Being responsible for our own health: World Cancer Day

4 February was World Cancer Day. A day to raise cancer awareness, talk about research for cures and prevention.

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It’s the last one I want to talk about. Let’s be responsible for our own health.

I never thought I’d get cancer. But I lived a lifestyle that turned out to be potentially deadly and definitely destructive – high stress, late nights, drinking coffee to keep me going, sitting still for long periods of time, too much sugar, too much meat and dairy and covering myself in toxic chemical compounds – deodorant, makeup and body lotions.

Given my own experience with cancer and all that I’ve learned over the last 3 years, and the lengths I’ve had to go to to rebuild my health, it would be negligent, if not selfish, if I didn’t urge you to be aware of the risk of cancer to you and your loved ones. And how you can prevent it.

Seriously.

Because if you are anything like me, you probably think it won’t happen to you either.

The cancer landscape has changed enormously in my life time. When I was born, very few people were diagnosed with cancer. It was spoken about in hushed terms.

But now, the Cancer Council Australia predicts that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will be diagnosed with cancer by the age of 85. Yes, some cancers happen just because we age. But it’s also much more prevalent now in people under 55.

Because I have shared my own story so publicly, every other day I am told of another person who has been diagnosed. And I can tell you that they are getting younger and younger. Even follicular lymphoma.  I was told it was supposed to be an older person’s cancer, affecting people mostly over 60. But I know of a number of people diagnosed with it in their 40s like me, and even some under 40.

And while rates of cancer are set to increase, we keep being told that survival rates have also increased. Around 66%.

So we assume that the treatments are working. That people are getting rid of their cancer and getting on with life.

But there’s a problem. This figure is illusory. The standard survival period is 5 years after diagnosis (there are also 1 year and 10 year survival rates, but if no year is specifically mentioned, it’s 5 years). It doesn’t mean that you went on to live a long and healthy life. It means that you didn’t die within 5 years. You might die 5 ½ years after diagnosis, even from the cancer, and still be called a survivor.

So you could be diagnosed at 35, die when you are 41, and still be a “survivor.” Treatments are focused on extending life and not on healing.

There is an absolute irony in all of this. It makes me think of the World of the Worlds, that film with Tom Cruise. The aliens invade earth and destroy everything in sight. They capture all the humans they can find to eat. But then they die. Because the food they eat is contaminated. They can’t withstand the virus or bacteria that humans carry. Their food kills them. They get their karma for all the destruction they’ve caused.

The lifestyle that the West loves so much comes at an enormous cost, potentially the ultimate cost. Leaving aside the damage we have done to the planet by extracting resources, pollution and the removal of trees and indigenous peoples from their land so we can clear it to graze livestock.

The hallmarks of the Western lifestyle are making us sick AND killing us – overeating, too much red meat, too much fast food, too much sugar, too many toxins in the environment and not enough good bacteria because we’ve killed them all with antibiotics and antiseptic cleaners (read about a Finnish study here on children and the long term effects of antibiotics). And we sit down all the time at computers or in front of the TV.

And we seem to be taking this lying down. Just submitting to the inevitability of illness without questioning how we got here.

Well, not all of us of course. Many of us are changing our diets, reducing our exposure to environmental toxins. And are getting moving outdoors because exercise and Vitamin D are essential to our health.

“But nobody today can say that one does not know what cancer and its prime cause [may] be.
On the contrary, there is no disease whose prime cause is better known, so that today ignorance is no longer an excuse that one cannot do more about prevention.
That prevention of cancer will come there is no doubt, for man wishes to survive.”
Dr Otto H. Warburg 1966

Here’s the thing – we don’t have to be helpless victims of cancer.

We just need to be responsible for our own health.

If we are to turn back this enormous tide of cancer and other chronic illnesses caused by diet and lifestyle, we need to take individual responsibility. We each need to be responsible for our own health. And if we are parents, then we need to protect the health of children.

This study was released last week. Women who eat more high-fibre foods, and by that we mean wholegrains, legumes, plants and fruits, as teenagers and young women may have a significantly lower risk of breast cancer than their peers. Prevention starts young. It has to. A young body is so much more vulnerable.

Sure there are some factors beyond our control. Genes can and do play a role in whether cancer lives in our body. But epigenetics shows that through our lifestyle, what we eat and even through meditation, we can control the behaviour of many of our genes. We can turn them on and we can turn them off. Not all of them, but definitely some of them.

So how do we prevent cancer? The same way that “alternative” and holistic health advocates say we can heal it. Make the body alkaline by eating lots of plants. Only plants. And avoid foods that create inflammation in the body – dairy, sugar, red meat. After all, at the root of most cancers, and other chronic diseases plaguing modern Western society is inflammation.

Bu don’t take my word for it.

Here are things to do adapted from the World Cancer Research Fund’s 10 evidence-based recommendations for cancer prevention. And for lengthening survival time after a cancer diagnosis.

Please don’t read them from a perspective of fear. Instead, treat them as goals for  improvements you can make for your health and longevity.

1. Be lean but not underweight. Keep your Body Mass Index between 21 and 23. You can calculate your BMI here.  And is your waist measurement over 94 cm if you are a man or over 80 cm if you are a woman?

2. Be moderately active, the equivalent of brisk walking, for at least 30 minutes every day.

3. Avoid sugary drinks and/or fruit drinks.

4. Avoid fast food or eat it less than once a fortnight.

5. Eat starchy or foods with added sugars “sparingly.”(I know, I know that’s not a helpful word. What does sparingly mean? It’s the word the WCRF uses and I even went to the source documents so see if there was a definition. Nope! I reckon it probably means only 2-3 times a week but go with what your instinct says.)

6. Eat foods mostly of plant origin (and not made IN a plant) ie at least 600g of a variety of non-starchy vegetables and fruits each day.

7. Eat relatively unprocessed grains, like brown rice or quinoa, or legumes such as lentils or chickpeas with every meal. They are very high in fibre and protein.

8. Eat less than 500 g of red meat a week. Or none …

9. Avoid processed meats like hams and salamis completely.

10. Limit your alcohol consumption to two alcoholic drinks a day if you are a man and one drink a day if a woman.

11. Eat less than 6 g of added salt a day.

If you have been diagnosed with a cancer, then the list above probably doesn’t go far enough. Everything I’ve read suggests ditching all salt, sugar and fats, except for extra virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil that you add to food after cooking. This means cooking with water and not oil. I wrote about this in Being Up to Pussy’s Bow.

The best place to start is by increasing your intake of plants. Eat lots of them. They really can’t do you any harm (unless you have an allergy). And if you eat lots of real food, whole foods, fruits and vegetables, wholegrain, then you will have a whole lot less room to eat the other stuff. Really.

Fill yourself up on the good stuff and lots of water and the other stuff will disappear from your diet .

And get moving. Your lymphatic system needs you to move so that it can keep your body clean of toxins. Movement keeps the lymph flowing. Nothing else will.

And finally take time to activate the relaxation response through meditation, yoga or even prayer. Create space for healing in your body. For inflammation causing hormones to subside. Just be.

Go on. You and your loved ones deserve the best health you can have. You deserve to be vibrantly healthy. We all do.

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And being responsible for our own health is an act of profound self-love.

So let’s change the conversation. Let’s stop being victims of cancer. Instead, let’s focus on ensuring the best possible health for us all. Let’s be responsible for our own health.

What can you start doing now? What changes will you make this week? Let me know in the comment and please feel free to share.

As always, be happy. Be well.

And so be it.

Jane x

About Jane Treleaven

Jane Treleaven is a meditation teacher and health coach empowering people to be happy and well through just being, essentially being.

Comments welcome