Healthy Eating: An ovarian cancer survivor’s quest for balance

Deborah Binder Formal PortraitWe are nearing the end of September and for me that means the end of Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The world is about to get a lot pinker in October. For those of us on the TEAL journey, it is challenging to have everything “pinkified” all the time. Women get “below of the belt” cancers that are largely ignored (and unfortunately misdiagnosed until late stages).

As you know, I am a six-year ovarian cancer survivor (which means I am beating the odds.) I was also diagnosed with the BRCA1+ gene mutation, which gives me a high probability of getting breast cancer. So please understand that pink is important to me. In fact, breast cancer research helped me decide to get a prophylactic mastectomy — a tough decision to make. But spreading the word about TEAL is more important because the statistics stink: 25 percent of us live beyond five years, 22,000 are diagnosed every year in the U.S. and 16,000 die. It’s sobering and scary.

Healthy eating has been a major part of my healing journey. Although, I have to say that I was a healthy eater B.C. (before cancer). I was vegetarian for almost 20 years. I tried to be a vegan, too, but failed. I also went to culinary school, which means I had to cook a lot of foods that I normally would not choose to eat. I am an adventurous eater. I don’t prescribe to “shoulds” these days in the culinary world, simply because I received the “life is short” message far too often. Nevertheless, I am a healthy eater. I shop the outer aisles of the grocery store, make most things from scratch, don’t eat process foods much and enjoy the pleasure of food when I am eating.

Keep Calm I'm An Ovarian Cancer SurvivorI would say that moderation is the key for me. No foods are forbidden, but I do limit how much of certain foods I eat. Sugar is not taboo. Dairy has its place. Gluten is not an issue. Judge me if you want, but I choose a path that brings me peace, nourishment and pleasure. Moderation with everything, including moderation. Does this mean that I am a perfect eater? No. Did you hear me? No. I crave the perfect chocolate chip cookie or a nice piece of dark chocolate. I try not to eat “junk,” but even with that statement some people will tell me that ANY ccc (choc chip cookie) is junk. I do not share that view. I go for quality not quantity. Ask me what my favorite food is and I would be inclined to tell you that it is ice cream. Shocking. Yet, I devour fresh vegetables from my garden (nothing beats a homegrown carrot) and cook healthy “wholesome” meals every day.

My Little Free Library, decorated for OVCA Awareness.
My Little Free Library, decorated for OVCA Awareness.

I have become an advocate for balance. I exercise, meditate and follow my passions. Lately, I have become a big advocate for Ovarian Cancer Awareness. I even decorated my Little Free Library with teal ribbon. I am about to launch a non-profit called the Seattle Ovarian Cancer Network to help newly diagnosed women and survivors in the Puget Sound Region. I am a leader for a program called Survivors Teaching Students which makes presentations at Bastyr and UW to teach medical and nursing students about what it is like to be an Ovarian Cancer patient and survivor.

I don’t have a special recipe this month. But I do have something that may help save another woman’s life. Share this with your spouse, your sister, your daughter, your neighbor or a friend. Just get the word out so we can improve the statistics. If you need more information feel free to reach out to me or check out

Here are the SYMPTOMS for ovarian cancer. Please see your doctor if they persist more than 12 times during the course of one month and the symptoms are new or unusual for you.

    • Bloating
    • Pelvic or abdominal pain
    • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
    • Urinary urgency or frequency

Additional symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation and menstrual irregularities. These symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are found as often in women who do not have the disease. When in doubt talk to your doctor. If necessary, ask for a CA-125 and a transvaginal ultrasound.

Now get out there and start enjoying all those healthy autumn vegetables. Next time I’ll have a recipe using some of them.

— By Deborah Binder

Deborah Binder lives in South Snohomish County with her family. She is “dancing with N.E.D.” (no evidence of disease) after being diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer in 2009. She is a foodie who loves to cook from scratch and share here experiments with her family. She attended culinary school on the East Coast and currently chef assists at PCC Cooks and NuCulinary Cooking School. Her current interest in food is learning to eat for health and wellness, while at the same time enjoying the pleasures of the table. As Julia Child once said, “Everything in moderation including butter.” Deborah can be contacted at

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