Cancer as a Catalyst for Change

by Lisa OrrSurvivor, Breast CancerSeptember 14, 2020View more posts from Lisa Orr

We spend our whole adult lives trying to make healthy choices: eat this, not that…do this, not that… buy this, avoid that. I must admit, however, that it wasn’t until cancer became a part of my life and my everyday vocabulary that I truly took any of my daily choices seriously. The research out there is undeniable: prioritizing nutrition and exercise can greatly reduce your risk of cancer recurrence. That right there is the only push I needed to start making some serious changes to my overall health and wellness. You may be asking yourself, where do I begin? First, take a big, deep breath. Know that WANTING to make some changes is the true first step necessary for success. So, congratulations! Simply admitting that is a great place to start.

Take Baby Steps

Change can be incredibly overwhelming. When you figure out the aspects of your health and wellness that you would like to alter in one way or another, your list may look as long as a CVS receipt… I know mine did. However, one of the first things I learned about making changes to your health and wellness is that taking things one at a time, taking BABY STEPS, will make everything seem more manageable. My breast cancer was non-hormonal, and I do not have any genetic variables that seem to have caused it, leaving the reason cancer chose me to still be a mystery. Did this make me want to immediately throw away every single toxic product I had in my house? Yes. Did I do that? No! I started by focusing on one room in the house at a time and researching how I can clean up my act in that area (your bathroom, laundry room, and kitchen are typically great places to start). When looking at my diet, rather than change everything immediately, I took it one meal at a time by asking myself: what can I swap out to make this meal a little cleaner? When you take baby steps, you are giving yourself grace as well as the time to breathe and think things through. You will be giving yourself the time necessary to make lasting changes that work for you and your family.

Do What Works For YOU

The changes that work for Karen down the street may not work for you and your family… and THAT’S OKAY! Reading the advice of other people is a great place to start, but ultimately you must do your own research to find what works best for YOU. When you are putting in the work yourself, it will be more meaningful. That connection will drive the changes you want to make come to fruition much more than if Bob tells you what and how you need to change. While other peoples’ stories may inspire you, let your own health and the wellbeing of your family be the catalyst for change. Information overload can sometimes do more harm than good. Combining your own research (not what you hear through the grapevine) with a cause you are passionate about (making sure your cancer never, ever comes back) will inspire the needed action.

Drown Out the Crazy

People love to give unsolicited advice, especially to a cancer patient. There is always someone trying to share a story of the husband of their second cousin twice removed who cured his own cancer by eating the skins of cucumbers (FAKE NEWS!). I’m not quite sure what makes people feel like they are helping when they share these mostly crazy stories, but spoiler alert: They. Don’t. Help. The random advice is only going to cause more stress. My advice? Learn how to smile and nod your head politely, thank the individual for their concern and for sharing their ideas, and then walk away with your head held high knowing that you are going to be just fine without following all of their recommendations.

 LIVE. YOUR. LIFE.

It is so easy to get caught up in the healthy changes you are trying to make that they become all-consuming. I have recently found myself feeling incredibly conflicted when at a restaurant or a household other than my own. When I am not the one in control of the products and foods I am being exposed to, my anxiety spikes. This is something that I know I must keep working on. I can admit that this is not a healthy way to live, but I want you to know that if you have had similar thoughts, you are not alone. If you have had the thought that your cancer will come back because you used a single ‘dirty’ product ONE time, you are not alone. If you have questioned whether having that dessert is worth it or whether it will just feed the lone cancer cell floating around in your otherwise healthy body, you are not alone. It is a scary, exhausting mental space to live in… one that you need to work hard to adjust. Make healthy changes, but PLEASE live your life. Live the beautiful life that you were given a second chance to. Eat the ice cream.

Personal Changes I have Implemented

Intermittent fasting. In my research, I have learned that gut health is responsible for 70-80% of your immune health. Crazy, right? The reading I have done regarding gut health and intermittent fasting as a way of reducing cancer recurrence really put it into perspective for me. Fasting for as little as 13 hours a day has positive health benefits. I stop eating by 7pm and wait to eat again until at least 8am the following morning. When doing your own research about intermittent fasting, be sure to follow what would work best for your family and lifestyle.

Buying organic when possible. Buying organic is a great way to clean out the toxins in your food but it can get expensive. If you are unable to afford all organic groceries, there are simple ways to prioritize the items you should choose organic. In my research I have found that you should try to buy organic: wheat products, leafy greens, and thin-skinned fruit and vegetables. A wonderful resource is the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen” and “clean fifteen” lists to help you prioritize your organic shopping.

Cleaning up my everyday use products. I have spent time switching over the products that I use daily to cleaner, nontoxic products. As stated earlier, this can be an overwhelming task. I have found that it is best to take it one room at a time, one product at a time.  A few of my favorite changes so far have been Branch Basics for general cleaning, Puracy for laundry detergent, dishwasher pods, soaps, and body wash, and Beautycounter for skincare and makeup items.

Moving my body for at least 30 minutes a day. Everyone knows that exercising daily has amazing benefits to your health, but did you know that it can also greatly reduce your chances of cancer recurrence? Daily exercise improves your mood and energy levels as well. Moving your body in any way that gets your heart rate elevated for thirty minutes a day, at least five days a week, is an easy and healthy change you can make to your life. This can be something as simple as a nice walk in your neighborhood, or something a little more intense like a kickboxing class. Make exercise part of your daily routine by switching up what you do as well as what time of day you do it. Make it something to look forward to, rather than something you dread. You will be amazed to find how much better you feel when you incorporate exercise into your life.

Finding my social media inspiration. Instagram can be a very useful tool when utilized correctly. There are many accounts that are focused solely on empowering people to make healthy changes to their lives. Follow people who inspire you. Follow accounts who encourage healthy change, not accounts that promote fear. Follow people who have goals that align with yours. Spend some time researching accounts that will help to expand your resource list for the healthy changes you wish to implement. Some of my personal favorites include @justingredients, @alittlelesstoxic, and @gutsymom.

Find Your Why

Do I wish that cancer never made its way into my life? Of course. In the same breath, however, I will say that I am thankful for what it has taught me. I am thankful for the changes it has inspired me to make in my own life. I am thankful to have the chance to inspire my family and friends to make healthier choices. I am almost a year out of my active cancer treatment, and I can say with confidence that it is the best I have felt in a long time, if not ever. I feel empowered knowing that I have made changes to my immediate environment that could have been putting me at an increased cancer risk. Finding your why will help you to do the same. Focus on your health and wellness every day of your life… why? Because it’s the only body and life we’ve got. Treat it well.

This article was in our September 2020 Magazine – Click Here to view that issue!


All of the posts written for Elephants and Tea are contributed by patients, survivors, caregivers and loved ones dealing with cancer.  If you have a story or experience you would like to share with the cancer community we would love to hear from you!  Please submit your idea at https://www.elephantsandtea.com/contact/submissions/.

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