Making Changes to Diet and Lifestyle
Last updated: February 2021
We often read how important diet can be to contribute to a healthier life, and this can become even more relevant after being diagnosed with cancer. I can honestly say that prior to my diagnosis, the importance of what food I consumed was not a major factor I considered. I tried my best to eat healthily, or at least my wife did because if left up to me, my choice would be the fastest and most convenient way to refuel, with barely a thought on what the consequences may be to my health.
Trying to help my body fight the cancer
Fortunately, what came with my diagnosis followed by several recurrences is a realization that I must try to help my body fight off the cancer. My medical team is doing what they can on the clinical side, so I’ve taken to supporting their efforts with a complete overhaul of my lifestyle and diet. Why is this important? I was informed early in my diagnosis through my oncologist that approximately one-third of cancers are directly linked to diet. I didn’t really pay too much attention to this statement at the time, because I felt my diet was acceptable, and I didn’t expect to be still fighting off tumors eighteen months down the road. I have put together below what I’ve been doing to help beat my cancer. I’m not one hundred percent clear on how effective my lifestyle & dietary changes will be, but here are some of the areas I’ve looked at.
If, as mentioned by my Oncologist some time ago, approximately one-third of cancers are directly linked to diet, it is in no comparison to the study carried out by the American Cancer Society that found smoking causes about half of all bladder cancers in both men and women. So, with these findings, it's without a doubt that giving up smoking might be at the top of our to-do list. I smoked for many years from a young age, and ironically, I gave up some years before being diagnosed, which evidently may have been too late! I am also completely aware that even alongside the facts given here, smoking is never an easy thing to quit. Nicotine is one of the most powerful drugs found in nature, and because of this fact, we need to look at the challenge of quitting smoking to be as big a deal as beating cancer.
It doesn’t work for everybody, but there are several key benefits to exercising while living with cancer. The World Health Organization states that any type of physical activity can reduce the risk of various types of cancer and is fundamental to increasing energy, balance, and weight control. Another study carried out by Harvard Medical School found that in another major analysis of 28 trials involving over 1,000 participants with advanced cancers (including leukemia, lymphoma, multiple myeloma, lung, breast, GI, and prostate) that an exercise program during treatment was associated with significantly improved physical function, energy levels, weight/BMI, psychosocial function, sleep quality, and overall quality of life. I ignored the blood in my urine for well over a year before being diagnosed. The lead consultant from my medical team told me that I would most likely have lost my bladder if it had not been for the fact that I exercised regularly. Cancer loves peace and quiet, and by doing some kind of physical activity, we are able to help disrupts its development.
This may be a surprise to some readers in regard to the relationship between alcohol and bladder cancer. There have been a number of different studies carried out to detect if alcohol is linked to causing bladder cancer. To date, NO study has concluded that alcohol is a contributing factor. In fact, it’s been suggested that drinking alcohol may reduce the risk of bladder cancer, but far more research is necessary to be certain of this claim. There is a case however for how much alcohol we should or should not consume when in treatment. Alcohol can certainly have an effect on your therapy by contributing to and worsening side effects. It's advised to discuss your alcohol use with your physician or healthcare team to determine what amount, if any, is acceptable for your treatment plan.
Red and processed meat
Now, I’m a great lover of meats, but we’ve been told that we should not eat large amounts of red meat (beef, lamb, and pork), not only because they contain enormous amounts of calories in the form of fat that contribute to excess weight, but because it apparently increases the risk of developing cancer. Processed meats, such as bacon, sausages, salami, and ham, along with other foods that contain preservation agents, are also on the list of 'not to eat'. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has ranked the above foods as a group one carcinogen. The definition of ‘carcinogen’ is explained as, "a substance capable of causing cancer in living tissue". This then gives red and processed meat the same ranking as cigarettes, alcohol, asbestos and several radioactive substances! However, the flip side to this is the fact that we cannot avoid processed food altogether. The advice given by the WHO is to cut back on these foods and choose products without a lot of sodium, added sugars, and unhealthy fats.
That said, The American Institute for Cancer Research posted an alarming fact in 2017, showing 57.5% of all Americans consume ultra-processed food on a regular basis. Making this lifestyle change will be very difficult for many and almost impossible for some, which leads us to the advice given by the Livestrong Foundation who states: red meat can have a place in a healthy diet as long as you are mindful of the type and portion size. Red meat is easily absorbed by the body and can also supplies vitamin B12, which helps make DNA and keeps nerve and red blood cells healthy, and zinc, which keeps the immune system working properly. Red meat also provides protein, which helps build bones and muscles.
The phrase "you are what you eat" always pops into mind when I think about what foods to consume. Quite a while before my diagnosis in 2016, we were being told to make sure we consumed our 'five a day'. So, what is your 'five a day,' and can this add weight towards the nutritional value and help beat my cancer? Your five a day, in its various national campaigns in countries such as the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany, encourage the consumption of at least five portions of fruit and vegetables each day, following a recommendation by the WHO that individuals consume "a minimum of 400g of fruit and vegetables per day. The University of Michigan, Rogel Cancer Centre states that in terms of cancer prevention, the nutrients found in plant-based foods — including vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber — have been shown to reduce risk of several types of cancer and is backed up by research carried out by Professor Richard Beliveau, who is a leading scientist in the prevention and treatment of cancer. His findings show that regular eating of vegetables from the cabbage and garlic families, along with fruits like berries and citrus, and drinks like red wine and green tea acts as a form of natural preventive chemotherapy. Eating these foods in his scientific research shows that it will introduce thousands of phytochemical compounds into your system where they will create an inhospitable environment for microscopic tumors and keep them in a dormant and harmless state.
Doing all I can to fight off cancer
The above five areas have been adapted into my life, purely out of the circumstances that I find myself in today. There is nothing within this lifestyle & dietary choice that guarantees success. Cancer is a stubborn disease and too often deadly. So, I must do all I can to fight off this predator and use whatever I can at my disposal to protect myself. The foods we eat, alongside the toxins we are exposed to, undoubtedly can have major consequences to our health and wellbeing. My thinking is this: By changing my lifestyle & diet, the best-case scenario is, I become cancer-free. The worst-case scenario is, I live a healthier existence. Either way for me, it’s a win, win.
Has cancer impacted your mood during the holidays?