What Do You Think of When You Hear the Word Cancer?
I feel a lot of different emotions, and meanwhile various thoughts dance through my head.
Thoughts such as…
Oh gosh, now who?
Please, you are kidding me…
I don’t feel safe.
When will there be a cure?
Fear. Sadness. Grief. Worry. Humility. Shock. Hope. Hopelessness. Helplessness. Vulnerability.
Am I the only one that feels there are weekly announcements about someone I know having cancer, whether that be someone I know personally or indirectly, such as the friend of a friend? It seems to be becoming a more and more common occurrence which is why my first thought tends to be, ‘ Now who?’
My father passed away of brain cancer at the age of 66, and both my maternal grandparents died of cancer at a similar age. Now my uncle is on his deathbed after discovering bone cancer about one month ago. I also have a distant cousin who wrote a book called The Cancer Coach after his battle with melanoma (which he won and thus felt compelled to write a book). He wrote a truly wonderful story about his battle. Darren and his wife moved to Portugal and were living a dream life until he died of stomach cancer this spring at the young age of 55. I am sure all of you have similar stories or maybe you’ve beat cancer yourself!
I listened to a podcast recently by a very experienced functional medicine doctor who has been practising medicine for over 40 years. After listening to this podcast, I was left with hope, not hopelessness. And this is why.
Dr. Hyman described how there are two ‘parts’ of cancer. One being the disease itself and the other part being ‘the host’. What he was basically describing is that you do have some measure of control over cancer, and you execute that control by boosting your immune system. He reminded us we have intricate and powerful ways of fighting the spread, by changing the environment of the host. Traditional therapies such as chemotherapy and radiation combined with changing the host IS the best way.
We can take our health into our own hands in many ways. For example, if you were told tomorrow that you had cancer, and then were told that there was nothing to be done right now but the doctors would “actively survey” it by doing a scan once a month. You might think, excuse me? How is that “active”? There is nothing ACTIVE about that suggestion. In other words, the medical team would be saying that they hope nothing comes up. Personally, I would feel like a sitting time bomb. What exactly is happening to my body’s physiology as the month passes?
This is where control comes in. We know that cancer loves an environment that holds sources of inflammation. So this could be someone with obesity, environmental toxins, or metabolic conditions like diabetes. However, we need to highlight that chronic stress and worry are also huge inflammation drivers. With regards to toxins, I often wondered about my own father’s handling of pesticides and herbicides in the 50s and 60s, with very little protection to his skin, lungs, etc. I personally feel these toxins might have contributed to his death.
There are precancerous cells in all of us. Yes, right now as you read this, you have precancerous cells. But – not all of them become invasive. Knowing what I just said that you have precancerous cells in your body right now, my question is… what are you doing RIGHT NOW in order for them not to grow and proliferate?
There are many systems within our body. In functional medicine we plot these systems in a matrix; gut, immune, energy or mitochondrial function, toxins, cardiovascular system, hormones/neurotransmitters, structures (skin, bones, etc.). All these systems work together, and they regulate your health. Blood work can tell us a lot about how well these systems are working, but it doesn’t tell us all of it. Going back to the host example, rather than focusing on the site of the disease, such as the prostate, it would be far wiser to focus on a flaw that might be affecting one or more of the systems. In other words, a person who has breast cancer might have a lot more in common with a person that has colon cancer, because the systemic breakdown might be of the same origin, because the actual manifestation of the disease may have been due to poor metabolic health. We can dive deeper into each of these systems with specific specialized tests, such as a stool test, which presents an incredible amount of information on the health of the gut microbiome.
I am not saying that you need to order such a test, but if you are someone that has always suffered from gut issues, then that would be an option for you. These specialized tests are different from a stool test your doctor orders which tests for pathogens, parasites, and markers of disease. The specialized stool tests measure dysbiosis or the number of healthy bacteria compared to unhealthy bacteria found in the gut lining. The prevalence of certain types of bacteria are often correlated to specific conditions. This can range from constipation to autoimmune diseases. If you are someone that has always contracted colds, viruses, etc. then you might want to consider a test for your immunity, which could be a gut/stool test because your immune system runs along your gut wall. If you have suffered from skin disorders all your life such as rosacea, psoriasis, then you know your immune system is constantly being attacked. If you have PCOS, horrible cramping, or other menstrual issues, then. you know that your hormonal balance is off, and so on. If you are on blood pressure medication, that is another sign of poor metabolic health.
What I am saying is that you already have a pretty good hunch as to how healthy you are right now, and if you are on medications directly associated with less-than-optimal health relating to any of these seven systems I have listed, then perhaps you need to start thinking less from a place of ‘ there is a pill for every ill’ and instead ‘ what am I doing in the areas of prevention’?
Here are some simple suggestions you can incorporate today, none of which are new but all of which are incredibly simple!
Exposure to Toxins: Consider the exposure to body care products with things like lead and parabens in them; make sure to always check the ingredients. Wash your produce and eat organic when you can. Basically, reconsider the air you breathe, the toxic exposure of the food you place in your mouth, and the water you drink daily. Perhaps you might want to relocate.
Movement: There are simply no excuses for this. Move every day. I don’t care what you do. Just move.
Nutrition: Eat quality food, at least 80% of the time. Don’t get bogged down with the latest diet fads. It is really, really simple. Limit sugar as many research articles have proved that cancer loves sugar as it relates to cancer cell proliferation.
Thoughts: Stay in your lane. Stop being concerned about what others are thinking. Mind your own business. Stop worrying. Do your best, forget the rest.
Take control of your own health: What does this mean to me? It means getting yearly check-ups and getting curious about my own blood work. If your doctor responds to questions you have about blood markers being out of range with dismissive comments like, “Oh, but you’re young [or old, or healthy], don’t worry about it,” just know that none of that is acceptable. To me, age is simply a number. I am healthier now than when I was in my 30s, and I plan on getting healthier in the years to come. In fact, I had a recent appointment at the Lipid Clinic where the physician calculated my risk for cardiovascular disease/incident. He used a graph to determine my ‘risk ratio’. Age was used as one of the markers in determining the risk. Personally, I disregarded that marker. I mean, I totally understand how these tables are created; the studies extract data from a specific cohort of individuals that are not me (and sadly many of these studies are done on men, not woman). I appreciate the expertise, but in the end, I will decide by how I feel.
Just some ‘food for thought’. You have the right to make your own decisions about your own health. If you are wondering why I had an appointment at the lipid clinic, I suspect that I have a gene variation that makes it difficult for me to rid cholesterol out of the body since my LDL levels are high. The bottom line is that I needed more tests to determine this. I know what those tests are and will be asking for this. My knowledge of functional medicine allowed me to go in there very informed. Otherwise, I might have taken the suggestion of ‘preventative care’ and now be on a statin.
The problem with our current medical system now is that they treat the disease – rather than find the cause. Our current system views scans, scopes, and tests like mammograms as preventative medicine. That is far from preventative. That means the disease has been there months and even years prior to it being discovered. We need to become our own detectives but in a way that we do not become hypochondriacs. We also need to be highly respectable to the excellent physicians and staff that are out there and who want to change the state of healthcare.
In summary, I do think we can change the state of our healthcare, but we all need to want to change. And we do this one step at a time. As with all change we want to create, it starts with you. You and one day at a time, one step at a time.
I wish you a healthy day, week, month, and years to come.
Since the time this post was written and the time you are reading this, my uncle has passed this 3-D world to one that is much greater. May his dear soul rest in peace and his spirit fill the beautiful hills and valleys where he spent all his mortal life.