Reading the profiles of other vegans, I am always interested in how they got there, how their journey began. It is the foundation of who they are now and the passion they feel. It is where I will begin my story.
My journey started with a misdiagnosis.
The (Mis) Diagnosis
Three years ago I was told I had mast cell leukemia. I have a brilliant dermatologist who discovered that some of my moles were not moles but clusters of mast cells. This is known as cutaneous mastocytosis, a condition most often seen in childhood. It typically resolves by adolescence. Because there was a chance that I had a more serious condition, systemic mastocytosis, he referred me to an oncologist. I had a full body CT scan that ruled out any negative systemic effects, but a bone marrow biopsy showed mutations that were consistent with systemic mastocytosis. My oncologist diagnosed me with mast cell leukemia and referred me to a specialist at Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston.
Doing my Homework
While waiting to see the specialist, I started doing research. I refused to feel powerless. I read books about cancer and diet, including The China Study, and decided that changing to a plant based diet was a way that I could be proactive about my wellness. I had been a long time vegetarian, eating cheese and occasionally lapsing with seafood. I love to cook and we always prepared whole food meals, so giving up the dairy and eggs was easier than it is for some. My heart was heavy much of the time and I told few people that I had leukemia because I felt good and really couldn’t quite believe it. It was hard enough to tell my family, especially my children and parents. Greg was a rock and was willing to make any change necessary to support me.
When I finally saw the specialist, she looked over all the tests and results, sat back in her chair and told me that oncologists just don’t understand this disease. It is just that rare, especially in adults. She assured me that I did not have mast cell leukemia, that I had a relatively stable, or indolent, case of systemic mastocytosis and that I should expect to live a normal life expectancy. My greatest risks were for bone weakness and spontaneous fractures (proliferation of mast cell production weakens bone strength) and anaphylaxis (mast cells are part of the body’s allergic response mechanism). Because I am really allergic to nothing, we agreed that I was far more likely to save someone else with my epipen than myself. Besides some medications that I can never have, I have no other restrictions.
I left her office elated! I also realized that I couldn’t unknow what I had learned about diet and wellness. In addition, when you start checking out vegan sites and podcasts and blogs, you realize the equally important and valid reasons to choose an exclusively plant based diet. The hidden horror of the suffering of livestock being raised for food and the unbelievable cost to the ecosystems of our planet are more than enough reason. To me, wellness is the added bonus.
I remember listening to Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s podcasts back to back to back. I couldn’t absorb information fast enough and I knew I was a vegan for life. I was overwhelmed with the sense of peace and rightness that comes with a choice that we all know, on some level, to be the right one. We are not obligate carnivores. The suffering of animals and the destruction of the planet is all to satisfy tastebuds.
So Greg (after reading Rich Roll’s Finding Ultra) joined me in the choice to eat an exclusively plant based whole foods diet. At the time our children were 16 and 18. He and I would have discussions about what we would allow them to have in the house. Local eggs? Fish?
We agreed absolutely no land animals, but what about dairy? I wasn’t going to cook any of it.
The lovely surprise was that after some thoughtful discussions and shared information, they readily embraced the same choice. So cool. It reminded me that we cannot assume resistance when sharing this life choice. Some people will push back, make stupid comments and get defensive, but others seem to be dying to have the conversation, to bring out into the open what they are afraid to acknowledge about consuming animals. There is tremendous relief in unloading the guilt that lies just below the surface. Talk to any meat eater and when they find out you are a vegan, they will start by telling you how little meat they eat.
So why now are two 52 year olds who finally have an empty nest filling up the new found time with this endeavor? Because it matters so much to us, to the animals and to the planet.
Silence just is not an option.
In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”