The month of February is National Cancer Prevention Month and there’s a few things all of us can do to prevent the disease that hits 1 in 3 people. The great news? Research and care mean cancer survivor rates are better than ever - but it’s up to YOU to take charge of your own health.
Research shows that more than 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed and nearly half of all deaths from cancer in the United States can be attributed to preventable causes – things like smoking, excess body weight, physical inactivity, and excessive exposure to the sun (AACR). We generally know that we need to stay away from smoking / vaping, poor diet, and inactivity - but committing to these daily practices takes just that - PRACTICE. Even if you’ve got those big bases covered, there’s still plenty of things you can do everyday to give yourself the best chance at living cancer-free.
When it comes to the cancers that Aidan and I had (aggressive cancers that struck young, healthy people) we know we need to “double down” on our lifestyle choices. We’ve both had great outcomes by truly committing to our wellness during and after cancer treatment and have embraced the “anti-cancer” lifestyle. Commit with us - you will not regret it!
While we cannot guarantee living cancer-free through our choices alone, healthy, clean living can only help our chances.
Here are some ways you can make a personal commitment to your health and cancer prevention:
- First and foremost - do not wait to get sick to get healthy! I cannot stress this enough. Even though I was “healthy” when I was diagnosed with the most aggressive cancer, I can look back now and see that I wasn’t giving my body what it needed in terms of stress relief, sleep, and proper diet. We all know what it takes to get healthy but it’s not exactly convenient or enjoyable for everyone. Staying healthy is not only a responsible choice for yourself - but it just FEELS better! And, if you should unfortunately get a cancer diagnosis down the road, being in good physical health is a huge advantage to how you will tolerate treatment and recover. Being healthy is truly the best insurance policy.
- Don’t Ignore Symptoms - Advocate for Yourself! If you look at our Do Cancer Survivor Stories, most of them have something in common: they had to keep pushing for answers before their cancer diagnosis. Many were misdiagnosed, or even told not worry about testing. No one knows your body like you do. We thankfully live in a time where we can get definitive answers to health problems if you stay committed to finding answers. Be the CEO of your health! Do not ignore any sudden or nagging symptoms. If you think something is wrong - trust your instincts. Ask for testing beyond a standard physical or blood panel. If you feel dismissed, find a new medical professional. Advocate for yourself until you get the answers you need. Read some advice on advocating for yourself here.
- Commit to Regular Checkups & Diagnostic Testing. Stay on top of routine blood work (at least yearly), mammograms (once at year starting at 40 years old), colonoscopies (starting at 40), prostate exams (every year starting at 40), annual gynecological exams (every year) and regular physicals (at least every year). If you want to take proactivity one step further there are private medical diagnostic practices where you can pay for no-contrast, full body MRIs without an order from a doctor. Organizations like Prenuvo allow you to schedule a full-body MRI on demand - when you want it. These services are designed to identify diseases and disorders early, before they can become a health crisis at a later stage. Not only does it allow you to take control over what you want to know about your own body, results can serve as a “baseline” to monitor or revisit changes over the years. While expensive, it’s an option for peace of mind and answers if you feel like you’re getting the “runaround” or you just want to feel empowered about your physical health.
- Consider an Integrative Physician. One of the best decisions I made in my cancer recovery was incorporating Integrative Care. A Naturopathic Doctor or Integrative Care Physician gets to the root causes of any imbalance or health issues and puts together a customized, whole-person plan for wellness. It may include deeper diagnostic testing to see if you are low in any essential nutrients or high in toxins, an exercise plan, a bespoke supplement protocol, complementary practices to elevate your needs, and diet recommendations. Read about my experience with Integrative Naturopathic Medicine.
- Move to an Organic, Clean Diet Free of Processed Food & Refined Sugar. We have committed to this type of diet personally and it’s made a big difference in how we feel and manage our health as best we can. Be cognizant of what you are eating and how it impacts your body. We are beginning to learn that the gut has more to do with immunity than any other system in our bodies. So what we eat both from metabolic and immunity standpoints is critically important when discussing recovery and overall health. Start incorporating nutrient-rich, healing foods like darker fruits and berries, wild caught salmon, cashews, limited grass-fed beef, fresh broccoli, broccoli sprouts, artichokes. Reduce sugar, alcohol and anything that doesn’t come from the earth. Challenge yourself! Read more about our ketogenic diet tips here.
- Movement is Life (but bring SPF!) Movement is key to living healthy - and sweating is even better. Simply put, getting more physical activity is associated with a lower risk for several types of cancer (ACS). Physical activity can help regulate some hormones that contribute to the development of cancer and help keep the immune system healthy. Commit to at least 30 minutes a day of full-body movement like walking, yoga, a favorite class, a run or pickleball. Just bring sunscreen if you’ll be outdoors for a prolonged amount of time! Read more about sweating and my experience with sauna.
- Reduce Stressors. Stress is not good for our bodies. Some stress is just a part of being human and is unavoidable (hello: screaming toddler). But reducing stress where we can is in our control. We live in a very “loud” world full of stressors ranging from social media, 24-hour news, consuming jobs, violent or tense entertainment, and raising children. Opt-out of stressful situations where you can. I’ve gone from saying “yes” to everything to being selective and it’s had a huge positive impact on my life. Enjoy meditation, quiet time, walking, acupuncture, massage or a warm bath. Reduce the noise where you can!
- Don’t Underestimate the Power of Rest & Sleep. A large-scale study has found that people who sleep less than 6 hours are at heightened risk for cancer (Sleep Foundation). Sleep is the only time our bodies can fully rest and repair themselves, and strengthen our immune systems. No matter how healthy you are, your body is naturally fighting off bad cells (like cancer) every single day. Give it the strength it needs to keep winning the fight. Turn off that TV and stop scrolling in bed! Get 8-9 hours of sleep at night, and nap and rest as needed. Read Aidan’s experience with sleep during and after treatment here.
Information and testing is getting better everyday - feel empowered! Take control of your health.
Get more information about cancer prevention in the AACR Cancer Progress Report, including how modifying behaviors can impact cancer outcomes.