Tall and lithe with shoulder length blonde hair, Delafield resident Kathy Mydlach Bero looks the picture of health. But appearances can be deceiving. Without a combination of research, treatment, diet and self-care, she would not be with us today.
Diagnosed in 2005 with Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer, her oncologist initially thought she had a much less aggressive form of the disease. But after a biopsy revealed the diagnosis her oncologist told her that he could keep her “comfortable.” (The average survival rate for patients with this type of cancer is 21 months.)
Eleven years later, Bero is not only surviving, but thriving. Her journey back to health is chronicled in a new book from Waterside Production called “Evolve, Advocate, Transform (EAT): An unconventional decade in the life of a cancer patient.”
Bero, a former journalist who worked professionally in the nonprofit sector on environmental issues, had few risk factors. She had regular checkups, spent much of her time outdoors on a 60-acre farm and even grew some of her own food. Bero seemed to be the poster child for good health.
But the acronym “E.A.T.” found in title of her book sheds light on the route she took and continues to take after conventional medicine had done its part. Bero believes it’s a major factor as to why she has survived.
A Vexing Disease
Death rates from most types of cancer have declined over the decades thanks to early detection, new kinds of chemotherapy and more targeted radiation treatments. A greater understanding of cancer’s genetic makeup drives new applications for treatment. No longer is the word an automatic death sentence.
Nor is it a “modern” disease. Physician and oncologist Dr. Siddhartha Mukharjee author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, “Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer,” writes that cancer has been around for thousands of years.
Inflammatory breast cancer accounts for approximately 1 percent of all breast cancers according to the American Cancer Society. Occurring more in younger women, symptoms resemble an infection of the breast tissue and feature redness, swelling and an “orange peel-like texture of the skin.” Redness is often the first sign of a problem. Six months after a clear mammogram, Bero had a red spot on her chest.
Food as Medicine
Bero had a variety of partners on her journey, chief among them her sister-in-law who worked as a physician’s assistant in the breast cancer clinic at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York. Sloan Kettering was getting more inflammatory breast cancer patients than anywhere in the United States and was pioneering a new treatment protocol for the disease, says Bero.
At her insistence Bero’s oncologist talked with her sister-in-law and agreed to try the protocol. “We got to bring new treatment here because my oncologist did it the Sloan Kettering way,” she says.
Another partner in the journey was a long-time friend, U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr., whose friend’s daughter had cancer treatment through a partnership with St. Jude’s Hospital and Dublin Hospital. Based on the treatment, Mullen told Bero to follow an antiangiogenic diet, which in research was showing would limit the spread of cancer by inhibiting the growth of new blood vessels.
Although it's a controversial suggestion in the eyes of many medical professionals, using food as medicine actually has its roots in history. Hippocrates, the father of medicine, wrote: “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.”
After “dabbling” in the antiangiogenic diet coupled with a cocktail of four chemotherapy drugs including Avastin, which has antiangiogenic properties but side effects have taken it off the protocol for breast cancer, the tumor shrunk, says Bero. But she was not out of the woods.
Eleven months later in 2006, she was diagnosed with another rare, late-stage head and neck cancer. That’s when she got serious about what she was eating. “I took over my horse arena and turned it into a huge garden [of antiangiogenic foods],” she says. “That’s all I ate.”
Her list of some 90 foods includes many fruits and vegetables, like fresh berries, mushrooms, carrots, beats, sweet potatoes and much more. But it also features herbs such as turmeric, licorice, nutmeg and chives. Grass-fed chicken and eggs are the only remnants of a traditional American diet. Almonds, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and walnuts are antiangiogenic, as is green tea, red wine and dark chocolate with at least 70 percent cocoa.
Bero also found a Reiki master who taught her how to do self healing. She continues to employ meditation and other complementary modalities to “heal my mind, body and spirit.”
While going through radiation treatment for her second diagnosis, she and her doctors realized something unusual. “I realized I’m not getting sicker,” she says. “But I was going through radiation treatment and should have had skin burns and other issues.”
Bero’s responses were so atypical, her radiation oncologist asked her what she was doing. So did others.
Soon she spoke to groups of medical professionals about how the antiangiogenic diet along with energy work and conventional medicine was impacting her cancer.
She found a supporter in Ford Titus, the now-retired CEO of ProHealth who embraced the message and agreed to help her spread the word about antiangiogenic food. He gave her access to a farm the hospital owned to do her work. The project was dubbed NuGenesis Farm.
More than 1,000 volunteers helped with various projects to further the science behind food as medicine. Chef Jack Kaestner, former chef at the Oconomowoc Lake Club and now a faculty member at Milwaukee Area Technical College, often did demonstrations using fresh, local food at the farm. Groups of children visited the farm and picked interesting items to eat. Kaestner sauted their selections in a little olive oil and butter.
“Cheap, convenient foods come at a price,” he says. “Eating fresh, local vegetables taste good. It’s not rocket science.”
After Titus retired, the hospital refused to sell the NuGenesis Farm property to the organization’s nonprofit board. So John Gehl stepped up and gave Bero and her volunteers the use of agricultural property that’s part of Faye Gehl Conservation Foundation.
At the end of 2012, Bero had to have surgery to fix the skin problems that the earlier radiation treatments had caused. Bero scaled down her role during and after the surgery. The foundation took over the organization before closing it down. It now maintains the sustainable agriculture portion of the program at Stone Bank Farm.
Despite pulling back, Bero doesn’t have any regrets. “I’m excited about what has come out of NuGenesis,” she says. “It’s educated a lot of chefs, nutritionists, children, dietitians” and others about the power of food.
“We accomplished all my goals in a short period of time. I know we had an enormous impact and I am really proud of it.”
With her new book, Bero is hoping to make an even bigger impact. Assembled in a journal format and based on the 18 journals she kept during her cancer treatments, the book was a way of remembering what she couldn’t. “In going through the journals, I found that worse stuff happened to me that I didn’t remember,” she says. “This led me to thinking that this is real; that I do have something to offer.”
It also forced “a grieving I didn’t imagine, but it made me even more excited about my mission,” she says.
Although she’s now 11 years out from the initial diagnosis, Bero still has remnants of the treatments, which is common among cancer survivors. She lost intestinal function in 2008 as well as thyroid function. Her kidneys and liver, which were starting to fail due to the chemotherapy and other medications prescribed to manage its side effects, have recovered. Her heart function is almost back to normal.
On March 25, 2017 Bero will turn 53, an age she is proud to admit to. She has jumped off the “protocol train” and now uses Western medicine in its original intent – first do no harm.
It’s human nature to want to try to make sense of the chaotic. Some medical professionals will argue that Bero only had Stage IIIc cancer rather than Stage IV. Others will point to the unexplainable as the reason she’s in remission.
But Bero has full faith in the power of food.
Bero's book is available at local bookstores, on Amazon.com and at her website kathymydlachbero.com/
Savory Mushroom Soup
Mushrooms are an excellent source of vitamin D and will help strengthen your immune system and fight chronic disease. The onion, garlic, thyme and parsley are also excellent for boosting your immune system and fighting chronic disease.
12 oz. porcini, oyster and/or shitake mushrooms
1 tsp. butter, plus 1-2 tbsp.
1 tsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
6 cups chicken Broth
1-2 tbsp. flour
1 tsp. fresh thyme
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tbsp. truffle oil (optional)
1 tbsp. fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Chop mushrooms into small pieces. In a large skillet, add olive oil and a 1 tsp. butter and let it heat up before adding the mushrooms. Saute until tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes.
3. Pour chicken broth into a Dutch oven, and add mushroom mixture. Bring to a simmer on medium-low heat.
4. In the skillet (don’t clean in between), create a roux by melting 1 tbsp. butter and 1 tbsp. flour (add extra butter and flour in equal parts if you'd like a thicker soup). Stir until a thick paste is formed, about 1 minute. Add the roux to the broth.
5. Slide the thyme leaves off the stalk; and add to Dutch oven.
6. Add whipping cream and bring to a slow boil, stirring frequently for 10-15 minutes.
7. Puree the soup using a blender or immersion blender. For a chunkier soup, set aside some mushrooms and add them back after the soup has been pureed. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
8. Sprinkle each serving with truffle oil and parsley if desired.