If you know me, then you have probably heard me share my story a million times. If you don’t know me (and my former self), then it may surprise you to learn that I was the friend or family member that you would think of as the WORST eater in your circle of family and friends.
I grew up an extremely picky eater. I didn’t like eggs. I didn’t like vegetables. If I ate meat, it was fried or covered in a creamy sauce or condiment. My mother’s idea of dinner consisted of Taco Bell, McDonalds, or Wendy’s, followed by Dunkin’ Donuts. This was how I grew up, and how I continued to eat as an adult. If I went to a “nice” restaurant, I typically ordered chicken fingers and fries from the kids menu. It’s ridiculous, but when traveling to Paris, I ate at McDonalds every day. I had candy, Swiss cake rolls, and sugary sodas ALL day long…
Then one day almost six years ago, I went to the OB for a checkup. Embarrassingly, I was nearly two years overdue for my 6-week checkup following the birth of my twins.
I am small, so when my doctor pressed on my abdomen, she could feel the tumor growing on my ovary. She looked at me and said, “If the ultrasound room is open, I want to look at this right away.” Sure enough, there was a mass that looked solid and not at all like a cyst. I was scared, and from this day forward my life has been forever changed.
I had blood work, ultrasounds, cystograms, and CT scans, and they made me aware I had a tumor on my bladder and ovary. I also had a fistula. We could rule out all of the known causes of fistulas except one — Stage IV cancer. I saw a specialist, and when she said everything looked like cancer, I wanted nothing to do with her.
How could that be? I had cared for and watched my Aunt suffer and lose her battle with ovarian cancer. No way were my children going to experience the same devastation. I requested a second opinion, and a different doctor. I was referred to a uro-oncologist. Going to see him, I looked around the waiting room and saw that it was filled with men who were senior citizens, and most were wearing a mask. It was clear they were cancer patients.
A young man walked in, and he stood out amongst the patients. I’m a people watcher, so I watched him approach the front desk. He was a pharmaceutical sales rep and had brought lunch for the doctors. The lady looked at him and said, “I’m sorry, but you are going to have to come back another day. There isn’t a Uro-oncologist in this practice that’s going to let you through their doors with Coca-Cola.” And there I sat with my biggie Coke from Wendy’s.
The uro-oncologist was intimidating, and I literally broke out into hives on the way to see him before every appointment.
I sat in his office with tears flowing down my face as we scheduled the surgery to remove the tumors, which he also believed were cancerous. I said, “How can this happen to me? I am so healthy! I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. Why is this happening to me?”
Dr. Shessel looked at me (well, right through me). He paused. He glanced through my chart. He glared at me some more. Then he leaned towards me and said, “Monica, you need to put your big girl pants on and realize you are not healthy. Your chart says you don’t exercise. You walk in here with a fast food cup full of sodas every time I see you. I’d rather you smoke a pack of cigarettes than eat the way you do, and drink all of those sodas.” In that moment, I learned the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” is anything but true.
His words hurt deeply.
It took a few weeks to schedule the surgery, since my two doctors had to coordinate their schedules. My OB would carry out surgery on my ovary and uterus, while Dr. Shessel would perform surgery on my bladder.
During this time, there was no bucket list. I didn’t dream of running through fields in Italy, or jumping out of a plane. What overtook me was GUILT. What if I had eaten better? What if I had worked out? Could I have prevented this? Did I feed the cancer? Each time I looked at my three children, I was overcome with emotion.
I wanted to say, “I am so sorry I didn’t love you enough to take care of myself. I thought working out was selfish, and now I realize the opposite is true. I loved cokes and sweets more than I loved you, and now it’s too late to take it back”. I didn’t say these words out loud, but I said them in my head over and over again.
When I opened my eyes after the surgeries, I saw my OB and uro-oncologist. He leaned in like he did before, but this time with a warmth I had never seen in his eyes. He placed his hand on my arm. Then he said “We don’t have any explanations for you, but I am confident the fistula we saw is not there. You do not have a fistula. I removed part of your bladder as well as the tumor. The initial testing of the tumors and the lining of your uterus came back benign. We will have final results in two weeks.” They walked to the door, and as he closed the door he said, “Looks good, kid.”
I let out a sigh that I’m sure was heard throughout the halls. It was the first time I had been able to take a deep breath in a long time. I said to myself, “If everything comes out benign, I will exercise and eat right from this day forward.” And that is precisely what I have done.
My doctor said it to me straight. What I eat matters. My lifestyle matters.
I can’t predict the future, but I know that if I ever do get sick, I can look my children in the eyes and say, “I loved you so much that I did anything, and everything I could to be healthy for you.” I will never experience the guilt I felt before. It haunts me.
As soon as I was cleared to exercise, I did it! I made small changes over time with my nutrition, and now I am your friend who has the BEST diet. I eat whole foods from the Earth. I feel AMAZING. I look so much younger, and for the first time, I know what LIVING really feels like. I love the food I eat.
Let me be real clear. When I see bad foods it’s not, “Oh, I can’t have that.” It’s, “I don’t WANT that!”
My entire family has transitioned from junk food junkies to whole food warriors, and our lives have never been healthier and happier. I am fiercely passionate about teaching others how to enjoy and thrive on healthy foods. It’s my calling and purpose to change the future of food for our children’s generation. I’ve dedicated my life to nutrition education and research so my family and YOURS can enjoy a life of wellness.
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