The 3 Things Having Cancer Taught Me About Food

I got some bad news: my thyroid cancer had returned.

Initially the plan was to do a third surgery. But I was informed that I wasn’t a good surgical candidate due to the scar tissue that had accumulated in my neck from the first two surgeries. So my thyroid medication was increased to induce hyperthyroidism and suppress the cancer.

The meds made me miserable—wired and tired. I couldn’t sleep at night but was exhausted all day. My heart raced. I felt anxious. I became fearful that the depression I’d spent 16 years running from would hunt me down and drag me through the dark alley once again.

When I spoke to my doctor about my concerns, he flippantly told me that I should probably talk to a psychiatrist. That was the second time he had said those words to me, and it would be the last. I was fed up with being treated like I was mentally ill because of a medical condition that affected my hormones and mood. By this time, I’d had enough medical training and life experience to know that MD didn’t stand for “minor deity.” The man in front of me wasn’t a god whose word was gospel. Neither was he my parent, who could diminish me for being “naughty” and not behaving as I should.

“You’re going to need to remain on this medication at this level for the rest of your life,” he said. “In essence, it’s your chemotherapy. There are side effects like rapid heart rate and anxiety—also thinning hair and bone- and muscle-wasting over time. You’ll need regular bone scans, and you may need medication for osteoporosis in the future. In the meantime, you should stop practicing martial arts and take it easy in your workouts, maybe practice yoga instead. And I’m serious about talking to a psychiatrist. The sooner you accept the situation and stop fighting it, the sooner you will find peace.”

“Seriously? You just told me I’m going to feel like crap indefinitely, take a laundry list of medications, and have to quit doing the things I love most in the world—and I should just accept it? Why don’t you just put me out to pasture and let me die?”

I was put on several more medications, nine to be exact—some to manage my heart rate, some to help the anxiety, some to manage the side effects of the other medications. Once again, I wondered why I was even alive. What was my purpose for being here?…

…I found a new doctor who actually listened to me, and I went on an all-out mission to learn about the healing properties of food, exercise, and supplements. I was determined to be my own advocate and to do my part in healing my body.

Within a year of radically changing my diet and supplement routine, I felt healthier, sharper, and stronger than I ever had. I listened to my body— really listened—in regard to what I was eating. I listened to others who knew more than I did, taking more than 300 hours of training in metabolic medicine and nutrition over the next couple of years. (This new passion would eventually manifest itself in my New York Times bestselling book The Omni Diet.)

In helping myself learn to use food as medicine, I had discovered my true purpose—to help others heal with food. More importantly, I knew I’d never crumble or give up because of my health ever again.

3 Most Important Lessons I Learned About Food

  • Food is medicine or it is poison. What you put on the end of your fork matters. It’s either nourishing your brain and body for optimal functioning, or it’s contributing to illness. Stop poisoning yourself and start using food to heal your body and mind.
  • Food affects hormones and moods. Your thyroid is a hormone, similar to estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. Hormones have a powerful impact on your moods, emotional well-being, and energy levels. Eating junk food or a diet that’s high in sugary fare contributes to hormonal imbalances that can give you the blues and make you feel tired and stressed. Adopting a brain healthy diet is a key element in balancing your hormones.
  • Food is instrumental in treating mental illness. While researching food science to help myself feel better physically and psychologically, I came across a wealth of studies showing concrete results that eating good-for-you foods can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and ADD/ADHD. Since I first began looking into the food-mental health connection, an avalanche of additional studies have been published confirming those early findings. Check my website for dozens of delicious, brain healthy recipes.

The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child is written by Tana Amen, a New York Times bestselling author, neurosurgical ICU trauma nurse, and vice president of Amen Clinics. In this compelling and candid memoir, Tana shares how she was able to find healing after experiencing a terrifying childhood of abandonment and abuse and how she has become a champion for others who have experienced trauma. It offers an inspirational look at what’s possible for anyone in need of healing and hope. Order your copy here.


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