02/22/2013 02:27 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2013

Here's to Your Health: A Non-Scientific 'Study' of Cancer and Healthy Lifestyle

It's already February and where have your New Year's resolutions gone? Eating healthy and exercising regularly often top the list of New Year's resolutions, but easily fall by the wayside. According to Time Magazine, "60% of gym memberships go unused and attendance is usually back to normal by mid-February." Uninspired and back into the regular grind, many of us easily fall back into our pre-resolution habits.

So, let me provided you with a little inspiration.

As a cancer "survivor," I have read numerous books and studies that purport a relationship between eating healthy (read: pretty much vegan), exercising regularly, reducing stress, getting sufficient sleep and lowering your risk of developing cancer or cancer recurrence. But, I often hear from members of the medical community that there isn't sufficiently strong evidence of how these factors specifically can impact disease development and recurrence. Confusing, right?

So, while I may not know the precise relationships among healthy eating, exercise and stress reduction, I do know a little story about two sisters.

Here it goes.

Two sisters grow up in the same small town in the middle of the country for their first 18 years. They drink the same water, eat the same foods, live the same lifestyles, have the same family. Both sisters carry the BRCA1 gene mutation for breast and ovarian cancer, which carries almost a 90% chance of developing breast cancer and a 45% chance of developing ovarian cancer in our lifetimes.

The eldest daughter is five years older than her sister. She goes to college and becomes a teacher. She marries at 22 and has her first child at 26. She leaves teaching in the school district for teaching at home, as she raises four beautiful children over the next 14 years. Having always disliked any type of meat, she is a vegetarian but consumes dairy products. She exercises regularly, enjoying both cardio workouts and muscle toning. She volunteers at schools and churches, becomes an author of several faith-based books, speaks to audiences of several hundred and does it all at her own pace. She lives a relatively stress-free lifestyle. At 40, she has not developed cancer.

The younger daughter goes to college and graduate school, traveling and living abroad through many of these years. She studies hard and constantly. She defends her dissertation, buys a house, gets married, moves to a new city and starts a new consulting career all in the span of a two months. She works 14 to 16 hour days regularly in an extremely stressful environment that she enjoys and in which she thrives. She never takes lunch, munches on candy throughout the day and caffeinates herself with coffee to keep up a fast pace. She loves to eat meat, hates vegetables and fruit, and drinks a glass of wine at the end of each long day. She never exercises -- no time for that, she'd rather be working. She has her first child at 31 and a second at 33. At 35, she is diagnosed with breast cancer.

With so much evidence out there that seems to contradict, I'm sticking with what I know and with this non-scientific experiment in which I have participated.

Now, post-cancer treatment, I am an aspiring vegan, exercising yogi who believes in living largely stress-free while consuming natural herbs and minerals to support her immune system. I can't control this disease. I can't control that I have one of its most aggressive forms -- triple negative breast cancer. But, I can observe and learn from my history, making choices now that I hope discourage and keep this terrible disease at bay.

Perhaps our non-scientific study may offer someone, somewhere a small sliver of clarity amidst the confusion that is the cancer journey. And, a little inspiration for everyone.


"Health is like money, we never have a true idea of its value until we lose it." - Josh Billings