Heidi and I have been best friends since we were eight years old. We also both had estrogen positive cancer in our early 30’
We find it uncanny that our lives have taken such parallel paths and that one-day, our friendship and our own battles with cancer would lead us to create JoinCircles.
We never imagined that this would evolve into helping us and others to find and support their personal “WHY’ for optimal health.
Born in 1973 in sunny South Africa, we grew up in loving homes with stay-at-home mothers who took great care of us. The hallmarks of our childhood were happy with lots of time spent swimming in chlorinated pools, coating ourselves in toxic sunscreen, rolling around on chemically treated lawns, and eating crisps and sweets!
As teenagers in the 80’s, we started using inexpensive body care, hair and make-up products which all contained the standard (yet unbeknownst to us) toxic ingredients.
When we turned eighteen, we thought we were invincible! - (As most eighteen-year-olds do!). Our motto was “sleep when you’re dead”!
Our university years were characterised with late night studying or partying, very little exercise and sleep, drinking alcohol in smokey bars, and eating fast food. To stay awake, we drank copious amounts of coffee and energy drinks. On the weekends, we both worked part-time for the same prestigious cosmetic house – of course, we bought into the idea that the big cosmetic brands were best for us, despite their many potentially toxic ingredients and preservatives. From 18, we both went on The Pill, which we stayed on until about 30 years old. Neither of us had any idea whether we could detoxify these synthetic hormones nor did we know to ask.
After graduation, we entered the stress-filled corporate world, met our husbands, settled down, and both decided that having a family was the next natural thing for us to do.
I battled to fall pregnant and so left my job to reduce my stress levels. At the same time, Heidi was experiencing a very traumatic retrenchment. Stress was affecting both of us in very negative ways but we did not have the knowledge or the tools to understand what this was doing to our biochemistry.
Eventually, we both fell pregnant and had healthy children around the same time. We tried to balance family life and raising young children with building and renovating our homes (the usual!).
We thought we were handling it all quite well but didn’t realise the strain all these littles stressors were actually having on us.
At the time, we didn’t fully realise that all these seemingly small and ‘normal’ stressors were compounding on each other and on our genetic expression. We were ‘turning-on’ our genetic potential for our respective cancers.
The “C” Word
Heidi, then a practising homoeopath, was living an ultra-healthy lifestyle and eating a raw vegan diet when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the young-ish age of thirty-five. She couldn’t believe how this had happened when she had cleaned up her lifestyle, breastfed both her kids for around 11 months and was eating, what she considered then to be, ‘the best diet in the world!’;) At the time, she also had no family history of breast cancer or even cancer in her family.
Her first question was “HOW did this happen to me?”
If you meet Heidi, you’ll understand that when she becomes focussed on something, she’s positively relentless! She had to solve this mystery.
She sought answers consulting ‘wise men’, by studying Integrative and Functional Medicine (link to Functional Medicine section), and by buying every book on breast cancer, cancer, epigenetics, diet, environment, and lifestyle etc. that she could find. During this research, she learned about genetics, epigenetics, nutrition, environment and lifestyle risks, and estrogen detox. Heidi started to see how her choices could’ve played a large role in the ‘activation’ of her cancer. It was epigenetics that captured her attention the most.
“Epigenetics provided the answer as to HOW cancer happened to Heidi.”
Epigenetics (link to epigenetics section) is a revolutionary approach to medicine that, in simplified terms, is the study of biological mechanisms that switch genes on or off. In other words, our DNA is not our destiny – we are learning that, by making better, more personalised nutritional, environmental and lifestyle choices, we can prevent many lifestyle-related chronic diseases.
About a year after Heidi’s breast cancer diagnosis, nutrigenomic and lifestyle-related genetic testing was launched in South Africa. She did all the tests available and the results showed that she had ‘misspellings’ on the genes involved in oxidative stress, inflammation, detoxification, and estrogen detoxification.
Heidi realised that, the combination of her genetic misspellings with, among many other things, the foods she had been eating, the body products she’d been using, her cortisol levels that risen steadily as she got older, and even the things that her mother had done while Heidi was in her womb, had all contributed to her illness. There was no arguing that the way she had lived her life until then had compounded to cause her cancer.
In her DNA results, Heidi saw in black and white that her cancer hadn’t just happened to her. She now understood, without any doubt, that the Nutrition, Lifestyle, and Environmental (NEL) choices that she had made in her past were precisely the wrong ones for her. In that moment, being the ‘early adopter’ that she is, she immediately set about to manage her estrogen detoxification from her DNA up.
Heidi is now studying to be a Functional Medicine (link) practitioner, has a wealth of knowledge about/on? Epigenetics (link) and is passionate about sharing what she has learned on a bigger platform than one on one consults when she was practising. As JoinCircles Medical Director, she is passionate about putting together personalised protocols for our clients.
During this difficult time, I was very afraid for my friend. I admired her relentless quest for continuing her knowledge plus her daily conviction to better nutrition, environment and lifestyle choices from day 1.
As the year went on, I began to focus more on myself. My husband and I started talking about having a third child…. then I lost my father. It was a complete shock and I was filled with an immense grief. I started binge drinking if we went out, just like in our student days (except this time, the quality of the alcohol was a little better)!
In preparation for having our third child, I went to my gynae and asked for a routine ovary scan. He saw something he didn’t like and later that day, I found myself in theatre having a full hysterectomy because he had found ovarian cancer.
I could no longer have children and was thrust into surgical menopause at 36.
Heidi asked whether my cancer was estrogen positive. I said I didn’t know and my gynae asked why it was relevant to me. Heidi urged me to take control and do a genetic test to look at my estrogen detox genes.
I’m not an early adopter like Heidi. I need a lot of convincing before I'll change. I felt that having a diagnosis of ovarian cancer was enough of a burden to adapt too. I felt betrayed by my body, feeling depressed and resentful. But Heidi was determined to help me. She knew that if I saw my DNA, I might have the same motivation, control and clear direction as her to make more personalised choices, be optimally well, and better tools to prevent another estrogen cancer like breast cancer.
After months of trying to get me to dig deeper, Heidi eventually just gave me a DNA self-test for my birthday!
Not your average birthday gift but it was a gift that truly changed my life. I opened my results and realised that I had let my body down and not the other way around. I called Heidi immediately and said I was finally ready to change.
I learned about me in a very intimate yet empowering way. I learned about my DNA and how it needed to be considered and supported by my nutrition, environment and lifestyle choices.
I didn’t make the change overnight like Heidi did. I went at my own pace, replacing products that contained harmful ingredients with cleaner products as they ran out.
We now call this strategy “Swap it Out”, and it works for many of our clients who, like me, prefer to take smaller steps.
Our only regret: We wish that we had known this information sooner. We wish we had started earlier.
We believe that we might have been able to prevent our cancers.
But we are blessed to have walked this path because today we both have a daily plan to live by to prevent a recurrence of our cancers. No doctor was able to give this to us – the way to live either before or after our cancers. That’s why we started JoinCircles – we knew all too well, as patients, the gaps in the healthcare system. We live our JoinCircles programme daily and we have developed tools for you to do the same.
We do hope you join Heidi and me on this amazing journey of a proactive, personalised, integrated approach to wellness and prevention.