One Woman’s Guide to Managing Estrogen & Progesterone Positive Breast Cancer
In August 2019, I was diagnosed with stage 2 invasive ductal carcinoma. Follow up body scans have been inconclusive. My oncologists happily see no tumors elsewhere. However, there is some unusual cellular activity detected in my lymph nodes and they warn that the cancer has likely metastasized at the micro-level and could grow elsewhere over time. While both chemotherapy and radiation are often recommended as preventative measures, the primary treatment for my specific type of cancer is hormonal regulation. This is because the tumor extracted from my body this July tested 100 percent positive for estrogen reception and 99 percent positive for progesterone reception.
Hormonal regulation (aka endocrine therapy) for breast cancer usually involves either a prescription for Tamoxifen or removal of one’s ovaries. Personally, I like the potential side effects of those options less than the consequences of treating cancer as a chronic condition, during which additional tumors grow slowly over a long stretch of time. Of course, I would also rather avoid that if possible.
Reflecting on my diagnosis has made me feel very philosophical — deep diving into concepts like Choice and Death. However, I have also been revisiting cancer wellness guru Kris Carr’s work. One thing I love about her book Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips is how she takes control of her disease through diet. I have been trying to do a similar thing for the past few months, but I’ve had a lingering feeling that something is just a bit off about my plant-based, whole foods approach. Recently, I thought I discovered the root of that feeling.
It turns out that many of the healthy foods and supplements I’d been consuming actually boost hormone levels. They are still healthy foods, which fight many types of cancer — just not the types which are as hormone-fueled as mine. I responded to my discovery by eliminating both estrogen and progesterone boosting foods and supplements from my diet. I noticed that this affected my hormone levels enough to change my menstrual cycle, but something still felt a bit off. That’s when I learned that progesterone actually balances estrogen production. Apparently, having cancer with active progesterone receptors is a GOOD thing because tumors which absorb progesterone cut off the reception of estrogen, and it’s actually the estrogen which makes a tumor grow. I also learned that women who have maintained a constant high level of stress in adulthood often have their progesterone levels plummet following the age 35, kick-starting the proliferation of cancer cells. I am one of those high stress women, and I was diagnosed at age 36.
Moving forward, I’m adjusting my diet to reduce and block estrogen while allowing progesterone back into my system in hopes that it will neutralize the estrogen which remains. I’m also considering additional care alternatives.
For the sake of keeping myself on track, as well as inspiring anyone in a similar spot, I’m sharing some notes about my findings in this essay. As you read, please bear in mind that I am not a licensed healthcare professional and am merely providing some inspiration for your own research, not standing in for a doctor or making claims about what will work for you, or for me. This is my personal document of an experimental approach I’m taking for myself, during this particular leg of my ongoing cancer journey. Some key resources I used to compiled these lists are here and here.
Foods which lower or block estrogen production or absorption (in some cases, by boosting progesterone):
- Green Tea
- Brown Mustard
- Brussel Sprouts
- Sweet potatoes
- Russet potatoes
- Bean sprouts
Foods which may increase estrogen production & absorption:
- Oats, barley, wheat germ
- Olive Oil
- Non-organic dairy
Other foods safe for consumption in moderation among hormone conscious consumers:
- Simple sugars like white rice & white bread (Note: When packaged, many of these include some form of soy as a preservative and thus should be avoided.)
- Organic, no hormones added, cheese
- Dark chocolate
- Tomatoes (Note: When it comes to sauces, it is best to make your own. If you buy store bought sauces, be sure to check the labels for soy bean oil. Thus far, I’ve discovered that Prego pasta sauce and Pace salsa are made without soy bean oil while their competitors contain it.)
Supplements which help limit excess hormone production & absorption:
- Mushroom Extract (esp. Chaga & Lion’s Mane)
- Passion Flower
- Vitamin E
- Pomegranate Oil
- Vitamin D-3
- Oregano oil
Other supplements which may raise estrogen but also promote the death of cancer cells in all types of cancer, including estrogen dominant types, when received in high concentrations:
- Vitamin C (intravenous & liposomal)
- Grape seed Oil
- Black seed oil
- B complex
Plant-based treatments using controversial substances legally available in some locations but outlawed in others:
(Click the links above for details.)
Especially for us thirty-somethings, cancer really is a stress-based condition. So, eliminating stress matters. This may mean engaging in counseling and mindfulness practices. This may also mean making massive changes in regard to our work, our relationships and our core values. I personally grew up within an environment which emphasized codependent behavior — making choices which went against my personal values in order to better meet the needs of family, friends and/or authority figures, including their needs to see me do what they felt would be best for my own life.
My cancer gives me an opportunity to break that cycle. So far, for me, this has included filing for divorce, moving with my children into a small 2–1 apartment, researching my medical condition myself and completely re-prioritizing my approach toward my financial obligations and my multiple forms of self employment. It’s an ongoing process — praised by some, ridiculed by others and fully understood by very few.
I am learning, slowly, to accept that these responses do not matter more than how I feel about myself. My efforts may prove to be in-effective, amounting ultimately to “too little, too much, or too late.” However, I believe wholeheartedly that they are what is needed in this moment to give me my best shot at a longer, more fulfilling life. So, I am making my efforts, while remaining open minded to the fact that what serves me best in this moment may change with the next. Achieving wellness is a journey. Thank you for bearing witness to mine.