This nurse defeated her stage 4 cancer diagnosis without chemo
Plus, an oncologist weighs in on how to supercharge your cancer treatment with food
When a breast cancer diagnosis gave her six months to live, Jeaunita Figueiredo chose not to opt for chemotherapy. This came as a shock to her friends and family, especially because this drastic decision was made by a trained medical professional. “I wanted to look good while dying,” she laughs. Today, apart from looking too young to be the mother of a 24-year-old, Figueiredo has also been cancer-free for nine years. Her unconventional approach towards cancer treatment: a mastectomy, followed by a dramatic change in her diet.
The illness came as a shock to her because at that point, she was the healthiest she had ever been. “For a year before I was diagnosed, I was off dairy, sugar and even meat. So, when I tested positive for cancer, I was surprised and angry,” says Figueiredo. Having comforted patients undergoing chemotherapy and seeing the adverse side effects up close, she turned to holistic practices, if only to maintain her quality of life.
“I used to hate alternative medicine. I was an ICU nurse and believed that all of this was mumbo jumbo,” Figueiredo candidly admits. “Whenever I heard of people opting for alternative courses of treatment, I would get upset. There were no scientific and logical explanations for these treatments.” Her official introduction to alternative healing practices was through yoga. “That is when I understood the true power of the mind. It had such an impact that I eventually changed my profession and became a full-time yoga teacher,” she says.
Figueiredo’s unconventional cancer treatment plan included switching to a raw food diet (recommended by her nutritionist). “I am a South Indian who had to give up her curd rice. I was also made to drink 12 shots of lime juice a day, which helps detox the system,” she frowns. “But three months later, it was all worth it. There was no trace of cancer.”
After successfully scoring a second lease on life, the eternal optimist is using her time to give back. She founded Mettaa Reflexology where she employs and trains visually impaired individuals as massage therapists. Figueiredo also conducts nutritional sessions at Sanjeevani, a non-profit organisation that provides support for patients undergoing treatment at hospitals around the country including India’s leading cancer centre, Tata Memorial in Mumbai.
Figueiredo outlines seven easy steps that helped her through the course of her battle with cancer
– Eat four meals a day. Two cooked meals and the other two consisting of only raw foods such as fruits and nuts.
– Try to maintain a 12-hour-long fasting period between your first meal and your last meal from your previous day. For example, if you typically have dinner at 8 pm, avoid having breakfast before 8 am. This is popularly known as intermittent fasting and helps your digestive system rest and ensure optimal functioning.
– Along with your digestive system, it is important to give your mind and body adequate rest as well. Six to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep, afternoon naps and 15 minutes of savasana should do the trick for your body. For the mind, Figueiredo recommends a minute of meditation every hour. “I have an alarm on my phone that goes off every hour, and when that happens, I close my eyes and repeat ‘I am healthy and strong. I am a divine pure soul’ in my head for a minute, and instantly feel refreshed.”
– Sides matter as much as the main course. A salad made using leafy greens and sprouts, and a juice made with tomatoes, carrots and beetroot must feature in every meal.
– Replace microwaves and non-stick cookware with earthen pots and iron pans.
– Eliminate wheat, sugar, and dairy from your diet. Use jowar and bajra and substitutes for wheat, almond/peanut or coconut milk for milk, and palm or coconut jaggery, honey or date pulp for sugar.
– Getting rid of clutter in your house can have a massive positive effect on you.
– “Live for the day,” says Figuerado. A positive attitude always helps.
Though she’s explored other forms of alternative medicine such as hypnotherapy, reiki and reflexology, Figuerado is vigilant that her experience not be used as a replacement for medical advice or as a reason to avoid chemo. “I chose not to go ahead with the conventional form of cancer treatment, but everyone is entitled to make their own decisions,” she says, explaining that at Sanjeevani, she emphasises on “how changing your diet helps you work through the side effects of chemotherapy.”
Her words of caution are echoed by Dr. Anushree Punia, Oncologist at Mahatma Gandhi Medical College & Hospital, Jaipur. “A vegetarian diet may be a healthier alternative in general, but there is no clear evidence that it is more protective against cancer,” she says, explaining that a raw diet could be detrimental to someone on immunosuppressants, as the bacteria in fruits and vegetables increases the risk of infection.
The doctor adds, “An ideal vegetarian diet plan should include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and protein alternatives to meat such as beans, eggs, tofu or small amounts of reduced-fat cheeses.”
For those facing a cancer diagnosis, Punia recommends key dietary and lifestyle changes that could improve the effectiveness of medical care and help counter side effects.
– Drink plenty of water. If it tastes unpleasant, eat soups or watermelon and drink tea, milk, or milk substitutes. Consider flavouring your water by adding fresh cut fruit.
– If food tastes bland, try seasoning it with flavourful spices like lemon, garlic, cayenne, dill, and rosemary. If your mouth is sore, you may need to choose non-acidic and non-spicy foods until it heals.
– Eat 6 small meals throughout the day instead of 3 large meals. Make sure you reach your calorie goal with these smaller meals.
– To counter the metallic taste in your mouth, suck on mints, chew gum, or try fresh citrus fruits. Use plastic utensils and cook in non-metal pots and pans. Also, try brushing your teeth before eating.
– Include protein-rich foods in your diet, including fish, eggs, cheese, cereals, beans, nuts, nut butters, tofu, or high-protein smoothies or shakes.
– Avoid alcohol as it puts undue stress on the liver and makes it difficult to metabolise chemo drugs.
– Avoid eggs that are not cooked solid, raw fish and shellfish.
– Do not eat or drink unpasteurised foods. This includes beverages such as unpasteurised cider, raw milk, and fruit juices, and foods such as cheeses made from unpasteurised milk.