Captivating and Inspiring Story

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plant based diet and breast cancer Ruth Heidrich, PhD

Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

This woman’s story captivates and inspires me more than most I’ve heard. It’s definitely worth the read.  An amazing story of a plant-based diet and breast cancer survival.

Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D., is an author, health expert, and amazing athlete, with an important personal story to share.

“I was 47, living in paradise—that is, Hawaii—and working on my PhD in psychology. One day, while in the shower, I felt a lump in my right breast. Needless to say, I was worried, and so I got right in to see a doctor. But he just remarked, “Oh, you’re too young for breast cancer.”

He did, however, order a mammogram, “Just to be sure.” The mammogram was negative, which was reassuring. And so he told me that, to be safe, I should get yearly checks. And the next year’s test was also negative.

The third year, however, the lump was clearly visible. The doctor looked shocked and ordered an immediate excisional biopsy.

It turned out that the mammograms had been wrong all along. Not only was it cancer, but there were no clear margins.

Of course, I was devastated. I felt betrayed by my body. I had been an active runner for 14 years and had even run marathons. I was the most physically fit person I knew. I had been following what I had thought was a healthy diet. And yet, I had cancer. It was unbelievable!”

Cancer spreads but there is hope

Ruth had to have more surgery in an attempt to get all the cancer. But it was too late. The cancer had already spread to her bones and to her left lung, and her liver enzymes were elevated, meaning it had apparently spread there as well. With no hope of removing the metastatic cancer, she was offered chemotherapy and radiation. Neither one promised a cure; they were a way to buy time, nothing more.

“I dreaded chemotherapy, but was terrified not to have it. In addition to the hot spots in my bones, I was having serious bone pain that medication could not relieve.

But in what I consider one of the best strokes of luck ever, I happened to see a blurb in the paper about research being done to investigate the role of diet on the spread of breast cancer. I literally ran to the phone to contact the researcher, Dr. John McDougall.

He explained that he was investigating whether a completely vegan diet could be more effective in reversing cancer than chemotherapy or radiation. Given the options, it was a no-brainer.

With great relief and little trepidation, I turned down chemo and radiation and chose diet instead. And it turned out to be exactly the right decision. No ‘transitioning’ for me—I went vegan that very day!

the starch solution book by dr. john mcdougall
The Starch Solution by Dr. John McDougall, the doctor who advised Dr. RuthHeidrich. Click to view on Amazon. Affiliate Link

I found the diet amazingly easy to follow. I already loved brown rice, whole grain breads, and oatmeal; I just had to replace the chicken, fish, and dairy with vegetables and fruit and throw out all the oils.

When I returned to the oncologist, I told him what I was doing. He responded by saying that diet had nothing to do with my getting cancer, and that I couldn’t possibly get enough protein, calcium, and essential fatty acids.

I made a mental note to look into his concerns, but stuck with my new diet, after being reassured by Dr. McDougall that I would get more than enough protein, calcium, essential fatty acids—and everything else!

Running the Ironman Triathlon

The second major stroke of luck at that time was seeing the Ironman Triathlon on television. I was captivated by the idea of going beyond a 26.2-mile marathon. The triathlon was a 2.4-mile swim, followed by a 112-mile bike race, and then the marathon!

When I found out that no cancer patient nor any woman as old as I had ever completed what was considered one of the most grueling races in the world, I found my challenge.

I was especially excited to find that my new diet gave me more energy and faster recovery times. It got me back to running very soon after the surgeries and I added swimming and cycling to my daily training.

The triathlon was every bit as grueling as advertised, and as I looked around and saw all these young, fit bodies, I wondered what I’d gotten myself into. Then I recalled my mission: to show people how powerful this vegan diet was.

I did have to dig deep, however, as I was challenged like I’d never been before! Crossing that finish line 14 hours later, I experienced indescribable feelings—a mix of joy, empowerment, exhilaration—and total fatigue! I could not have gone another step!

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here.

Healing cancer

Meanwhile, I was being monitored to check the status of the cancer. Within two months, the hot spots in my bones began to fade. My body actually encapsulated the lesion in my lung, and my liver enzymes normalized. I felt healthy and strong. And I have remained healthy for over 30 years.

I also wanted to show that my completing the Ironman wasn’t a fluke. So, since my diagnosis, I’ve done the Ironman six times, have run 67 marathons and set a number of world age-group fitness records in the process!”

Dr. Ruth Heidrich is now in her 80’s and still running!  Excellent Video Clip with her that is 3-minutes.  MamaSezz interviewed her recently in this article, An Interview with Plant-Based Athlete, Dr. Ruth Heidrich

The story is taken from Dr. Neal Barnard’s 21-Day Vegan KickStart book. 

Our plant-based starter kits are a great way to begin this new healthy lifestyle because they include a book, a set of DVD lectures from Dr. Neal Barnard, and a folder full of helpful literature from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine.

Senior Living by Dr. Ruth Heindrich
Dr. Ruth Heindrich’s book, Senior Fitness is available on Amazon. Click the photo for more information. Amazon affiliate link.

Other Great Success Stories

Want more amazing encouragement? Check out these other Whole Food Plant-Based Diet (WFPB) Success Stories.



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  1. I’d be interested to know what the surgeries were that she had. My mom passed of breast cancer, her sister had it (but had it out while still encapsulated and opted for no further treatment ), and my cousin (daughter of my mom’s sister) had it, surgery, chemo, radiation, life time meds which gave her liver cancer that killed her. I went vegan 4 and a half years ago as one way to hedge my bets against cancer.

    1. Jude, here is a very detailed article from my friend, Darren with Plant Fueled Life, that might answer some of your questions. Darren is terrific about responding to emails, so feel free to contact him for more information on Ruth. Best of luck on your health journey! I truly feel the plant-based life is the best we can do to protect ourselves! 🙂

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