I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Ruth Heidrich, Ph.D., one of the star patients in the movie Forks Over Knives. Ruth provides insights into the making of the film and her ongoing work to educate others on the power of a whole foods, plant-based diet. If you have not seen this film yet, grab the first opportunity to experience it. You will see Ruth and several other patients revitalizing their health through diet, not drugs. In this dialogue, Ruth is RH, and I am JS.
JS: For those who are not familiar with your story, it would be great to have a short overview of your diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer and subsequent cancer-free life. I always think of you as the woman who beat cancer into submission with broccoli and oatmeal.
RH: Sitting in the doctor's office awaiting the results of a breast biopsy, I was positive that this was going to be just a little blip in the road of life, that there was no way it could be cancer. I was a runner for 14 years, had even run marathons, and ate what I thought was a good diet, you know, chicken and fish, low-fat dairy, all the "good proteins." I was the healthiest, fittest person I knew, in fact.
So when the diagnosis came back with metastatic cancer, I was shocked, stunned, and devastated! Then the denial set in. There must have been some mistake, so I got a second opinion, but same cancerous result. A third, fourth, and even a fifth, were no different -- I was now a cancer patient.
Then there was a gigantic stroke of luck that turned out to save my life! John McDougall, MD, was starting a clinical research study to demonstrate that breast cancer could be reversed with a low-fat vegan diet. I immediately enrolled in the study because the choice of chemo/radiation versus changing my diet was clear -- and a no-brainer for me.
At the same time, I happened to see the Ironman Triathlon on TV and thought, hey, I can do that! I knew I had the 26.2 mile marathon handled, so all I had to do was throw in a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike. Then I found out that no cancer patient had ever completed the Ironman, and no woman as old as I, 47 at the time, had ever done it. With my new diet, I felt stronger, faster, and was convinced that this new way of eating could not only reverse cancer, but when my high cholesterol dropped as well, I wanted to show people that this is the way all humans should eat. All this was nearly 30 years ago, and I'm convinced to this day that our lifestyle choices make the difference between thriving and dying.
JS: You have shared your story in many ways, including your book A Race for Life. What is it like for you sharing such a deeply personal story with the world?
RH: Back in the early 80s, very little was known about all of this. I felt like a real pioneer as I became the first vegan I knew and the first Ironman triathlete I knew. Because of all the benefits, both physical and, very importantly, the psychological, I wanted to tell the world what I was discovering. As it turns out, I guess I can't help but share this story because of the immense gains to the health status of most of those sedentary people consuming the standard Western diet.
JS: How did you become part of the film Forks Over Knives?