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Being vegan and medicine

You might remember the sad news I featured on my blog a short while ago about my friend, Indira.

Indira is one of the most compassionate people I have had the pleasure of meeting and I was deeply saddened to learn she had been diagnosed with secondary breast cancer of the liver.

You can read my original post here.

Indira reached out to me this week to ask if I would allow her to post a piece of writing she has compiled on the emotional struggle of being a dedicated vegan faced with medication which has undoubtedly been tested on animals.

Here are Indira’s thoughts:

I was eight years old when I first became a vegetarian.

My science book which had a picture of an egg and how it developed into a little baby chick was the first thing I vividly recall as being one of my reasons for becoming vegetarian. That coupled with the understanding that I was potentially eating someone’s mummy, daddy, brother or sister.

Fast forward another twenty two years and I had never “slipped up” on being vegetarian.

I was committed to my reasons for becoming vegetarian not just with food but also by not supporting leather or wool industries. One of my favourite foods at the time was cheese. I loved cheese so much I often had three courses of cheese and a separate shelf in my fridge for the various types of cheeses.

Then one day I came across an article by BBC Food which had quite an eye catching title along the lines of how vegetarians should be held responsible for the veal industry. I did not waste a minute delving into that online article and recall being truly shocked and disgusted at how the diary industry operated.

That was the first day of my vegan journey. That was nearly nine years ago and I have, once again, been 100% committed to being vegan.

That is, up until now.

In April this year, I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer whilst 28 weeks pregnant with my precious little baby boy. I was very very poorly and in a lot of pain. I was in and out of hospital for months and lost 20kg in weight. Everyone was very concerned at the prognosis.

Despite losing the weight, I refused to give up my vegan diet. Although initially I was in a lot of pain and was too poorly to think straight, as the disease was becoming more controlled, I became conscious of all the drugs and medicines I was taking to do nothing other than prolong my life.

As a vegan, I read labels in everything before it comes anywhere near my mouth. I didn’t do that with the drugs. Instead, I took everything that was given to me with very little questions asked about what was in it and whether it was suitable for vegans. I read the medicine packaging recently and noted there is lactose in several of the tablets I take. I had to undergo chemotherapy too. I am pretty certain these drugs have been tested on animals as their toxicity is so high.

Yet, despite this knowledge, I continue to take these medicines as I am scared to die.

I have two children, a daughter aged three and a son aged 6 months. Every time I think of leaving them I am overcome with heartbreak so I am fighting to stay alive and the only way I know is to take these medications which clearly are not designed for vegans.

Does that make me a bad vegan?

Veganism was something I embraced as a way of life. I did it purely for compassionate reasons and the health benefits it bought were a positive side effect. Yet, despite a 9 year vegan lifestyle, I am now overcome with guilt but what other viable option is available for me?

Perhaps with the support of charities such as Dr. Hawden Trust which look to eliminate animals in laboratory research and general diet-based intolerances which tend to influence health policy, there will someday be medications more openly suitable for vegans.

I remain optimistic.

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You can leave your thoughtful and considered opinions, plus messages of support for Indira and her family, below.

You can support the crucial work of Dr. Hadwen Trust by visiting their website.


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Written by fatgayvegan

12 Comments
  1. I had to leave a comment after reading Indira’s story, because it very closely mirrors my own situation. I was vegetarian through primary breast cancer, then went vegan firstly in the hope of remaining clear of the disease (then for animal welfare reasons), unfortunately it has spread and I am going through chemotherapy in the hope of giving me more time with my partner and three year old daughter.

    I completely understand what Indira says about being overcome with heartbreak at the thought of leaving her children, so she accepts the treatment knowing it will likely have been tested on animals. I feel the same way. I really hope that others reading this will be compassionate and try to understand the situation.

    In an ideal world we wouldn’t be forced to accept treatments that compromise our moral beliefs. Hopefully organisations like the Dr Hadwen Trust can help this to become a reality in the future.

    Indira I wish you all the best for your ongoing treatment and love to you and your beautiful family.

    Anna
    Edinburgh

  2. There are hardcore vegans who will say she should die for the cause. It’s the same scenario as being stranded adrift on the ocean – stop being vegan and catch fish or die. I’m a compassionate vegan, I show compassion because I can, not because I subscribe to a theory of animal rights. In this case Indira has no choice and I support her decision to take the drugs.

  3. You are one brave lady and this certainly does not make you a bad vegan!! We can only take each day as it comes and do our best to create a more ethical and sustainable planet. Some things are completely out of our control. Have you considered an alkaline diet? There is a guy called Dr Young based in America who believes in healing your body by eating alkaline food. Ross bridgeford also has a website called energise for life in the UK. I’m not suggesting that you discontinue treatment but maybe look into other methods that could support you body in the best possible way while you are going through treatment. Sending love and positivity to you and your family x

  4. Bless you Indira – asking the question at such a difficult time shows the vegan ethos runs deep!

    At present our health care may not be very vegan friendly, but every day we’re all working so hard to make veganism the norm. So many battles to fight on this, and every day victories are won!

    Take the drugs, get well, and continue to helping to make the world a more positive and peaceful place. xx

  5. (hugs to Indira)

    There is no need to feel guilty. You are using the available evidence based medicine to support your health. It is not an unvegan act to take this medication. Please continue to take the medication offered for as long as it is of benefit.

    My opinion is to take medication and try to get them to give me the versions that have the fewest animal ingredients. In the meantime also write to the companies to request they make them without lactose or without gelatine. With my own medication (without which I’d die in a fairly undignified fashion and with which I should live to my eighties) one of the pills I take every day contains lactose and the manufacturer only makes it that way (or as an IV solution but that’s a little extreme). I continue to request they change but when generics are available it’ll change then. As for the rest of the things I take I opt for generics where possible. Generics tend to be produced in the simplest way and there’s often a choice of capsules, difefrent types of tablet, and liquid solutions. I stills get the flu jab every year even though it contains egg and when I was given tramadol I took it.

    Some would argue I’m putting my comfort ahead of that of animals. I would argue that the manufacturers have taken that decision away from me. When a person is in hospital dealing with severe renal colic they will take whatever is thrown at them to stop the pain. In the moment my kidneys gave up I gave up and if I’d anything to hand to put myself down right then and there I would have. Thankfully I was in hospital and the sudden banshee note caused some lovely nurses to come running and shoot painkillers down my throat and into my arm. Was I thinking “I hope they don’t give me something that contains animal products”? Nope. I was just hoping the pain would stop. While I’m obviously not in that kind of pain now (I wouldn’t be able to type if I was), I care that animal products are used and that drugs are tested on anials. I promote alternatives to animal testing and write to the manufacturers and the CCGs who purchase the medication. But nothing is going to stop me taking the medication I need nor feel guilty for doing it.

    I hope the medication helps you and you can enjoy life as much as possible.

  6. It is obvioud to me that Indira is a genuine and compassionate person. She has taken every measure within her capacity to ensure that the welfare of animals, the planet and the people living on it is at its optimal level. I commend her on her selflessness, and my heart goes out to her and her family.

    It is unfortunate that many types of medication, as of now, contain animal derived ingredients, especially since many of these are ‘filler’ ingredients to pack out the medicine. I hope that more vegan alternatives are made in the future. However, I do not believe that, when faced with a decision such as the heartbreaking one above, that taking medicine with non-vegan ingredients makes you ‘less’ of a vegan. It is not her intent to consume these products, and it’s purely at fault of the manufacturer.

    I’ll be sending lots of love and well wishes her way.

    • I agree wholeheartedly with you. Any animal would do would it needs to to survive. It’s normal and natural. Refusing to take the medication would aid no one. Being in the world she can spread the message against hideous animal cruelty. The day with come when science and morality meet. Love to all of you. And Indra.

  7. Hi Indira

    My friend and I were having this very same conversation on Saturday night, particularly with regards to whether vegans should accept medication that was developed using animal testing.

    It seems to me that human history is made up of innovation, genius and brilliance, but these good things often seem to be inextricably linked with exploitation and suffering. Roman slaves built our roads, our wealth was boosted by plundering other people’s lands and our ancestors suffered and died during the Industrial Revolution. It’s an imperfect world, and I think it would be pretty impossible not to benefit from past exploitation in some form. Even filling up your car with petrol might mean benefitting from illegal wars waged overseas.

    Why therefore should vegans in particular not benefit from scientific progress? It happens that the drugs have been tested on animals, but they were also the result of human innovation, which is our birth right. Who is to say that science wouldn’t be further advanced if scientists hadn’t relied on animal tests? The drugs are here now, along with scientific knowledge that we can’t unlearn. Even if all animal testing stopped tomorrow, we still might as well take the medication when we need to. The best we can do is avoid taking medication for trivial reasons, fund alternatives, and put ourselves forward for trials when we can.

    Love and best wishes to you and your family x

  8. Veganism is about doing your best for the animals, something you have clearly always done. If we lived in a vegan world, it would be different but we don’t, sadly. Sometimes we all must make choices that seem to run contrary to our ethics, but this is about survival and I don’t think it makes you a bad vegan at all, it just makes you human. Any vegan who says they would refuse the drugs or do something different in your position is lying. We all want to live and you have no control over what goes into medication or who it is tested on. I hope you don’t feel guilty. You shouldn’t. You are worth far more to the people around you and to veganism alive, and to make that happen you need those drugs. You are up against a uniquely difficult set of circumstances and my thoughts are with you. I remember when FGV first broke the news of your diagnosis and I have often wondered how you are doing. Glad to see you are still smiling and still fighting.

  9. We must be the best vegans that we can practicably be in this imperfect world, and that is exactly what you are. You are still vegan, you are still saving animals you are still living compassionately. Keep on fighting, we can’t afford to lose you Vegan. Cat xxx

  10. Indra I think you are brave and beautiful.
    Look out for The Truth About Cancer it’s an amazing 9 part series on how thousands upon thousands of people have overcome cancer. With alternatives. See if you can find it. The animals love you because they would do whatever they could to survive -its natural and your kiddies need you . The animals know you love them

    ..

  11. I’d say not eating animals since you were 8 yrs old is amazing. I am now in my 15 th year. I don’t have children but I have a fur family that I love and would do anything to stay with them too. You have saved many animal lives and should be very proud of that.

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