In a crowded Aptos bistro, I am a nervous ball of energy by the time I locate Christina Grant, Ph.D., holistic healer and author of the recent book The Holistic Approach to Breast Cancer: Every Woman’s Guide to Health, Vitality & Wellbeing.

In truth, the topic we are about to confront horrifies me. I don’t like to spend a lot of time entertaining the reality that my breasts, which I kind of like, could kill me someday. Or the fact that the second most common form of cancer in American women is predicted to see 300,000 new cases and take 40,000 lives in 2014, according to the American Cancer Society.

But Grant, with her clairvoyant blue eyes and a best friend quality in her demeanor, politely waits for the small talk to dry up, and then forces me to think about it.

“The tumor supposedly was about one centimeter. They saw it on an ultrasound. This is the thing about mammograms, is that no mammogram worked on me. Because if you’re young and your breast tissue is dense, the mammograms are worthless,” she says, taking a sip of tea. I order a glass of wine.

Hoping it would go away on its own, Grant waited an entire year before she had the chickpea-sized mass biopsied. It grew. And then her worst fears were confirmed: the tumor was malignant, and it needed to be removed—the next week. Grant complied, then she refused all further treatments ordered by her prominent Monterey and Sonoma county doctors: radiation, tamoxifen and chemotherapy.

“What happens in our society is we give all our power away to the medical system, and then if it fails, well, that’s the medical system, the drugs didn’t work,” says Grant. “I’m a big advocate for taking responsibility for our own lives, our own bodies, and our own illness. But it’s not a popular way to think about ourselves in our culture.”

Indeed, the doctors were the first to tell Grant she was crazy; this was a matter of life and death. But she embarked on a regimen of self healing, researching cancer from every angle as she went—the importance of food and body movement, immunity, environmental toxins, emotions, mind and spirit.

“[The doctors] didn’t tell me ‘eat more broccoli,’ they didn’t tell me to stop eating sugar,” says Grant. “Everything that I found to do was through my own research or going to other holistic practitioners.”

Since breast cancer grows in the fatty and lymphatic tissues where toxins build, it made sense to start there. After examining the list of 216 common chemicals known to cause tumors in the mammary glands of mammals, Grant condemned two garbage bags of offending products she’d been slathering on her skin for decades. She had the metal fillings in her mouth removed (metal is often found in cancer tumors), began vitamin C injections and transformed her diet.

“Sugar is probably the first thing that I would tell anyone to get off of if they were just diagnosed with cancer,” says Grant. “Because cancer cells love sugar. It gives them energy to expand.”

Eight years after her diagnosis, Grant is cancer free. Her book is over 300 pages of solid research, concisely referencing dozens of cancer-related issues that were not readily offered at the doctor’s office. Like the adrenal glands, and their hormone-altering stress reaction, and how to detox the body of fungus. Or healing the body’s energy field, and the connection between emotions and disease.

“Cancer gave me the impetus to change my lifestyle,” says Grant. “It also brought out emotions of regret about the way that I had been living.” But while Grant’s personal and spiritual journey winds through the pages, it never actually takes over. Grant wanted her readers to pick and choose their own path.

My Italian grandmother died of breast cancer at the age of 39, shortly after being diagnosed, and it’s strange to say, but I really miss her. “She went around for years with a lump, before finally asking a pediatrician what it was,” my mother says. “Women weren’t taught what to look for, or to do self exams.”

Allowing Grant’s book into my nightly reading has been empowering. It’s also confirmed this: although we’ve come a long way since 1964, we still aren’t being taught everything; there is a lot we need to teach ourselves.