My experience of cancer has taught me many things including not to take anything for granted. Life is a gift, not to be wasted. Every day is a gift, every moment to be appreciated. In this post I share my insights from research.
Aside from this small business that I've started, I'm a researcher. I managed to submit my PhD thesis the day before I started chemo (nothing like the threat of death for motivation).
My research examines a shift in thinking that gives primacy to processes and relationships over "things", and how this shift can help us evolve economic systems to be just and sustainable. This shift also informs how I try to think about "the c-word"... and how to try to "prevent it coming back".
I thought it worth sharing, for anyone interested in reading it, some of the things that I discovered in my research and thinking about cancer, and the lifestyle changes that I'm trying to make in what I hope will be a long life and a cancer-free future for me and my family.
I used to think I was healthy, but now I see many aspects of what I put in my body, on my body and toxicities in my environment could have played a role in some DNA damage and some cells in my endometrial lining turning malignant.
Let me start by saying that everyone's bodies and any cancerous cells that have occupied it are unique situations, and I wish anyone reading this who has such cells in their body or who knows someone else with malignant cells in their body, the very best of luck with their journey head.
What causes cancer?
You may notice I try to avoid talking about "cancer" as if it is a static, deadly disease - instead focusing on the imbalanced processes. That is, cancer as damaged DNA of some cells that have lost connection to their role within a body, multiplying and causing havoc for other cells. Our DNA functions in relationship to environments.
Ultimately we don’t know precisely what causes cells to become cancerous. Most likely it is "multi-factorial" - a combination of multiple factors including:
- biological evolution (cells mutate spontaneously and DNA changes / makes mistakes),
- genetics (5-10% of cancer is due to “inherited genetic abnormalities” making some of us are more susceptible to some cancers)
- gene mutations acquired from the microenvironment of cells (including carcinogens in food, air, water, skin-care, chemicals etc).
I have heard people say "cancer is a disease of inflammation" so anything that reduces inflammation in your body is a good thing - making it difficult for a cancerous cell to be able to feed itself and spread.
Conflicting views on cancer abound. Everyone agrees a healthy diet and regular moderate exercise is important, yet there are significantly different approaches to diet and the value in reducing toxins in your body and environment.
My integrative oncologist at Chris O'Brien Lifehouse suggested a book by Dr Lorenzo Cohen and Alison Jefferies called Anticancer Living (London, Vermilion, 2018). This is the go-to source for Integrative Oncologists, all evidence-based and holistic in both research and application. Summary of six steps to anti-cancer living:
- Love and support – you can’t do anything without friends and family
- De-stress – remove stress from your life and do meditation, yoga, reflective writing
- Rest – get enough (7-9 hours) and good quality sleep
- Exercise – move at least 30 min a day
- Environment – remove chemicals, pesticides, etc from your environment; be careful with mobile phones, don’t microwave food in plastic, don’t cook in dirty bbqs, etc (summary to come)
- Food – “eating right lowers the risk of cancer recurrence” (see below)
Other interesting resources
If you go through chemotherapy there is emerging research that fasting before and after (with the exception of bone broth) can reduce side effects and increase efficacy of the chemotherapy. Look up “fasting” and “chemotherapy” on Google Scholar for plenty of emerging research.
Drink a tall glass of water with a tablespoon of bicarbonate soda daily, and to eat lots of raw fruit and vegetables. Cancer grows well in acidic environments so in theory high alkaline foods help prevent cancer growth. While you cannot change the PH balance of your body, I have heard many anecdotal stories about high alkaline diet and the witnessing of a significant reduction of circulating cancer cells following prostate cancer. Useful discussion is here.
Chris Beat Cancer is a well-researched blog aimed at curing cancer using food (without chemotherapy). It resonates with Cohen and Jefferies, while taking diet and supplements a bit further (perhaps too extreme) it has many good tips... A documentary called Heal (on Netflix) focuses on mental aspects of healing. Preview here.
Also interesting is this TED talk on eating to starve cancer
Great Podcast series Oh It's Cancer including an episode interviewing brilliant oncology psychologist Julie Black, full of gems. It's even just great to hear someone else talk about their experiences going through what I was going through.
And linked to this a book called How to Starve Cancer by Jane McLelland that involves a strange cocktail of diet, over the counter drugs and exercise to try to kill cancer stem cells that seems interesting if you are seeking a more extreme approach (I haven't followed the drugs, as I'm unsure of the interactions etc., but feel there are some things in this book that make sense...).
Food tips from sources above:
1. Eat lots of green vegetables and a cup of mushrooms most days, organic where possible. Raw carrots, capsicum and cucumber are good daily snacks. Smoothies and juices are great too.
2. Get organic when it comes to the “toxic twelve” or “dirty dozen” as there are the most pesticides in these foods:
Don’t worry about organic when to comes to the “clean fifteen” :
- Sweet peas
- Sweet corn
- Honeydew melon
3. 3 cups of green tea a day (I don't manage this, I manage a couple of cups a week); Coffee is ok; alcohol is a special treat, red wine is best.
Foods to avoid:
- Avoid high inflammatory foods including processed meats, refined sugar, saturated fats, artificial preservatives and additives, gluten, vegetables oils, alcohol
- Avoid carcinogens – e.g. formaldehyde (in wood/fabric), ultraviolet, air pollution, asbestos, tobacco, animal products, alcohol, processed meats e.g. bacon, engine exhaust, foods that have been salted, fermented (?), cured or smoked.
- Avoid processed foods
- Avoid dairy (it contains hormones, causes inflammation)
- Keep meat/fish to around 3-4 times a week – wild caught fish and organic chicken
- Cooking: avoid burned/golden/deep brown foods—cook to tan colour instead; , if you’re going to eat meat, either cook it in a soup or stew, or marinate it in lemon juice, garlic, onions, jalapeños, oregano, paprika, red pepper, and black pepper (marinating reduces significantly its bad effects).
- Avoid red meat, a “probable carcinogen” – released when cooked at high temperatures or charred, also when cooked normal temperatures eg pan fried or grilled
- If you eat animal products choose organic and hormone free lamb or chicken
- Eliminate sugar – link between high blood sugar levels and certain types of cancer; includes calorie free zero glycaemic load sweeteners
- Limit high GI (glycaemic index) foods including white bread, white rice, breakfast cereals, biscuits – turn quickly to sugar as they are eaten
I find when out and about I choose "vegan" options. At home I add the occasional organic eggs, wild-caught fish, organic lamb and organic chicken.
Supplements to consider
*Ask your oncologist before taking any of these, as many are not ok during chemo but ok after. Also see an “integrative oncologist” if you can to oversee this.
- CBD oil (reduces side effects of chemo, good also for working against cancer, and for sleep), can order through Tetra Health (online GP)
- Vitamin D3
- Vitamin B12
- Vitamin C - Amla (Indian gooseberry) powder taken in a smoothie
- Chaga mushroom tea (actually quite nice!)
- Green powder (from mix greens including aloe vera) to smoothies
- Morniga powder also good
- Brazil nuts are a good source of selenium (Australia soils are low in selenium), around 4 nuts a day is good.
A longer journey to a cancer-free future (for humanity)
I hope it is not too indulgent to mention a pattern I've started to see between cancer and my research on peace and sustainability.
That is this: fossil fuels and chemicals are a common source of pollution in our water and air, in the food we eat (via pesticides and plastic), and of course in climate change and the damage we are causing to our environment.
Fossil fuels are like broken DNA, likening human activity to cancerous cells, threatening the planetary health upon which all our futures depend.
How can we remove fossil fuels from our life, for both our personal and planetary health? How can we evolve ourselves and our society to not be addicted to the very things that are killing us? These are no-doubt some of the biggest challenges our society must face. These questions are out of our hands as individuals, but as participants in co-creative communities of communities my hope is that a beautiful transformation of human civilisation lies ahead.
To end these practical and philosophical reflections, I return to the present.
And my wish for your best future...
May you and your loved ones beat cancer, and may all the cells in your body be unified for your best life.