June 11-17 is Men’s Health Week—a good time for men of all ages to kick-start healthy habits. In my 20s, I survived two bouts of testicular cancer. Since that time, I’ve helped create a one-on-one cancer support organization, Imerman Angels, that connects someone fighting cancer with a person who’s been in the same shoes and survived. It gives me so much joy to give back. However, for years my own body didn’t feel its best. Last year, I went vegan, and I’ve never felt better.
I’m not here to lecture. I ate meat and dairy products for years, so who am I to judge? We cancer survivors should never judge regardless; we’re happy just to be here still. But I hope that by hearing about my experience, you’ll feel a little more empowered to take your health into your own hands.
One of the turning points that helped me decide to go vegan was listening to leukemia researcher Dr. Rosane Oliveira—herself a vegan—from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign speak about how dietary changes can help people lead healthier lives. I learned that research has linked the standard American diet—full of cholesterol and saturated fats—with serious illnesses, including cancer, while vegetarians have been shown to have a much lower cancer risk.
Animal proteins and saturated fats found in meat promote the growth of cancer cells and increase our risk for certain types of cancer. Cornell professor T. Colin Campbell’s China Study concluded that proteins from animal foods are the most cancer-causing substances ingested by humans. The study also found that casein, the primary protein in cow’s milk, “turns on” the growth of cancer cells. A link has even been discovered between dairy products and testicular cancer, which makes me even more confident in my decision to dump dairy.
Vegan foods, in contrast, help fight cancer. A study of men diagnosed with prostate cancer found that a diet rich in plant foods can slow or even halt the progression of the disease. Dark, leafy veggies like spinach and kale and fruits like blueberries are loaded with cancer-fighting antioxidants, and beans, whole grains, and other fiber-rich foods help rid your body of excess hormones that can contribute to cancer growth.
Vegan eating has other benefits, too. Following my treatment, I felt so tired and beaten down—my immune system was rattled. Now, even though I regularly meet and shake the hands of many people, I haven’t been sick once (and for people with cancer, an immune system boost can make all the difference). I feel great, I’m strong in the gym and my energy levels are high.
I also love animals, and it feels good knowing that the food I’m eating doesn’t contribute to their suffering. Another turning point for me was watching the video that Sir Paul McCartney narrated for PETA, “Glass Walls,” which includes undercover video footage showing how animals are slaughtered, suffering and in pain. There seems to be a great synergy between cancer survivors, who value their lives and health so highly because they are lucky to be alive, and people who choose to eat compassionate and healthy vegan foods.
You don’t have to take my word for it about the advantages of eating vegan, though. Try it for yourself. Healthy vegan foods provide all the nutrients that we need, so there’s nothing to lose and plenty to gain.
Jonny Imerman is the founder of Imerman Angels, a nonprofit group that provides one-on-one support to people touched by cancer; www.ImermanAngels.org.