Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Life Lessons from Breast Cancer

In April 2008 I had my mammogram.  I had put it off for several months but finally went in.  They found a pretty good size tumor and one lymph node!  It was a shock.  But it was early, I had aggressive treatment, and I’ve been doing great ever since.  I’m feeling healthier than ever.    You can imagine that I gave myself a crash course in breast cancer.  Here are some lessons I have learned along the way.

I would never have found the lump without the mammogram.  Even when I knew it was there before the surgery I had a hard time finding it.  Lesson:  Pick a date every year for your mammogram.  Mine is April Fool’s day.  

Cancer is really expensive!  My treatment year was pretty “normal” and if I wouldn’t have had good insurance, it would have cost me over $165,000 for that one year alone!  Lesson:  Make sure you are insured.  It is important.

Obesity and some kinds of breast cancers are linked.  Mine was estrogen positive and fat tissues produce estrogen.  I was pretty motivated to lose weight and I have kept most of it off.  Lesson: Getting your BMI under about 30 will greatly reduce your risks of getting breast cancer- and lots of other diseases! 

Even more important is exercise—it’s the best medicine.  In 2008 they were still telling women who had lymph nodes removed to not stress their arms.  Today, careful weight training is recommended.  Research continues to show that one of the best ways to reduce your risk of breast cancer is daily brisk exercise.  For me it’s side stroking in a pool.   Lesson:  Moving and using your body is great medicine, but especially to reduce your risk of breast cancer.  And it’s cheap!  Lesson:  Do SOMETHING everyday.

 Hair grows back.  Yes, losing hair is nasty, but at the end of it all, it’s the least difficult thing.  And it sometimes grows back even better.  Mine came back a little thicker, albeit a little grayer! I also found out I love having short hair!  Lesson:  Don’t worry, move on.

Nutrition is important.  I jumped online to research what I could do to prevent a recurrence, and found that nutrition is really important.  Sugar, corn products, processed foods, all that stuff is candy to cancer.  Sure I now indulge but I’m much better about eating well.  And when I was eating really well, dieting wasn’t even an issue, my weight stabilized.  And good food is as addicting as junk food.  Lesson:  Your taste buds will start to demand things that actually have flavor!

Metabolic syndrome.  I’m a classic case.  I found out my thyroid was low and got that fixed.  My vitamin D was way low and got that fixed.  I found a regime of antioxidants and good oils that I like and I’m feeling very good.  I still get the occasional cold, but I’m feeling very healthy and energetic.  Lesson:  Listen to your body—then take action.

Work with your Doctor.  If you are at high risk, ask about Tamoxifen.  Are you feeling more tired than you should, trouble sleeping, attention problems, even depressed?  These can be fixed, but you need to be assertive with your doctors that you know you can feel better.  Curing these symptoms aren’t just going to make you happier and more productive, they will reduce your risks of cancer, too. Lesson:  Good doctors love engaged patients.  If yours doesn’t, find another doctor.

There is no cure for cancer.  The truth is that 1 out of every 7-8 of us will face this in our lifetimes, and my odds of recurrence will be about the same when I hit my 5 year mark.  I am committed to improving those odds with Exercise, Nutrition, Stable Weight, Attitude.  Lesson:  Continue to support Cancer Research!

There is no research evidence that a positive attitude has ANY effect on cancer.  But I believe a positive attitude has a big impact on enjoying your life.  Lesson:  Enjoy every moment! 
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