Why I’m Vegan

My friend, Ranger John, asked me during one of his Dark Forest podcasts in December to explain why I’m vegan. I promised to do that, unfortunately it wasn’t as prompt as I promised! But, being that I am approaching my one year anniversary of veganism, it seems appropriate to share my story. I am going to break this into several different postings because there is a lot of information to share.

Why Vegan? In Six Words or Less!

Last week Vegetarian Times magazine had a contest on Facebook to win a vegan cookbook by drawing five random answers to the question, “Tell us why you went vegan in 6 words or less.” My entry was this, “Dad, Grandmother blood cancer, ergo vegan.” I didn’t win a cookbook, but my answer sums the impetus of my change to vegan lifestyle. My Dad, Dick Thompson, died from non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008. He had been in remission for almost three years. His first bout with lymphoma were tumors in one of the sinuses behind his left eye and in the right atrium of his heart (extremely rare). Chemotherapy put him into remission, with the caveat from physicians that remission would only last three years. In just under three years, a different type of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma appeared in his brain, also an extremely rare presentation, and proved fatal. My dad’s mother, Grace Arney Thompson, died from leukemia and multiple myeloma in 1987.

My dad, Dick Thompson


My Paternal Grandmother, Grace Arney Thompson

Blood Cancer

Lymphoma, leukemia, and multiple myeloma are all blood cancers, originating in the bone marrow or lymphatic tissues and are considered to be related because they involve cells with similar functions and origins. Blood cancers are not generally considered hereditary cancers, however, as noted by Inherited Health.com, “Families are more likely to have a hereditary cancer syndrome if there are multiple generations of affected family members with the same cancer (or associated cancers).” I haven’t undergone testing for inherited gene mutation for blood cancer—but I found such a strong paternal family history of blood cancer to be alarming.

Firefighter Cancer Legislation

In 2009, Oregon governor Ted Kulongoski signed House Bill 2420, adding 12 types of cancer to occupational disease presumptions for Oregon career firefighters, including the blood cancers leukemia, multiple myeloma, and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. This law went into effect January 1, 2010, adding Oregon to just over half of the states to adopt presumptive cancer bills. How compelling must the evidence be to lead lawmakers to adopt such legislation? This was in addition to the fact that year after year, the majority of firefighter Line of Duty deaths in the United States are due to heart attacks (see US Fire Administration).

I didn’t need any more of a wake up call—I can honestly say I was scared! My genetics were set, and while I could change my job, I loved being a firefighter and didn’t want to quit. Being in grad school, I took the opportunity to research cancer risk reduction, embarking on a massive personal study. Study after study pointed toward decreased incidence of all types of cancer with significant reduction or elimination of animal protein consumption. I learned of The China Study by Dr. T. Colin Campbell, PhD and Thomas M. Campbell II, bought the book and read it in one day, couldn’t put it down. In addition to cancer reduction, a whole foods, plant-based diet was also found to reduce, even reverse Type II diabetes, which my father, paternal grandfather, and paternal great-grandmother were diagnosed with. My father’s diabetes was not due to obesity and required insulin injection. The cardiovascular benefits were extremely compelling too, risks of which I have from my maternal genetics (hypertension and hypercholesterolemia). This struck me. In thinking about it, I related it to a car, in that its performance changes based upon the fuel you put in it, in fact, you can kill a car with the wrong fuel (diesel vs. gasoline).

At the same time, Gresham Fire promoted a voluntary program called PHLAME: Promoting Healthy Living: Assessing More Effects that my station crew and I decided to participate in. This program included dietary study and changes, as well as health screening and fitness assessment. It was a perfect storm, of sorts, for dietary and lifestyle changes for me.

A Trip to the Beach

February 2010, Mother Superior (my mom) and I took our annual mother-daughter trip to the Oregon Coast. I hadn’t told her about my cancer prevention studies, mostly because I was afraid of scaring her about the new firefighter cancer laws. She’d gone through so much with my dad and I didn’t want to burden her with worry about my increased cancer risk. When we arrived at the beach I realized I had to tell her, as we were getting ready to head to the store to buy groceries for the week. As soon as I told her I needed to talk to her about some changes in my eating before we went to the store, mom excitedly said, “Oh, I have to tell you about how I’m changing my diet! I don’t want you to get upset, but I’m going vegan. It’s for cancer prevention. I brought you a book so you can read about it.”

I had brought her a book too…We simultaneously turned and each grabbed the copy of The China Study that we’d brought for each other to read! Talk about kismet!

The next post will cover the Science Behind Vegan Diet

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