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Dublin: 14 °C Tuesday 24 September, 2019

Domini Kemp: Managing my diet helped me to take control of my cancer diagnosis

Domini Kemp describes how diet and exercise help empower her to manage her health after being diagnosed with breast cancer

Domini Kemp Co-founder, Itsa

I FOUND A small lump in my breast.

I went to the GP and was sent to get the triple assessment done the following week. During this wait, our Mum unexpectedly passed away.

Then the results came back positive. I had breast cancer at 41 years of age.

Hearing it wasn’t the toughest part. It was seeing my husband, children, sister, friends and colleagues reacting to this news that tore me apart.

As only friends and loved ones can rally around you when the chips are down, a whole conveyor-belt thing fell into place – first with my mother’s funeral, then with the oncology team at St. Vincent’s and my treatment plan, and even work; thanks to my sister Peaches and the brilliant team there, that whole side of things just kept on trucking.

What to eat?

I’d always been into healthy food – or so I thought – but honestly I felt a bit lost when it came to the subject of what I should eat to support my system through chemo and radiation.

Unfortunately you find yourself staring into endless pages on the Internet: what to eat when you have breast cancer? Drink this! Smoke that! There was a never ending list of suggestions and hard to navigate information. Everywhere you looked, something else seemed to contradict what was said before.

Mutual friends suggested I meet Patricia Daly, the co-author of my book, and although I was initially a bit reluctant, her knowledge, her research and her clinical practice impressed me. I wanted an evidence-based approach that made sense, and that’s just what she gave me.

Finding a diet that worked

Patricia follows the ketogenic diet full-time, but my needs weren’t quite the same. Based on her advice and the latest evidence, I chose a simpler low-carb approach that also involved some moderate fasting and as much exercise as I could do. I upped my intake of plants in my diet, and cut down radically on carbs of all varieties, but especially processed carbs – and of course sugar.

Source: Joanna Alderson/Flickr Creative Commons

Treatment is tough – but I certainly feel that the regime I chose really helped me stay as well as possible through treatment and beyond. In fact, I still follow it now, but 80% of the time. I run food businesses, many of which sell an abundance of carbs. So I allow myself to eat a low carb diet 80-90% of the time and the rest of the time, I relax and enjoy all types of food.

Every patient is different

One thing became clear as we started writing this book: there is no one perfect diet for everyone.

Some recommendations and guidelines to healthy eating are stuck in the past and as new evidence emerges, the conversation needs to open up.

Patients need to feel hope and feel empowered. They should be able to contribute to their well-being through exercise and nutrition that suits them. Once you start conventional treatment, you realise it’s a train you need to stay on.

I found out things about diet and exercise by chance, through hours of research and then had the confidence to make changes based on Patricia’s recommendations. This forced me to really focus on keeping a healthy BMI, exercising as much as I could bear to – including during radiation – and eating food that helped support me during chemo and surgery.

For patients who are struggling to keep weight on during treatment, they clearly have different needs. Although it would not be safe for them to go on a low-carb or ketogenic diet, there are plenty of recipes in the ketogenic section that are incredibly energy dense, and full of good fats, but low in carbohydrates.

Coming to terms

Sometimes I look back and simply think of it as a bad year. More often, I look back and think how grateful I am to have had all the help and support that I did.

I remember my wonderful surgeon telling me that it was going to take a year from start to finish and that was when I burst into hot, frustrated tears. I was so reluctant to accept this notion and angry at the thought that this wretched disease was going to take a year put of my life. It seemed like forever.

But of course, it’s not and life tends to keep on trucking, with or without you. But that in itself became a challenge for me to get over (beat a year, beat a year).

You have to find whatever works for you. For me that was having some control about what I ate and how I exercised. It also meant that on my 2013 bucket list, I put down that I wanted to write a book with Patricia that was the exact type of book I wished I could have had, when I was diagnosed.

Domini Kemp’s lastest book, The Ketogenic Kitchenis out now priced at €29.99

Read: Irish children and being deliberately targeted on Facebook by “junk food companies”

Read: “If I do break my diet I would be very sick” – living with coeliac disease isn’t easy 

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About the author:

Domini Kemp  / Co-founder, Itsa

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