Editor’s note: If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, you should consult a doctor before taking additional supplements or making changes to your diet.
In recognition of breast cancer awareness month, Leasa Ireland opens up about how a holistic approach to treatment was instrumental in her recovery from a very aggressive stage 2A triple (ER/PR/HER2) positive form of breast cancer.
Following her diagnosis in September 2011, the Manhattan Beach-based PR executive immediately consulted with UCLA Anesthesiologist Dr. Kenneth Conklin to put together a program to get her through a year-long combination of chemotherapy (4 months) and Herceptin (12 months) treatment.
“Dr. Concklin needs to know specifically what chemotherapy drugs you are on and he tailors a program for you,” says Ireland. “I was on a gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free diet and taking tons of supplements (80/day). In the time between my mastectomy and when I started chemo – about 5 weeks – I felt incredibly better than I had before the surgery, and I think it had a lot to do with how I was eating.”
Although there is no conclusive data that links healthy eating to breast cancer recovery, Ireland credits her holistic approach for her body’s ability to endure her aggressive conventional treatment regimen . “I was very strict about my diet throughout my chemo, and I remember my doctor telling me that he would put my body’s tolerance of all these hardcore drugs in the top 10% of people who go through chemo,” says Ireland. “I wouldn’t say that I was whistling a happy tune every day, but overall I was able to live my life and I completely attribute that to the diet and supplements.”
Ireland points out that there are emotional benefits to eating healthy during treatment, as well. “Any doctor will tell you, your mental state and staying positive plays almost as much a role in recovery as the medicine does, she says. “Changing my diet gave me control over the situation and made me feel like I was actively participating in my recovery versus taking all this medication that somebody else is telling me to take.”
Even though it’s been good news since her last Herceptin treatment in October 2012, Ireland will have ongoing treatment for up to ten years and has decided to make her new diet a way of life. “Gluten-, dairy-, and sugar-free sounds daunting,” she admits. “I am not so rigid that I exclude everything from my diet because I don’t want to feel like I’m missing out. But it’s important, with breast cancer especially, to take care of yourself; you don’t want to consume too much food that will have a negative effect on your body.”
“The good news about breast cancer is there are amazing treatments out there, and most women are surviving it to live long, healthy lives,” says Ireland. “You just have to get through the treatment and that’s where diet can play an important part.”
Leasa Ireland lives in Manhattan Beach with her husband John and 11-year-old son, Jack. She spends her days running a boutique PR firm specializing in technology and consumer products, volunteering at local schools and trying to play tennis and fit in a yoga or Pilates class. Her breast cancer is in remission and she’s in near constant pursuit of the perfect kale salad.