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The Cancer Journey

Steps to make the voyage better


Cancer is often described as a journey. While it’s a voyage no one wants to go on, there are strategies people can pack along with them to deal with the disease during and after treatment and to reduce their risk of acquiring it in the first place.


Lifestyle choices count

It’s well known that lifestyle plays a leading role in supporting our bodies against cancer, from prevention straight through to life after treatment.

Not smoking, drinking little to no alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, ensuring proper sleep hygiene, and avoiding toxic substances are just some of the steps people can take to help minimize the chance of getting a diagnosis.

Such strategies are also helpful during conventional cancer treatment and can boost people’s well-being during and after recovery.

Cancer is multifactorial, and emerging research suggests it may be a metabolic disease, according to North Vancouver, BC-based naturopathic doctor Cameron McIntyre. Some cancers seem to thrive in areas of low oxygen, although much more research is needed for a full understanding of oxygen’s role in cancer, including for treatment.

Still, seeking ways to breathe in more fresh air is beneficial for our overall health—physical and mental. “Anything we can do to facilitate more oxygen in our lives, the better,” McIntyre says, including “… mindfulness meditation or breathing techniques—deep breaths in nature, in the forest, or by the ocean.”


You are what you eat

An overall healthy dietary pattern has the potential to lower cancer risk by 10 to 20 percent. Experts recommend eating a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, fruit, and legumes.

There is strong evidence to suggest that eating whole grains and other foods containing dietary fibre not only protects against colorectal cancer but also helps with weight management; obesity increases the risk of many cancers. Consider the diet of people living in Okinawa, Japan, where people routinely live to 100 years of age: it’s full of plants, nutrient-dense vegetables, and legumes.


Cancer-preventive foods to include

Generally speaking, any colourful vegetable or fruit is worth loading up on, as are whole grains and proteins from fish, lean chicken, tofu, beans, and eggs. When considering dairy foods, consider options that are lower in saturated fat; think skim milk or alternatives such as soy-based drinks and nut milks.


During cancer treatment

It’s just as important to maintain wholesome lifestyle habits while undergoing cancer treatment. Eating well can help with healing and recovery, boosting energy, maintaining strength, and helping to cope with side effects, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

Keeping stress in check is vital. Relaxation techniques, such as guided imagery, meditation, and yoga, can help foster a sense of calm. Getting regular exercise helps with mental health, too, as does accepting practical and emotional support from loved ones.


Supplemental strength

Taking a regular-strength multivitamin and mineral supplement for your age group every day is a helpful addition to a healthy diet. Keeping the body strong and healthy through dietary supplementation is beneficial for overall health, including for lowering cancer risk.

If you’ve already received a cancer diagnosis, be sure to communicate with your health care practitioner about what supplements you’re taking to ensure they don’t interact with cancer treatments.


Additional supplements to consider—with consultation


Possible benefits 

vitamin D

for anti-inflammatory and immune-regulating effects, both for prevention and during treatment of some cancers whose therapies weaken bones


helps support bone health and may be prescribed during treatment of some cancers whose therapies weaken bones


may help prevent some cancers and improve efficacy of treatment and survival rates


may help prevent some cancers and help ease constipation caused by some cancer medications


may help prevent some cancers, including prostate, and may help support immune health during treatment

McIntyre says, “Cancer treatment protocols are very individualized, and there are healthy living strategies for wherever people are on their path. If those foundational things aren’t being addressed, assessed, or protected, the treatment can be less effective.”


Post-treatment is important too

All of the tenets of healthy living come into even sharper focus after treatment. For example, start exercising slowly and build up gradually to pre-cancer fitness levels. Walking, yoga, and stretching are great practices to begin with.


Post-cancer support

Many cancer centres offer post-cancer support groups in person or online.

·         Some organizations, such as BC Cancer, offer art therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and relaxation programs.

·         Workplaces may offer counselling through extended benefits programs to help with a gradual return to work.

·         The Canadian Cancer Society offers peer support and an online community through its Life after Cancer Treatment program.

·         Cancer Chat Canada is a free professionally led online support group for people affected by cancer.

·         Facing Forward: Life After Cancer Treatment is a free booklet available via the US National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute.

·         Picking up the Pieces: Moving Forward after Surviving Cancer (Rutgers University Press, 2007) is a book by Sherri Magee, PhD, and Kathy Scalzo, MSOD.

If you’re doing everything right and wind up with a cancer diagnosis, it’s crucial to stay positive and constructive; cancer can affect anyone, no matter how healthy their lifestyle. Support groups, open discussion with loved ones, keeping a journal, surrounding yourself with positive people, and focusing on your passions can all make a world of difference in navigating the journey.


Look Good Feel Better

A long-standing organization, Look Good Feel Better helps people with cancer look and feel their best, boosting their self-esteem, well-being, self-image, and empowerment through complementary workshops.

“We believe that … cancer care needs to treat the whole person, including the well-being and quality of life of the people that are affected,” says Sue Larkin, chief operating officer of Look Good Feel Better.

“Recognizing the need to support people during treatment and beyond … we’ve introduced new Feel Better programming, which includes an online post-treatment nutrition event, offered quarterly, an online Speakers’ Series with experts on topics such as Back to Work and Post-Treatment Skincare, plus our new podcast, Facing Cancer Together, which brings together voices of those with lived experience and medical experts,” Larkin says.


Healthy living as a strong cancer preventive

About four in 10 cancer cases can be prevented through healthy living.

·         Tobacco is the leading preventable cause of cancer, followed by physical inactivity, excess body weight, low fruit consumption, and sun exposure.

·         Cancers of the cervix, lung, and head and neck are the most preventable cancers in Canada.

·         By 2042, excess body weight is projected to be the second leading preventable cause of cancer, after tobacco.

Source: Canadian Cancer Society


By the numbers

·         30 to 50 percent of all cancers are preventable, according to the World Health Organization.

·         740,000 new cancer cases and 1 in 20 cases of breast cancer globally each year are associated with alcohol consumption.

·         At least 13 cancers are associated with obesity as a well-established risk factor, accounting for up to

o   60 percent of all endometrial cancers

o   36 percent of gallbladder cancers

o   33 percent of kidney cancers

o   17 percent of pancreatic cancers

o   11 percent of multiple myelomas

·         85 to 100 percent of new cases of lung cancers and melanomas could be eliminated through smoking cessation and avoidance of ultraviolet radiation exposures, respectively.


This article was originally published in the April 2024 issue of alive magazine.



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