- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Like many high school seniors only weeks away from graduation this spring, Kimmie Dubinsky, 18, of Mechanicsville, was looking forward to the future.
That future included college, work and friends. But first there was summer and all the fun that lazy, hot days bring.
But she couldn’t shake a 100-degree fever. She thought it might be a urinary tract infection, and after some medical tests came back inconclusive, her doctor put her on some medication that sort of took care of the problem but not completely.
She was sure she wasn’t pregnant, though doctors asked, thinking that might be the issue.
Totally sure, she answered. Not pregnant.
There would have to be more tests.
An ultrasound showed something was off; it might be an ovarian cyst. So she was scheduled for an MRI.
In mid-June, while the family was in Williamsburg, Va., Kimmie’s mom, Page, got the phone call that would rattle the tight-knit family.
A cantaloupe-sized mass in Kimmie’s ovary was cancer.
“I was freaking out,” Page said.
But thinking back to her daughter’s suddenly rounded belly, symptoms like nausea and loss of appetite, learning that a tumor was to blame seemed obvious, Page said.
In July, Kimmie underwent surgery to have the tumor removed.
It was a juvenile granulosa cell tumor.
“It’s the best cancer to have,” Kimmie said. “If there is such a thing.”
The doctors discovered it early Kimmie was just going into Stage 2, but the cancer didn’t seem to have spread. Instead, thin spider web-like tissue “started to attach to things,” Kimmie explained.
She had to decide chemotherapy or no chemotherapy.
She already lost an ovary, and if she went the chemo route, she ran the risk of destroying the other one.
There was another option, she and Page learned the vegan, healthy-eating route. They had until September to figure out which way they would go; that’s when Kimmie would be scheduled for her first chemo appointment.
So, Page and her daughter started to research the vegan diet, which eliminates consuming meat and anything that uses animal byproducts like milk.
It would be a huge change in lifestyle.
“We were really bad off,” said Page, of the family’s eating habits. “We were your average busy American family. Lots of pizza, lots of McDonald’s … the Dollar Menu. It was quick and easy.”
“Even when we would cook at home, it was not necessarily healthy,” Kimmie said. “We ate a lot of boxed food, lots of processed stuff.”
If the Dubinsky family was going to go vegan, they’d all have to be on board including dad, Dave; sister, Katie, 15; and brothers, Zack, 13, and Sam, 6.
“It was not even a choice,” Kimmie said. “It was life or death.”
Page got her hands on “The Cancer Survivor Guide: Foods that help you fight back,” by Neal Barnard and Jennifer K. Reilly. She read it out loud during family car trips and the family started to come around, all with various levels of commitment.
Page and Katie were on board, the guys not so much.
“It took a good month for it to take off,” Page said. “There were a lot of wars. I totally had to retrain all six of us. But I am convinced that this is what we have to do.”
Not that they don’t cheat when Kimmie’s away.
When she accompanied her father on a work-related trip to Italy for two-and-a-half weeks, Page said she and the kids indulged in cheese pizzas and burgers, only to be felled by colds. Maybe it was their immune systems rebelling or maybe, the devout Christian family reasoned, God was telling them something.
The cancer diagnosis caused Kimmie to overhaul her life. Not only is she eating differently and better, she exercises every day, takes a regimen of vitamins and has her day from the hour she wakes up at 7:30 a.m. to when she’s in bed by 8:30 p.m. mapped out in a color-coded chart on her laptop.
Page said that the website Hallelujah Acres, founded by cancer survivor the Rev. George Malkmus, has helped them embrace the vegan diet and that Kimmie is currently on the recovery diet, which she’ll follow strictly for up to three months and keep to for a year and a half.
“The thought is, ‘You don’t get cancer overnight’,” Page said, “You don’t get healed overnight.”
Kimmie, who works at Chick-fil-A in La Plata, has taken a leave of absence from her job and school was put on hold until she feels up to it. She hopes to enroll at the College of Southern Maryland in the spring. She doesn’t know how being a vegan is going to play out at a popular food chain, but she’s going to try. It was her boss, John Flatley, who helped her plan a fundraising event scheduled for Nov. 19. When Kimmie was going to undergo hair-losing chemo the funds, they figured, would go toward buying her a wig.
Once the tumor was removed and her doctors gave her the green light to try the healthy eating route, Kimmie figured they would cancel the event. But friends urged her to keep the fundraiser going.
Money raised during the Nov. 19 event in White Plains will be split between Kimmie; Alex’s Lemonade Stand, an organization that raises money to support research into childhood cancer; the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition and Locks of Love.
Kimmie knows that her choice of adopting the vegan lifestyle as a way to help her recover from cancer is not for everyone. Some of the family’s friends have questioned it. But Page and her family will continue to follow it in their own ways.
Zack misses hamburgers. Dave argued that nachos are vegan because the chips are made of corn. Katie, however, has taken to the change, much like her mom and older sister.
“I like it,” Katie said. “I do feel a lot healthier.”
And, according to Kimmie, the best way to start eating healthier is to just do it.
“Don’t ease into it,” she said.
“You have to cold turkey it,” agreed Page, who said she gave away nearly $500 worth of food when clearing out their pantry. They make grocery runs to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s but there are just as many options at local markets.
And being vegan doesn’t eliminate choices; it just changes them a bit. For instance, ice cream is made with coconut milk, and while Kimmie must limit her intake of sugar, the family still indulges in dark chocolate.
Kimmie goes for checkups every three months and if the cancer doesn’t return in the next five years, she will be considered in the clear.
“I feel so healthy now, I just have to continue on,” she said. “The future looks bright.”