After my diagnosis, I want to give something back

Nikki Bednall was treated for breast cancer in 2017. She now helps to share our healthy eating messages so more people can reduce their risk of cancer

I'm Nikki and, as well as working as an analyst in the higher education sector, I help spread the message on healthy eating.

World Cancer Research Fund offer free, evidence-based advice and following it may be one of the most important decisions you make.

It's very important to try and be as proactive as possible about disease to avoid it in the first place. A cancer diagnosis is very traumatic and I wouldn’t wish anyone to have to go through what I've been through. 

I want to make sure that I'm doing everything I possibly can to reduce my risk of disease recurrence. My motto is: “Look after your body like you have nowhere else to live" because you don’t; that’s the harsh reality.

Turning to Twitter

I first discovered WCRF on Twitter while I was researching nutrition and cancer online, and I thought “Wow, this is really helpful: a charity dedicated to researching nutrition and cancer.”

I started out looking at WCRF's online tools such as the Cancer Health Check and interactive cancer risk matrix. This was useful as it could be filtered for my cancer type to show known risk factors. I downloaded a copy of WCRF’s Eat well during cancer booklet during my cancer treatment and purchased a copy of its latest global cancer prevention report. I also discovered lots of other useful information on a healthy lifestyle and eating such as WCRF’s Cancer Prevention Recommendations and healthy snack substitutes

After a cancer diagnosis, your confidence in what you ought to eat and avoid becomes very confused and you feel a sense of urgency to ‘get it right’. Following WCRF information helped me to gain clarity, because its findings are evidence-based. I feel healthy and more energetic as a result of the changes I've made, and I'm grateful to WCRF for the useful information they provide. 

From evidence to understanding

It was also thanks to following WCRF on Twitter that I discovered their course on nutrition and cancer at Wageningen University. I enrolled and thoroughly enjoyed it; it significantly increased my knowledge of the relationship between nutrition and disease, and I went on to study a second course in nutrition and type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Regardless of cancer risk, eating unhealthy food still increases the risk of these diseases – I now appreciate the importance of body mass index/weight, exercise and avoiding processed foods.

Following my diagnosis, I want to give something back. I have the skills to talk to people and help them make fully informed choices for themselves, understanding the risks. It's important to have a strong evidence base for what you are saying. The nutrition and cancer course helped me to understand more about the science behind what I'm advocating – if I'm saying “eat more tomatoes” then of course people are going to ask “why?” It’s about getting under the bonnet of cancer prevention and risk reduction. 

I'm also taking part in a breast cancer-related clinical trial, and working with the University of Nottingham Breast Cancer Research Centre, where I advocate for patient care and for cancer research and prevention, as well as early detection and appropriate treatment. So often people only become interested in diet after a diagnosis, but even where organisations aren’t centrally involved with cancer prevention research or funding, I think we can help increase public awareness, even if it's just directing people to WCRF’s website. 

Advocating for awareness

I want to continue studying nutrition and stay actively involved with WCRF as an advocate. I promote WCRF materials both in person and on social media to raise awareness of lifestyle and disease risk.  

If you're looking for ways to try and reduce your risk of disease recurrence I think it's wise to pay attention to the research. Through the research WCRF fund, there's an opportunity for everyone to learn and make informed choices about their lifestyle. This gives us all the chance to make the best decisions to take control of our health.

I know from experience that we take our health so much for granted, but without it we have nothing. WCRF offer free, evidence-based advice and following it may be one of the most important decisions you make in your life.