What Cancer Taught Me About Overall Health

Self-care has always been important to me, but this year, it has taken on a whole new meaning and level of importance. In the last year, too many people close to me have hit major health speed bumps. My aunt just finished up treatment for breast cancer. My best friend had open heart surgery back in April — at just 23 years old. In May, my mom was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. Her doctor couldn’t understand why because she didn’t have any of the risk factors. A week and a half later, she was admitted to the hospital for a radical hysterectomy. She was considered technically cancer free after surgery. But after that, opinions from doctors differed. No one could agree on the specific kind of cancer she had or on treatment options.

During the process of getting second, third, and fourth opinions, Mom and I did a lot of research. The hours spent doing Google searches, taking trips to the book store, reading, watching documentaries, and talking to friends who had battled cancer were unending. We looked at the side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. We looked at alternative treatments. We looked at the effects of diet on our bodies. We looked at lifestyle changes that have a positive impact.

All of this research ended in a decision many would consider surprising — my mom decided to not pursue any further traditional treatment. This is a really personal decision. I imagine most people’s gut reaction is to have doctors do everything they can do to get the cancer out. What would I have done? I think about this pretty often. And my answer probably depends on what day it is, maybe I would do both. For a while my mom felt like there wasn’t a right decision. One night we were talking about what decision she’d make. She felt like if she did go through radiation and chemo and had a second cancer, she would feel like she made the wrong decision. If she went all-natural and the cancer came back, she would feel like she made the wrong decision. So I looked at her and said “Nothing in life is 100%. I know you feel like neither of these decisions will be for sure, but which one would give you more peace? If you did get cancer again, which one would you feel less angry about doing?” And that was the deal breaker for her.

Cancer has just been the catalyst for educating ourselves on health. Anyone can benefit from what we’ve learned over the last four months. I’m not going to go into incredible detail about everything that we learned because I’m not a scientist, nutritionist, or doctor. I don’t claim to be an authority about any of this. But I am going to give you a brief run down on our health journey, what we’ve learned, and share some awesome resources that we found to be helpful + valuable. Making our health a priority in simple, but consistent ways allows our bodies to work the most efficiently. When I’m doing a good job of taking care of myself and keeping things in balance, I’m happier, I’m less stressed, I have more energy, and I’m less likely to get sick. To top it off, these lifestyle habits are linked with promoting healing, preventing cancer and heart disease, and overall wellness.

So what did we learn?

Cancer treatment can sometimes cause problems.
Research on effects of cancer treatments needs to thoughtfully considered because it is usually years after treatment before any longterm negative side effects are known. Often between these periods there are changes and advancements in treatment, so it’s hard to keep up because current research is often not a reflection of current advances in technology. We know of a few people who have had cancer, received treatment, and years later developed a second cancer.  Some of their doctors are convinced it is from treatment of the first cancer, other doctors will tell you there’s no evidence of such. When my aunt was given the run down on going through chemo and radiation, her doctors warned her of the possibility of a second cancer popping up later. As far as situations where treatment causes death, often treatments like chemotherapy reduce the body’s immune system to nothing and then build it back up. The body’s lack of defense allows for all sorts of problems to creep in.

The decisions you make everyday make up your health.
For as long as we can remember, we’ve been told to eat well, drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, and exercise at least 3o minutes a day. This is honestly the best advice you can follow. The decisions you make every day either heal or hurt. And over time, those decisions build up. So do you want a strong immune system able to fight away all the sickness? Or do you want to feel sick, tired, and old way before your time? I don’t know about you, but I want to be working out and vacationing at 70. Not clicking away at the remote.

A real food, vegetarian or vegan diet is the way to go.
We tend to think that if we “have a salad instead” that we’re being “healthy” and congratulate ourselves for drinking a single glass of water because we’re “doing something.” While something is better than nothing, the reality is, we’re never going to be truly healthy until we shift the way we think about food. I am obsessed with food. But I now view food as fuel. As a result, I’ve learned how to make food fun and explored new ingredients and recipes. Going vegan and avoiding fake processed food feeds your body while avoiding foods that have been messed with by the food industry. That means missing out on a lot of hormones, GMOs, refined/processed sugars, etc. When you think about it, real food is a lot like us. It lives, breathes, and grows. And like us, it’s been here since the beginning of time. Unlike microwave dinners and Poptarts.

Spending time in the sun is good. 
It’s estimated that over 80% of Americans are Vitamin D deficient. Maybe that’s because we spend almost all of our time inside. My mom has a friend, Sandy, who naturally cured her breast cancer (no surgery, no chemo, no radiation, and 10 months later, no cancer!). She tries to spend an hour a day out in the sun. That can be as simple as taking your computer with out and working outside for an hour, taking your lunch outside, or going on an hour long walk around the neighborhood. I find that I can spend about 30 minutes outside before my fair skin burns, so if I plan on staying out longer and it’s bright out, I’m gonna need SPF!

You have a valid excuse to hit the sauna.
I repeat: you have a valid excuse to hit the sauna. This is another thing that Sandy introduced us to: infrared saunas. Now, let me explain the difference between infrared saunas and the regular dry saunas at your gym. Infrared saunas heat your body from the inside out, meaning that it heats your body as opposed to the air. They also heat your body at a lower temperature (20-50 degrees cooler) than a regular sauna does. So in an infrared sauna session, I sweat a lot more in a shorter amount of time and I feel like I can breathe the entire time I’m in there. Because it heats me up at a cooler temp, I also don’t feel like I’m burning the inside of my nose every time I breathe in like I do when I sauna at the gym. Getting your sweat on the lazy way helps your body expel toxins, boost the immune system, shed water weight, and improve circulation (and skin!).

So what does a good week look like realistically? 
Getting 7-8 hours of sleep a night
Eating real fresh food, grown from the ground (fruits, veggies, lentils, seeds)
Drinking water like it’s your job
Working out or going for long walks several times
Spending a few hours out in the sun
Sitting in the sauna for a few hours

Because health has recently taken up such a large amount of energy the last few months, I really want to continue the conversation about being proactive with our health. We’ve learned a lot and there are some topics that I’d like to explore a little deeper, so look out for wellness posts on Wednesdays. Until then, feel free to check out some of the resources that have helped us in our health journey.

S H O P   T H E   P O S T


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