Living her best life: Abby Match
Abby Match was always on the go. That was how a disciplined person like her, a former figure skater who had trained hours every day, thought life should be. She had a career as a speech therapist in early intervention, a loving husband, an energetic five-year-old daughter, and a lovable Cava Poo puppy. Abby made healthy life choices and felt that she planned wholesome meals. Nevertheless, she had numerous health problems: irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), frequent kidney stones, constant exhaustion, and more. She had so many issues, she worried people thought she was a hypochondriac.
When she began having pain in her left breast, Abby thought she felt a lump. She went to her OB-GYN who ordered an ultrasound and a mammogram, but when the tests indicated unremarkable results due to dense, fibrous breast tissue, her doctor advised her to continue her self-exams. Abby concluded the lump was likely a cyst. She was no stranger to those. Months passed. Then, one morning, she awoke in her bed to find the lump was so large she could grab it. Twenty-four hours later, she knew she had cancer. Abby was diagnosed with stage 2b triple-negative breast cancer in 2020.
After her diagnosis, Abby learned she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation despite being the first in her family to have breast cancer. She underwent chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and breast reconstruction surgery and radiation, and in the interim, discovered functional medicine’s approach to food, supplements, exercise, and other holistic practices, such as meditation. She says, “I told people during treatment — and I continue to tell people today — that I have never felt healthier in my skin. Combining traditional medicine with functional medicine has proven to be beneficial and is something I will continue to do now and forever.”
Abby spoke with Adriana Lecuona, LBBC’s digital content producer, about the changes to her diet and daily routine that ushered in her best and healthiest life.
Adriana: Why did you decide to investigate functional medicine and change your diet during treatment?
Abby: When you’re given a treatment plan, it’s 100 percent important to follow it: chemo, radiation, all of that. But what about the other areas of your health? For me, I wanted to consider how to treat the root causes of, not just cancer, but disease, knowing how out of whack my body had been before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had always had health issues. I knew I had to address the underlying issues of my whole being.
Food became my medicine. I found that food plus exercise plus meditation gave me control back after my diagnosis. I had control of my life when everything felt out of control.
Adriana: How so?
Abby: I could control the food I would nourish my body with. I could control the exercise I was doing. I could control the thoughts in my head, and I could control my breathing. Incorporating that into my life gave me back what I lost with cancer. Breast cancer is scary and confusing and awful and complicated, no matter your subtype. Although there are medications to take after breast cancer treatment to reduce risk of recurrence, there are not for people like me who have triple- negative breast cancer. Food, exercise, and rituals are my maintenance medicine. There’s some peace to that.
Adriana: What nutritional changes did you make?
Abby: I began a plant-based diet after chemotherapy. I began to make sure that I get my greens every day and eat lots of fruits and other vegetables. If I can’t eat my greens, I have a powder that I mix with my water, so I get my daily green intake every day. I’ve learned what foods reduce inflammation in the body. Mushrooms are a staple in my salads, and I cook with shitake mushrooms. I make a lot of smoothies or lattes with adaptogens. I had never heard of Brazil nuts before, but now I eat two a day after I checked with my oncologist, who I should mention is also an integrative medicine doctor. I ran everything by him related to supplements and I valued his input tremendously then and still do to date.
Adriana: What changes did you experience when you changed your diet?
Abby: When I look back at myself in 2019, there were so many red flags that my body was out of whack. I was always sluggish, lethargic, and inflamed. I had red, oily skin, cystic acne. I had IBS and PCOS. I was constantly perspiring. My body was so out of balance, but I thought that was normal – I was a tired mom working full time.
By the time I began radiation, my body had never felt better! I had the clearest skin, the easiest stomach, zero pain, zero bathroom issues, no body odor – not even the foggy brain that you hear about. I felt as if an immense weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt like I was in the skin I was supposed to be in.
Adriana: What other rituals and activities did you incorporate into your daily routine?
Abby: Exercise became an even bigger part of my daily routine. Movement is so important – researchers are even finding out that moving while having chemo makes it more effective. In the mornings, I stretch and think about my day and how grateful I am to be alive, feeling every little piece of me. I also meditate and do mantras and affirmations. Before cancer, I never used to take a bath, but, now, I now take baths with Epsom salts for the magnesium in them which helps eliminate toxins in your body. Above all, one of the biggest changes is that I look for balance. I try to be flexible now. Some days I’m more flexible than other days.
Adriana: What else have you learned since your diagnosis?
Abby: I’ve learned how to prioritize in my life. Though I always prioritized my family, I was a workaholic, and I was always on the go, go, go. I’ve learned how to set boundaries, whether it’s a toxic product or a toxic person. It’s created a better me, and I know what I need to be the most comfortable I can be in my own skin.
Adriana: What advice would you give someone newly diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer?
Abby: Be active in your own care. If you want to learn about functional medicine, there are free podcasts and blogs. Do what’s right for you and take the time to feel how you need to feel. When I was first diagnosed, all I could see was my family and friends without me. Then the day that I walked into the chemo infusion station was one of the best days of my life, because I knew it was the start of getting healthy. Right after surgery, though, I was crying for days because I could really think about the trauma I’d been through. Life after cancer is confusing. There’s no clear path. My way [of] dealing with it is giving back. I volunteer like a mad woman! It fills my heart to volunteer and fundraise, because so many people were so kind to me. I combined my new love of fundraising with my love of crafting when I created “Beading Cancer Together” last March, and so far, with the bracelets I make, I’ve raised a total of $17,000. I’m grateful to be living my best, my healthiest, my most balanced life, and I hope everyone who gets diagnosed with breast cancer may have the same opportunity to thrive.
Abby Match is a triple- negative breast cancer thriver who was diagnosed at the age of 35. She lives outside of Philadelphia with her husband, Seth, and their seven-year-old daughter, Yael. Abby is a passionate person, but one piece of her passion is sharing her story so others can advocate for themselves and take control of their health. You can check out her bracelets at: beadingcancertogether. Her personal page is abbymatch where she shares her journey.