Against All Odds


A 41-year old elementary school teacher, Vicki Peterson, was referred for a small breast cancer. Days later a scan revealed a large abnormality in her pelvic bone. A biopsy confirmed that the breast cancer had spread. (The cancer was “triple negative” for anyone who wants to know.)

Vicki’s parents suggested a second opinion from an internationally recognized medical center near their home. The experts who saw Vicki concluded that her cancer was incurable.

Her second opinion oncologist compassionately explained that aggressive treatment in her case was futile. They stressed that therapy should focus on maintaining the highest quality of life for as long as possible.

Shortly after this I discussed their recommendations with Vicki. Her voice conveyed single-minded determination.

“This is unacceptable. My daughter starts kindergarten in a month and she needs me. I want to see her graduate from high school. I can’t give up. What can you do?”

For the record, the second opinion’s recommendation was not unreasonable. Recommending aggressive treatment in futile situations is misguided and does not represent the best care. The odds in Vicki’s case were slim at best.

If she had been resigned to the second opinion’s assessment of her situation, I would likely have followed their plan. Given the eventual outcome, this is a humbling admission.  But in light of Vicki’s resolve, I was convinced there was at least a glimmer of hope to justify aggressive treatment. The reason for any optimism was that all the “known” cancer could be addressed with relatively limited surgery and radiation therapy.

She began an extensive course of chemotherapy, followed by intensive radiation therapy and surgery for the original mass.

Before starting her treatment, Vicki asked what might have been a life-saving question, “Is there anything else I can do?”

There are hundreds of scientific studies pointing out that the standard American diet increases the incidence and growth of cancer.

The book, The China Study1, had just been published the year Vicki was diagnosed. We talked about the significant correlation the research found between animal protein and increased cancer risk. We also discussed data suggesting that certain phytonutrients rev up our immune system to kill cancer cells.

I stressed it was uncertain whether changing her diet would make a significant difference.

Vicki immediately changed her diet to focus on eating only nutrient rich foods. Following the findings in The China Study, she avoided all meat and dairy.

She endured nearly two years of aggressive cancer therapy, including two extra courses of radiation therapy to new areas of bone metastasis. Her last treatment was in October 2007. She remains cancer free and continues to love her “anti-cancer” diet.

Vicki’s battle with cancer ignited her enthusiasm for her job as a sixth grade science teacher and her daily appreciation for life. Her daughter, Olivia, graduates from high school this spring.


When discussing a healthier diet with people that are still healthy, one common retort is a wry, “Doc, you have to die of something.”

But in my experience, when discussing treatment options with patients with cancer, no one ever ventures, “Let’s just not worry about it – you have to die of something.”

I share Vicki’s story hoping that it might help people connect the dots before it’s too late.

Life is precious. We only realize how precious when we act accordingly.

Breakthrough To Better,

1Revised The China Study 2016


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Edition 2 – A Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
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Edition 5 – What’s an employer to do?
Edition 6 – Profiting From the Opioid Epidemic
Edition 7 – The Keys to Unlocking Better Decisions
Edition 8 – When Difficult Things Need to be Done Well
Edition 9 – Fixing Healthcare
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Edition 13 – Can AI save healthcare? (Part 1)
Edition 14 – Can AI save healthcare? (Part 2)
Edition 15 – Can AI save healthcare? (Part 3)
Edition 16 – Embracing Reality to Improve Healthcare
Edition 17 – Everything I Needed To Know…
Edition 18 – The Eighth Circle of Hell
Edition 19 – So… What’s Our Solution?
Edition 20 – Protecting Integrity as a Core Strategy
Edition 21 – An Unadorned Legacy
Edition 22 – Time to Grow Up
Edition 23 – Against All Odds
Edition 24 – When Everyone Has Stopped Listening
Edition 25 – Focusing on What’s Important
Edition 26 – Don’t Give Up Your Shot
Edition 27 – Join the Goodhood
Edition 28 – Fixing Healthcare (Recycled)
Edition 29 – Taming the Healthcare Beast
Edition 30 – Leadership
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Edition 32 – Little Decisions With Big Consequences
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Edition 35 – Transformational Courage – Part 3