Toral Shah is a three times breast cancer survivor. Initially, she felt a lump which made her go for the tests. The first time when she got cancer, she was 29 and was pursuing her masters. The second time she got cancer was in 2018, and she had a flap reconstruction. Cancer recurred for the third time in 2021, and then she went through radiation therapies. She is on Tamoxifen currently. She is a nutritional scientist, so she uses nutrition and lifestyle to help support her cancer journey. Toral gives the main focus to her diet and body, which enables her to heal faster.
l was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 29. It was just six years after I supported her mum through the disease. My whole world was falling around me. My plans were way-laid whilst I came to terms with what was happening to me and recovered from bouts of treatment and surgery, including a mastectomy which I found incredibly emotionally hard to accept.
In 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer again. I was 42 years old then. It was shocking as well as terrible news for me. Recurrence was something I had not imagined in my wildest dream. I prepared myself to overcome it mentally. This is why cancer recurred for the third time in 2021, and it did not have much mental impact on me.
Treatment and side-effects
I have a family history of cancer. My mother also had cancer. So, I was well aware of the treatment and its side effects. I had flap reconstruction and radiation therapy. I am on Tamoxifen currently. I had started training for triathlons pre-diagnosis and was determined to continue teaching throughout my treatment. I completed the London Triathlon Olympic distance for the first time in 2007 between various surgical treatments, including the mastectomy, which was a huge achievement. It helped me cope with the side effects of cancer treatment.
Diet for cancer patients
As a breast cancer patient and survivor, I understand how patients might want to change their diet and lifestyle post-diagnosis. The latest research applied well can give people a sense of control that they are helping themselves and provide essential nutrients to help heal from surgery or treatment. Looking after our gut health can optimise some types of therapy, including immunotherapy.
My doctors at the Royal Marsden (Mr Gerald Gui and Mr Adam Searle) acknowledged my fast recovery to early diagnosis through my self-examination, positive attitude, general good health from regular training and healthy diet, which helped me to recover quickly from the mastectomy and all the various surgery that I had. Whilst having cancer or recurrence is a bit of a lottery, optimising my health by focusing on a healthy diet and knowledge of how food, exercise, rest and sleep can help, along with personal development and a positive mental attitude, has supported my ongoing remission.
I also specialise in optimising health and disease prevention through improving food, diet and lifestyle. I use evidence-based scientific knowledge, lifestyle medicine, and cooking skills to help others lead healthier lives by eating delicious and nutritious food. I am particularly passionate about cancer prevention and prevention of recurrence and completed my MSc thesis researching the foods that prevent recurrence of breast cancer. I hope it will help cancer patients in faster recovery.
Yoga for cancer patients
I advise everyone to include exercise and meditation in their everyday life. Not only can yoga help reduce stress hormones and thereby inflammation, but studies show that it can help with sleep quality, prevent central nervous system issues, and support treatment side effects such as fatigue and nausea. It can support recovery and healing in many ways. But before you practise, especially if starting for the first time, please check with your doctors and find a qualified teacher to teach cancer patients and know what to look out for.
My family and friends were my primary support. I have cut out all the toxicity from my life, which helped me have a positive mindset. I have a psychologist friend; she helped me a lot in coming out of my mental situation during my cancer journey. I also consulted a psychotherapist, which was a great help.
Message for others
Be gentle with yourself, be kind. Having cancer is hard emotionally and mentally. Do ask for help. Serve love and serve care. I always look for good opportunities and live in the moment. If I had to sum up my journey in one sentence, I would say, “It’s like climbing Mount Everest, but eventually you get there; the view is worth it”.