This is my true story, nothing altered. These are facts as they relate to my experience, my opinions based on what I have read and felt. I am relating them to warn other young health-conscious women who are unwittingly harming themselves and so that what I went through and what I am going through has some purpose. It would make what I have gone through worth something and not in vain.
In 1989 I graduated from high school in a small town in Texas and couldn’t wait to hit the big college city so I could begin to live my own life. One of the changes I wanted to make was to eat healthier. My family wasn’t big on tofu, yoghurt or fruits. I also didn’t want to gain the freshman 15. Once I moved to health-conscious Austin, Texas with its parks, hike and bike trails, and health food stores, I began to fortify my body with the best and healthiest foods I could find. Tofu was the main ingredient in every healthy dish and I bought soy milk almost every day because it was better than milk. I used it for everything from cereal to smoothies or just to drink for a quick snack. I bought soy muffins, miso soup with tofu, soybeans, soybean sprouts, etc. All the literature in all the health and fitness magazines said that soy protected you against everything from heart disease to breast cancer. It was the magical isoflavones, it was the estrogen-like hormones that all worked to help you stay young and healthy
But I wasn’t that healthy. I looked great, I was working out all the time, but my menstrual cycle was off. At 20 I started taking birth control pills to regulate my menstrual cycle. One brand would work for a few months but then I would become irregular again. The doctors kept switching the brands and assuring me that I’d find the one that would work. In addition to this I began to suffer from painful periods. I began to get puffy–not fat, I wasn’t gaining weight, just getting rounder. It was as though I was losing my muscle tone. I wasn’t looking as good as I had before, despite all my exercising. I began to suffer from fits of depression and get hot flashes. I mistook all this for PMS since my periods were irregular. I had no way of knowing when I was going to begin my period.
Now, I had started using soy when I was 19. The onset of these problems quickly began at 20. By the time I was 25 my periods were so bad I couldn’t walk. The birth control pills never made them regular or less painful so I decided to stop taking them. I went on like this for another two years until I realized my pain wasn’t normal. In 1998, when I was 27 years old, my gynecologist found two cysts in my uterus. Both were the size of tennis balls. I was scared to death! I went through surgery to have them removed and thank God they were benign. The gynecologist told me to go back on birth control pills. I didn’t. In 1998 he discovered a lump in my breast. Again I went through surgery and again it was benign.
It was in November, 2000 that my glands swelled up and my gums became inflamed. Thinking I had a tooth infection I went to the dentist who told me that my teeth were not the problem. After a dose of antibiotics the swelling still did not go down. At this point I could feel a tiny nodule on the right side of my neck. No one else could feel it. I told my mother I had thyroid trouble. This was based only on a hunch. She, along with others in my family, said I was being silly. No one in the family suffered from thyroid trouble. What’s a thyroid?” was what my friends would say.
Going on a hunch I saw a specialist who diagnosed me with Papillary Thyroid Carcinoma. After a series of tests he told me it was cancer. My fiance and I sat stunned. I was dreading another operation but so far every lump had been benign. We were not prepared and I was so scared. We scheduled surgery right away. The specialist told us that it would only be after the operation that a pathologist would be able to tell us for sure if it was cancer. They found a tumor on my right lobe composed of irregular cells and another smaller tumor growing on the left, so the entire thyroid was removed. No harm was done to my vocal chords, no harm to my parathyroids but I now had an ugly scar and would be dependent on thyroid hormones the rest of my life. They told me that after undergoing radioactive iodine I would be safe and assured me that I could live a long life.
After treatment I began to search for the cause of all these problems. An x-ray I had done at age 8 was under suspicion, as was stress–everything got blamed on stress, genes, maybe that time I tried to smoke a cigarette (I was never a smoker but tried once), maybe that summer when I was 25 and began to drink vodka and try mixed drinks ( I was never one for alcohol but wanted to know what the hype was about). I began to look for esoteric reasons like not being spiritual enough. I never once thought it could be all the soy I had consumed for nearly ten years. After all, soy is healthy. I never drank soft drinks, and even when I was under excruciating pain, never took aspirin or headache medications. Maybe it was birth control pills.
I came upon a web page that linked thyroid problems to soy intake and the conspiracy of soy marketed as a health food when in fact it is only a toxic by-product of the vegetable oil industry. This was insane, I thought. After all, the health and fitness magazines had said nothing about soy being harmful. I visited an herbalist who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1985. She informed me that soy was the culprit. She was a health-conscious individual who in her twenties fortified her diet with soy. A few years after that she had to have a hysterectomy due to cysts and other uterine problems. A few months later another acquaintance who had consumed soy came down with thyroid cancer. She was 27. A girl in England I met through the internet in a thyroid cancer forum had just undergone surgery and she was only 19. What was going on???? The research said that thyroid cancer was more common in older women, age 50 or older. It was said to be genetic or the result of nuclear fallout like in Chernobyl.
Today I found out that yet another acquaintance–another health-conscious individual–just found out she has thyroid cancer and she is 29. I got on the internet and found breast cancer linked to the radioactive iodine given during treatment. This didn’t seem true. As fearful as I am of anything nuclear, the treatment has been given for over 150 years. Breast cancer is linked to estrogen. What mimics estrogen in the female body? SOY! I am not a scientist nor a doctor but I know my body. I knew that there were changes going on and I did search for clues as to why, but I never suspected soy because until now I never once found a single article that stated soy could be dangerous. Evening primrose oil I heard taken in large amounts, vitamin A, C and E can make tumors grow if taken in large dosages, MSG, even tuna is harmful but never once SOY. Women who took soy prior to thyroid problems will continue to take it after if they are not aware of what soy actually does, what it contains and how it reacts in the female body. I think this is the reason that women with thyroid cancer often develop breast cancer later.
Now it all makes sense. If you trace the problems I have had, they are all related to hormones. Taking birth control pills I believe only added more hormones to my body that I didn’t need. I believe it was the fruit, no smoking, no drinking, exercise and veggies that kept my first surgeries benign. I wasn’t as lucky the last time.
My co-worker is big into soy and I see her losing hair and gaining weight despite a walking workout during her break and after work, and apples and oranges for lunch. She just had cysts removed from her uterus too. I warn her to stay off the soy. I refer her to websites but until it is on the evening news on all four networks, women will suffer. I say what I can but at the Christmas potluck every dish contained soy in one form or another. It’s now the staple of the new American diet–eat right, eat for health, eat to ward off cancer, AND IT’S SOY!
Back in 1994 I did have my thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) checked, again on a hunch. I was suffering from lethargic days, fits of depression, feeling off, and mild digestive problems. My TSH was a 6. A good physician, taking into account my symptoms, would have explored this. We are not always blessed with good physicians. Many don’t know what a thyroid gland is, what it does or even where it is, and they miss important signs.
By the way, today I have normal periods even though I am not on birth control pills and even though I have had to change my dosage of thyroid hormone since the thyroidectomy. I do not touch soy, haven’t for two years.
Dear readers, please use my story in any way you can. There are so many young girls who are consuming soy because they think they are taking care of themselves, and women taking soy because they want to be healthy. It is so unfair that the information about the dangers of soy isn’t more widely circulated. It is sad. Health is wealth and until 1998 no matter how badly things went–car breaking down, bills, bad dates–I felt comforted in that I had my health. There are many out there who feel this way and it is a terrible blow when you realize you are not as healthy as you thought and that the information that you depended on was wrong.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Spring 2002.