How My Sister Survived Lung Cancer

It was almost 2 years ago that my sister Pam was diagnosed with stage 3b lung cancer. You can read my first entry about this here. Today, as of this writing, she is completely free of any visible cancer. Of course, there is always the fear that it could return. I’m happy she’s cancer free but it’s something I celebrate with caution. How was my sister able to beat the odds? To not only survive 3b stage lung cancer but to be declared free of cancer 1 year after being diagnosed. I remember the first week she was diagnosed, I began to nervously research her condition on the internet. One night I read that only 30 percent survive the disease for 1 year and 10 percent live over 5 years. My heart sank.

Looking back, I wonder how I didn’t completely fall apart during this time. It was a scary time, full of uncertainty. There is something that comes over you, a protective shield. Mainly I let myself be angry with her for what she did to herself. And now the whole family was being punished by having to watch her suffer until she ultimately died. It helped me get through it.

So how did she survive her lung cancer? One of the things my sister did that many smokers who are diagnosed with lung cancer do not is quit smoking. This may sound obvious and a no brainer but I discovered that it’s estimated that almost 2/3 of smokers who are diagnosed with lung cancer continue to smoke.  That alone should tell you why lung cancer so often is a death sentence. That was so shocking to me. To continue to do the very thing that is killing you. How? Why? To give no thought to your loved ones and how they will be affected by your death. It’s unfathomable to me.

Besides the lung cancer, she was battling serious damage to the mucus barrier of her duodenum. This was caused by years and years of overdosing on aspirins and stand-backs. This may have been a god-send because she was unable to eat solid foods, meat was impossible. For her first year of her diagnosis her diet consisted mainly of blended cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, but for the most part asparagus. This may have been the single biggest thing in helping heal her cancer. There is plenty of research that suggest more and more that cancer’s growth can be effected by diet. And cruciferous vegetables are thought to be especially good at fighting cancer.

My sister did turn to religion. Many people were praying for her. She has always been easy to switch when it comes to her beliefs. Since I’ve known her she has jumped from a ultra-religious, Southern Baptist, judgmental church lady to not really believing anything at all. I remember once when I was a teenager, during a time when I was searching for deeper meaning in my life, asking her what she believed, and her answer was, “food, folks and fun!” Not very comforting to someone searching for real answers.

I’m not religious myself but I am hopelessly spiritual. I did what I could in my new age-y and woo-woo way. I meditated most nights with a special crystal sending rays of healing white light her way. Did any of this have any real effect, probably not. I am the first person to say that my beliefs are illusionary and entertain my imagination more than anything. I have no real convictions, just a strong sense (most days) that we are here for a reason and that creation was designed and not some random accident. I mean that in a scientific way and I do believe that is possible. I don’t feel like you have to be religious to believe that.

The first year was an emotional roller coaster. One week we’d get a call from her telling us that it was probably inoperable. Then the next month it was operable. One week you’d get good news, the next week bad.

After she had a round of radiation and chemo that was suppose to shrink the tumor in her right bronchial tube, her entire right lung was removed. The chemo was unsuccessful, as it usually is in cases of lung cancer. The whole family tried to convince her not to have chemotherapy and we all felt it was the wrong thing to do. But it was ultimately her decision, we had no real control over any of it. Which was frustrating and scary. A few months into her cancer I stopped myself from researching and trying to control what happened and just surrendered. The videos and articles I found that were suppose to help sway her in the right direction with her treatments that I posted on our families private blog were never commented on and mostly ignored anyway.

Now that she is cancer free, my sister is no longer on a plant-based diet. She eats the standard American diet. Ask her now and she will say that what saved her was surgery and radiation and the asparagus was insurance. And we will probably never know what was the real silver bullet that saved her life. But ask her if she would return to a plant-based diet if the cancer returns, and she will tell you in a heart beat. If you ask me, she’s taking a big risk not staying plant-based but unfortunately it’s not in my control.

  • Bridy

    I am so happy to hear your sister is doing well. I know it is hard to see a loved one slowly set their own path of destruction with smoking.
    I agree with your words at the end, staying on a plant based diet would be very beneficial, to bad the medical community doesn’t even see this.
    Sugar is also a huge trigger for cancer, it should be avoided completely!

  • hudson

    I’m sorry about your sister but it seems to me that if you really respected and supported her you wouldn’t post a blog trying to sound like her saviour. I also know people very close to me who have gone through cancer. And I can’t wait until the next time someone else close to me gets cancer so I can use their struggle to make myself look awesome on my blog. You make me want to puke.

  • My Vegan Cookbook

    hudson, In what way am I making myself sound like her savior? In many ways I failed, I could not persuade her to not have chemo, I can’t make her stay plant-based. I had nothing to do with her survival, she was the one who woke up everyday and battled her cancer, she was the one who decided to go plant-based. Yes, I had a small part in helping her make that decision, but so did so many of her friends and family members.

    Re-read the title of this blog entry, it’s not “How I Saved My Sister From Lung Cancer”. It’s “How My SISTER Survived Lung Cancer”! The whole point of this blog entry, if you really read it, is that we don’t know what really saved her life. The plant-based diet may have had no effect. I believe it did, but I admit I could be wrong.

    I knew, when writing this post, it would bring out the militant anti-plant-based fanatic nut jobs, I just didn’t think it would happen so soon.

  • Cm

    Thank you for sharing such a powerful and true story. Just know you touched her life in a new way, even briefly, and who knows what ripple effect her choice to eat plant based may have had–maybe she met someone in the waiting room for treatment and they started talking and she influenced them to try a new diet approach. We can never know the effect we have, and I love how you shared info and then let go.

  • janny

    I am glad your sister made it through. I had cancer too (breast), and I was a smoker too. Immediately quit when I was diagnose. After surgery, chemo, more surgery and numerous radiation treatments, I am now cancer free. That was 7 years ago and after I completed treatment, a family member gave me the China Study and I immediately went plant based and I truly believe it has not come back because of my diet. I will never go back to the SAD diet ever (since before my diagnosis I was eating Southbeach diet – tons of dairy!) I try not to preach, but I am a believer in the vegan diet (healthy that is) and wish people GOT it. There has been proof that people have reversed their diseases by going plant based but I think people just want to do what they have been doing and won’t change. Their loss.

  • My Vegan Cookbook

    Janny, Thanks for your story!

  • Jacqui

    So glad your sister is doing well. When my close friend was diagnosed, I talked about diet. She said that was too radical to do. How is putting poison from chemo & radiation into your body not radical? All we can do is plant a seed, and hope it takes root. I applaud you for being there for her in the best way you knew how. Your blog entry did not come across as if you were her savior. Not sure what was going on with a previous commentor. I’ll keep her in my prayers (because I am religious).