October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I decided to celebrate by having my regular six-month medical checkup (because cancer is a jerk and can grow that fast). I found out that not only am I still lump-free, I have the blood of an 18-year old gymnast. I swear I’m not a regular fist pumper, but I did a few decent ones after that news.
When I was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer in 2010, I was 37-years old and thought I was healthy. I rarely went to the doctor, took regular walks and even went on the occasional cleanse when I felt overly stuffed with Christmas cheer or summer fun.
Admittedly, I caught every nasty cold from my two young children, had regular stress headaches and muddled through energy peaks and valleys throughout the day, feeling overwhelmingly tired at night, like any mother of a terrible sleeper.
On the day I was diagnosed, I willingly signed up for the scorched earth policy of Western treatment practices to get my insides burned out with chemo and radiation and the remaining bad bits removed with surgery. At my worst, I had no hair, eyelashes or eyebrows and spent hours in a hospital recliner, chemicals streaming through my veins and frozen oven mitts on my hands to prevent my fingernails from falling off. But I was grateful to be living in Canada and committed to finding any joy I could while plowing through the more surreal parts of my recovery.
But when the treatment parade was over and I left the safety net of the Cancer Agency, I panicked. I knew I had to do whatever it took to never go back there again.
In a recent Globe and Mail article, the President and CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society, Pamela Fralick, called for a stronger focus from our government on prevention, citing that half of all cancer cases are preventable. And in our own TELUS Health Solutions philosophy, one of the key issues we’ve identified where health and technology can make a positive difference is in shifting more attention to prevention and patient self-management.
When I look back on the day I was diagnosed, the one thing I wanted to hear was that I had some control over whether I could stop the c-monster from ever living under my bed again. But in the end, I had to convince myself this was possible. Our medical system is not set up to empower; at least not yet or not as broadly as it could be.
Now that I’m seemingly disease-free, my own prevention focus is simple: cancer cells are a fact of life, so I need super-strong immunity if I’m going to give myself the best chance of kicking them to the curb. Over the past three years, I’ve done two big things to arm myself:
- Focus on food as my medicine
- Prioritize my health before everything else
I make green juice every morning for breakfast. I also research, prepare and eat foods that pack a nutritional punch – from green tea, less gluten and more raw to buying mostly organic and only enjoying the best quality meat when I have it. I’ve also eliminated the chemicals in my life, tossing anything with parabens, sulfates, phthalates and anything I else I can’t pronounce in the ingredient list.
I still have work stress, a terrible sleeper in the family and a schedule that makes me feel insane sometimes, but I don’t get the colds I used to get. I have the energy I had when I was a kid. I do things like throw dance parties with my girls at night instead of scrubbing my toilet, go for a run in the early morning instead of checking endless emails to start my day, and yes, requesting special blood tests every six months, even though they’re not (yet) required, to see how my immunity indicators look.
Empowering myself to stay healthy and manage my own preventative approach to cancer-blasting leaves me less vulnerable to illness so I can be ready to do battle at any moment.