Your car, your new laptop, your refrigerator: Just about everything we own comes with operating instructions. Everything, that is, except for the human body. Now, Dr. Kristi Funk has written an owner’s manual for a part of a woman’s anatomy—and those operating instructions can benefit the rest of the body.

Funk is the breast cancer surgeon whose patients Angelina Jolie and Sheryl Crow have been very public about their cancer-related decisions and treatment, and she’s become a go-to breast authority on shows such as “The Doctors” and “Good Morning America.” Funk is co-founder of the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Beverly Hills as well as founding ambassador of the Pink Lotus Foundation, serving underinsured and low-income patients.

As a breast health expert and surgeon who has helped thousands of patients, Funk says she would much prefer to see far fewer women on the operating table. That’s the impetus behind her new book, “Breasts: The Owner’s Manual” (Thomas Nelson, 2018).

After two decades of surgical practice and the insights that come from that experience, Funk is familiar with our discomfort talking about a subject we don’t understand well. She deliberately wrote the book for readers as if “[we] are girlfriends chit-chatting over coffee and I just happen to know a whole heck of a lot about breasts.” Despite her breezy tone, her sense of responsibility and the urgency of her message are clear: “You are my [patient] for the rest of my life. This book, this mission, this message is not going away.”

She observes, “You can find experiential books out there which are fabulous. You can find a few teaching books, but most start at the point when you’ve already been diagnosed.” Instead, she starts at the beginning, explaining what’s happening from puberty through pregnancy and aging, with recommendations for prevention, risk reduction and health so that “you hopefully never end up with a biopsy that tells you that you have malignancy.”

Separating fact from fiction

With “Breasts: The Owner’s Manual,” Funk aims to fill in the gaps in information available, long-held assumptions and dated or confusing advice. She quickly dispels myths (many women still believe the majority of breast cancer is genetically determined) and then gets down to healthy habits for prevention, with an emphasis on dietary changes.

Funk cites extensive research pointing to the benefits of a plant-based diet. If you think she’s always eaten this way, you should know that she and her husband, entrepreneur and elite athlete Andy Funk, as well as their triplets (three active 8-year-old boys) went vegan as she was writing the book. She explains, “When I dove into chapter three, ‘Eat This,’ I went to the scientific literature to prove what I’d been preaching for years: Eat a low-fat, high fiber diet, with tons of fruits and vegetables—preferably organic—and lean meats like chicken, turkey, fish.”

But Funk found the literature was not at all conclusive—and was persuaded by evidence in favor of a plant-based diet. Since she decided to change her own and her family’s diet to a plant-based one, Funk can relate to the challenge. Instead of denial or sacrifice, she says, “We’re going to make a new tradition, this way.”

Funk also takes the task of converting 21 meals in a week and breaks it down systematically—including room for adjustment. She starts with breakfast: “That’s pretty easy…. You can do steel-cut oatmeal and berries, or some whole-wheat pancakes. Complex, healthy carbs are in. But let’s be realistic. You’re not going to do it seven days. Let’s say you do it five days.”

That leaves 16 meals. For some lunches or dinners, Funk stacks grains, protein and veggies. Her protein choices include seitan, tempeh, tofu or soybeans, edamame, beans, peas or nuts. Then, substitutions help with other meals. The Funk family’s burrito bar got a makeover with soy crumbles and nut- or soy-based cheeses.

By Funk’s math, that might leave 10 meals to convert. “Americans eat out four or five times a week. Start picking healthier restaurants. If you feel super-adventurous, go to a whole-food, plant-based restaurant. You start to learn from the restaurants [about new ingredient and flavor combinations].”

Those last five meals? Funk says, “Give yourself a break. Just go back to the way you were.” She includes tips and recipes such as her special morning smoothie, shopping and planning guides in the book, too.

Making treatment a choice and not a sacrifice

Funk’s path from a psychology major to her present-day practice came with an epiphany in a study session for a neurobiology exam. She dismissed the idea of becoming a medical doctor, until a missionary trip to Kenya that summer brought fresh insight. She says, “I was seeing firsthand how people are robbed of what matters most in life besides love and family—their health. If the vessel that carries you around all day is ill, it consumes you and it consumes your joy.”

Funk entered her junior year at Stanford with a full slate of pre-med courses, and later, “fell in love with surgery.” She completed her breast surgery fellowship at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, where she stayed on as a director at its breast center. But she and her husband saw a need for a center that seamlessly combined state-of-the-art technology and cutting-edge surgical technique with compassionate, holistic care—in an environment that felt safe and comfortable for patients.

They launched the Pink Lotus Breast Center in 2009—during the economic downturn and Funk’s pregnancy (with the triplets). She credits the business’s eventual success—and her family’s perseverance—to her faith and her husband. Today, they also operate the Pink Lotus Foundation, which provides 100 percent free care to low-income, uninsured and underinsured women. Funk says, “Billions of dollars go to finding that elusive cure—and I’m so glad people are researching it. But women are dying today because when they find a lump, they have to choose [pursuing treatment] or groceries and gas.”

Funk knows that unfortunately, many women “pick the family” over their health “and they’re going to hope that this lump goes away.”

Healthy habits come full circle

Reading about lifestyle changes can lead to reaction or inaction, and Funk understands that. But we’re not doomed by a lifetime of choices that turn out to be not-so-healthy. She emphasizes the benefits of lifestyle changes after diagnosis and treatment and cites several studies to highlight the value of these changes and provide a sense of hope even for people with extreme, chronic conditions such as obesity.

Chapters on diagnosis, treatment and well-informed decision making are practical and empathetic. Funk brings additional research to bear on her recommendations for exercise and mindset practices as factors in cancer prevention and importantly, life after treatment. She says, “It all comes full circle. All of the things that you could have done, through diet and nutrition and understanding how to best optimize your life in terms of obesity, hormone replacement therapy, stress, environmental toxicities—all of these things, they’re under your control.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Dr. Kristi Funk