Archive for October, 2009

Optimism and Quality of Life

October 27, 2009

Positive thinking seems to be in the news a lot lately thanks to the new book by Barbara Ehrenreich called Bright Sided; I haven’t read this book, but I’ve read articles about it and heard the author interviewed on the radio. Although there were times after my diagnosis of cancer in 1986 when I had similar thoughts to the author, I’m happy to say that I’m long past that mode of thinking. I believe I would not have been cancer free for the last 22 years if I continued to think along those lines.

I agree with one of Ms. Ehrenreich’s statements which is that “artificial positive thinking” doesn’t work. In order to think positive, we need to let go of negative thinking and BE positive. I spent many years with depression and negative thinking, so it wasn’t easy for me to make that switch. After cancer I spent time with a psychiatrist, and did a course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to help me change my unrealistic, destructive thoughts to those which are constructive and life giving. I will always be grateful to my support team for helping me to stick with it when the going got tough.

I know people who mean well when they say “Think positive” to someone facing a life threatening illness, but it’s unreasonable to expect people to smile when they’re feeling down. It doesn’t make sense to pretend that cancer and cancer treatment are positive experiences when we’re feeling miserable and facing an uncertain future; I had a huge range of negative thoughts and emotions when I was going through surgery and chemotherapy. I now know this is a normal reaction, but at the time I felt alone with my fears.

It’s important to recognize and respect the way people handle their individual journey and support them in the best way we can. When I faced my mortality I put myself in a pine box; it was the people around me who helped me to get out of it as I didn’t have the energy at the time. With help I learned to take one day at a time and with baby steps I gradually regained the strength I needed to turn my life around.

It helped me to live in the moment, to find something positive every day, no matter how small, to be able to look beyond cancer treatment, and see something to live for. My family and friends helped me a great deal as I learned to think about me and my purpose in life.

I know my life has improved as a result of the valuable work I’ve done to become more optimistic and resilient. Some people may choose to resist positive thinking but I’m happy that I changed; my quality of life is so much better.


Genes vs. environment

October 26, 2009

Here are some excerpts from an article about nature vs. nurture written by Andre Picard in the Globe and Mail today:
“Your genes do not – except in rare cases – condemn you to heart disease, or protect you from its ravages.
Rather, the environment you live in, your lifestyle choices and the treatments you take can override genetic predispositions, one of the country’s top researchers says.
‘Environment often trumps genetics,’ Robert Hegele, director of the cardiovascular genetics laboratory at the Robarts Research Institute in London, Ont., said yesterday.
……He said about 5 per cent of people are ‘exquisitely susceptible’ to heart disease because they have a genetic mutation.
At the other end of the scale are people who do seemingly everything wrong – smoke, drink, eat badly, remain inactive – and live well into their 90s in seeming good health. He pointed to former British prime minister Winston Churchill as a poster boy for this group.
However, Dr. Hegele said, the other 90 per cent of the population ‘fall somewhere else on the bell curve’ and they have a lot more control over their heart health than they realize.
…… ‘While genetic testing is increasingly providing valuable information, clinicians and patients themselves already have the tools to act,’ he said. ‘No matter what all the high-tech stuff reveals, the answers are still simple for most people.
Those simple things include classic lifestyle choices, such as not smoking, eating a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Not-quite-so-simple matters like a person’s income, education, housing status and physical environment matter too,’ Dr. Hegele said.”
In other words, if your ancestors all died of heart disease, it could be the gene that was transferred down the line, but the disease could also have been caused by the lifestyle choices and attitudes that were learned from parents and other family members.
I think it’s important to take a look at the choices we’re making so we’re not just doing things because they’ve always been that way. These choices form our environment to a certain extent for good or bad and it takes awareness to change them if they need improvement.
Listen to your gut when making decisions as the issues are complex and you have to do what’s right for you.


October 13, 2009

Talking about survivorship is a good thing – it means not everyone is dying from cancer; talking about survivorship allows us to talk about how people are living.

Survivorship issues depend a lot on what stage the cancer is at when it’s discovered. In 1987 I felt as if my body had given itself up to cancer, and I had to figure out a whole new way to live; I was convinced I would die if I didn’t change the “soup” or the “terrain” of my body.

Unfortunately we all know people who appear to do everything right and still die of cancer; there are no easy answers and there is no single answer. Cancer works in mysterious ways and it’s no wonder there’s so much fear surrounding the big “C”. I believe this fear is a huge part of the problem. When I was living in fear, I felt helpless and hopeless; the emotional roller coaster flung me around on a 24/7 basis, and my brain was too paralyzed to make sense of what was happening.

My health didn’t improve until I allowed other people to help me focus on the present moment. I began to accept the idea that the past was over, nothing could be changed, and not to think about the future because it was too scary. Focusing on the present day seemed to be all that I could cope with, but that felt good once I got used to it.

Working on one day at a time, my health became my number one priority and the fear of cancer diminished. My survivorship skills have kept me well, and those single days have added up to 22 years post cancer now.

I believe there must be a way to beat cancer; we can each do our part if we put good health high on our list of priorities. We can make smart choices about nutrition, exercise, sleep, and stress management which will help us to reach our best possible state of wellness.

If we all stand up to cancer we can win!

Cancer prevention is a reality

October 7, 2009

The Go Public cancer forum in Ottawa had many high powered, interesting speakers; most of them talked about the prevention of cancer as well as cancer control.

I’ve attended many cancer conferences, and I’ve never heard so much talk about cancer prevention. The figures are amazing; in general they range from 30% to 50%, with someone saying that 95% of cancer is preventable.

Why are so many people dying if we know that cancer can be prevented? Cancer rates are rising not falling – if we continue as we are, then 1 in 2 males and 1 in 3 females will have cancer by 2050. Today most people know someone who has cancer and we are all affected by this; imagine what it will be like when the rates are so much higher. Our thinking has to change if we’re serious about preventing cancer and reducing cancer deaths by half in the next generation.

It’s amazing we haven’t figured this out yet with all the money that goes in to research, but I know the fact that we’re human beings is a big part of the problem. For example, we all know about the foods that are bad for us; but as Dr. Andrew Weil said on the Larry King show, people eat what’s cheap and accessible. It’s easy to expect the health care system to fix the problems we bring on ourselves by over eating bad chemicals in food, and being a nation of people who love the taste of fats, oils, salt and sugar.

Changing habits can be difficult if we’re not committed. I know – I faced my mortality in 1987 with breast, colon and skin cancer. I would be dead by now if I hadn’t made a commitment to get well, and worked hard at improving my diet, exercise, relaxation, and stress levels.

I think one key factor is that I had a coach to help me. I wanted to change, but I didn’t believe I could do it, and I know many people who struggle with the same issue. If people are serious about wanting to change, and they partner with a coach, either a professional or a friend, they can achieve so much more than they can achieve alone.

Preventing cancer involves making healthy choices for what we eat, how we exercise, how long we sleep, and how well we manage our stress levels. These are the main factors, but many other issues are involved. I believe it’s important to let go of what gets in the way of us living a healthy life; the past is over and cannot be undone. We can all start now – right here – right now and go forward to a healthy future where we love ourselves enough to take good care of the mind, body and spirit we were blessed with when we were born.

Take action now so that you and your loved ones will not be surprised with a diagnosis of cancer. Start from here to go forward and find your own way to build a healthy life. The time to act is now!

Support the CBCF Run for the Cure

October 3, 2009

I have been a CBCF volunteer and a fan for many years because I think the CBCF provides people with the energy to take action and do whatever it takes to overcome breast cancer.
I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer in 1986 & skin and colon cancer in 1987. I had the 3 strikes and you’re out mentality, and I felt my life was over.
Fortunately I had great support from family, friends and my health care team; I also had a supportive husband who coached me to regain my health.
I made many lifestyle changes:
I replaced all the junk and high fat foods with fruits, and vegetables etc. I ask myself “Is this good for my health?” before making food choices.
I make sure I walk every day; having a dog helps to get me out the door.
I practice deep breathing, deep relaxation, and good sleeping habits.
I manage my stress levels and work through negative emotions, so each day I can feel positive and hopeful for the future.
One day at a time I have managed to be cancer free for 22 years and I appreciate life so much more than before my diagnosis. I hope that people who have not had cancer can learn from those of us who have, and make healthy lifestyle choices so they will stay well.
Authorities are now saying that 30% to 50% of cancer can be prevented; add to that the 25% of cancers that can be cured if they are detected early, and we can really have an impact on reducing this disease if we choose to live well.

Can stress cause cancer?

October 1, 2009

These are some excerpts from an article by Carly Weeks in the Globe and Mail paper today:
“Can stress cause cancer, or even hasten a patient’s death? It’s a daunting, emotionally charged question with no simple answers, but it represents a growing field of research that scientists hope could eventually lead to breakthroughs in cancer treatment.
The premise driving the theory is that stress has been found to weaken the body’s immune response and cause some physiological changes, such as the secretion of certain hormones, that could contribute to the development of cancer.
Traditionally, much of the study in this field has focused on the effects of stress on the immune system.
But now, attention is shifting to the relationship between stress and gene function, an area many scientists believe is the key to unravelling this mystery.”
… “led by Suzanne Conzen, associate professor of medicine in the Ben May Department for Cancer Research at the University of Chicago” , the researchers studied the stress levels of mice living in groups as they normally do, or alone which creates a stressful situation for them.
“The study provides some of the strongest evidence to date that an individual’s stress level may be linked to the progression of cancer. But the quest to understand why – and, perhaps more importantly, how those factors might be used to help prevent or treat cancer – is still in its infancy.”
“This is an area that has a long way to go in terms of understanding how these factors play out in humans,” said Caryn Lerman, a professor of psychiatry and scientific director of the Abramson Cancer Center at the University of Pennsylvania.”
“Stress doesn’t give you cancer, but it is a risk factor like genetic differences, like environmental carcinogens,” said David Spiegel, associate chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. “There are a whole bunch of risk factors. Not everybody that smokes tobacco gets lung cancer.”

This is a comment about my personal experience which I posted after the article on the Globe and Mail website:
I’m convinced that stress increases the growth of cancer cells, so I’m very pleased to see research being done in this area. What this theory allows people to do is to manage their stress levels so they give the body a fighting chance to overcome cancer. If stress is using up much of the resources in the body, then the normal process which controls the growth of cancer is compromised, and the cancer takes over.
I learned about the link between stress and cancer from books and some health professionals when I was going through chemo in 1987.
At first I blamed myself for having cancer, which didn’t feel very good at all. Then after a course in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, I had an Aha moment. I thought that if my high stress levels had fuelled my cancer to grow, I could possibly reduce the growth of cancer by lowering my stress level.
I figured I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. By managing my stress, I hoped to live long enough to see my children grow up, and I’ve managed to be cancer free since 1987.
It’s a simple idea but not an easy one and required much work on my part to change my stress levels, as well as building in a healthy diet, exercise, and good sleep patterns.
I have to say that every day is a blessing and my appreciation of life is so much greater than before my cancer diagnosis when I took my health for granted.