Even vegans get cancer. It’s just a sad fact of life that while a vegan lifestyle and dietary choices can precipitate amazing health benefits, along with a new zest for life and a deepening love of animals, vegans can still get cancer. It sucks, but it is what it is.
I say this because after major and life-altering cancer surgery that left a friend of mine without the ability to speak or eat, the question that struck me was: if a vegan can no longer eat or drink via the traditional route, the mouth, and has to get their nutrients through a gastric tube, are they still vegan? Or maybe, what is it that makes them still vegan?
And for the sake of honesty and integrity here, I must reveal that the friend in question is actually me.
Now for all the longtime vegans out there, the answer is a big, fat DUH, OF COURSE they are still vegan, but for some non-vegans or new vegans, you might be saying to yourself Oh, hey: good question. And it really is a good question, I think, and I’m in a uniquely odd and yet perfect position to answer it.
There are no hard-and-fast rules here, but in the land of contemporary vegetarianism, “plant-based” generally means diet-only, and “vegan” is actually a lifestyle. You can ease into the vegan lifestyle with a plant-based diet—most vegans do; but keep in mind that veganism is more than a diet.
Okay, so, a lifestyle you say — and what does that mean? What makes it more than just a diet?
It means checking the ingredients not only in food, but now checking the labels on your toothpaste, your soap, your facial cleanser, and your shampoo. It means digging out the label at the bottom of that snazzy handbag you’ve been eyeing, or asking the salesperson about a certain shoe or the lining of a jacket. It also means doing a bit of research online before going out into the world to shop for mascara, foundation, and nail polish — even cleaning supplies And cars, yes; even cars.
Oh—and scarves! I’m obsessed with scarves for two reasons: the weather in the San Francisco/Bay Area, and the tracheostomy tube sticking out of my neck for all the world to see. I need my collection of lovely vegan scarves.
And don’t forget about our best friends, our companion animals. Okay, so this category can be tricky—especially with cats. Now, pet beds and toys aren’t usually made with anything questionable, but check the labels just in case. And vegan dog collars are a whole other category; but nothing a little online research can’t fix. As for pet’s diet: ask your vet and tell them your concerns. Don’t stress over it; do what’s best for your best friend.
So by now, you probably have a good idea of where I’m going with all of this. I have realized that, well, of course I’m still vegan, even if I don’t eat like a “normal” person. But you know what? The formula I ingest everyday is vegan! It’s specially formulated for people who are permanently on a G-tube! For people who care about the environment and animal by-products. People like me. I also like to dress up my meals a little bit, so my dinners doesn’t look like a hospital meal. And there are a lot of other protein drinks on the market I like to add into my daily formulas. It’s kind of fun, and I can enjoy having dinner at home with my husband now.
So yeah, cancer sucks, but it doesn’t stop me from being vegan. I’m still on my vegan journey, and I plan to be for the next thirty years. Or however much time I have.
Robyn Swanson, VLCE, has worked for a small vegan chocolate company, trained as a sommelier, and cooked in a macrobiotic kitchen. She is originally from Palm Springs, California, and currently resides in Berkeley, California, where she is recovering from cancer surgery. She maintains the blog Tofu Bunny and looks forward to getting her energy back.