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When Kate Thorp was diagnosed with metastatic HER2-Positive breast cancer weeks after undergoing a double mastectomy in late 2016, the survivor of late-stage Hodgkin’s Lymphoma knew she had to blaze an unconventional path. Radical chemo as a teenager left her with a heart muscle disease that led to a heart attack in 2012. The Tulsa, Okla.-based commercial real estate broker, 48, also developed a slew of autoimmune diseases post-chemo, including Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
“When I got my scans showing I had metastatic disease in my internal lymph nodes and on my ribs—both inoperable—they said, ‘You have to do radiation. You have to do chemo.’ And I said, ‘No, it will kill me,’” she says. Finally, a seventh oncologist recommended alternative treatment.
In early 2017, Thorp began taking concentrated doses of cannabis oil containing 74% percent of the plant compound THC and 12% CBD. After undergoing additional intensive nutritional therapies during her three-week stay at a Mexican cancer center, Thorp received great news: Her MRI showed no sign of disease. More than two years later, the mom of two—who continues to microdose THC and CBD—remains cancer-free.
Her immune system has also been strengthened thanks to an equally unorthodox dietary journey. Even after Thorp found a benign mass between her armpit and breast in 2009, “No one advised me to change my diet at the time,” she says. “I just kind of muddled through.” Seven years later, her optometrist, of all people, noting her inflamed corneas, asked if she was regularly eating gluten. Thorp said yes—and then saw the light.
“He was the first doctor to point out systemic inflammation to me. If I could physically see inflammation in my hands, face, and feet and feel it in my joints, bones, and muscles, of course my eyes, brain, and other organs must be inflamed,” she says. “Of all the unlikely places to be coached on diet—the optometrist.” Unlikely, maybe. But the proof is in the pudding. And the dietary changes Thorp made at the behest of her eye doctor have undoubtedly contributed to her continued good health.
What detailed nutritional guidelines did you receive in the U.S. after your breast cancer diagnosis in 2016?
I scheduled an appointment with a dietician through the cancer center after my diagnosis to discuss a diet for autoimmune diseases and cancer. My chart was full of my autoimmune diagnoses. The dietician printed off a standard 2,000-calorie “healthy” diet she pulled from Google, complete with Google time and date stamp of that morning. No consideration was given to my autoimmune disorders. She had no clue about any special diets I should be on. It was extremely frustrating. Additionally, at the cancer centers, they provided snacks for the patients that were processed foods—snack crackers, cookies, candies, juices, sodas—full of MSG, gluten, etc. It’s almost like they want to keep you sick.
How did your revelation at your optometrist’s and your nutritional regimen during your cancer treatment in Mexico change your way of eating?
If you have any tumor burden at all, you don’t need to have animal protein. So in Mexico, it was an all-organic, plant-based diet. It wasn’t the tastiest, but I got used to it. I had 13 organic cold-pressed juices a day. So I now have a really fancy-schmancy cold-press juicer. I was very much a meat, potatoes, and bread person before. I was raised in Oklahoma—give me a chicken-fried steak, corn, and mashed potatoes and gravy. Now I’m a much bigger consumer of fruits and vegetables, and of course only organic. I do like and make a good bone broth, but I don’t eat a lot of meat at all. When I go out to eat Mexican food now, every Mexican food restaurant I go to knows how to make an avocado enchilada. The things that I buy to bring into my home are organic—no MSG, no hydrogenated oils, and no gluten.
How has intermittent fasting help build your immunity?
I spent thousands of dollars on a trainer and could never lose weight. It was all futile. Then, shortly before my breast cancer diagnosis, a doctor told me one day that I needed to do intermittent fasting. He said, “Don’t eat after 6 or 7 p.m., and don’t eat again until 10 a.m. Your metabolism works during the day and your immune system works at night.” Especially when you have these autoimmune diseases, you need an optimum immune system. He said, “When you have food in your bloodstream, your white blood cells ‘smell’ the food rather than the cells they need to be attacking. And so it disrupts your immune response.”
So I started intermittent fasting, and I never felt better. I lost 30 lbs. in almost a month. Now I’m doing it again, and I feel great. Sometimes life gets in the way of consistent intermittent fasting. I have to allow myself that grace sometimes. The problem is, with that grace comes the misery of inflammation, so I try to get back to it as quickly as possible if I fall away. For me, my body responds better to fasting than any medication, diet, or other protocol. It gives my immune and metabolic systems time to rest, reboot, and do their jobs.
What Exactly Is Intermittent Fasting?
Intermittent fasting (IF) is defined as cycling your diet between periods of restricted eating and periods of eating as much as you normally do. There are several different patterns of intermittent fasting, but a few of the more popular include the 16/8 method, where you fast for 16 hours and eat only during an eight-hour period; the 5:2 diet, where you eat no more than 25 percent of your normal calorie intake two days out of the week; and the eat-stop-eat method, which involves a full-blown 24-hour fast once or twice per week.
Consider easing into IF by starting with a beginner’s 12:12 method, where you’re fasting for 12 hours per day and eating within a 12-hour window. From here, you can work your way into more challenging fasts. Make your calories count during fast and feast periods by focusing your eating efforts on nutrient-dense, whole foods. A food journal can help make sure you’re not overeating on fasting days. And consider exercising during your eating window so you have more pep in your step. —Matthew Kadey, MS, RD