July 22, 2021

Creating Health is like Building a House: 6 Keys to Getting Started.

I’m excited—all because of two life-changing books that came to my attention thanks to an article on Elephant Journal: Anticancer: A New Way of Life by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber and Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six by Dr. Lorenzo Cohen and Alison Jefferies.

The first contains the science, in all its revelatory “oh, but of course” glory. The second provides the plan for incorporating science into life.

These books are more about creating health than fighting disease—and they are for everyone. For those, like me, whom cancer is an ongoing reality. For those whom cancer is a memory, near or distant: a memory that comes with an implicit threat of return. And for those whom cancer is a fear, who would like to live life in such a way as to keep the “Big C” at bay. Or, as Cohen describes it, to transform our internal world into an environment that is inhospitable to cancer.

As we all collectively try to weather this ongoing global pandemic, I can’t help but feel there is a wider application for their wisdom.

Cancer, like COVID-19, is an epidemic in our world. Thanks to, as most of us understand, our vast consumption of processed food, sugar, pesticides, plastics, stress, loneliness, overwork, overwhelm…well, I could go on, but you get the idea.

With the odds so stacked against us, what’s the point of even trying?

When I first received my diagnosis, I flapped around for a while, like the proverbial headless chicken. I flitted from one enthusiasm to the next, some sensible but some completely ridiculous. I subscribed to all the “I can cure cancer” websites. I tried all the diets. I jumped on a mini trampoline because that was supposed to be beneficial for the lymphatic system (although I can’t remember why). I tried acupuncture, homeopathy, and herbal remedies. I spent a fortune, but was unable to sustain any of it. And after all that, I still had cancer.

Enter these two remarkable books. 

The pioneer was Servan-Schreiber, whose extensive research and subsequent lifestyle modifications enabled him to live a long and productive life—despite being diagnosed with an apparently incurable brain tumour at a young age. This trail-blazing doctor is now deceased, but his friend, Cohen, is continuing his work. He conducts ongoing research, runs a clinic that recognises lifestyle as an important factor in both developing and treating cancer, and writes for both medical professionals and the general public. His wife, Jefferies, provides mentorship, in person and in print, for those, like me, who struggle to put science into practice.

So wherein lies the magic?

In a nutshell, they identify six areas of life which we can attend to in order to lessen our susceptibility to this pernicious disease. Or perhaps, any disease? In these Covid-ravaged times, this could be an important question. Most importantly, they don’t debunk the conventional, drug-centred medical wisdom. They work alongside it, to empower people to create the best possible outcomes.

These six areas are written about in the order in which we are advised to attend to them:

>> Love and social support
>> Stress and resilience
>> Rest and recovery
>> Movement
>> Diet
>> Environment

Just looking at this order explains to me why I have consistently failed to successfully implement many permanent changes to my lifestyle. I have always dived straight into diet and exercise without giving any thought to how I could optimise my ability to persevere. Thinking about it now, it’s a no-brainer! All I was doing was piling more stress and activity upon my already overloaded self. Duh…

I should stress that this isn’t an order of importance, just an order of implementation. And while each area of intervention on its own is effective, the most profound effect is observed when the areas work in tandem—hence my excitement.

It’s a bit like building a house. It doesn’t just spring up overnight, but is constructed carefully, one brick at a time. And with each brick it more closely resembles a construction we can live in, or with. Each tiny step conspires with all the other tiny steps to promote our best and healthiest life, regardless of where we are starting from.

I haven’t finished reading the books yet, so I haven’t begun any sort of systematic programme to put their suggestions into practice. But I couldn’t wait until I’d finished reading to write—because it’s too important a message not to share. 

And as I read, I’ve begun making different decisions: healthier, more aware choices. I might decide not to eat dead hen for dinner. I’ve bought a Cubii, an under-desk elliptical trainer, so I can pedal while I read. I might go to bed early instead of bingeing on Netflix. Regardless of what I choose, these books are helping me to step into my power, one decision at a time. With each one, I feel myself becoming stronger. 

Health is more than just an absence of illness—it is a feeling of wellness, of working hand-in-hand with our bodies to create a life that nurtures us. It is the awareness to say “no” to what doesn’t serve us. It is the capacity to cherish the small things—which may, in the end, turn out to be the big things.

In short, living mindfully is our best path to health, wherever we start from. And it’s never too late to start.


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