How a Cancer Diagnosis Inspired Me to Heal Others
Nourishment for life.
By Dr. Andrew Abraham
As a 17-year-old, I worried about my tennis matches and college choices, the last thing on my mind was cancer. One minute I was suiting up to play on my tennis team, and the next, I was wearing a hospital gown with a grim diagnosis: Rhabdomyosarcoma — a cancer of the connective tissue and muscle tissue. I went from being an active teenager with the world ahead of me, to beginning a year-long journey to beat this disease. Oddly enough, it turned out that cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Having cancer changed my lifestyle, my diet, my thinking and my life’s work.
As a teenaged boy with cancer, losing my hair was tough, but losing 20 lbs. made me look and feel like a patient. I was dangerously thin and needed to gain weight and build energy, but had absolutely no appetite. Nutrition became one of my biggest challenges. I began reading everything I could on nutrition — over 100 books — and I learned how what I ate could have a direct impact on my health. The doctor suggested conventional liquid nutrition shakes (you know the ones) and I began drinking them multiple times a day. After a few weeks with no change in my weight or energy, I read the bottle’s ingredient label and was horrified to see that these drinks contained nearly every bad ingredient my research on good nutrition told me to avoid. It was beyond eye-opening — it was a huge light bulb moment. How could I get well if I wasn’t putting the very best nutrition into my body? From that day on I made a radical change. I started making my own shakes daily, replacing all the bad ingredients in traditional nutrition drinks with healthy, organic ones. My mom was a huge help, vising our local health food store to buy nutritious ingredients like organic carbohydrates, protein, fruits and vegetables. After a few weeks, I started to notice a remarkable improvement in my energy and I started to regain much needed weight, and the only thing that had changed in my treatment was the addition of these homemade nutrition shakes. I gained about 20 pounds and my energy and strength slowly returned. It was all thanks to nutrient dense foods.
I went on to choose a career in medicine, hoping to focus on disease prevention, not just disease treatment. In medical school, I was disappointed that my nutrition course was just two weeks long and the focus on integrative health was minimal. While I knew first-hand that what we put in our bodies fuels our wellness, that fact seemed woefully undervalued by the medical profession. After I began practicing medicine, I found myself seeking healthy nutrition drinks to recommend to my patients, but still found the market lacking in anything wholesome and truly nutritious. I couldn’t in good conscience recommend the brands that were available, based on my own experience. Instead, I asked my patients to make their own drinks which were healthier but time intensive, and compliance was low. I had one of those defining moments when I realized that I wanted to fill a void in the market and create nutritional products that were truly healthy, delicious and convenient. Once I had the idea to create this product, I couldn’t wait another second. I know that as a doctor I could help maybe 30 people a day, but through this product I felt sure that I could help thousands a day. My wife (a holistic nutritionist), and I worked day and night to develop recipes for clean protein products that were organic, non-GMO and made with the healthiest and highest quality ingredients.
Today, my company Orgain is one of the fastest-growing organic nutrition companies in the country. I’m humbled by the success but grateful that it means I can help so many people. And I’ve learned a lot along the way. Three things stand out, that I believe anyone can apply to their own lives. For one thing, hard work and passion outweigh talent — there were plenty of people who were more talented or more experienced than I was, but not many that would work as hard or care as much. Second, be purpose driven — no matter what you are doing if you focus on material goals, it’s far more difficult to succeed. If you focus on your purpose and the impact you want to have in the world, the rest of it naturally falls into place. And third, be kind. It sounds so simple, but is often overlooked and goes so far, in business and in life.
What gives me the most joy as a cancer survivor, doctor and entrepreneur is reading and responding to the numerous calls and emails from Orgain users who share their personal journeys — whether medical, fitness, or just getting great nutrition into their busy lives. I am so touched that this company that came from my own personal experience is helping so many people live healthy, vibrant lives. Cancer forever changed me. It fueled my determination and passion to see food as fuel and the belief that we all have the power to take positive steps to lead our healthiest lives.