I’ve been up since four a.m. reading Your Life in Your Hands by Professor Jane Plant. Actually it would be accurate to say that I’ve been up since four skimming Your Life in Your Hands. It’s a five-hundred page tome. Anyway I’ve flicked and sped-read and the gist of it is this: Jane Plant was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was caught quite early on. She underwent a mastectomy, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and had her ovaries zapped to stop them producing oestrogen. Despite all of that her breast cancer came back five times.
I can barely contemplate the despair and defeat that she must have experienced at being given that particular piece of news five times over.
When the cancer returned for the fifth time Jane was pretty much told to clear her locker. The doctors estimated that she had between three and six months to live. That is when she decided that it was up to her to discover the defining factors that may make the difference between life and death for her. Her starting point was the observation that breast cancer is uncommon amongst Chinese women. And what is the one thing that we all eat by the bucket load but that would almost never pass the lips of a Chinese woman? You guessed it. Milk! Milk, cheese, butter, cream, ice-cream, yoghurt and Yakult, in fact all dairy products of any description. She then goes on to explain why milk may be the big villain in breast cancer. It’s full of stuff that makes things grow fast: growth hormones. Now growth hormones are just the ticket when one desires to build up a nice fat, bonny baby but they are like petrol on the bonfire of a cancerous tumour. The last thing one wants to encourage that sucker to do is grow. It makes sense to me.
"Well that’s not too hard," I think, "I will cut out dairy." I skip out of bed, skedaddle to the kitchen and brew up a nice cup of tea. Then I top it up with almond milk. It’s delicious. Right there and then I dump all the cheese from the fridge into the bin, along with some mouldy baked beans for good measure. I pour half a litre of milk down the sink. Full of excitement, I Skype Mum. “Mum,” I trill, “we’re giving up milk. We can have almond milk in tea and coffee. It’s just as nice.” Mum looks a little crestfallen. I know how much she loves a milky coffee and a slice of cheese on toast. But this is for her own good. You’ve got to be cruel to be kind. “Well maybe we can have goat’s cheese in salad,” I ruminate.
I’m afraid not. Goat’s milk is milk. It is full of growth hormones that make baby goats bigger. And I think I know what you’re going to ask next, “What about pro-biotic yoghurt? Surely that is good for me?” No, it’s made from milk. And Jane Plant insists that we must abstain from all milk of any description, even human milk, once we have passed toddlerhood. So no Devon clotted cream, no organic aged Parmigiano, no grilled Halloumi kebabs, no Ben & Jerry’s.
I wish that I had come across Your Life in Your Hands six months ago. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer I threw myself into desperately searching for solutions - things that I could do to help myself. I started out by trying to devise my own anti-cancer diet: lots of brown rice and organic vegetables; no dairy; small amounts of fish and no meat. But I had no real solid information to back up my instinctive inclination. Well-meaning friends, misinformed alternative therapists and the internet all offered scraps of information about miracle cures: enemas; Essiac tea; give up wheat; cut out sugar; eat an alkalinising diet (but what is that?); don’t eat aubergines. I felt obliged to investigate every one of them. On the other hand my doctors did not support any changes in my diet. I became confused, overwhelmed, mentally exhausted and distressed. After about six weeks I just thought “The hell with this” and ordered up a full English breakfast.
Now I’m sure that one fry-up will not kill me. But since then I have definitely let my standards slip. These days I find myself noshing down packets of Custard Creams and tubs of chocolate ice-cream, things I hardly ever ate B.C. It doesn’t sit well with me.
Jane Plant takes a methodical, scientific approach to her subject. She explains why certain foods are recommended and others are to be shunned. She backs it up with evidence. Best of all, she debunks a lot of the common food myths that have taken on the aura of a modern gospel. As I have long suspected, tomatoes are good for one, wheat won’t kill me, small amounts of meat impart vitality and aubergines are not evil.
Iris and I have lunch at Soho House. Apparently we have been invited there to a party that Boy George and Fat Tony are throwing. We are told that all manner of pop stars, transvestites and tramps will soon be swarming all over the place. Kylie is coming. I envisage she and I relaxing over a bit of breast cancer chit-chat. “Anyway,” I inform Iris, “that’s it! No more dairy for me.” I scan the dessert menu and then call the waitress over. “Are any of these desserts made without dairy?” I ask. My tone of voice makes it clear to all that our table is a dairy free zone. “I will ask the chef,” she replies and scoots. “Lily,” Iris says, “you can’t just become a scattergun Vegan. It might be wise to choose a day and decide to start from there.” “I have,” I reply emphatically, “today is the day.” Iris looks at me with a furrowed brow and a puzzled expression. “I mean, I haven’t had any dairy at all today,” I elucidate. “Well what about that big pile of mashed potato that you just wolfed?” she demands. I am stunned. I hadn’t even thought about all the butter and cream in the mash.
Just then our waitress returns, “The chef says that there’s dairy in everything.” It seems that giving up milk is not as simple as one might think.