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Patient Stories

How a Fiber-rich, Plant-based Diet Helped Fight Stage 4 Melanoma

Jun. 18, 2024

Food is one of the most essential things we need to live. You may have already had one or several meals or snacks today by the time you’re reading this article.


The food and drinks we consume daily and for special occasions help or hurt our bodies. Not only for what we can see physically, as with weight or muscle gains or losses, but also for what we can’t see.

Changing the Menu: This University of Cincinnati Cancer physician and patient share the power of food as medicine in new podcast.

Podcast: Changing the Menu: How a Fiber-rich, Plant Based Diet Helped Fight Stage 4 Melanoma

The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center Leads in Cancer Research: The Role of Diet

Looking beyond our grocery lists and mobile orders, physicians and researchers at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center continue to find breakthroughs for cancer patients and their families by using tools like foods to aid in their cancer journeys.

June is National Cancer Survivors Month.

UC Health, the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center, and the Osher Center for Integrative Health at UC are dedicated to equipping patients and their caregivers with the best possible outcomes.

To talk about their own personal journey to better outcomes, UC Health’s Meredith Stutz spoke with a physician and cancer patient who candidly and excitedly shared how everyday diet can be part of an offensive way to fight cancer. You can listen to their podcast conversation here.

Dr. Chaudhary's Journey: From Traditional Medicine to Integrative Oncology

Rekha Chaudhary, MD, adjunct associate professor in the division of Hematology-Oncology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. She is also a faculty member at the Osher Center for Integrative Health at UC.

The Power of a Plant-Based Diet in Reducing Cancer Risk

Dr. Chaudhary said her intentional and professional journey combing the powers of diet and cancer came more than a decade ago when she saw the documentary “Forks Over Knives” which encourages people to consider the health benefits of switching their diets from more plant-based foods compared to animal-based products.

“If you're eating a bunch of fat, you can see that clogging your heart. That makes visual sense to a patient and to a physician,” Dr. Chaudhary reflected. “But what you're eating is going to affect your melanoma on your arm? That doesn't really kind of intuitively make sense. I started reading about it. I started thinking about it.”

“I used to be the kind of physician to say, ‘Eat whatever you want. You know, it doesn't matter.’ And then I saw this,” Dr. Chaudhary said referring to the documentary. “And I was like, there's so much scientific data that we were never taught in medical school or internal medicine residency, or fellowship, behind this. And so that's how I got really interested in it.”

Dr. Chaudhary explained how she combined her respect and passion for traditional medicine with integrated medicine.

“I believe in immunotherapy. I believe in chemotherapy. I believe in all those things. But I also believe in joining the two. So that's how integrative medicine came about,” Dr. Chaudhary said. “Most people understand that managing your stress exercise is good for you. That’s not controversial at all. Your diet is, obviously. It’s controversial because cancer, again, the research was not there years ago, and now it's coming up.”

Dr. Chaudhary said her focus of integrating diet with cancer treatment is to use food as another tool to stabilize and even decrease the chance of cancer spreading or occurring in the first place.

“[Our] microbiome is the quarterback of our immune system and our immune system is what modulates cancer,” Dr. Chaudhary explained. “We've only recently been learning that. This is a new thing. So I think the microbiome research has really been what brought oncology and integrative oncology to the forefront, because you can actually measure that in a store.”

“You can measure that microbiome stuff. Otherwise, a lot of physicians didn't even accept that a diet could modulate diet,” Dr. Chaudhary said. “The oncology world used to say,  ‘It'll make you feel better. It'll make you tolerate the chemo better. It'll help you tolerate the radiation.’ Right now, we're actually using it to decrease your cancer cells at a cellular and even genetic level.”

Frank's Fight Against Melanoma with a Plant-Based Diet

Frank Fowler found this revelation of diet being used to fight cancer to be true in his own life. In 2023, the Cincinnati husband and father of three children went to his primary care physician after he said he injured himself.

“I was working out and exercising and pinched a nerve in my neck. And I went and saw my primary care physician and, he said, ‘Yeah, you pinched nerve.’ And he said, ‘Do you know you have a lump, a mass under your under your left elbow?’"

That “lump” turned out to be Metastatic Stage 4 Melanoma.

Frank was recommended to see Dr. Chaudhary. The two met in April 2023 and discussed Frank going on the offensive with his cancer treatment with immunotherapy and a whole-food and high fiber diet.

“One of the things she mentioned in our meeting,” Frank said of his meeting with Dr. Chaudhary. “There are studies that where this diet increases five times your chance for immunotherapy to be successful. And I'm like, ‘Well, sign me up.’”

A New Dietary Pattern for Better Cancer Outcomes

Frank said he traded red meat, pork, alcohol, and processed sugars for food “from the root.” Frank explained that he eats a lot of vegetables and fruits that come from vines, their roots and the ground along with high dietary fiber foods like oatmeal, lentils, and chickpeas.

“You look at a plate and you look for the colors,” Frank explained as part of his diet motto. “And the more colors you have, the better that is. And so, you know, we've been focusing on the high fiber tracking app as well. And, so you try to get 30 grams a day of fiber.”

Healthy Foods and Immunotherapy: A Winning Combination

Frank says that while it wasn’t easy adjusting to the diet changes, it has been worth it. Along with the “the most intensive immunotherapy” that the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center has to offer, and a healthy, high-fiber diet, Frank and Dr. Chaudhary told UC Health that he went from Stage 4 cancer to “no cancer” visibly present in his body.

“You can't describe the relief when I walked into her office,” Frank reflected when he learned of his incredible health update with Dr. Chaudhary. “She said, ‘You're in C.R.’ And I’m like, ‘What’s C.R.?’ and she said, ‘Complete response.” Which is the best you can have. So I have no cancer that's visible for now.”

“I think it's going to stay that way,” Dr. Chaudhary said. “Because we turned on his policemen, okay. These policemen are out there fighting cancer. We turn them on and he continues to turn them on with his diet.”

Frank told UC Health he’ll need continuous blood work and testing for the next few years to monitor for any changes, but he is back to living his life with a different perspective and a forever-changed diet. Dr. Chaudhary credits Frank for his tenacious spirit in “taking the bull by the horns” and doing whatever it took to fight his cancer.

“My main mindset through this whole thing has been gratitude,” Frank reflected on his care at The University of Cincinnati Cancer Center with Dr. Chaudhary.

Integrative Medicine: Combining Traditional and Dietary Approaches

Dr. Chaudhary explained her mission of integrative medicine in the form of a question.

“The question is not ‘Are we going to make you live a little longer?’ The question is ‘What is our chance of cure?’ And so we're really curing again oncology. We don't like to use that word but we're really curing metastatic melanoma.”

Cancer Prevention: The Role of Diet and Lifestyle

Dr. Chaudhary insists that a healthy diet can be part of preventing cancer, not just treating it.

“I think we literally need to change our definition of luxury. Okay, so luxury used to be you'd go to a steak house, have a steak, have a fine Bordeaux bottle of wine, you know, mashed potatoes with cream and, you know, cream and butter and all that. That used to be luxury,” Dr. Chaudhary reflected. “Do you know how hard it is to find plant-based, low-fat, whole food? That is luxury now.”

Knowledge is Power: Diet and Cancer Prevention Recommendations

I never want people to go down my path, but I know that's not realistic,” Frank reflected as the conversation wrapped up. “But if knowledge is power, and if people know that if they are going down this path, that integrative medicine, and, specifically, a high fiber diet, incorporated in all of that, then that is really going to improve their chance for success.”

“When I had that initial meeting with Dr. Chaudhary,” Frank said with a smile on his face remembering his first appointment with Dr. Chaudhary. “I remembered the UC Health tagline, ‘In Science Lives Hope.’ That's exactly what she gave me, and I'll be eternally grateful for that.”

 

To Schedule a Lifestyle Medicine Consultation with UC Integrative Health call: 513-475-9567