Note from Jane: This is a remarkable story. The original is quite a bit longer, so I’ve published an abbreviated version here. If you prefer, you can read the long version.
By: Kevin Tunstall
My journey to a plant-based diet began soon after my diagnosis with prostate cancer. However, to begin fully, I should probably start earlier. My grandmother passed away from cancer, after being terrified of the big ‘C’ from youth. My mother passed away from lung cancer; then a few years later, my wife’s only sister developed breast cancer. She ended up having a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy and radiation.
I had been called as bishop of a very busy ward in New Zealand. One of my first challenges was dealing with a single sister with two teenage children who had breast cancer, but refused to get treatment or let me tell anyone. The week my sister-in-law finished her radiation treatment, our 15-year-old daughter developed what was thought to be a form of leukemia. We were devastated. It was a harrowing time but through a ward fast and miracles, her life was spared.
In December 2008, a close friend, who was more like an older brother, was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. His PSA reading was 300 (4 or below is considered normal). I thought prostate cancer was an older man’s disease, but he was in his late 50’s—at the time I was 43 years old.
One day the following April (2009), as I was driving past our local chapel, the Spirit whispered to me, “Get a PSA test.” Because it was such a strong prompting, I didn’t delay. Our GP [general practitioner] is a neighbor, friend, and LDS. On arriving at his office, I suddenly felt very silly asking for a PSA test, but I plucked up the courage to tell him why I was there. When he heard I had no symptoms, he told me, “You don’t even start getting tested until you are 50. You are too young.” But I felt a strong prompting to push for the test and almost demanded one. He replied, “If it makes you sleep better tonight, have a test, but I can guarantee you will be fine.”
To make a long story short, I wasn’t fine. Many tests later, I had a confirmed diagnosis of prostate cancer. The first person I called was my wife, who was upset, but we discussed that things would be okay, and that I needed to tell our children that night. So at Family Home Evening I had to sit the four children down to explain that I had cancer.
I spent the next day trying to think my way through the situation, but the more I thought the more confused I became. That night I ended up at the New Zealand Temple, where I pled with the Lord, “I have a family who has been through so much, Father. I have a ward that needs me, and a job that I’m finding a challenge.” Suddenly, I remembered my patriarchal blessing, which promised me two gifts (1) the ability to solve my own problems and (2) the gift of discernment to choose wisely. I said to the Lord, “I have these gifts. I need to use them. PLEASE help me.”
I stared down at my lap, and the scriptures I was holding opened to Section 89. My heart started racing, like it does when you feel the prompting to bear your testimony, and I felt compelled to read the passage. I immediately had two thoughts: (1) this could be a coincidence . . . after all, I knew everything there was about the Word of Wisdom (I had even taught a fireside on it!); or (2) it was the Lord trying to tell me something. I chose there and then to believe the Lord wanted me to read this. I felt He was telling me, “This is an answer to the problem. Read it and you can solve it.” I read the verses in front of me. When I came to verse 13, my heart started racing: “And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used”! At this stage I was a meat eater. I loved ice cream and ate a typical Western diet. I weighed around 95 kg (209 lbs), which at 179 cm (5’10”) seemed to be okay. However I instantly felt the answer I was seeking was somehow related to food. Could food cause cancer?
I went home that night and jumped on the Internet and soon started to find page after page (“hidden treasures”) that associated increased animal protein intake with cancer. I was pretty gobsmacked! Could this be true? I was VERY skeptical and kept trying to find evidence to the contrary. Yes, there was conflicting evidence, but it was also accompanied by further evidence of animal protein causing not just cancer but heart disease too. I absolutely didn’t want to believe it, but the next day I cut down a little on the meat I was eating.
At my next appointment with the specialist I asked him outright, “Could my cancer be related to food?” The specialist was a very good man, who I liked, but he said, “No, not at all, eat what you like.”
I came away feeling very confused but decided the prompting I had received was just too strong to ignore, so that day I cut almost all animal protein out of my diet. My wife was upset, as were our children. I immediately started losing weight. People in the ward were worried. They thought my weight loss was due to the cancer, when in fact it was the diet.
Because it was not easy, I was ready to give up on my new diet. Then one morning I woke up and something was different. I felt “high.” I felt clear. It hit me: I’d had a really good night’s sleep as my nose was not blocked at all. My nose had been consistently blocked from around age 17—around the same time I started my first job, had full access to dairy, and soon developed a taste for it. My healing continued . . . a few weeks later a painful shoulder condition which had plagued me for years suddenly disappeared. On the day of my surgery in September I was amazed to find I had lost around 22 kg (48.5 lbs) in a few months.
But after a four-to-five-hour major surgery, I just wanted my life to be like it was before, so I had a chicken sandwich! So, the “absolutely no meat-eating phase” didn’t last, but despite this I still couldn’t deny the promptings I had received. For the next few months I struggled on a mostly plant-based diet, ignoring the Internet, as I was just so confused and conflicted with all of the information available. I did however feel really well for the most part, and my energy levels increased dramatically. My family members were unhappy with me and were encouraging me to eat more meat.
One weekend, while on a hike, someone mentioned that he’d heard I was a wannabe vegan. I explained how I was feeling and that the information on the Internet was confusing and contradictory. He said I should read two books. One of them was called The China Study. I parked the information in the back of my mind. That week, in an attempt to find more support for a vegetarian diet, I went to a Seventh-day Adventist recipe class. That first night the presenter said we should all read a very important book: The China Study. Once again, I thought it was strange, but just parked it away in my mind.
A couple of months later, in April 2010, my job took me to Omaha, Nebraska for ten days. While I was there, my diet well and truly slipped. The first night there was a gift basket left on my bed, with chocolate and chips. The company café offered meat galore. I went to an employee’s home for dinner and had a piece of rare steak. I just wanted to feel “normal.” Why couldn’t I eat meat? Underneath it all I still felt that the promptings I’d had were right, but I was struggling to reconcile them with the life I wanted.
On the day I flew back to New Zealand, I was at the LA airport where I ended up walking into a small bookshop and instantly remembered the book that had been mentioned. A small Hispanic lady was putting books away when I asked her if she had heard of The China Study. She literally squealed and explained she’d just had a copy in her hand. Then, without moving, she turned and pulled a copy off the shelf behind her. I took it as another sign and bought it!
I found a quiet place and bowed my head in prayer. I told Heavenly Father I had bought a book and asked if I could have wisdom to discern the truth out of it. Then, as I read, I felt that the puzzle pieces of information stored in my brain were like a Rubik’s Cube that had just come together! I was engrossed. I felt, and still feel, the book contained truth. It was one of the many “hidden treasures” I would subsequently find. At that point my whole attitude changed, and I went totally plant-based.
My energy and clarity increased dramatically, and my reasons for going plant-based changed too. Suddenly I was eating plant-based, not only for my health, but for other sentient beings—as well as the environment. Within two months of my reading The China Study, my wife, who had been very skeptical, also read it. She became plant-based and experienced even greater health benefits than I.
I have changed so much over the past three plus years. My perspective has changed. I love life. I meditate, do Bikram yoga, and run barefoot (previously I couldn’t run due to knee pain). I have even started a blog. My wife has joined me on this journey, which has been awesome—we’ve even held classes together at church meetings about this topic.
It hasn’t always been easy and most days we face questions from people—some who are genuinely curious and some who just want to rubbish a plant-based diet. We just keep on going. With the health benefits we’ve experienced, we don’t need to listen to any other perspectives—we just trust the spirit. Now, more and more people who had initially been skeptical are asking questions, with several starting the transition to a plant-based diet.
Yes, of course illness could strike again, but now our lives are all about quality, not quantity. I want to feel how I feel now. I feel so alive. I feel great. This is how I think everyone should feel and how Heavenly Father wants each of us to feel.
I believe in the blessings of the Word of Wisdom—we are still uncovering treasures of hidden knowledge, and I’m certainly running without being weary . . . in fact I’m training for my first half marathon!
Kevin Tunstall, 48, lives in Hamilton, New Zealand. He is married to Gaylynn, and they have four children, three daughters and one son. Kevin works in the finance industry. Apart from taking a keen interest in nutrition, Kevin also enjoys Bikram yoga and barefoot running.