The killer strikes again
A number of years have now gone by since cancer claimed another loved one in my life, but I post this blog every year on or near the anniversary of her passing.
Kim was a beautiful, vibrant woman who suffered too much and died too young. It's not an exaggeration to say that one day she was busy planning her life with her family and friends, and the next she was planning how to avoid an early death. It happened that fast - the change in focus - but it took over six years, countless treatments, two major surgeries and more pain and heartache for her and her family than any of us can imagine that haven’t been through it.
It began with endometriosis.
It really started when Kim developed a condition called endometriosis, where the uterine lining, for some reason, begins to grow outside of the uterus, filling the abdominal cavity, attaching to organs, and causing pain and discomfort. Several treatments were tried, including laparoscopic surgery and a drug called Lupron. When nothing seemed to work, Kim was advised that a complete hysterectomy would be her best option.
Hormones replaced with pills
After the surgery, the doctor prescribed estrogen pills to replace the hormones that would no longer be available from her ovaries. Kim took the pills and, since she no longer had pain from the endometriosis, felt that the problem was solved.
The beginning of the end
Three years later, she found a lump under her arm and went in for a mammogram. The tech told her that everything looked fine, but she should follow-up with her doctor. Assuming everything was okay, she got on with her life and weeks went by before the doctor’s office called her to follow-up. By then, in addition to the lump under her arm, Kim had a lump in one of her breasts along with redness and swelling.
"You have inflammatory breast cancer."
For two months she went in each week for one test after another, until finally they had their diagnosis. A few days after her 45th birthday, Kim was given the heart-breaking news that she had inflammatory breast cancer and it was in Stage 4 – the final stage.
For those of you that don’t know, inflammatory breast cancer is a particularly virulent form of this devastating disease that, at the time Kim was diagnosed, only occurred in about 5% of breast cancer patients and generally in women over 80 years of age.
Radical treatment for a radical disease
The doctors told Kim that the first thing she needed to do was to stop taking the estrogen pills, since her tumors were, in essence, "estrogen fed." The next thing was for her to start chemotherapy. Then, after about 4-5 months of treatment with anti-cancer drugs, she had a radical mastectomy.
The long journey
In the years that followed, Kim experienced more chemo, more radiation, major back surgery that kept her in the hospital for 17 days and in bed for a number of months, and radio surgery to treat the tumors that had spread to her brain. She lost her hair at least three times, and it never really grew back to its former length or luster. She often felt sick and almost always felt pain somewhere in her body. In the last few months, she lost her ability to balance and even to really recognize what was happening to her.
The disease robbed her of her health, her outward beauty, her cognitive ability and finally, took her life.
She never gave up!
Through it all, Kim never lost her faith in God and never gave up hope that she would live to see her grandchildren born – a hope that was realized as four new lives were added to the family over the course of her illness. She was an unusual blend of cock-eyed optimist and staunch pragmatist. She did everything the doctors told her to do to stay alive, regardless of the pain and discomfort. She lived for the moment and refused to give up hope, even when things looked bad, and she never allowed the limitations of her disease to keep her from doing the things she loved or spending time with her family and friends.
So, why did she get cancer?
No one really knows why certain people get cancer. We are pretty sure that it is caused by a combination of factors related to heredity, environment and lifestyle, but no one seems to know the specifics that allow cancer cells to proliferate in one person and not another.
Obviously we can’t control our heredity. We are born with our genetics and we can’t change them. In fact, breast cancer of all the cancers seems to run in families.
Environmental factors that may affect the development of cancer are things like air and water quality, radiation and electromagnetic fields, which we can control to some extent by doing things like filtering our water, limiting x-rays and living away from power lines. However, we are mostly at the mercy of our environment, because even if we control what we do, we all live on the earth together and are affected by what others do to the environment.
MY TWO CENTS about Preventing Cancer
It seems that a major contributing factor for developing cancer is toxic overload. Your body has an amazing ability to rid itself of harmful substances that are in what you eat and drink, the air you breathe and are even produced when you are stressed.
Each of us has a certain "margin" which allows us to be healthy in spite of the toxins in our system. However, when the overload exceeds our body's ability to cope, and that point may be different for everyone, the cancer cells, which would normally be zapped by our immune system, are allowed to proliferate.
At some point, we discover an outward manifestation - such as a lump - that signals that the battle needs to be joined. The problem is that often, by the time this outward sign shows up, the cancer may have a stranglehold on our system, and the tools we have to fight with become less effective.
My thought is, why not join the battle before it gets to that point? The fewer toxins we take in and the more we help our body to rid itself of the ones we can't avoid, the lower our risk of finding ourselves overcome.
The factor that affects our susceptibility to cancer and other diseases that we have the most control over is our lifestyle. What we eat and drink, how much sleep we get, how active we are and how we manage stress all have an effect on our immune system and our ability to fight disease, including cancer.
Eat these foods.
Protect your body with a diet mostly made up of colorful fruits and vegetables (be sure to wash them and buy organic when you can!), whole grains and legumes. These foods are loaded with fiber, nutrients and phytochemicals, which have been shown to protect your body to some degree against cancer.
Check out some of the super foods, like blueberries, broccoli and turmeric, and include them regularly in your diet. You may also want to increase your intake of Omega-3 fats, found in fish and flax seed, since these fats seem to have a protective effect.
It’s important for you to remember that healthy eating strategies can protect your body by keeping your immune system healthy.
Avoid these foods.
Avoid or limit foods that seem to cause or promote cancer formation. These include fried foods, grilled foods, trans-fats, processed meats and heavily smoked foods. In addition, there are some health experts that suggest that you avoid excessive intake of processed sugars, red meat and high-fat foods. Others suggest that you try to avoid foods that have been adulterated by dyes, artificial flavorings, hormones and other potentially harmful chemicals, in other words, most processed foods.
By choosing to limit or eliminate foods that aid in cancer formation and promote its growth, you are helping your body keep cancer at bay.
Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, biking, swimming, and sports will help keep your body strong and eliminate toxins. Make it a goal each day to build up a sweat with some form of active, physical exercise, and then take a few minutes to add some stretches.
Get enough sleep.
While you are sleeping, your body has a chance to repair and rejuvenate. If you don’t get enough sleep – for most people that’s 7-8 hours – your immune system will suffer and may be unable to keep up with the demands placed on it by an increasingly stressful and toxic world.
If you have to rely on caffeine to keep going, you are probably not getting enough sleep.
It seems that stress is inevitable in our world, but to help lessen its harmful effects, you can learn some relaxation techniques, spend time in prayer and meditation, simplify your life and use some of your time and resources to help others.
It’s not the end of the story.
Kim was a person of faith who knew God and where she would go when the disease finally overcame the treatments and she left this world. Although I miss her, I’m not worried about her suffering anymore. She is in a good place, and I know that I will see her again on the other side.
I would be ecstatic if not another single person ever had to suffer with this disease. I know that’s probably not going to happen in my lifetime, but please do your part to help keep yourself and your family healthy and well.
Plan to be healthy.
There is a saying that the best defense is a good offense, and this maxim is never truer than in the case of preventing cancer and other diseases. Please make a plan for a good offense today that includes a healthy diet, pure water, plenty of sleep and stress management. Not only will you lessen your risk of having to fight for your life with cancer, but you will also feel better each day that you are here.
Till we meet again, my friend, this one's for you.
PAGE SUMMARY for Preventing Cancer
Protect your body with a diet mostly made up of colorful fruits and vegetables (be sure to wash them and buy organic when you can.
Check out some of the super foods, like blueberries, broccoli and turmeric, and include them regularly in your diet.
Avoid or limit foods that seem to cause or promote cancer formation, including fried foods, grilled foods, trans-fats and heavily smoked foods
Aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, biking, swimming, and sports will help keep your body strong and eliminate toxins.
Get enough sleep so your body has a chance to repair and rejuvenate.
Manage stress and make a plan to be healthy.