Staying Healthy After Cancer

You heard it, the dreaded ‘C’ word, a diagnosis everyone fears.  You cried, you shared the awful news with your family and faced the rigors of chemotherapy and radiotherapy.  You braved the side-effects, put up with the doctor’s waiting rooms and the examinations, and you won.  You kicked the cancer where it hurts.  Your oncologist uttered the beautiful word ‘remission’- but beating cancer is only part of the journey.  Staying cancer-free can be a long-term challenge.

Eat Healthily

The brain directs the immune system and both need adequate nutrients in order to function at their best capacity.  That is why it is really important to limit junk foods and eat fresh, unprocessed produce.  You should aim to have five portions of fresh fruit and vegetables a day (this includes juices so it isn’t as hard as it sounds).  Examples of the food groups you should eat include:

  • Fruit
  • Vegetables
  • Beans and peas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Oily fish (or if you are a vegetarian, flaxseed, linseed, walnuts and eggs)
  • Whole grains, cereal, rice and pasta (avoid white bread and white rice and pasta).
  • If you eat meat, avoid red meat varieties and don’t fry your meat as this adds to the saturated fat content.
  • Use extra virgin olive oil for frying instead of vegetable oil (vegetable oil is hydrogenated and contains trans-fats and it is often made from genetically-modified crops.  Olive oil, on the other hand, contains monounsaturated fats and is good for your heart.  As chemotherapy can sometimes damage the heart, using olive oil in your diet may be a good may of boosting your heart health).

Make sure you include broccoli in your diet.  Broccoli is a wonderful anti-cancer vegetable!  A compound in broccoli called sulphoraphane can reduce your risk of getting cancer again and has even been shown to treat cancer.  When scientists mixed the compound with samples of cancer cells taken from patients, they found that it killed the cells.  The results were so good!  The medical profession is trying to develop an anti-cancer medicine made with the extract of broccoli.

Make Sure You Get Enough Vitamin D

The importance of vitamin D in maintaining health is only just starting to be understood.  Vitamin D is needed for strong immune function, good bone growth, a healthy neuromuscular system and to direct cell growth.  Normal cell growth is vital as errant cells can result in tumor growth.  Vitamin D also helps to reduce inflammation.  Inflammation is now known to be involved in the development of cancers because inflammation causes a drop in the levels of proteins that assist in DNA repair and this results in a larger number of spontaneous gene mutations.  Theoretically, if you reduce inflammation you also reduce the risk of cancer.  A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2007) found that post-menopausal women who supplemented with calcium and vitamin D supplements had a 60% lower risk of all cancers.  You can obtain vitamin D from exposure to sunlight, fatty fish, cod liver oil, eggs, cheese and fortified milk and cereals.  The main source of vitamin D is from the sun so that is why some people choose to take supplements, particularly if they live in a cooler climate.

Quit Smoking

You may have quit smoking once you got your cancer diagnosis but it can be difficult to give up for good, especially in times of stress.  If you haven’t managed to quit yet, try again.  Your doctor can give you advice on quitting and may be able to give you an anti-smoking medicine if will-power alone isn’t enough.  He or she could also refer you to an appropriate support group.  Giving up cigarettes is one of the best decisions a survivor of cancer can make because cigarettes contain 250 harmful chemicals including 69 that are known to cause cancer.  Some of the chemicals in your cigarette are formaldehyde (used to embalm bodies and a known trigger of nasal cancer and leukemia), beryllium (a toxic metal) and even arsenic!  The toxic soup in cigarettes makes them one of the leading causes of cancer and they can cause cancer of the lungs, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, stomach, bladder, kidneys and cervix.  Smoking can also result in acute myeloid leukemia.

Stop Drinking Alcohol

In studies of breast cancer, researchers concluded that having only one alcoholic drink a day increased the risk of getting breast cancer by up to 10%.  In women who were breast cancer survivors, drinking only three or four alcoholic beverages a week increased the risk of recurrence by 34%.  Due to the links between alcohol consumption and cancer, some medical practitioners suggest not drinking alcohol at all.

Exercise Regularly

Physical exercise lowers the risk of cancer and can lower the chance of a recurrence.  Studies have shown that exercise lowers the risk of ovarian, prostate, colon and breast cancers returning after they have been successfully treated.  In fact, survivors of breast cancer who exercised were 34% less likely to die from the disease and had lessened their chances of a recurrence by 24%. You may not feel like exercising, particularly if you’re fatigued after chemotherapy but you don’t have to join a gym.  Your fitness regime could be as simple as walking around the block every day or going for a swim.

Sleep with the Light Off!

Throw out the night light and sleep in total darkness and this may reduce your risk of getting cancer.  This is because darkness promotes the production of a hormone called melatonin which helps the body to repair itself and also stops the growth of tumor cells.  Research into female night shift workers exposed to light at night found they had a higher rate of breast cancer so turn off the light, relax and try to get a good night’s sleep.

By Lisa Rodgers

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