Four Pillars You Must Address to Encourage Cancer Recovery
Here’s an alarming statistic! Cancer is predicted to be the leading cause of death in every country of the world by the end of this century. (1) As a Cancer Coach (with a background in pharmacy), this statistic makes me cringe, not because I don’t believe it, but because I know that it can be prevented.
How do I know this? Well… Through lots of time spent searching for answers to questions that I've received about cancer treatment and prevention. Like many of you, I’ve been touched by cancer… not through having gone through cancer myself, but having experienced it secondhand through friends and family members.
As a pharmacist in an outpatient oncology setting, I’ve also had the unique position of encountering cancer through the numerous patients I’ve counseled on their chemotherapy regimens. The experiences of those I love and care about, or just want to help, led me to delve deeper into treatment options for cancer patients, as well as the field of integrative oncology.
I wanted to know what people could do besides conventional therapy to improve their response to their cancer treatments. I wanted to learn what someone with cancer could do to encourage their cancer recovery and feel empowered in knowing they had some control over the outcome of their cancer.
The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn… and ultimately, my search for answers led me to not one, but to the completion of two separate cancer coaching certifications.
I used the information I gathered in my extensive research and certifications to identify four key pillars that can be used to help shift your biology and tell your body that cancer is not welcome. Addressing these four pillars can help to minimize the side effects of cancer treatment, as well as encourage cancer recovery, and discourage cancer remission.
The best part is that all four of these pillars are in your control… you have the ability to modify them! Read on to see how!!
Pillar One: Nutrition
Nutrition is about the relationship between food and how our bodies use it for growth, repair, sustaining daily activities, and essentially, supporting quality of life. Diet plays a pivotal role in cancer recovery. In fact, cancer recovery is very responsive to the food you nourish your body with.
Is There a Single Diet That Works For All Cancers?
In my experience, there is no single cancer diet that every cancer patient must adhere to… Variables in diet sway from one ethnic group to another, from one blood type to another, from one constitution to another, and more… options include raw food, keto, Mediterranean diet, OMAD, or a modification of any of these… but the bottom line is that CLEAN EATING is mandatory to help in the prevention and recovery of cancer, as well as the side-effects of conventional treatments.
What Is Clean Eating?
What do I mean by clean eating? This boils down to several guiding principles which include choosing whole, organic, plant-focused foods and cutting out refined and processed foods. Organic foods are free of pesticides and have a higher mineral content than non-organic foods. Plant-based food contains phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and fiber – these are all the components your body needs to help fight cancer.
A Cancer-Fighting Plate
An example of a cancer-fighting plate is ½ vegetables, ¼ quality protein, and ¼ good fats. Foods should be low on the glycemic index. The glycemic index (GI) is a value assigned to foods based on how slowly or how quickly those foods cause increases in blood glucose levels. Foods with a low GI value are preferred because they are slowly digested and absorbed, causing a slower and smaller rise in blood sugar levels. On the other hand, foods with a high GI value should be limited. They’re quickly digested and absorbed, resulting in a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar levels.
My online program, Cancer Recovery Roadmap, goes into this pillar in much more detail and provides guidance on implementing healthy dietary changes along with recipes, and a step-by-step daily anti-cancer plan for eating. Check it out here!
Pillar Two: Environmental Influences
Did you know that the average woman uses 12 personal care products every day, consisting of 168 unique ingredients? On average, a man uses 6 personal care products comprising around 85 unique ingredients. (2) The things in your environment – both inside and outside of your home – will play a role in cancer recovery, and it is important that we are aware of hazardous compounds so that we can learn to remove them.
Chemicals in Personal Care Products
Chemicals in your environment can be found in personal care products such as creams, soaps, cosmetics, fragrances, shampoos, moisturizers, and much, much more! While many people assume these products are safe, their chemical ingredients are often untested and unregulated. Many of these formulations contain carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemicals. According to the Environmental Working Group’s skin deep database, one in five personal care products contain at least one ingredient related to cancer. (3)
Chemicals in Household Products
These chemicals are also found in household products such as cleaning products, laundry detergents, furniture, bedding, and dry cleaning. In fact, more than 500 chemicals can be found under the kitchen sink, in the bathrooms, and in the laundry rooms of the average home. Although we all want to keep our homes clean, many of the household cleaning products we are using may actually be doing more harm than good.
Commercial cleaning products may contain synthetic fragrances and toxic chemicals which pollute the air inside your home by off-gassing toxic fumes. Even after passing through water treatment plants, small quantities of chemical compounds from cleaning products can find their way into the rivers and lakes, and have harmful effects on wildlife as well as contribute to environmental pollution.
We all need to learn how we can reduce these chemicals in our environment in order to lift as much toxic load from our body’s cells as possible. The good news is that with increased awareness comes safer options. There are websites and apps you can go to for further information.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has a website where you can go to search for specific products and ingredients rated by toxicity. Another good website is madesafe.org, which provides human health and ecosystem-focused certification for non-toxic products. Some helpful apps are Think Dirty, Healthy Living, and Clean Beauty.
Pillar Three: Lifestyle Factors
According to studies reported by the National Institutes of Health, at least 75 to 80 percent of cancers in the United States may be due to lifestyle factors. Important lifestyle factors that affect the incidence and mortality of cancer include physical activity, obesity, and sleep.
The Impact of Physical Activity
Lifestyle factors such as physical activity are a critical component of energy balance and strongly influence health. According to the American Cancer Society Guideline for Diet and Physical Activity in Cancer, physical activity has been linked to a lower risk of several types of cancer including colon, breast, endometrial, stomach, and esophageal. (4) A number of studies have examined the relationship between exercise, rehabilitation, and quality of life in cancer patients, and reported positive findings.
Exercise doesn’t have to be intense to be effective. The important thing is to move your body in order to make your muscles work. The idea is that the more muscle activity and the less fat activity your body has, the more your metabolism shifts in a direction in which cancer can’t thrive. On the other hand, the more you grow fat cells, the more welcoming your body becomes to cancer. This is likely due to the low-grade inflammation triggered in the body by fat cells.
How to Increase Your Exercise Activity
Luckily, simple exercise is accessible to the majority of people. You don’t need to be transformed into a fitness expert, you don’t need to buy expensive equipment or a gym membership, and you don’t even have to be overly active during your entire life. A simple way to increase activity is to walk for a minimum of 20-30 minutes every single day. In addition, a light resistance training activity practiced for just a few minutes every day will make a difference in cancer recovery.
Even people with low levels of physical activity prior to their cancer diagnosis show similar from exercise as compared to people who are fit and physically active prior to their cancer diagnosis. This is an encouraging finding for people who were not physically active prior to their cancer diagnosis and means that it is never too late to start.
Sleep and Cancer Recovery
Another lifestyle factor important to cancer recovery is sleep. Sleep issues are common in patients with cancer, and poor sleep alters hormones that influence cancer cells. Studies show that poor sleep quality may be linked to several types of cancer, including thyroid, breast, and prostate. Sleep that is disrupted may also contribute to making cancer more aggressive. In one particular study done on women with breast cancer, women who reported 6 hours of sleep per night were more likely to have tumors classified as a higher grade at diagnosis, compared to women who slept 7-8 hours a night. (5)
Some strategies to improve sleep include:
- Go to bed and get up at the same time every day. This will help you maintain a sleep routine and trigger your body to know when it's time to sleep.
- Keep your bedroom as dark as possible: use light-blocking curtains or an eye mask to cover your eyes while you sleep.
- Try not to use any devices before bed. The light emitted from your screen will prevent melatonin from being released
- Keep a journal or a paper and pen at your bedside table to write down any thoughts or worries that can keep you from falling asleep. This will get them out of your mind so that you can relax and go to sleep.
Other beneficial lifestyle activities include getting out and breathing in fresh air every day, lymphatic detoxification, and cutting out tobacco and alcohol use.
Pillar Four: Psychosocial Aspects (Mental, Emotional, and Spiritual Well-being)
Science is starting to understand the link between the brain and the rest of the body. In the past, what went on in the mind was not necessarily thought to influence our health and well-being. The mind and body were considered to be separate entities that had very little impact on each other.
The Mind-Body Connection
Today, we are realizing that our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and attitudes can positively or negatively affect our body’s physical health. Additionally, what we do with our physical health (how active we are, how much we sleep, and what we eat) can directly affect our state of mind.
This incredible network of connections between our mental state and our biological functioning can influence cancer development and progression. All of our body systems share a common chemical language and are constantly communicating with one another.
Essentially, what goes on in the brain may play a role in the development and progression of cancer. A meta-analysis published in 2013 found that women who had experienced some sort of significant, negative life event, had a 1.5-fold greater risk of developing breast cancer. Additionally, women who had experienced severe striking life events experienced a 2-fold greater risk of developing breast cancer. The authors of the study concluded that there was a positive association between striking life events and the development of breast cancer in women. (6)
It turns out that our mental and emotional states can positively or negatively impact cancer treatment outcomes as well. A systematic review and meta-analysis published in 2017 looked at 10 randomized controlled trials with 1709 breast cancer patients, either undergoing treatment or survivors. The intervention involved mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT). The analysis showed significant positive outcomes after the intervention, compared to usual care, for both anxiety and depression, as well as positive post-intervention effects for quality of life, sleep, stress, and fatigue. (7)
Another study published in 2012, evaluated the impact of guided imagery on breast cancer patients receiving radiation therapy. Eligible patients receiving guided imagery sessions were monitored via biofeedback before and after each session. The study found statistically significant improvement in respiration rate, pulse rate, and blood pressure. Overall, 86% of participants described the guided imagery sessions as helpful, and 100% said they would recommend the intervention to others. (8)
Ways to Improve Your Psychosocial Health
Have a purpose. Let go of regrets and negative thoughts. Practice forgiveness. Meditate. Visualize. Practice Affirmations. Deep breathe. Believe. Enjoy a social life with family and friends. Cultivate deep relationships. Enjoy a variety of interests – These things all provide ‘I love me’ time. They will enhance your mood, provide energy and memory retention, improve sleep, and assist the body in eliminating toxins, congestion, and inflammation – improving your response to cancer treatment, cancer recovery time, and quality of health.
Together these four pillars create the foundation for improving health and allowing all other cancer therapies to be optimized. I believe that the cancer patient must address all four of these to encourage cancer recovery.
For anyone who would like to dig deeper into these four pillars, I offer an online self-study program called the Cancer Recovery Roadmap, where you can learn about these four pillars in much more detail. The program consists of 5 modules featuring 26 lessons that will guide you in creating your own cancer recovery plan. Each module is accompanied by an interactive workbook to empower you to implement the tools and strategies in the course in an easy way. Click here to check it out!
2) Niha Naveed. J. Pharm. Sci. & Res. Vol. 6(10), 2014, 338-341
5) Soucise, A., Vaughn, C., et al. Sleep Quality, Duration and Breast Cancer Aggressiveness. Breast Cancer Res Treat. 2017 July; 164(1): 169–178. doi:10.1007/s10549-017-4245-
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