Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Self care is a choice

January 20, 2010

Caregivers of all types do better if they practice self care first. Society and religion teach us to think of others before we think of ourselves or we’re being selfish; to which I say “NO, this is not quite right”. Mums, Dads, sons, daughters, friends, family, and professional care givers, all need to take care of themselves before they can be successful at providing care for others. If people care for themselves, it means they value themselves enough to be their best, so they have more to give to others and to the world we live in.

There’s a big difference between self care and selfishness. Self care means taking care of our needs not our wants. Our basic needs include getting enough sleep, feeding our bodies well, being physically active, and managing our stress. Selfishness is shallow by comparison, and often results from the need to satisfy a large ego. Selfish people don’t care about anything that gets in their way, and my guess is they don’t truly love themselves, or they wouldn’t need to act as they do.

Self love is not about idolizing the way we look, or accumulating toys; it’s about who we are, our imperfections, our values, and how much we appreciate being alive. Even though we’re all on a separate journey we all have similar needs, and one of our most basic needs is to be loved. Many of us go through childhood feeling that no one loves us or that we’re not important, so we have to act in a way that hides the feelings of an unmet need. The only living human being we can count on to be there for us on a 24/7 basis is our own self; we need to be kind to that self.

Years ago when I was recovering from cancer I worked with a therapist for a few months. One day she told me she didn’t want to see me again until I could tell her I had done something nice for myself every day for a month. I was upset at first as I was depending on her to help me beat my cancer. However after some thought, I decided to take up the challenge and made a conscious effort to be kind to myself every day. I was amazed at how things changed after a month of being considerate to myself. I called the therapist to say I didn’t need to see her anymore as I felt so much better, and I knew I was on the road to recovery.

There are many aspects of self care and it takes work to adjust from being selfless to being able to love your self as much as you deserve to be loved; self care covers the mind, body, emotions, and spirit. At first it seemed like a daunting task to change and look after me before I looked after others, but once I got the hang of it, everything seemed to fall into place. I now know that if I want to do a good job of being there for myself and for others on a daily basis, the only way is to practice healthy self care.


Soy foods for breast cancer survivors

December 9, 2009

Many breast cancer survivors wonder about the connection between breast cancer and soy products, and whether soy is safe to eat once we have a diagnosis.

Soy is in many of the foods we eat whether we like it or not, and the quantity of soy consumed is an issue in itself. Another issue is the fact that soy is genetically modified.

So the jury is still out, but this article from the Globe and Mail provides you with Leslie Beck’s Food For Thought:

Breast cancer survivors shouldn’t shun soy foods

In the past several years, soy foods have been showing up regularly on grocery store shelves. And it’s not just tofu. Packages of soy nuts, burgers, drinks, cereals, yogurt and desserts as well as edamame have become mainstream grocery items.

At the same time, there’s been controversy about the use of soy, especially for breast cancer survivors. The concern is that isoflavones, compounds that occur naturally in soy, could increase the risk of the cancer returning.

But according to a study published in Wednesday’s issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, enjoying a soy latte or soy burger causes no harm – and can reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Foods made from soy beans are high in protein and contain isoflavones, phytochemicals that compete for the same place on breast cells that estrogen does. By acting like weak forms of the body’s own estrogen, some experts have worried that soy isoflavones could possibly promote cancer growth.

That’s because certain risk factors for breast cancer, such as beginning your menstrual period before age 12 or starting menopause after 55, are related to the length of time breast cells are exposed to the body’s own circulating estrogen. It’s thought that estrogen can promote the growth of breast cancer cells.

Women taking tamoxifen, a drug used to reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence, are often advised to avoid soy foods because soy isoflavones can bind to estrogen receptors on breast cells just like the medication does. The fear is that soy may reduce the effectiveness of tamoxifen. (Tamoxifen works by blocking estrogen in the body from attaching to estrogen receptors on breast cancer cells, slowing the growth of tumours and killing tumour cells.)

In the new study, the largest conducted to date on breast cancer survival, researchers examined the safety of soy food consumption among 5,042 breast cancer survivors, aged 20 to 75, in China. Women were recruited into the research effort – known as the Shanghai Breast Cancer Survival Study – six months after breast cancer diagnosis

After four years, women with the highest soy consumption – measured as soy protein intake – had a 29 per cent lower risk of death and were 32 per cent less likely to have breast cancer recur compared with women with the lowest intake.

The protective effect of soy was observed for women with either early or late stage breast cancer and in women with estrogen-receptor (ER) positive and ER negative breast cancer. (Doctors test breast cancer cells to determine whether they have hormone receptors. If breast cancer cells have estrogen receptors, the cancer is said to be ER positive. If they do not, it is called ER-negative.)

Soy food consumption was associated with improved survival regardless of tamoxifen use. Among women who consumed the most soy, both users and non users were 35 per cent less likely to have breast cancer recur.

Women who consumed the most soy and did not take tamoxifen had a lower risk of cancer recurrence and death than tamoxifen users with low soy intakes. This suggests that high soy intake and tamoxifen use may have a comparable effect on breast cancer survival.

A daily intake of 11 grams of soy protein offered the most benefit, an amount found in about 11/2 cups of soy beverage, one soy burger, 1/2 cup of edamame (young green soy beans) or 1/2 cup of tofu. Higher intakes did not offer greater protection.

Only one previous study has explored soy intake and the risk of breast cancer recurrence. The Life After Cancer Epidemiology (LACE) study, published in November, followed 1,954 northern California early stage breast cancer survivors for six years and found that postmenopausal women with a high soy isoflavone intake – compared with none – had a lower risk of their cancer returning.

Findings from the LACE study also revealed that among postmenopausal women treated with tamoxifen, those who consumed the most soy were 60 per cent less likely to have their breast cancer recur compared with women with the lowest intakes.

Soy foods may protect from breast cancer in a number of ways. Isoflavones may decrease circulating estrogen levels and increase its removal from the body. Soy also contains folate, calcium, fibre, protein and many phytochemicals that, individually or together, may help combat cancer.

While it appears that moderate soy consumption is probably safe for breast cancer patients and survivors, keep in mind these findings are confined to soy foods, not soy supplements.

In fact, research suggests the effects of soy foods and supplements differ. In one study, soy milk reduced circulating estrogen levels but isoflavone supplements had no effect. And we don’t have data on the long-term safety of these supplements.

In addition to adding soy to your diet, the following strategies may also help reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Soy protein in foods The study published in today’s Journal of the American Medical Association found that consuming 11 grams of soy protein per day reduced the risk of breast cancer recurrence and death. Higher intakes did not confer extra protection. Soy beans, canned, ½ cup 14 grams Edamame, ½ cup 11 grams Soy nuts, roasted, unsalted, ¼ cup 11 grams Soy beverage, unflavoured, 1 cup 8 -9 grams Soy yogurt, 1 cup 5 grams Soy nut butter, 2 tbsp. 7 grams Tofu, firm, ½ cup (125 g) 20 grams Tofu, regular, ½ cup (125 g) 10 grams Soy ground round, 1/3 cup 10 grams Soy burger, 1 patty (14 g) 14 grams Soy hot dog, 1 (46 g) 10 grams Soy frozen dessert, ¾ cup 1 grams

Eat more vegetables and fruit

Strive for at least seven servings a day. Studies suggest that cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower) and leafy greens are especially protective from breast cancer.

Reduce fat

Research suggests it’s prudent to reduce your intake of dietary fat, particularly if you’ve been diagnosed with ER-negative breast cancer. Choose lean meats, poultry breast, legumes and non-fat dairy products. Use high-fat spreads and salad dressings sparingly.

Control your weight

Breast cancer survivors who are overweight or obese are more likely to have cancer recur compared with leaner survivors. Women are advised to keep their body mass index (BMI) in the range of 21 to 23 and limit weight gain and increases in waist circumference.

Be active

Moderate to vigorous exercise has been shown to improve breast cancer survival; the evidence is strongest for women with ER-positive tumours and those diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. Regular exercise helps reduce breast cancer recurrence by preventing weight gain and reducing levels of circulating hormones.

Breast cancer survivors are advised to get at least 150 minutes (21/2 hours) a week of moderate intensity exercise (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise (running, elliptical trainer, cardio machines).

Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV’s Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is

Cancer treatment decisions

November 11, 2009

One of the toughest decisions that people with cancer have to face is whether or not to take drug or other treatments such as surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. The amount of information and misinformation takes a lot of work to sort through and be able to make a conscious decision. It’s a daunting task for even the most seasoned researchers, and unfortunately many people get lost in the shuffle due to overwhelm and confusion.

People with cancer and their loved ones can research the internet, read books, and hear stories from others which may be helpful or not. Some people have good advice from doctors and they’re comfortable with what they hear so it’s easier to proceed. I’ve heard a number of people say they are not comfortable with their doctor’s recommendations, and would like to do things differently, but they’re afraid to make the wrong decision when their life is in the balance.

When coping with cancer in 1987, I took advantage of everything I was offered except one treatment that my gut instinct told me to refuse. Fortunately for me, when I asked my doctors, they told me the results would give me a 50/50 chance of improving my outcome so it wasn’t too big a risk. It can be much more difficult decision when people are given higher percentages on the benefits of a certain treatment.

There are always personal factors which enter in to the decisions people face with cancer treatment. I remember the fear I had when making decisions in case I chose something which would create side effects I couldn’t live with, or chose not to take something which was supposed to make me well. I didn’t want to do anything which would increase my risk of recurrence.

I will always be grateful to my health care team for guiding me and supporting me to make my own decisions. I believe that whatever treatment we take has to feel right for us as an individual.

For example, it’s common to feel some fear and concern when starting a course of chemotherapy. The important thing is to take a look at the risks and benefits and to work with your head and your heart to get to the point where you’re reasonably sure you’re making the right decision for you. This way you will get maximum benefit from the treatment.

If something is screaming at you to take another direction, then you need to pay attention and explore other options until you find something you can tolerate. The mind body connection will guide you to the right place if you allow it to take place.

My health care team encouraged me to use visualization and guided imagery to engage the mind-body connection; this helped me to make decisions, promote healing, and get my thoughts working for me rather than against me. These new ideas added to the steep learning curve of living with cancer; however, I’m convinced my recovery was a combination of Western medicine and complementary therapies which is now referred to as integrated medicine.

It’s not an easy task to overcome cancer. It takes energy and effort to pull in all the tools and skills we can gather so the decisions we make will help us on the road to recovery. People can tell us what they think, but we are our own best experts and the decisions we make are ours alone.

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.


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.

Depression Increases Cancer Patients’ Risk of Dying

September 16, 2009

Depression Increases Cancer Patients’ Risk of Dying – this is the title of an article on the American Cancer Society website by David Sampson, Director, Medical & Scientific Communications. It relates to a study by Jillian Satin, MA, of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, and her colleagues who analyzed all of the studies to date they could identify related to the topic.
Jillian Satin says: “We found an increased risk of death in patients who report more depressive symptoms than others and also in patients who have been diagnosed with a depressive disorder compared to patients who have not.”
The article goes on to say: “The investigators note that the actual risk of death associated with depression in cancer patients is still small, so patients should not feel that they must maintain a positive attitude to beat their disease. Nevertheless, the study indicates that it is important for physicians to regularly screen cancer patients for depression and to provide appropriate treatments.”
As a cancer survivor with a history of undiagnosed depression, I know how important it was for me to be treated for depression when I was going through chemotherapy and thought my life was over. Fortunately I was able to work through depression and negative thinking with the help of a psychiatrist at UBC. She offered me drugs which I refused, and instead I opted for a course in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). Along with other tools, I was able to turn my life around and regain my health. I still have bouts of depression from time to time, but they are short lived compared to the bouts I had before CBT.

I know people with cancer who say they don’t believe in positive thinking, and health care providers who say patients should not have to “think positive”. I agree that pretending to be positive when you’re feeling stressed or depressed is not a wise thing to do. However, I believe I would have died long ago if I hadn’t managed to convert my negative thinking and depression into positive thinking and hope, so that I would live to see my children grow up.

The key is to do the work to get rid of negative thoughts and depression. CBT has been proven to be an effective way to control depression, but it takes a willingness to work on it and requires an element of support, as it is very difficult to do this alone.

I know how hard it is to be in the depths of depression; I’ve been there, with thoughts of being so miserable I wanted my life to end. Usually what happened to break that cycle was for me to find something else to focus on, and force myself to put time and effort into getting busy with that. Gradually I could feel myself in a bit of an upward spiral and with sheer determination I would climb up out of the deep, dark, pit where I had previously seen myself trapped. It was helpful to find something to work towards and to think about besides the bottom of that pit.

When I hear people say “I don’t believe in positive thinking” it makes me cringe, because I would not want to go back to that state where I was such a negative thinker. My life has improved 100% since I learned to see things in a different light and focus on positive thoughts every day.

I ask the question “What do you want more of in your life?” If the answer is love, peace, and joy, then I encourage people to do what it takes to reach out for those things which bring happiness.

Cancer is a cruel disease, but it can also teach us some valuable lessons. My experience has taught me to live one day at a time, and to pay attention to the good things in life. I have many positive emotions which feel so much better than the negative emotions I used to spend time with. Now when those negative emotions appear, I am able to process them and let them go, so they can be replaced with love, compassion, and forgiveness for me as well as for others.

Yoga program helps people with cancer

September 8, 2009

Yoga Thrive is a program designed to help people recover from cancer; participants are “calmer, more limber and stronger than before” says writer Hayley Mick in the Globe and Mail recently. Yoga Thrive instructors are specially trained with regard to cancer and will modify stretches to accommodate people who have had surgery, etc.

Exercise is good for people recovering from cancer, even in the early stages of treatment as long as they’re careful not to overdo it. Yoga will provide the added benefit of the mind-body connection so that people are more in tune with listening to the body if it is saying “No”. Gentle yoga exercise includes deep breathing to promote relaxation, which is a valuable tool in cancer recovery.

Hopefully the Yoga program will produce a similar effect to the dragon boat movement started in 1996 in Vancouver, BC by Dr. Don MacKenzie and a team of energetic breast cancer survivors. Abreast in a Boat (AIAB) was created to show that it’s still possible to exercise after breast cancer surgery. It has been a huge success and women all over the world find enrichment in their lives because of it. Dragon boating provides people with physical exercise, a support group, camaraderie, entertainment, travel, a purpose in life, and much more.

It’s no wonder that recurrence of cancer is reduced when people get together to exercise. Physical exercise alone reduces recurrence; add to that the interaction of people in a similar situation, and the emotional, psychosocial, and spiritual benefits increase as well. I hope the Yoga program catches on and that more people will benefit from learning to control cancer and raise their quality of life.

Cancer does not have to be a death sentence. Just ask the members of Abreast in a Boat and they will tell you their lives have been enriched following a diagnosis of cancer. If it is diagnosed early enough, cancer can be a wake up call and provide an opportunity to make the most of each day.