My name is Sheanne Moskaluk. I live in Naramata, British Columbia, Canada, and, along with my husband Dan, we have experienced changes in our lives that we never would have believed possible. We started by changing our minds and the rest followed.
In 2010, my 14 year old son became interested in weight lifting and body building. He joined a local gym, where he was told he would never put on muscle if he did not consume protein powders and lots of meat. So, being what I thought was a good mother, off to the local health food store I went. What happened next would drastically change our lives. As I was browsing the selection of whey protein, a sales clerk inquired “was I buying this for myself?” I explained it was for my son, to which she quickly replied “you need to do some research before giving that to your kids”. Well, that was unexpected. So, I didn’t purchase any and, instead, went home to Google whey protein powders. That’s when I first stumbled across Dr. John McDougall in a YouTube lecture titled “The Perils of Dairy”. Honestly, I initially thought Dr. McDougall was some crazy quack, but continued to listen, actually playing the lecture three more times. The information he was discussing was completely foreign to me and the exact opposite of everything I’d ever been taught, but for some inexplicable reason, I was deeply intrigued. Upon further investigation, I came across other doctors discussing the health risks of consuming meat and dairy. These doctors – Neal Barnard, T. Colin Campbell, Micheal Greger, Dean Ornish, Hans Diehl, John McDougall led me down the rabbit hole to a parallel universe and, as I read more over the next few months, it became abundantly clear that I could no longer feed myself and my family in the manner in which I had been.
So, on April 1, 2011, April Fool’s Day, after “leaning” in for a few months, I fully committed to a vegan diet. I cleaned out every cupboard, the fridge and freezer of any animal products and processed junk foods and started preparing exclusively vegan meals. At that point in time, I weighed 293 pounds. My story was common – gained weight with the first pregnancy, then more with the second baby, tried every fad diet – Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, etc., - lost some weight and then gained it back, plus more. At 47, I had resigned myself to the fact that I would spend the rest of my life overweight. I had been a baker in a local coffee shop, using all of my great grandmother and grandmother’s recipes. If the recipe didn’t have butter or lard, I didn’t make it! Food was my currency. If someone did me a favour, I baked them a “thank you” cheesecake. So losing weight was not my goal when I adopted this way of eating because I had simply given up trying. I was more focused on avoiding the diseases that are so heavily linked to the consumption of animal products – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, etc., and protecting the health of my family. But to my surprise, that first month I lost 15 pounds without even trying! And that was with no exercise at all, because at nearly 300 lbs, exercise was not a part of my life. Cutting the lawn and vacuuming the house was exhausting!
Over the next two years, everything changed! I continued to educate myself by reading books, listening to webinars, and generally being obsessed by the topic of plant based nutrition. I refined our diet from vegan to a whole food plant based lifestyle, focusing on “food as grown” and reducing or eliminating many transitional vegan foods and oil (after all, Oreo cookies and potato chips are vegan). To the astonishment of my friends and family and myself, I lost a total of 133 pounds. It’s hard to put into words the emotions involved in losing that much weight. It’s such a struggle that seems unattainable by so many. On more than one occasion, I would bump into someone who hadn’t seen me since my weight loss and they would break down in tears, partly because they were happy for me, but largely because they never thought it was possible for themselves and I was living proof that it was. Fitting back into my wedding dress was an overwhelming moment that I never imagined could happen.
I gradually added walking into my daily life. I now easily walk 5 km of very hilly terrain every morning. I have never gone to the gym – just hill climbing walks. My family was also 95% on board with adopting a whole food plant based lifestyle. They ate this way at home, but out of the house, they were still consuming some animal products and junk food. My husband, Dan, had greatly increased his health by lowering his cholesterol, lost about 35 pounds and had reversed his pre-diabetes and metabolic syndrome symptoms. As we approached being empty nesters and retirement, we thought our health was bullet proof.
By 2013, we had settled nicely into our new lifestyle and were feeling great until the week of November 9th. Dan had been experiencing increasingly severe abdominal pain, which culminated in a trip to the emergency room. Dan was given a CT scan and, since kidney stones had run in his family, he was expecting the results of the scan to confirm his suspicions. We were escorted into a private room to be told that it wasn’t kidney stones, but rather kidney cancer and that his right kidney was one giant tumor. We would later learn that it was metastatic Stage IV renal cell carcinoma.
As anyone who has gone through this will tell you, it truly is like have the rug pulled out from under you. Shock and disbelief was soon followed by devastation and grief. The prognosis was grim. We were told it might be months to two years before the cancer would take Dan. A cancer of Dan’s magnitude would have been quietly growing for 10 to 15 years. He was immediately scheduled for a major surgery to have the kidney and surrounding lymph nodes removed. The tumor was also growing up the vena cava towards his lungs and heart. There was a chance that, due to that fact that they would need to clamp off the vena cava, he could bleed out during the surgery. So, on Christmas Eve 2013, the surgeons removed his kidney and surrounding lymph nodes. Later scans would show that there were still affected distant lymph nodes. The oncologist was clear in stating “we would be naive to think that this would not spread”. We prepared for the worst.
At this same time, I turned my attention to researching the effects of nutrition on cancer. There is a 100 years of data linking animal protein to cancer growth, which further prompted me to continue on with our whole food plant based lifestyle.
I embarked on what I called a “program of nutritional excellence” focusing a tons of greens, beans and nuts and seeds. The initial weeks after surgery were difficult, but Dan recovered from the surgery and doctors were amazed at how well the surgery site healed. Due to his overall good health, and the fact there are no effective treatments available for renal cell carcinoma, he was told that his best chance was to be accepted into a trial drug study and he was. It was an immunotherapy protocol that consisted of four double drug treatments every three weeks, followed by a single drug treatment every two weeks for the rest of his life or as long as his body was capable of enduring it. We were told that immune therapies boost up your immune system to attack the cancer, but it was a little like “letting the tiger out of the cage” and that it could attack any healthy organ by mistake. And attack it did. The tiger turned on Dan’s liver in a near fatal attack after only three treatments. He was immediately dismissed from the trial study. It’s hard to get a drug to market when you kill you trial study patients.
So, only six months after the initial diagnosis of Stage IV terminal cancer, Dan was off all medical treatment. He continued to receive CT scans to monitor the cancer’s progress, but to everyone’s surprise, the affected lymph nodes did not spread but started to shrink. Ten months after diagnosis, the word remission was being used and, by the Spring of 2015, the Cancer Clinic closed Dan’s file, stating that his cancer was radiologically undetectable. Stage IV renal cell carcinoma has a 5% survival rate to five years for men. At the two year mark, when it was predicted he would die, Dan went back to work, full time. Dan continued not only to survive, but to thrive!
While still emotionally fragile, we were elated. We had weathered the storm and had come out the other side, but we could never have predicted what would come next….
After seeing the trailers for “Eating You Alive” one Sunday afternoon, Dan reached out to the producer, Merrilee Jacobs, to inquire about the release date of the film. He explained that the subject was dear to our hearts and briefly described how a wfpb lifestyle had impacted us both. One thing led to another, and by that Thursday, we were travelling to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to have our story filmed. It was the first time that we had discussed the cancer with anyone other than close family and friends. It was an emotional and exhausting day but the thought that our story could inspire others and help people to avoid what we had been through was exhilarating.
That exhilaration has sparked a deep desire in both of us to help others. Eating You Alive has given us the platform and courage to springboard into advocating the benefits of a whole food plant based lifestyle. We are so honoured and proud to be associated with this documentary.
It features all of the original doctors that initially led me down this rabbit hole, many of which I have had to opportunity of meeting in person. We have connected with many of the other health success individuals featured, creating an indescribable bond. We have travelled throughout our province of British Columbia and Alberta with the film, as well as to Los Angeles, CA for the premiere. We now have many speaking engagements, both in person and on podcasts. I have also had the pleasure of helping to facilitate the CHIP (Complete Health Improvement Program) in Penticton, BC, for the last two years, an experience I absolutely love. The program runs 3 nights a week, for 5 weeks, educating people about the science based benefits of adopting a wfpb lifestyle.
We are such different people now, viewing the world through very different eyes and all because of the simple change in what we eat. A whole food plant based lifestyle is the best diet for weight loss, which also happens to be the best diet for cancer, heart disease, diabetes and so on, because you don’t heal just one thing, you heal the whole body. This lifestyle can change your life and it can save your life.
Sheanne Moskaluk (a.k.a Indian Rock Vegans)
P.S. Our son never did take any protein powders, gained tons of muscle and is committed to the wfpb vegan lifestyle to this day.