The moment I met Megan, I felt like I was meeting up with a long time friend. She was relatable, inspirational, and if you didn’t have motivation to eat just a little bit better, you will after you’ve read through her interview. What an amazing woman.
As some background to all of this, tell me a little bit about you and your family now.
We have a blended family, my husband and I. He has three children from a previous marriage, and I have one. I’ve always considered his kids as my kids. It has actually been a huge blessing that he had all those kids, because with my cancer, I was able to only have one, and now I have four. I love them like my own. Our oldest is 23, and then I have three teenage daughters. They are…17, the next is almost 16, and then the next is almost 15. And I have a fabulous daughter-in-law, who I also adore.
Where did your story all begin?
I was married to my previous husband at the time and it was ten days before my daughter turned two. At that point, I just had a mole on my left shoulder. I had moles removed all the time and didn’t think anything of it when it was removed. It was just a routine thing that I always did. However, our plastic surgeon called me the next day… He said, “Megan, your mole came back positive for Melanoma, and it was very, very deep.”
He then told me that at that point, there was a 50% chance that it was everywhere. So here I was feeling panicked and scared, with an almost two year-old, and I was only twenty-eight… I went in and they took out the 3 lymph nodes that drained that area. They tested the 3 and one of them came back positive… There was just a very small amount of cancer in that lymph node that had tested positive, and so we hoped that we caught everything before it had the chance to spread. At that point I didn’t think too much about it and didn’t let it consume me. We thought everything had been taken care of, and so I went about living my life again.
Throughout some time afterward, I got divorced, started dating my husband now, and a week before we were going to get married, I was in the shower and felt a lump in my breast. One week before we were getting married! I thought to myself, Really? Life is just getting really good for me. I had met the man of my dreams, we were going to get married in a week, and here I was with this lump in the shower. You’ve gotta be kidding me.
I went to my husband [fiancé] and said, “Here’s the deal. I just found a lump and don’t know what it is. If you want to postpone the wedding, we can postpone it until we figure out what it is.” I didn’t want to put our kids through it. In my heart, even though it had been three and a half years, I knew deep down it was the Melanoma. I had done the research, and I knew if it had metastasized, doctors would give me no hope. So, I said, “I don’t know if I can put you and the kids through this. Now’s your time—if you want to back out, do it now and I won’t judge you for that. Whatever you want to do.”
And what did your fiancé say to that?
[He] looked at me and said, “You’re going to have to beat me away with a stick if you think I’m going anywhere. We’re getting married next week, and we’ll deal with it if and when we need to deal with it.”
So we didn’t know getting married what life was going to bring for us. I just remember having to choke the words out, “In sickness and in health,” when we did get married, because I think I knew deep down it was the Melanoma that had come back. It was exactly our one-month wedding anniversary, when the doctors gave me the news that it was indeed the Melanoma that had spread. It had not only gone to my breast, but I also had a whole bunch of tumors in my right lung. They basically told me there wasn’t anything they could do, and that I had less than a year to live, and sent me home.
I went home and researched. The average life span for my particular diagnosis was eight months. Eight months. My daughter was five at this point, and our kids were 13 down to 4. This can’t happen. Life was just getting good. I don’t care. I will do whatever it takes. They had offered a clinical trial to me. Once you get to the later stages of Melanoma, Stage 3 and Stage 4, there really isn’t any traditional treatment that works. There was a clinical trial going on and they described it to me as “chemo times ten.” I’d be inpatient the whole time, have zero quality of life, and at best there was less than 20% chance of it prolonging my life at all. I thought if this is the way I was going out, I didn’t want my kids seeing me like that. I didn’t want to lose that time with them. The only personal experience I had had with this drug… was I had a really good friend’s brother that had done it and died on his first injection. So I thought, I can’t do this. I can’t do this. There’s got to be another way.
For me, knowledge is power. I just wanted to gather all the information I could and find at least one person I could who had survived Stage 4 Melanoma. I thought, If one person has done it, then I know it’s possible. And I’ll figure out how to do it, if it is. I researched and researched, and it was actually really hard to find people. I ended up finding a couple of survivors. The common denominator in these stories was diet: a whole food, plant-based diet. So right there, I thought there must be something to that.
My husband is a chiropractor and he had a couple of patients who had visited a doctor in Mexico, who he told me about. The idea completely freaked me out. I was so traditionally minded…[but] here my husband was, telling me about this doctor in Mexico… who had practiced in California and then traveled back to Mexico. He was also a chiropractor and had a homeopathy license as well. So he was taking all three disciplines to make the body whole. The idea completely freaked me out, but I thought, I don’t care what I have to do, no matter how crazy it is, or how weird it sounds… if I can be around for my kids while they grow up, and grow old with my husband, that’s all I care about. I’ll do whatever it takes.
I talked to all the people who had been down there to see this doctor and asked them all sorts of questions. I finally decided to go… One of the first things my doctor in Mexico said was, “Okay, we need to get you on whole foods, plant-based diet. And 80% of this, is going to be your attitude.” I said, “Okay. Then we’ve got 80% won, let’s figure out the rest.” Everything that he talked about down there was about super-charging my own body, so that it would recognize the cancer and fight the cancer. So it was basically just doing everything I could do boost my immune system, my emotional health… everything. It made sense to me. Our bodies are made to heal. We get a cut, and our bodies start to heal. There are so many things that go wrong in our bodies, but our bodies take care of it. And I think it’s that same way with cancer, but we’re typically in such a state of disarray because of the food that we’re eating and the chemicals and environmental factors we’re exposed to, that we aren’t ready to fight it. So I had to get my body to a state where it was able to fight off whatever came its way.
Some of it still seemed a little crazy, but I had to put my trust in it and commit. Even if it sounded crazy, I did it.
So tell me a little bit more about what he had you do, as far as your diet went?
It was mostly raw fruits and vegetables, with whole grains, nuts, and seeds with some organic chicken and wild caught fish. I did not go completely Vegan, and kept some chicken, fish, and turkey in my diet, but I completely took out red meat. I totally took out white flour, white sugar, and processed food. This all happened overnight, and it was honestly so hard. For me, it was like, I have to do this 100%, and I’m not going to give cancer any kind of a chance.
Nutrition was not something that was spoken about in my home growing up. A few years earlier, I was totally fine with a Pop Tart and a Mountain Dew for breakfast. That was totally okay with me. I have a huge sweet tooth. I come from a long line of sweet teeth. It was really tough. There were times when I just wanted a piece of pizza. Food for me was such a comfort. And when people would find out I had cancer, what would they want to do? They would bring over treats, and meals would show up on my doorstep; meals that I couldn’t eat. In our culture, food is very social. We’d go out to dinner with our friends, we’d have friends over for dinner, and in all of our big gatherings, it was all about food; and not healthy food, typically. So it was hard. I ended up having to carry a picture of my family around with me. When those cravings would come, I would pull out that picture. When I put it into that context, it was a no brainer. Really? Is a piece of pizza really that important? Food became sustenance, and just a way of life for me. It wasn’t about enjoyment or entertainment. It was just a means of living. When you think about it, food is a means to sustain life… that’s what it is. Our culture has come so far from that. But really, food is just a way of survival. And so I started to find other ways to find enjoyment.
So how did you do? Did you ever have “cheat meals” or even a bite of something sweet every once in a while?
Not even one sneak. I was 100%. For about three years, I did not slip once.
What!? That is incredible. I can’t even imagine doing that.
Well when you look at it as life or death, that’s what I was facing, and it wasn’t even a question. It was survival for me. But we did know that it was working. At first I thought, is this even going to work? But six months after I had been diagnosed that I was terminal, I had a PET scan done, and there were tumors in my lung that were completely gone. And the others had not grown at all. If anything, the tumors had shrunk. Eventually, there was one tumor in my lung that I couldn’t ditch. It wasn’t growing, but it wouldn’t go away. When I was first diagnosed, they told me these tumors were inoperable. But after a year, that one tumor was the only one left, and so at that point, they offered to remove it. So I chose to do that. I got a thoracotomy and they removed that tumor, and then removed another spot two years later. Basically three years after my terminal diagnosis was given, I was declared “cancer free”… and that was over seven years ago.
Wow. So would you say diet was the primary factor in your healing?
Yes. When people ask me about how I overcame this, I say my diet was huge. It just makes so much sense. Our bodies are meant to function on real, whole foods. I also would say that for me, it wasn’t just a physical transformation. Our mind, body and spirit are so connected and interwoven. They don’t operate independently and are so connected with each other. If you heal one, that feeds into the other. If you hurt one, that feeds into another… I knew from the beginning, this wasn’t just going to be a physical journey, but a spiritual journey and an emotional journey. So I tried to supercharge all of those areas.
Did your whole family eat that way?
No. It was so hard. I wish I would’ve known then, what I know now. It’s so much easier to start a young kid on a healthy diet, than try to introduce it later. They would eat some of my stuff, and they eat a lot better now than they did back then, but I would have to make separate meals for my family, since I was a lot more limited on what I could eat.
What was your biggest craving?
I’m a sweet tooth, so I wanted key lime cheesecake or something like that. I just wanted something sweet. And pizza. I craved pizza. But the amazing thing is, that your body stops craving some of these things as it gets used to feeling a certain way. The craziest part was when I started introducing some of that stuff back in to my diet, I knew it right away. Having sugar, even a couple of bites, my heart would start going crazy. I couldn’t believe that it used to be normal to feel that, but I didn’t recognize it before.
Did it take you a while in this whole process to start feeling really good? Or did you notice a difference right away?
You know, when you think of a cancer patient who is terminally ill, you typically think of someone who looks unhealthy who doesn’t feel good. But with everything I was doing, I was feeling good. I started running after I was diagnosed. I wasn’t a runner before, but I knew that that oxygen was so good for my cells, and I knew cancer hates oxygen, so I said, Okay, I’m going to give cancer oxygen. So, I started running and was running half marathons, and ran a full marathon with tumors in my lungs. It was so crazy to me to have a terminal diagnosis like that, but be as active as I was. But it all just made perfect sense to me to approach this whole thing holistically. I thought about what they would’ve done to me with the clinical trial they had described, with no quality of life. Yet here I was, running races while I had tumors in my lungs.
Do your kids remember that time very well, and if so, has that inspired them to live more in the moment?
My whole family has changed. I met Kevin Sharp once… the singer, and he had gone through testicular cancer. He was diagnosed when he was 18. He said to me when I spoke with him, “I wouldn’t wish cancer on anybody, but I wouldn’t take it from me.” That was early on in my journey, and at that time, I didn’t quite get it. But now, I so get it. My life will never be the same, my family’s life will never be the same, and you learn how to not take things for granted, and you learn to build better relationships and stronger relationships. You become something stronger from going through something hard together.
How did it change your perspective on life and motherhood now?
I learned to have gratitude. Besides family and friends and my support system, gratitude is what pulled me through. Just being grateful for every single thing, regardless of what it was. Being grateful for every single day. Even those challenging days I was having with my kids, I was grateful for those days. You know, the funny thing about motherhood, is we are always telling our kids things and giving them advice. But when something happens to us, we have to look at ourselves and say, “Oh crap! I have to take my own advice now.” I always told my kids that there’s good in every situation. And so here I was facing this horrible, horrible thing and I thought, okay here’s the opportunity to prove that… I need to find the good… And so right from the very beginning, I grabbed a notebook and at the very top of the page, I wrote:
“And the good news is…”
I sat there for a minute and I just thought, Really? What am I gonna find? If I can just find one or two things, then I’ll just focus on that and hold to that. But as I sat there, before I knew it, the entire page was filled and I was able to flip the page and write more. I had the opportunity to teach my kids what true strength was. You don’t get to teach that very often. To have them personally see that and feel that was a blessing. I kept that journal by my bed, and would write down what I was grateful for every night. And I’ve bought my kids gratitude journals to write the things that they are thankful for; things that are good. If we can focus on the good, we realize there’s so much. Life is so much more good than it is crazy... If we can shift our focus to what is good, our perspective changes. It’s amazing.
Also, some people say to me, “Oh that must’ve been the worst timing ever, to have found that lump a week before you were married.” But for me, there was no better timing. I knew my husband wanted to be with me, regardless of what happened. It was such a reassurance knowing that he chose this, and he is in this with me. What a great thing as a base to have for a marriage just starting out. It’s all about perspective, and to have gratitude for every single moment.
What is one thing that you do day to day to stay positive?
Worrying was something that affected me during my journey, and still does. But I will never forget something my brother said to me when he came over one day, soon after I had been diagnosed. He told me, “Worry is a waste of the imagination.” That is the biggest thing he said that stuck out to me, and I haven’t forgotten it since. If we can focus our energy on how to heal, rather than worrying about something that hasn’t happened yet, then we are making better use of our time. When my mind starts to head that direction, this becomes my mantra: “Worry is a waste of the imagination.” And then, I figure out how to focus on… something that will help me heal, rather than make things worse. When we find ourselves in that state of disarray, we can change our perspective on something that will help us heal: something we can actually change, that is in our control.
I love that. One more question: What advice would you give to women about health?
In general, our bodies are amazing. They truly are amazing. I love this quote that says, “If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” [–Thomas A. Edison] Our health is everything. Our bodies were made to feel good. We’re supposed to feel good. It is so important from a young age to teach healthy living. If I were talking to a young mother, I would tell her to start by teaching her children healthy habits from the beginning. But on the flip side, it’s never too late. Our bodies are continually replacing our cells. We literally become what we eat because we are replacing our cells so quickly. Some cells we are turning over in 30 days, and so it’s never too late. Start regardless of where you are, and where you are on the health continuum. If you are like I was, eating a Pop Tart and Mountain Dew for breakfast, it’s okay. Just start now. And if you need to break it into steps, break it into something once a month. It can be a slower process. We truly are what we eat and we are not anything, if we don’t have our health. And again, that spills over into our emotional and spiritual health. It’s not just about our physical body.
Also, media tells us one thing. I have three daughters, with three different body types. But it’s all about having them feel good in their own skin. Be the best version of YOU. You’re not going to be perfect. Nobody is perfect, and perfection is not our goal… If you are eating right, moving your body, and being kind, the rest will fall into place.
Note: This is Megan’s story and her methods worked for her and her type of cancer. This interview is not to advocate that all people with cancer should change their diet and forgo traditional medicine, or that these methods will work for everyone.
Interviewed April 15, 2016. Reviewed and approved by Megan Wooden prior to release.