Jessica Anderson is a mother of three who truly embodies the meaning of family dedication. Despite living with breast cancer, she manages to take the time to prioritize not only her own health but the health of her children above all else. Jessica has never stopped believing that she is in charge of her own health and that she is capable of healing herself fully by leading a wellness-centered life. She hopes to empower other women with her inspiring story of healing, maintaining faith and continuing to live the life she loves. We are so excited to share her story during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Tell us about yourself!
Jessica Anderson: I am a wife, a mom of three (my kids are 5, 4, and 2 and a half), I’m a home-school mommy (we’re starting kindergarten this year!) and I’m kind of a learner. I’m learning about more natural living, natural healing, and natural eating.
Walk us through your journey -- when were you diagnosed, and how did you get to where you are now?
JA: I was diagnosed in December of 2016. I had just had my third baby -- he was only a few weeks old. I had a not-quite 2-year-old and not-quite-3-year-old at home too, so things were a bit tough. I was very unhealthy; I was overweight, and just ate junk. I ate fast food, ice cream, cookies, whatever I felt like eating.
I got the biopsy results on Christmas Eve. It felt very assembly-line. The oncologist basically said, “This is what we’re gonna do and this is how we’re gonna do it.” A doctor comes through, gets you on the meds and goes. They wanted me on immunotherapy drugs and chemo at first, then mastectomy after that, radiation and probably more drugs. I just accepted it all in a daze.
My first treatment was scheduled for a Monday morning. I remember sitting on my parents’ bed, looking through the drugs they were going to give me and the potential side effects. We all know the normal side effects of chemo: hair loss, weight loss, vomiting, loss of appetite. But there’s others you don’t know unless you see other people go through it, or you go through it yourself. What I hadn’t realized was that the chances of getting another cancer through these drugs, or getting a heart disease, were really high. I immediately realized that I needed to find something else, so I changed my diet a few times. I started out keto, but I didn’t feel good on dairy. I started to realize that I really needed a whole foods diet. I eventually got connected with Chris Beat Cancer, which involved coffee enemas and juicing, and really just eating a whole foods diet.
I started juicing about 4 times a day, which was a modified version of more intense juicing cancer diets to fit my schedule. The cancer was progressing, but progressing slowly. It moved to my other breast, and by Fall of last year, I found out that I had metastatic breast cancer. A traditional oncologist looks at that and sees it as terminal -- “how much time can we buy you?”
I believe that the body can heal itself naturally. I believe we have the mechanisms to heal ourselves, but we also live in a very polluted world and I had polluted my body with terrible food for so long -- food that isn’t even recognized by the body as food. And the cancer was moving faster than my body could work to heal. But at this point we had used all of our money. We were massively in debt, living with family because we couldn’t afford our house anymore, and so we knew we didn’t have money for aggressive treatments that insurance wouldn't cover. So we found this clinic in Mexico that was an affordable alternative treatment that uses a tonic all based in food.
The doctor in Mexico told me I need to go home and get on an immunotherapy drug in November 2018. Their treatment plan is long-term, 2-3 years or maybe even up to 5, and within the first couple of years you see if it works for you or not. It’s about diet -- not eating processed foods, fast foods, canned foods -- eating whole foods that you prepared yourself and that don’t have extra “junk” in them. I started on that and went back to a traditional oncologist. I was afraid to go to one because I didn’t want to be made to feel stupid for the choices I’ve made.
When I got back from Mexico, I had an appointment scheduled with a new oncologist, who turned out to be a blessing. When I went to his office, he told me it was an absolute miracle that I was still standing, so the alternative treatments that I had been doing must have been helping -- they were keeping me alive. He wanted to accomodate me and let me keep doing what I was doing, but include chemo and immunotherapy. We came to a point where we began to really trust him. It came to a conversation where I had to tell him that this was coming down to my relationship with my kids: I can’t have a compromised immune system on chemo while taking care of my kids. If I don’t take care of my kids, that’s going to kill me faster than anything else will. If I’m immunocompromised, I can’t take care of my kids when they’re sick, and who will do that? The job that I want and the job that I love is taking care of my kids.
The oncologist suggested that we do smaller chemo treatments every week, check my immune system every week and monitor me closely rather than aggressive treatments every three weeks. That was something I could get behind. I had been able to prepare my body for this -- the timing made sense. My body, as it was before, would not have fared well with the normal chemo that they wanted to do 2.5 years ago. I wouldn’t have been mentally prepared, and that was the biggest thing. Now, I have built my body up to a point that it can handle the toxicity of the drugs because my body overall is not nearly as toxic.
I had my first treatment on Monday, and I’m tired but I’m not sick -- I felt perfectly fine. So we’re excited and hopeful. We’re definitely buying time in the traditional oncology world, but I still fully believe in healing. I’m not looking for a cure or time, I’m in search of healing, and I know it’s coming, it’s just a matter of time.
What have been your biggest obstacles so far? How have you overcome them?
JA: The biggest obstacle is “what is the next step?” It’s that feeling of having to adjust and realize that what you were doing wasn’t enough. A lot of prayer has helped me. I remember that I need to take care of my kids and that they need me, and I do it because I have to. I have to get up, I have to live, because what’s the alternative?
I try to focus on the good things, the fact that I have very little pain, which I think is because of my natural treatment. It could be so much harder, I could be so much worse off, and here I am, mostly functional. I can hug and kiss my kids, put them to bed, I have an incredible husband, incredible family who has taken us in and cared for us, what do I have not to be thankful for? I’m dealing with a tough thing, but I really focus on the positive and what is good in my life -- which is pretty much everything.
We know you stick to a whole foods diet that largely incorporates organic fruits and veggies. Can you elaborate more on your holistic approach to fighting cancer?
JA: I usually eat oatmeal with natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup or gr8nola. Typically I try to have cruciferous vegetables, dark leafy greens. I snack on low-sugar fruit like berries, which have more antioxidants. I drink a lot of water, fresh juices (green apple, carrot, romaine lettuce, chard and sometimes beets) -- two to three of those per day, which get nutrients straight to the blood stream so my body doesn’t have to work hard to digest. I try to eat salads or cooked vegetables. Limited amounts of chicken, and I don’t eat red meat ever. I sometimes also eat chickpea pasta! Yum :)
As a mom of three kids, what do you do to prioritize yourself and your mental health?
JA: It’s difficult -- I try to take advantage of how I’m feeling. If I’m feeling really good, it makes me feel good to take my kids out: take them to the mall or to play. It makes me feel good because it makes me feel like I have done something that, if I weren’t feeling the effects of this disease, as a mother, I would do normally. So even though that seems counterintuitive to taking care of myself, as a mother it makes me excited that I did a “mother thing,” something that cancer hasn’t taken away from me.
On weekends when my husband is home, he is so attentive to what I need and makes sure I get kid-free time, by myself or with friends. My family will help if I’m struggling to keep up, help put the kids to bed or get them a bath -- it eases my burden. I like to read, go out and about, and do things and talk to people, but it is limited on how much I can do that.
Please share your favorite recipe (or two)!
JA: Mozzarella Filled Zucchini. I do some fresh mozzarella for this one, but add a bit of fresh goat cheese too... So GOOD!
Homemade Pop Tarts. These bad boys are an AMAZING occasional treat, but I would definitely recommend omitting the glaze because powdered sugar is a huge no-no! Plus, they're plenty sweet enough without.
Paleo Apple Muffins. My kids LOVE these, and I make them without the coconut sugar that was added to the recipe later. I also add some extra apple to make the batter stretch from 8 to 12 muffins. I like to fill that pan 😉
What’s your number one tip for someone who has just been diagnosed?
JA: I want people to understand that your story is your story. You come to a place and you figure it out as you go, and that’s ok. Change is ok. You’re not just a cog in the wheel— you’re a person. I hope to inspire women that if you get a cancer diagnosis, you should think about the cause, not just treating the symptoms. There’s importance in supporting your body and giving it what it needs -- prevention is so important.
Just for fun: You’re stuck on an island and can only take three food items with you. What would they be?
JA: Strawberries, dark chocolate and pineapple.
What are some of your favorite ways to eat gr8nola?
JA: My own homemade almond milk with a bit of maple syrup. The best thing is having it so easily, I can pour a bowl of cereal -- which was huge. I wasn’t able to have something that simple before I found you guys. I love The Original and Coco Cacao -- and sometimes, I’ll just eat it straight from the bag!