bowel movements) was probably part of the problem.”
Lack of sleep and stress likely contributed to the breakdown of her health as well, she says. “I always had sleep issues,” she recalls. “Different times in my life for a long time I would worry and I’ve learned to let that go. I had always been a high-strung person, caring for other people from a young age.”
She began practicing meditation and deep breathing, worked on forgiveness and creating a more positive attitude and nurtured herself with reflexology treatments. “It’s a really difficult thing to face yourself and say ‘What can I fix about myself?’ A lot of people don’t love themselves enough to take care of themselves.”
Now, four years after diagnosis, D’Aoust still remains cancer free. Although some might still label her a health nut, she’s not one to take things to an extreme – she just makes simple changes along the way to ensure good health for her and her family.
“This has been a permanent life change for me. I believe in doing everything in moderation and am careful to balance out the good with the bad.”
By Sari Huhtala, Publisher, Alive+Fit Magazine