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“You have cancer.”
These three words are among the scariest in our vocabulary.
I had emergency brain surgery a little over a year ago, was expecting the news about cancer, and still it shocked me.
There is a cliche that goes, “it’s not what happens, it’s what happens next.” I think this statement is of the up most importance when it comes to dealing with a diagnosis and care.
Here are a few strategies that I found helpful for dealing with a new diagnosis:
I found surrounding myself with positive people and distancing myself (as much as possible) from negativity was a tremendous help. Cancer is a difficult condition to live with. There are days when I want to crawl into a ball and just sob and other times when I do crawl into bed and cry.
I either think of every day as a miracle or one where I am a ticking time bomb.
Cancer is hard enough without surrounding yourself with emotional vampires who suck the life out of you. People need to do themselves a favor and walk away from those who would bring them down and surround themselves with those who love and support them. A person does not have to be Pollyanna, but it is important to eliminate as much stress and negativity as possible.
Dr. Bernie Siegel has seen the impact one’s thoughts and attitude have on cancer. Dr. Siegel tells a story about a man diagnosed with terminal cancer and had tumors “the size of melons.” The patient was allowed to participate in a new clinical trial because his medical team figured the drug couldn’t hurt since he was going to probably die within a few days. Days after the drug injection doctors discovered he was, surprisingly, still alive and his tumors had shrunk significantly. The patient continued to improve for a few weeks and then fully regressed after reading a story about his drug being ineffective. The patient’s doctor decided to try an experiment and told the man he was going to give him a more powerful version of the drug. The man started going into remission until he read another article about the ineffectiveness of the drug and died shortly thereafter.
If this was a single incident it would be suspect, especially given the facts presented. However, this kind of recovery is more common than we think. Dr. Kelly Turner wrote a book called Radical Remission that documents over a thousand stories of people achieving radical (or spontaneous) remission. Dr. Kelly’s research uncovered that there are common elements among those who achieved remission. Two of these commonalities are increased positive emotions and forging a deep spiritual connection with god, the universe, etc. The stories in the book include many survivors who were days away from death’s door and still achieved radical remission.
Personal plea: Please, please, please avoid focusing on expectancy statistics.
These statistics are based upon the median, or middle, of a bell curve. This means there are people who live less than the middle and, more importantly, those who live longer. I think many doctors focus on the middle creating a lot of dread in patients. There are many, many stories of long-term survivors on the internet.
One effective strategy for distancing oneself from negativity, is mindfulness.
Before my doctor informed me of my diagnosis, I was an internship away from getting a M.S. In Mental Health Counseling. My favorite counseling technique was to use mindfulness to help reduce a client’s anxiety and depression. The benefits of mindfulness have been scientifically proven to help reduce stress. Recently, the Journal of Health Psychology found a link between practicing mindfulness and lower cortisol (stress-causing agent) levels in the body.
Reducing stress is one of the most important things one can do when dealing with cancer.
But what exactly is mindfulness?
I find many people think mindfulness means sitting cross-legged in a room full of candles while chanting “ommmmmmmm.” Although there are some people who find “traditional” meditation helpful, there is no “official” path to mindfulness. Mindfulness is simply focusing on the present moment. It means watching your mind when it wanders off into some imaginary hellish future or tortures you with painful memories of the past. One can be mindful when they eat, walk and so on. Cancer can help our egos create all kinds of devastating scenarios about our lives. When we are not mindful we miss out on our lives.
Nutrition and supplements can also be helpful when dealing with a new cancer diagnosis.
Tomatoes contain a high amount of an antioxidant called lycopene that helps fight free radicals that cause damage inside the body. There are many “super foods” that create positive changes to our immune systems.
The latest promising cancer research is called immunotherapy and focuses on drugs that super-charge our immune system to fight back against the disease. It seems logical to think that raw foods, such as tomatoes and broccoli, that boost our immune system can be highly beneficial.
There are other foods and spices, such as curcumin, that can be tremendously helpful for cancer survivors. Curcumin (or Turmeric) is a spice that has been used in India and Asia to treat a number of health problems. Curcumin has been used as a medical treatment for a long time and research has backed up its effectiveness. A 2008 study by the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center found that curcumin is a promising agent in the fight against cancer.
According to the American Cancer Society, research has revealed that curcumin interferes with several processes that allow cancerous tumors to grow and spread. There are many people that have trouble adjusting to the taste of the spice, but there is an effective supplement replacement called Longvida Curcumin. The University of Ohio discovered that Longvida Curcumin had the highest levels of bio-availability when compared to other curcumin supplements. When I returned home from brain surgery, several doctor friends of mine recommended I start using curcumin immediately.
Believe it or not there are several mushrooms that have proven to be effective against cancer.
Chaga and Reishi mushrooms are two fungi that have been studied by various institutions. The Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, the BEST cancer treatment center in the country, states that the Chaga mushroom is an anti-inflammatory agent that can inhibit tumor growth and help reduce toxicity. Chaga tends to have a bitter taste, but is available as a tea or supplement.
Reishi mushrooms can also be effective for cancer. The Susan G Komen Foundation writes that Reishi has been used for thousands of years in Chinese medicine and can be beneficial when treating cancer. The US Library of Medicine reviewed research about Reishi mushrooms and concluded it was an effective adjunct treatment for cancer patients.
I would also strongly suggest you keep your eye on the latest research and clinical drug trials. For example, medical marijuana has incredible potential when it comes to treating brain tumors. Researchers from the University of London discovered that two components of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabinol, and cannabidol, has been effective at shrinking brain tumors. The same study also discovered that medical marijuana helps reduce the pain associated with chemotherapy.
The latest clinical trial studies, including ones that are admitting new participants, can be found at here.
Regardless of which treatment method survivors use, adding essential vitamins to a person’s diet is a must. Science Daily reported that people being treated for colon cancer had higher survival rates with higher vitamin D levels. Vitamin E helps boost one’s immune system and has been found to be effective in cancer treatment.
It is important to do the research and find high-quality foods and supplements (raw foods are a better source of vitamins than supplements) to give the body the essential vitamins it needs to improve overall health and survive cancer.
I think it goes without saying that avoiding fast foods or anything with the words partially-hydrogenated or high fructose in it is a sound strategy. However, how many people commit to removing these toxins from their life? If we, as survivors, have never taken our diet seriously, we may want to consider it the second after a diagnosis.
Optimum health helps keep the immune system stay strong, which in turn helps the body cope with cancer.
Finally keep an open mind, do the research and trust in the power of instinct. Cancer is a condition the survivor is dealing with—not the doctor or anyone else. Ultimately, we are responsible for deciding what actions we want to take. Alternative healers have strong feelings about traditional medicine, skeptics think anything not proven by “hard science” is quackery, and most doctors have trouble thinking outside of the box. Dr. Kelly Turner found that taking control of one’s medical care was a common trait among people who achieved radical remission.
We have the right to decide what is best for us.
I hope these strategies are helpful. From one survivor to another: I wish you much love and success.
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Author: Andrew Langerman
Volunteer Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Renee Picard
Photos: Steven Jackson via Flickr / Torben Hansen via Flickr
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