When I got a cancer diagnosis at the age of 23 everything happened so quickly I had little time to think. Two years on, a lot of researching, learning and experimenting later, there are things I wish I knew before. I’d love to share 15 of them with you in this post.
Every day healthy people produce several hundred initial rouge cancer and pre-cancer cells. The immune system detects these cells and stops them in their tracks. What then happens if these cells aren’t spotted and they multiply? Getting a cancer diagnosis can be a confusing and overwhelming time. From diagnosis to hearing your treatment plan everything happens very quickly. I felt like life was out of my control, becoming a time of waiting and heavy decision making. I lost confidence in my health and had to learn a new dictionary of medical terms. Then, when it came to treatments, there was a lot of contradictory information. With over 200 different types of cancer (SOURCE) each cancer case is as different as the individuals it affects. A number of unique factors may have caused the disease for each person. Cancer is certainly not something we can ever prepare for. There’s no rulebook, but knowing there are things you can do to help yourself by taking an active role in your health and finding a focus is important. We can take charge of how we move, what we eat, what we drink and how we think.
If you do get ill and don’t know where to begin, getting back to basics with your health is a good start. Try to cut unnecessary toxins out of your life, particularly stress, diet and household. Up your levels of nutrients, think about your mindset; be kind to yourself, nourish your body and your immune system. In the UK we have the worst cancer survival rates in Western Europe (SOURCE). Many doctors discourage self-empowerment and advise patients make no lifestyle changes. Late diagnosis’ and this advice can lead to real problems.
Cancer affects us all differently and everyone has his or her own way of dealing with it, neither is right or wrong. While there is lots running through your head it can be hard to think straight. This list isn’t to overwhelm you, instead it’s an overview of some of the different areas out there. Importantly, you can’t do everything at once. Try to work out what works for you so you can create your own wellness programme addressing the different angles. Everyone has something different they need to heal.
These tips are just an introduction to some ideas I’ve gathered through personal experience, they come with no guarantee. Maybe one or two of them might interest you:
- Begin to take an active role in your health. When I was diagnosed with lymphoma everything was a whirlwind, with little think space I gave the doctors full control. While trust in your medical team is vitally important, so too is being informed and active in your case. Take time to research the options available to you for your specific cancer, there are options out there. Even people with the same cancer may need their own plan to recover. At your first consultation, ask questions and take a buddy with you. Prepare questions you may want to ask before as you may forget them. Take notes, maybe something you can record on, and let your buddy ask questions too. Find out from your oncology team exactly what the plan is for your recovery, what treatment is to be recommended. Ask about the likely problems, side effects, how success will be assessed and what the chances are of a recurrence. Chances are you’ll only remember one or two key things from your consultation or not feel up to asking certain things, so leaving with a way to contact your consultant is important. Ask for your medical notes so you can keep an eye on your results and blood tests. These are particularly important when measuring your markers and vitamin levels. Look for experts in your cancer field and ask for a second opinion if your case isn’t straightforward. Often we avoid asking for second opinions because we don’t want to be a pain, but with a life threatening disease, it’s crucial.
- There are a number of factors associated with cancer, but four core ones. Unfortunately, most current orthodox treatments make these worse, but there are things we can address. The first factor is low blood oxygen levels. Cancer thrives in conditions of lowered oxygen with cancer cells being deoxygenated. Many of us only use a small amount of our lung capacity, breathing in just our upper chest areas not mid chest and from the belly. There are ways you can boost your oxygen and energy levels. These include hyperbaric oxygen therapy, a popular treatment in cancer clinics across the world, exercise and deep breathing exercises. Hyperbaric oxygen chambers get blood oxygen up 100% quicker and can reduce the side effects of chemo and radiotherapy. There are chambers in the UK and abroad you can go to for oxygen therapy.
- The second factor is low immune system response, the immune system hasn’t recognised cancer cells. Our immune systems can get suppressed due to a number of reasons, including: toxic overload from products, food, water, air and nutritional deficiency- lacking essential vitamins and minerals over time, high stress, viruses, parasites and others. Learn to love your immune system, nurture it, maximise it and support it through the gruelling cancer treatments. There are many ways to do this including: enjoying life, laughing, exercising, eating clean, nutritious foods, having healing sleep, taking quality food-based supplements. You can boost your immune system by increasing your herbal intake too, especially with Astragalus, Essiac (an immune boosting tea) and Echinacea. When you are going through cancer treatment, be sure to consult with your oncologist before taking any immune boosting protocols.
- The third is low Vitamin D3, 92% of newly diagnosed cancer patients are reported to have low levels of Vitamin D, and it’s predictive of survival. Vitamin D can correct cancer cells and is essential to support a fully functioning immune system. Research with Vitamin D and breast cancer shows that 25% less women with BC die with adequate Vitamin D levels. (SOURCE) Vitamin D can return cancer cells to healthy normal rates. Harvard says cancer patients should take 5,000 IU’s a day, the equivalent to 4 hours in sunshine. It’s important not to take calcium tablets when having Vitamin D. Sunshine is good for us when enjoyed responsibly. If you’re interested in finding out more about Vitamin D and its cancer benefits, here are two starting sources- (SOURCE) and (SOURCE).
- The fourth factor is chronic inflammation. Inflammation is one of the ways cancer can spread. Inflammation can be linked to diet, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, family history of heart disease, smoking, long-term infections and gum disease. Aim to eat anti-inflammatory foods, avoid inflammatory foods like sugar, grains and fried foods, switch trans fats and fried foods for healthy fats like olive oil and avocado, exercise, manage stress, get adequate amounts of Vitamin D and relaxation time. Click this link if you’re interested in finding out more about anti-inflammatory foods- (SOURCE)
- Try to choose clean food where possible and eat a simple diet rich in colourful fruits and vegetables. You won’t always feel up to it, but this is for the days you feel good. On the bad days you might be a carb craving machine! The World Cancer Research Fund says you can cut your cancer risk by 40% by changing your diet. Evaluating your diet is essential in cancer recovery and during treatment too. It is through food that we give our bodies the nutrients, vitamins and minerals it needs to heal. Most doctors aren’t trained in nutrition so you won’t hear about foods from them. Find someone reputable in the cancer nutrition field that can help you with a diet plan. There is no one diet fits all; it can depend on the cancer type, your metabolism and you. Going on a raw food diet or the ketogenic diet for example may not work for your cancer type but for some it does. A good place to start is to cut out the bad lifestyle guys especially: smoking, processed foods, excess alcohol, smoked and salt cured foods, sweet fizzy drinks, refined sugar, excess red meat, most dairy and excess caffeine. These are all inflammatory and damaging to your immune system. Add in more fresh colourful vegetables and fruits, herbs and spices. The Bristol cancer centre has specific dietary advice plans you could look at. (Source) If you can, start juicing (mainly vegetables and low GI fruits like berries), take food-based supplements and drink herbal teas like green tea. Live within your means, it may not always be possible to get organic foods, but where possible try to choose organic to limit your toxic intake. Prioritise which fruits and vegetables have the highest levels of pesticides. With your diet, you can reduce things slowly, maybe start by reducing the sweet things and adding in an extra fruit or vegetable instead.
- Rest and aim to get 8-9 hours healing sleep per night. It can be difficult when you’re used to being on the go, but getting sufficient sleep is key to allow your cells and body to recover. Lavender essential oils can help with sleep if you struggle. When you’re having treatment, things like steroids can affect your sleeping, speak to your doctor to see if they have any help they can offer you.
- One of the key ways people heal is to do with psychology and mindset. Where possible, try to eliminate stress and focus on what makes you feel good. You can have the best diet and take good supplements, but no amount of kale will make up for the impact of negative emotions. Things like long-term anger or guilt can be very toxic in the body. It is a testing question, but try to think about anything that could be behind your illness. If you feel intrigued by it, you could try meditation to connect with yourself. Enjoying what we do and being happy is key to good health. Think about things that make you stressed and ways you may be able to cut these stresses out of your life. Are you in the right job or environment? High stress isn’t good for you; it weakens your immune system and cortisol is highly inflammatory. Our cells can only recover in a state of relaxation. When your body is stressed it doesn’t get a chance to heal. Get a piece of paper and on the left write down all the things that frustrate you and upset you. Then on the right write down what you enjoy, things you would like to do or people you enjoy seeing. Try to do more of the things that make you happy and find time each day to do something for yourself. Foster joy and be willing to make changes to bring value and happiness to your life.
- Be prepared to have people telling you to ‘keep positive’ this is a phrase regularly said. There will be days when you won’t feel positive and that is ok, each day is different. Where possible be determined, think about your new life, new diet and new sense of purpose. Try to focus on the future and, as difficult as it can be, bite size each step. Give yourself clear and attainable reasons for living, focus on them and having people around you who believe in your recovery. If it interests you, hope, faith and prayer can be powerful.
- With a cancer diagnosis life can seem to be put on hold. Planning special days with loved ones can help and there are people who can support you through this. Financially cancer can be an issue, but you may be eligible for help. Find out if there is anything Social Services can provide you. Are you eligible for any government financial help? Or from any charitable organisations? You may be able to claim back costs to cover hospital visits for example. There are charities out there who can support you in a range of ways, from special days to personal support. Some suggestions include: financially- speaking to Macmillan directly and applying for government benefits. An extensive list is available Here. If you’re looking to get away for a couple of days and learn more about a holistic cancer approach the Penny Brohn cancer center in Bristol run fantastic retreats (Click Here) Super charities like the Willow Foundation, Lucy’s Days Out and Ellie’s Friends can arrange special days and activities for you. For more practical money and insurance advice click here.
- Try to do regular gentle exercise when you feel up to it. This will help boost your immune system and keep your blood circulating. Light walks or yoga are good options both physically and mentally. There may be local clubs and activities that do exercise programmes specifically for cancer patients. (SOURCE)
- A cleaner home environment may be helpful. Try to think about the products you use and the chemicals that may be in them. Look at your household, cosmetic and personal care products, if you can smell it, it’s probably not good for you. Can you pronounce the ingredients on your product labels? These products have xeno-estrogens, which mimic the hormone oestrogen. We’re breathing in toxic chemicals daily and it takes just 26 seconds for anything you put on your skin to go into your blood stream. The average US woman carries 40% more toxins in her bloodstream than men. Most products in shops have toxic ingredients, but there are safer personal care and cleaning product ranges. For example coconut oil and essential oils are good alternative moisturisers. Consider switching to paraben-free hair and skin care products. To help balance your oestrogen levels eat phytoestrogens like greens, pulses, flaxseed and medicinal mushrooms.
- If you’re lacking energy and want to look after your immune system, try taking a course of food-based quality supplements. We are far from being able to replicate nature in a lab, so food-based supplements are best. There are 60 natural compounds that can correct cell DNA these include curcumin (compound in turmeric), a great supplement to take. There is not a cancer or cancer system that curcumin doesn’t benefit. To rebalance the body, the cellular function and the immune system you’ve got to give yourself the right vitamins and minerals to repair.
- Where possible, try to drink clean water to help your internal organs and flush out toxins. Aim for two litres of filtered or distilled per day. Buy a water filter bottle or jug to reduce the toxins you take in.
- Look after your gut. It’s the largest organ in your body and your second brain. It’s home to the majority of your immune system and having cancer treatments, taking antibiotics and the inevitable emotional impact of cancer can wipe out your good bacteria. You can replenish these probiotics by taking a good probiotic supplement, eating and drinking fermented foods like apple cider vinegar, sauerkraut and kefir and eat more natural fibre like seeds, cruciferous vegetables, almonds, beans, berries and root vegetables. If you want to know more about helping your gut click here.
If you’ve been given a cancer diagnosis and have been struggling with isolation and anxiety, you’re not alone. There are people and organisations available to help you. Where possible, take your time to process everything and go for what feels right for you. Please remember these are just tips and as a charity we can’t take responsibility for their outcome.
Personal Care Manager
Sophie knows first hand the difficulties people face when they get a cancer diagnosis. As a trained journalist, after a lymphoma diagnosis at the age of 23 her research head went into overdrive. During an intensive six months of chemo she found having a focus and creating a multi-stage recovery plan gave her a real sense of determination. Realising there are big gaps in practical support in primary care and knowing there are things we can do to prevent and recover from cancer, she wants to share everything she’s learnt. Her belief is that in many cases cancer happens as a multi-stage process and to recover we need to be focusing on a number of different areas. While each individual is different, these include: diet, exercises, detoxification and cultivating a healthy mental attitude. She strongly believes we are three parts in synergy mind, body and spirit. An integrative cancer care approach combining conventional and other holistic treatments is important. Sophie hopes sharing information and having a conversation will empower people to take an active role in their health.
*The views shared in this post are not necessarily shared by the Victoria’s Promise Charity and are the independent writing’s of the author.