How to Thrive not just Survive with Cancer
WHAT IS CANCER?
Cancer can be defined as the lack of elimination of dysfunctional cells that leads to an excess production of abnormal cells. When these abnormal cells grow into a cluster of cells, they will eventually appear into what we call a tumor. Occasionally, these tumors are benign causing no harm, but too often they are malignant and if untreated can cause failure of one or more body systems and lead to death. Cancers are named according to the organ they initially arise from along with a pathological description of their cell type.
The most commonly seen cancers are breast, prostate, lung, colon-rectal, and melanoma. As a cause of death, cancer is only second to heart disease. Although some cancers are genetic, it has been found that typically environmental and lifestyle factors play a dominant role in causing cancer. Specifically, inherited genetic mutations significantly contribute to only the development of 5 to 10 percent of cancer.
Though many lifestyle choices can significantly reduce one’s risk, age is the one risk factor one has no control over. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, 87 percent of the cancer diagnosed in the U.S. are in individuals 50 years of age and older.
WHY DO PEOPLE GET CANCER?
If one looks at the more preventable causative environmental and lifestyle factors, it becomes obvious that lifestyle factors are the area one has the most control. Through being one’s own health advocate and having a heightened awareness, one can even avoid many of the environmental risk factors. For example, air pollution is much higher in the more congested highly populated cities which increases one’s risk of lung cancer and is associated with poorer cancer survival. Even “closer to home” is if you work in an environment, such as a beauty salon, where the air is bothersome to your breathing. Here one could say “that if you breath it, then you own it.”
When I work with patients, I talk about short term goals and long-term goals. Changing one’s workplace is typically a long-term goal unless you can convince your employer that making the change will be beneficial not only for the health of the employees, but a reduction in time of and disability costs due to increased health problems.
Lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise are aspects that one has the most control. In fact, the same fast and convenient foods that causes diabetes or heart disease in some individuals will pre-dispose one to cancer. Essentially, an optimal diet and lifestyle suppresses one’s disease-causing genes while a poor diet and lifestyle allows disease causing genes to be expressed allowing the disease to grow and flourish. And then there is the “elephant in the room” STRESS. Stress is as easily acknowledged as it is difficult to reign-in and control. Yet the more one can implement factors to reduce the stress and add in some “stress reducers” the better one’s quality of life will improve. Here the top two best and well know stress reducers are: ensuring you get eight hours of restful sleep and twenty to thirty minutes of exercise daily.
TRADITIONAL ONCOLOGY- cancer reduction
Traditional therapy does a good job at killing tumor cells and over the years has continually strived to be more tumor specific thus attempting to minimize damage to the rest of the body. From my perspective the most essential thing to realize when treating cancer is that it is like fighting a war “at home” with “home” being one’s body! Still currently the three most common therapeutic agents are surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Although, surgery is the most invasive therapy, I consider it to be the most benign because it can focus directly on the cancer and spare, as much as possible, normal body tissue. The biggest gains in surgery for added specificity has undeniably been through the use of robotic surgery.
From my perspective the use of chemotherapy has been most successfully improved by much more intentionally dosing the chemotherapy to the patient which has significantly reduced the intensity of the side effects. Earlier in my career I was often frustrated seeing patients encouraged to undergo a chemotherapy session when they and their blood counts looked so anemic. Fortunately, I have seen that doing cycles of chemotherapy has a much more controllable effect on a patient’s blood counts than when it is done continuously as in the past.
I see the use of radiation therapy being more targeted, and more effectively focused on the cancer. A classic example of this is proton beam radiation therapy initially for brain tumors and more recently for prostate tumors. Both of these areas represent sensitive areas of the body where pinpoint targeting avoids destruction of the surrounding body tissue.
Yet as effective as these tools are for selectively killing tumor cells, they do nothing to prevent tumor growth or spread. Even the newer immunotherapy does not get to the core of the issue which is treating the often-multiple causative factors that allow cancer to survive and grow. This is where supportive therapy for cancer patients comes in to assist the body’s transition to remission and improve one’s overall quality of life through the entire cancer treatment process.
SUPPORTIVE THERAPY FOR CANCER PATIENTS- health enhancement
After utilizing supportive therapy with my cancer patients for over 25 years, I am convinced that those patients who have the longest survival rates have been pro-active in their health care. From my patients in the military, I have come to understand that “battles are not won by just air support, but primarily through the concentrated efforts in hand-to-hand combat of the ground troops.” When relating this to cancer, I look at standard cancer therapy with surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy as the “air support” and cancer supportive therapy as supporting the patient or “ground troops.” Those patients who rallied their immune “ground troops” have been able to remain in remission, or even survive years beyond the average successfully implemented significant dietary and lifestyle changes, often on their own, without any professional guidance.
The foundation of one’s health starts with a vegetable centered anti-inflammatory diet. Chronic disease whether it is obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or cancer all have the common aspect of being affected from a processed food diet that is devoid of many nutrients and causes excess inflammation in the body. I diet I typically implement is a modified Mediterranean anti-inflammatory diet. The modifications are further limiting carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, and tortillas along with using whole fruit and berries as a health snack while avoiding dried fruit and fruit juice.
The next area of importance is considering the type of cancer that a patient has along with the extent or staging of their disease. Here I choose selected nutraceutical supplements that through research have been found to help support one’s immune system and lead to better survival rates with one’s cancer. High dose IV Vitamin C has been time proven to both be unfavorable to cancer cells as well as help reduce the toxic effects of chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The effective dose of IV Vitamin C is much higher than one’s digestive tract could ever handle. Similarly, when Ozone is mixed with one’s blood and then infused back through an IV it is toxic to tumor cells. Additionally, Ozone is helpful by feeding oxygen and energizing the mitochondria, often called the “energy factories of the body,” thereby helping reduce fatigue.
One of the biggest challenges a patient with cancer has is being somewhat debilitated and then trying also to cope with the effects of undergoing surgery along with the toxicities of chemotherapy or radiation therapy. For this reason, I have found it especially beneficial to do a micronutrient blood test to evaluate a patients overall nutritional status. In this way I can make a combination of dietary, oral or IV nutritional suggestions to optimize your health and quality of life.
As an Osteopathic Physician, I have additional training in musculoskeletal medicine. Our unique approach considers what impact diminished blood, nerve and lymphatic circulation from musculoskeletal restrictions has on a patient’s cancer. From my personal experience I find that about 60% of my patients with cancer have a significant musculoskeletal imbalance either at the site of their cancer or affecting lymphatic circulation. Through the use of Osteopathic Myofascial Therapy patients benefit from reduction of pain and swelling, better delivery of vital nutrients, and a better ability of your immune system to fight your cancer allowing an improved quality of life.
HOW TO BECOME A CANCER SURVIVOR- taking charge
When I work with patients who have cancer I feel as much a health coach as a physician. I have found that as patients take charge of their health, one becomes enabled to be an overcomer which leads to an energized feeling and a more positive attitude. In addition to being proactive with diet I next look at a number of lifestyle factors such as exercise, sleep, and the amount of stress you are dealing with.
Exercise and its benefits are often misunderstood and not appreciated. The musculoskeletal system makes up 80% of our bodies mass; our body’s metabolism as well as our mental outlook improve with regular motion or activity. This is part of the foundational concepts of Osteopathic Medicine. Motion and activity in one’s life is a natural counterpart to the myofascial therapy I do with my patients. With cancer I find a patient needs to balance getting some regular activity like walking sporadically through the day, but not too intensely otherwise, it can interfere with one’s healing process. The goal of Osteopathic myofascial therapy is to reduce pain, to enhance delivery of nutrients, and allow the immune system to effectively engage with your cancer. Without good circulation, your cancer is more isolated from your immune system and able to freely grow and spread as it likes.
Good sleep is paramount to our overall health in that it allows our body to have enough rest for your body to restore, heal, metabolize nutrients, and mentally process our days activities. I have found that stress and pain are two of the biggest factors that interfere with one having a good night's sleep. In the last decade, we have been quite effective in interfering with the healing benefits of our sleep through our addiction with our cell phones and computers. So, I recommend for you to are start winding down your day after dinner and keep on a regular sleep schedule with the goal of getting eight or more hours of restful sleep for maximum healing. Initially, some individuals might even need one or two “cat naps” of ten to thirty minutes during the day.
Stress is typically the biggest challenge in our modern life especially when you are dealing with all the complications of a chronic disease like cancer. Regardless of one’s faith or belief in God, I have found the central tenet of the Serenity Prayer to be most helpful. If you are not familiar it goes like this: “God, grant me the Serenity and Peace to accept the things I cannot change, the Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference. Eventually we come to the place of realization that some things in life are just not in our control; we need to concentrate on the things we can control, get help where we can, and just hope for the best with the rest.
LIVING BEYOND CANCER- your 2nd birthday
An interesting observation from working with patients who have cancer is that first one counts the days, next one counts the months, then often eventually one counts the years. After a while I started to realize this sounds just like a toddler. So, I suggest one gives themselves some grace to have a number of small feedings, an occasional nap, a couple of times of activity during the day, and a good night’s sleep. Another interesting insight is that I find patients with cancer benefit from some time in their lives focusing on other things whether it be a reduced work schedule, hobby, or volunteer activity. Too much activity does not allow the body to heal while with too little activity we tend to just on our health which reduces our quality of life. Here my suggestion is that working with one’s cancer should not be more than a part time job. Finally, I encourage my patients to look beyond their cancer by exploring any hobbies or ventures that they have left unexplored.
As your doctor and health coach I am glad to partner with you in your fight and healing process with cancer. Together with the help of your other doctors, family, and friend support, we will do our best to maintain an optimal quality of life and strive to become another cancer survivor!
1* Medical News Today What to know about cancer Rachel Nall CRNA January 6, 2020
2* Medical News Today What to know about cancer Rachel Nall CRNA January 6, 2020
3* American Cancer Society Journal Outdoor air pollution and cancer: An overview of the current evidence and public health recommendations Volume 70, Issue 6 November/December 2020
4* NIH Arch Pharm Res. Epigenetic modifications of gene expression by lifestyle and environment October 17 2017