I am a big fan of modern medicine and drugs so having chemo and surgery was a no brainer for me. Especially as I would not have lived for long without treatment. When first diagnosed many well meaning friends and family will send advise and links to miracle cures (turmeric latte anyone?!). A lot of advise is actually conflicting, and this just increases stress levels at an already highly distressing time. Struggling to eliminate or add this miracle ‘cure’ to your life can make you feel guilty. This is the last thing you need when facing cancer.
The world of alternative medicine can be fraught with danger. Of course you want to be cancer free, and believe that you would do anything to eradicate cancer from your body, never to return. However, many claims of ‘cures’ are just anecdotal and are not supported by peer reviewed research, which is quite alarming. However if you truly believe that your cancer will be cured by say meditation and green smoothies alone, go for gold I say. Of course I am not saying that either of those are bad for you, quite the contrary!
I personally decided not to read too many cancer books (although there are a couple of good ones out there) or use Dr google, and instead follow medical advice from experts I trusted. Thankfully being a scientist in health care made me come to that conclusion quite early on. I was very fortunate that my hospital, the brilliant Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, treats cancer holistically. It has a dedicated Supportive Cancer Care and Integrative Medicine service called the Living Room. I found that the complementary therapies offered by the LivingRoom to be just as important as my conventional treatment. I still use these therapies to manage treatment side effects today (mainly my neuropathy and joint pain).
During my second chemo session I had a panic attack – it was all suddenly very confronting. The enormity of cancer and what that meant really hit me. The beautiful and legendary nurse practitioner Keith Cox suggested that I get some reflexology whilst I was receiving chemo infusions. This made a huge difference as it helped to manage my anxiety, and it was lovely to be touched by staff that didn’t want to take my blood or inject toxic drugs into my veins!
I also found the Headspace meditation app to be invaluable for managing anxiety and insomnia when first diagnosed. This app is great for people like me whom have never enjoyed, or felt good at, meditation. It helps that the guys voice is quite sexy too!!
I actually began to look forward to chemo as it meant someone was nurturing me. I would have either reflexology or a foot and head massage. I reframed chemo days to be my pamper/spa days.
The Cancer Council Australia stipulates that every cancer patient should be prescribed exercise medicine and recommends the below:
The evidence based guidelines recommend people with cancer be as physically active as their current ability and conditions allow. For significant health benefits, they should aim for:
- at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise weekly (such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming)
- two to three resistance exercise session each week involving moderate to vigorous intensity exercises targeting the major muscle groups (such as weight lifting).
These recommendations should be tailored to the individual’s abilities to minimise the risk of complications and maximise the benefits.
My surgeon and oncologist strongly encouraged me to exercise throughout chemo and as soon as I could after surgery. I was very fortunate to have an awesome exercise physiologist at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse,, Michael Marthick. Michael actually put me on a ‘prehab’ exercise program to get me fit before surgery. I believe that this contributed to my speedy recovery. I was discharged after 5 days despite having huge abdominal surgery which involved 2 surgeons over a period of 7 hours! I have never really enjoyed the gym but I loved it during treatment. It really helped to be at the hospital gym under close supervision, with a tailored program, surrounded by other cancer patients.
I was fortunate in that I already enjoyed exercise, so I appreciate that it was easier for me to maintain exercise during treatment. I walked as much as I could, especially on those good days after chemo, before I felt really rubbish again. I commenced swimming as soon as I healed from surgery. I also started belly dancing again with the gorgeous Fernanda, which has helped with my core strength and posture post surgery. It is a fabulous way to boost body confidence and connect with awesome women. It is also very healing and it helps to feel womanly again after losing my womb and ovaries and being thrust into menopause!!
I have recently taken up pilates and joined a local gym as I know that I need to keep on top of my muscle tone (chemo and surgical menopause just waste those muscles away).
Like most people diagnosed with cancer I did modify my diet after diagnosis. Diet and nutrition for cancer is a controversial topic as there are a LOT of recommendations out there and not all are evidence based. Everyone believes that their diet is the right one. “Just quit sugar!!”, “Eat lots of turmeric!”, “Follow the alkaline diet!” To be honest I found the diet/nutritional side of cancer to be one of the most stressful parts. Yes, I did have green smoothies lovingly made by my husband every day during chemo. However I found that they made me very bloated and uncomfortable, so this was not sustainable. I think that you need to follow a sensible, healthy diet that works for you. I believe that just as personalised medicine and treatments are the way of the future, so too are personalised diets. A healthy diet is pretty common sense.
Initially my husband and I were vegan whilst I was undergoing treatment, however I love seafood and cheese too much to maintain this diet! I have drastically cut down meat (especially red meat which I rarely have), processed foods, sugar, and of course alcohol. I had a low dairy diet anyway, but now the only dairy I eat is pretty much cheese, and I monitor how much I eat. When I do eat meat I only buy organic, hormone and antibiotic free cuts. I never eat processed meats. I have increased the amount of vegetables in my diet and try and eat as many whole-foods as possible. I monitor sugar in products I buy and I consume, but I do love chocolate and champagne, so there is no way I was ever going to give them up for good. Life is to be enjoyed after all!