Through the month of June we celebrate and bring attention to Cancer Survivors. A “Cancer Survivor” is anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer and is still alive.
You may be moving through treatment, you may be living with cancer, or maybe you’re in remission. There are more than 32 million cancer survivors worldwide and nearly 17 million in the United States alone. Those numbers are expected to increase to over 22 million in the U.S. by the year 2030.
In many ways this is fantastic news. Cancer is not the death sentence it used to be. About two out of three cancer survivors (68%) were diagnosed five or more years ago and nearly one in five (18%) was diagnosed 20 or more years ago.
So how do we make sure that you become one of the survivors that thrives to the 20+ year mark?
Here’s what The American Cancer Society recommends to Cancer Survivors:
- Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Achieve a dietary pattern that is high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Follow the American Cancer Society Guidelines for Nutrition & Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention
Although none of the above points are wrong, I don’t believe they dive deep enough. The needs of someone who has already had cancer are much greater.
4 Challenges Every Cancer Survivor Faces
Once you’ve had cancer you are now in a unique category of people. Not only do you automatically have an increased risk for recurrence or getting a second cancer. You also have the lingering trauma and side effects from treatment to deal with. Here are four challenges I believe every cancer survivor faces.
Challenge 1: Surviving Treatment
If we agree that you become a “Cancer Survivor” at the moment of diagnosis, then the first challenge is to get through treatment.
Traditional cancer treatments wreak havoc on your body. There’s just no way around that. We hope that they also wreak havoc on the cancer cells and clear them from your body.
There is however a lot we can do to support your body through treatment. Bringing in targeted strategies like fasting, detox support, a nutrient rich, anti-inflammatory diet, supplements, exercise, and other tools can all help support treatment, protect healthy cells, and minimize side effects.
Challenge 2: Long Term Side Effects
Once treatment is complete, the next challenge is managing the long term side effects of treatment. This will vary for each person depending on what treatment you received and how well your body can detoxify both the medications and dead tissues and cancer cells. Taking the time and attention to rebuild your body after treatment will greatly decrease the risk for these long term side effects.
Challenge 3: Ongoing Mental & Emotional Stress
Simply hearing the words, “you have cancer”, creates a cascade of intense and turbulent emotions. Then there is the stress and burden posed by the cancer journey itself plus the intensity of treatment received. It’s estimated that up to 50% of cancer patients experience symptoms of depression and up to 25% experience anxiety.
You hope that once you make it to the end of the journey, everything will go back to normal. But for most people, just because the cancer is gone, doesn’t mean the negative feelings are gone.
The ongoing mental and emotional challenges are sometimes worse than the physical treatments endured during treatment. It has been estimated that up to 30% of cancer survivors experience PTSD linked to their cancer experience following completion of their treatment. The most notable psychological challenge accompanying remission is the fear of recurrence.
Applying mind-body strategies are essential to helping you manage the unsettling emotions that are likely to arise. They can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, along with feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness. You can find the way to not just survive but to enjoy life again and experience peace and fulfillment. Read more about how to do this here: Nurturing Emotional Wellness In The Face of Disease.
Challenge 4: Increased Risk for Recurrence or a Secondary Cancer
Then there’s the unfortunate reality that once you’ve had cancer you will always have an increased risk for either a recurrence of the same cancer or the development of a new cancer.
This is thought to be due to shared risk factors (like obesity, smoking, or lack of exercise) that allowed your body to grow the cancer in the first place. Genetics may also be a factor. Or the long-term side effects from traditional treatments like chemotherapy or radiation; which can increase risk for other cancers to grow.
I personally believe that the increased risk has mostly to do with underlying root imbalances that are not addressed. If you don’t look deeper into what may have caused your cancer and take steps to remedy that then you can’t be assured that it won’t just come back again.
3 Steps To Rebuild Your Body
Taking the time to rebuild and repair your body following cancer treatment is a critical piece to helping you live a long and healthy life post cancer. The first step technically starts during treatment. Bringing in as many strategies as possible to reduce side effects, protect your healthy cells, and support recovery. Once treatment is finished, then the focus shifts to helping your body rebuild and repair.
Step 1. Detoxification Support
You can begin the process of rebuilding by bringing in foods & strategies to boost your detoxification pathways. This will help your body clean up and eliminate dead cells and tissues, expedite the removal of any lingering medications, and give the liver and kidneys a much needed boost after working “full-on” for the last several months.
Many lingering side effects associated with treatment, such as fatigue, brain fog or muscle aches and pains, are often a consequence of slow detoxification rather than from the treatment itself. By taking steps to enhance your detoxification pathways you will not only help yourself feel better now you will also be boosting a very important system in your cancer defense down the road.
Here are just some of the ways you can begin to boost detoxification:
- Identify & Remove Toxins
- Add Colorful Fruits & Veggies, Leafy Greens, Cruciferous Veggies, & Alliums
- Epsom Salt Baths
- Deep Breathing
- Dry Brushing
You can read more about Detoxification & Cancer Recovery HERE.
Step 2. Microbiome Repair
Traditional cancer treatments take a toll on the gut. There’s a lot we can do to minimize this during treatment but the truth is by the time treatment is finished the microbiome has changed and the gut is usually inflamed and leaky. Repairing the lining of the gut and re-balancing the microbiome should be at the top of your “to-do” list post-treatment.
Not only is this important because of the lingering digestive issues you may be experiencing but even more so because the microbiome has an essential role in enhancing your immune system and preventing cancer-causing pathogens & toxins from entering your bloodstream. There is even some research suggesting that leaky gut alone could be the cause of some cancers forming elsewhere in the body.
There are 4 steps to heal a leaky gut and re-balance the microbiome:
- Remove foods and substances that harm the gut.
- Replace with healing foods; specifically anti-inflammatory & microbiome supporting foods.
- Repair the lining of the gut with specific nutrients, herbs, & supplements; a great place to start is by adding Throat Coat Tea from Traditional Medicinals.
- Re-balance the microbiome by adding probiotics and naturally fermented foods.
You can read more about Leaky Gut & Cancer HERE.
Step 3. Nutrient Repletion
There are many reasons you can become nutritionally deficient during cancer treatment and I dare say that pretty much everyone has some level of deficiency by the time they finish treatment.
This is a result from:
- Appetite & taste changes, which make it harder for you to eat a good variety of healthy foods
- Digestive issues, which make it challenging to absorb the foods you are eating
- Chemotherapy and various medications depleting certain nutrients from your body
Your body needs nutrient dense foods now more than ever! These are the foods that will not only help to repair your body from treatment but will also be the foods to keep your body healthy and cancer-free for years to come.
Here are some of my favorite nutrient-rich foods I suggest bringing in first:
- Mineral-Rich Bone Broth
- Organic Pastured Eggs
- Dark Leafy Greens
- Wild Salmon (+ other wild cold-water fish & shellfish)
- Almonds (+ other raw nuts)
Getting To The Root Cause(s)
Once you’ve given yourself some time to rebuild your body and process this journey you’ve just been on, then it’s time to start digging deeper.
Why did you get cancer in the first place? Are those risks gone? Have you dug deep enough to actually know what may have caused the cancer to form?
Cancer is obviously a very complex disease with no easy answer to the first question everyone asks…“Why did I get cancer?”.
Let me start by saying, it’s not from bad luck!
Traditionally, cancer may have been blamed on genetics. Although your genes can increase your risk, we now understand that our lifestyle influences genetic expression. So what we DO actually changes the way our DNA is used and that the choices we make can forever transform our genetic code.
We all have systems in place that act as our defense against cancer. When these systems become burdened, sluggish, or imbalanced, an environment is created where cancer can grow and thrive.
Here are what I believe to be 3 primary drivers of cancer development and spread plus the systems that are responsible for managing these drivers.
- Toxic Load & Detoxification Pathways
- Microbiome Imbalance & the Digestive System
- Chronic Inflammation, Infections, & the Immune System
It’s not always obvious what’s going on behind the scenes. Or for that matter what’s causing those annoying symptoms that just won’t go away…despite all the good stuff you’ve brought in.
In my Dad’s case he had un-diagnosed Epstein Barr Virus that we suspect may have been the start of his life-long struggle with chronic inflammation. He was also exposed to many different toxins over his life, including Round-Up (on a fairly regular basis) and high doses of chemotherapy to treat his Rheumatoid Arthritis not to mention the chemotherapy from his first round of cancer. We also discovered 5 different parasites in his gut. The build-up of all of these things likely caused his cancer and the subsequent recurrence.
Getting to the root cause of what’s going on in your body is where the world of functional medicine really shines. This model of medicine provides the framework and tools to help you assess what’s really going on behind the scenes.
You can learn more about Functional Medicine HERE.
This is an area where I am continuing to learn how to use labs and different tools to help my clients explore their root causes and create plans to remedy them.
It will take a comprehensive lifestyle plan including diet, supplements, and various other strategies to repair and remedy these root causes. But it is possible! And when long-term survivorship is the goal this is an area you don’t want to skip.
Optimize Your Prevention Strategies
Assuming you have done your due diligence. You spent the time and energy to rebuild your body after treatment. You then dove deeper into potential root causes and are working through healing protocols to remedy those.
The final step is to go back to the beginning. To optimize your overall prevention strategies.
To continue to nourish yourself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. To be vigilant about minimizing your exposure to toxins and to continue to support all three of your body’s cancer defense systems.
As Always, Start With Your Diet
The easiest and most impactful place to start is always with your diet.
To remove toxic foods and bring in more of the foods that will help your body heal. Thankfully a lot of these foods are the same. The foods that nourish your immune system, prevent cancer, support detoxification, and feed your microbiome.
Cancer recovery and prevention will always require a holistic approach. It will never be just one thing that helps you heal. Bringing in a comprehensive plan will give you the best chance at a full recovery and a long cancer-free life.
Let’s review the steps you can take to optimize your cancer survivorship:
- Bring in supportive strategies during treatment
- Rebuild your body post treatment by focusing on Detoxification Support, Microbiome Repair, & Nutrient Repletion
- Add a functional provider to your team to help you uncover and remedy potential Root Causes.
- Continue to nourish yourself deeply and optimize your Prevention Strategies
- Work with your oncologist and primary provider to follow regular Screening and Monitoring schedules
It is believed that the first 2 years following cancer treatment, your risk for a recurrence is at its highest. Now is not the time to lower your guard. Now is the time to help your body heal and boost your defense systems.
I can help you face the challenges of cancer survivorship and build a protocol that will guide you through each stage of your recovery and long-term prevention plan. If you are looking for a professional to coach you through this, then the first step is to book a FREE Planning Session where we will review your diet, your lifestyle, your cancer treatment journey, and begin to map out your best recovery strategy.
Click here to book a 20-minute “Cancer Recovery Planning Session”.
You don’t have to do it alone! I would be honored to help guide you on this journey.