Hi, I’m Denise. I am a church founder and president, a wife, a mother to 3 girls, a ‘respectable member of the community(!)’ and I’ve been alcohol-free for 18 months now.

I’m blessed to have been living in South-West France for the past 15 years. Blessed to have not one, but three vineyards in our tiny village of 1500 people. I’m also blessed to receive numerous ‘apero’ invitations from the ‘vignerons’ in that village, courtesy of our children having gone to school alongside theirs for many years now.

Yes, blissfully blessed, or so I thought, until another ‘C’ came alongside the chilled white wine and the charcuterie that are constants at every apero occasion.

That additional ‘C’ was cancer.

I had never considered myself a ‘drinker’ until cancer came to call. It took a grade 3 breast cancer diagnosis in October 2017 to shock me into addressing my relationship with alcohol. The diagnosis changed it forever.

I realised just how many weekly units I was consuming. Alcohol is an intrinsic part of the lifestyle here. The only time I’ve ever seen anyone drunk, however is at the annual ‘Fete des Vins’ and they’re always the tourists.

Alcohol is simply part of the culture.

From your teenage years onwards it is totally acceptable to have a glass of wine at apero time (6-8pm). It’s totally acceptable to have a glass of wine with lunch (12-2pm), or with supper (8pm). Numerous festivals add to this cultural norm.

Cancer forced me to analyse my diet and lifestyle for the first time in my life. I ‘looked’ healthy; dress size 8, 51kg, good skin, fit. Inside I was far from that. There’d been ‘warning signs’ over the years that I’d not connected the dots with; pain in my left clavicle (inches above the tumour site) and a recent root canal (funnily enough (or not) also inches above the tumour site).

I believe the ‘trigger’ that crashed my immune system and allowed the cancer to take hold however, was the sudden death of my mother and it’s emotional fall-out. My grown children leaving home, one involved in what could or should have been a fatal car crash, my 18-year-old leaving for missionary work in Albania for several months, not prioritising self-care and too much alcohol was a toxic mix, resulting in a 5.5cm tumour in my left breast.

Radical news meant radical change.

Two weeks after the initial diagnosis I was handed a book by a lady at our church. I read it in its entirety that very afternoon and made a pact with the lender that nothing detrimental to my healing would pass my lips until I was cancer free. I cut sugar, dairy, meat, processed foods and all alcohol from my diet and added vitamins, supplements, juices and bucket-loads of vegetables, nuts and healthy oils to it.

Eighteen months post diagnosis and I’m healed, whole and cancer – and alcohol – free. The mastectomy prognosis was reversed, as was my regular drinking habit.

Now that’s worth a toast. Green tea anyone?


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