The Power of Lifestyle: Travis’ Story

Travis Tuttle, as told to Rania Dempsey, MD, MS | September 17, 2021
Travis is a dear friend whose story is worth telling, and he gave me permission to share it here. If you know someone who has faced a similar journey, or you just want to let Travis know how inspiring he really is, share in the comments below.

Travis was just 36 years old when he heard words he’d never imagined he would hear: You have cancer.

He had seen blood in his stool and thought it was probably a hemorrhoid, but his primary care provider recommended a colonoscopy to be safe. Travis would eventually learn that he had colorectal cancer that had spread through the wall of his colon and was infiltrating the surrounding lymph nodes. It was stage III B, and he remembers being told that the likelihood he would be alive and cancer free in 5 years was about 50%.

Married with two young kids, Travis says his world was turned upside down. “I thought I was healthy,” he remembers. “I was exercising regularly. I was in good shape. I thought I was eating well…getting lots of protein, having casein protein shakes all the time.”

Travis had been a standout basketball player for the University of North Dakota and still holds several all-time school records, including most 3-point shots made in a game, a season, and a career. He was a beloved math teacher and basketball coach at Nicolet High School. He had no family history of colon cancer and wasn’t a smoker.

He could have gotten angry or given up. But instead Travis decided to learn as much as he possibly could about beating cancer. While he was undergoing surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, directed by Dr. Kirk Ludwig and the Colorectal Cancer team at Froedtert & Medical College, Travis also sought out Lifestyle Medicine approaches to fight his cancer.

“The first book I read was The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell,” Travis says, “and it had a huge impact. I went plant-based, stopped eating processed foods, completely eliminated sugar, starting adding in tons of vegetables and fruits. I feel that nutrition is what saved my life.”

Travis also learned lots more about self-care. In addition to the regular exercise he’d always gotten, he began practicing meditation, visualization, focusing on restful sleep, and seeking connection with other like-minded and positive people who supported him in his journey and his new lifestyle.

The path was extremely difficult and some days were very dark. There were times when Travis felt discouraged or exhausted. “But every time I drank a healthy green smoothie, or got on the exercise bike, even if I was going super slow, I felt like I was arming myself with tools to fight off the cancer,” he explains.

This year Travis celebrated being 11 years cancer free. He is healthy and active, and his total cholesterol, which was previously 230, dropped to under 150 without any of the lipid-lowering medications he’d previously been told he needed. His HDL (“good” cholesterol) is more than 70. With a new outlook on life gained during his cancer journey, Travis found the courage to pursue his lifelong dream in real estate, and is now a lake and luxury real estate professional with RE/MAX, as well as a full time investor.

He is willing to share his story because he believes the lifestyle changes he made are why he’s here today. “If I can impact or inspire one person who’s in a position like I was, I want to help,” says Travis. “Nutrition does matter. Lifestyle matters.”