“You have cancer.”
This is considered to be one of the worst sentences anyone can hear. This sentence is usually followed by fear, and unfortunately, not just from the person who is getting the diagnosis, but from the same people in white coats that are supposed to help you heal.
We know fear is mentally, emotionally, and physically, one of the feelings that lowers your immune system’s ability to respond fully and can affect your healing. However, if you follow the standard of care for cancer treatment, they will probably tell you that you need to do chemo, radiation, or surgery, or worse, there is nothing else they can do for you.
Your life is in their hands, and they know what’s best for you. They will press you and even bully you into making a decision according to what they “think is best” and the only thing you can do is follow their advice. They tell you there is nothing you can do that will matter; there is nothing else you can do but the plan recommended. Food does not matter, sleep does not matter, movement does not matter. They may even give you a timeline, as if it is possible for them to play God and know what is going to happen in the future.
This is All False.
This post is not about what is prescribed as the standard of care. It is about what you can do for you, your body and your mind. There are many things you can do, related to your lifestyle, that will affect cancer and contribute to cancer treatment and prevention.
So, what can you do?
We have been writing extensively about lifestyle factors on our blog, because when it comes to cancer, or any chronic condition, LIFESTYLE MATTERS. Changing the way you live your daily life can lead to impressive changes in the way your immune system is able to respond to any threat, and can even change the expression of your genes, and ultimately the manifestation or not, of cancer.
5 Lifestyle factors that DO play a role in cancer treatment.
Let’s talk about the practical side. “What can you really do to improve these daily lifestyle-related factors? They play a huge role in your immune system, and in many other bodily systems, and hence, in your ability to heal from cancer.
We spend about a third of our lives sleeping. How can it not be important? Sleep is essential to healing. Observe any animal in nature and you will witness that when facing any illness, animals will lie down in a corner, away from danger, and not eat or drink, but just sleep or rest.
Our top tips to improve your sleep are as follows:
- Set your bedroom as your sleep space. A comfortable bed, organic and comfortable mattress, and pillows can make all the difference. A cool temperature, between 60 and 67 degrees, is ideal for sleep. Try to have your room completely dark. Use light-blocking curtains if needed.
- Use breathing techniques for relaxation and calmness.
- Design your sleep schedule and stick to it (going to bed and waking up at a set time).
- Avoid caffeine or other stimulants (especially later in the day).
- Avoid heavy meals or foods that can be disruptive to your digestive system.
- Stop eating 3 to 4 hours before bedtime. Sleep is the time for repair and rejuvenation, not digestion. You want your digestion to be completed by the time you sleep.
- Avoid bright lights and blue light. Reduce the use of electronic devices 1 to 2 hours before sleep. After sunset, use blue blocking glasses and light dimming/ blue light blocking features on your electronic devices. If you get up at night, avoid turning on lights or any devices.
- Try to sleep at least 7 to 8 hours daily (sleep duration depends on individual needs, so if possible, sleep as much as needed to feel rested) and wake up naturally. Avoid using an alarm that will automatically put you in a high alert state. If you must wake up at a particular time, set up an alarm with a gentle tone, natural sounds, or relaxing music.
- Upon waking, expose yourself to natural sunlight by going outside for a walk or, if not possible, sitting on your balcony or in front of a window.
- Start and finish your day with activities that do not overstimulate your brain and keep you in a relaxed state, like meditation and reading.
It’s equally important to be aware of contributing factors that might affect your sleep, like the amount of movement you accumulate throughout your day, practicing yoga and meditation, listening to relaxing music, avoiding long naps during the day, and avoiding stimulants, among others.
Fasting or time-restricted eating has recently been extensively studied and considered a fundamental pillar for healing. It has even been considered to prevent side effects from “conventional” cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy.
Fasting benefits are widespread and include:
- Reduced insulin resistance and inflammation.
- Protective and stress-resistant mode
- Trigger autophagy for the clean-up of old and damaged cells.
- Activate and increase in cell-based self-repair and cellular rejuvenation.
- Improved brain function.
- Increased growth hormone secretion.
- May delay aging and increase longevity.
- Benefit treatment and prevention of cancer.
Again, if you look at animals in nature, when ill, they do not eat. Eating diverts energy from healing towards digestion. Although we can not recommend prolonged periods of fasting (water only) for all individuals and especially without medical supervision, time-restricted eating or periods of intermittent fasting, can still allow you to experience many of the health benefits associated with fasting, without the difficulties of a pure water fast. We consider a fast to be drinking water with complete abstinence from all food for 24+ hours.
How can you apply time-restricted eating and intermittent fasting?
- Cycle between days of not eating (fasting) and days of eating.
- A good example would be alternate-day fasting.
- You can also decide to fast one or two days a week (eat for 5 or 6 days, and fast 2 or 1 days.
- Any other combination of days of eating/fasting, that works best for you, is possible.
- During the fasting days, drink only water.
- Eating pattern: cycles between hours of not eating, and hours of eating.
- It entails eating on a restricted time window.
- 18:6 (18 hours of not eating; eat on a 6 hour window) is ideally recommended to enhance health benefits.
- On the 18 hour window of not eating, you can drink water, or no calorie beverages, like herbal teas or black coffee. In the 6 hour eating window, eat healthy foods that will support your healing. We discuss this
To combine the two and maximize health benefits, you can do time-restricted eating on all the eating days, and then have one or two days of the week when you consume only water.
Read our blog Fasting and Time Restricted Eating for more information on this subject.
As Hippocrates said, food is medicine, and for millennia has been used to promote health, vitality, and longevity, improve immunity, and prevent and treat diseases.
The planet Earth is full of beautiful, bountiful, healing foods, however, for cancer treatment, we will highlight only a minority, from a huge diversity, of healing foods.
- Cruciferous Vegetables
- Allium Vegetables (onions, garlic, leeks, scallions, chives, and shallots)
- Fermented Foods
- Sprouts and Microgreens
- Green Tea
- Nuts and Seeds
- Spices and herbs
Did you know that 70 seconds of stair walking can lead to a six-fold increase in Natural Killer Cell (NK cell) activity?
This mind-blowing study comes to show how movement is paramount in what relates to your immune system’s ability to respond to threats, including cancer.
In this case what we recommend is: just move. You can choose what you name it, how, when, or how often you move your body, but keep moving it, daily.
- If you are reading this sitting, get up and down from your seat ten times. Repeat every 2/3 hours of sitting.
- Go for a walk in the park or neighborhood.
- Play with your kids, friends, or pets.
- Do some gardening.
- Go to the gym.
- Join a local yoga class.
- Stretch for 15 minutes every morning and evening.
- Move in a way that makes you smile.
It does not matter how it sounds, or how good it looks. Movement is an extremely crucial factor for cancer treatment, and probably your best friend in terms of one of the most most-cited physical effects of cancer and cancer treatment: fatigue.
When you are fatigued, the last thing you want to do is move more or exercise. However, no matter how counterintuitive it may seem, moving regularly and including some type of exercise in your daily life will actually help to reduce and manage fatigue. It may seem very hard or even impossible at the beginning, but get up, go for a walk, do something fun, invite a friend or loved one, take your pet outside, and just move. Movement has enormous, short and long-term beneficial effects in terms of helping reduce cancer-associated fatigue.
Move. Play. Dance.
5. Working with the Mind
Our mind is our most powerful tool against any enemy, foreign or self-created. Cancer is not foreign. It is not a “disease” that you can ‘catch’ going down the street. It is not an invader microorganism or a predator. Cancer is the mechanism by which your own cells try to survive unfavorable conditions. It is a self-preservation mechanism.
I know this is a difficult idea to accept. But what if you can change those conditions and reverse this process? And what if I told you your own mind has the power to do that? How else could we explain radical remissions?
Mind over matter.
Although all of this may sound far-fetched to you, the truth is that trauma, stress, depression, anxiety, fear, and all the negative feelings and emotions affect the capability of your body to adapt to less favorable conditions, and the ability of your immune system to respond accordingly to threats.
This is a difficult topic, but to heal your physical body, you also need to heal your psycho-emotional self. A step that only you can take, and often the hardest and most challenging one.
However, there are several methods and areas that you can explore: therapy, counseling, spiritual guidance, religion, and among them some techniques that involve self-practice. Here are some techniques that you can try to apply in your daily life, also featured in our “Top Tips to Reduce Stress” blog.
- Meditation. Start small, with 5 min, and work your way up to 10, then 15, and eventually 20 minutes daily. Then try to increase to two times a day. This may take weeks or months. Make your meditation a priority. You can meditate anytime. Try to meditate at the same time every day. Let it become part of your routine. Daily practice is essential. There are also many apps, like Headspace and Calm, that can help you start.
- Gratitude. Write it down, have a journal, write a letter, or say it out loud. You can choose the delivery method, the number of things you are grateful for, and how often you do it. Just try, once again, to make it a daily commitment to yourself.
- Just breathe. Deep breathing, pranayama, or breathwork are fantastic techniques to bring calmness and reduce stress. You only need 5 minutes for noticeable results.
- Yoga, tai-chi, or other stress-reducing, relaxation-inducing physical activity.
- Use relaxation techniques, like massage and acupressure.
- Laugh your troubles out – watch funny movies, TV shows, or stand-up comedy. As we have always heard, laughing is the best remedy.
- Journal, write it down. Get it our of your mind, on paper, and let it go.
- Talk to someone and share your feelings, concerns, and emotions.
- Take control of the situations that are causing you stress. Try to find solutions or just let go.
- Time management is simple yet super effective; learn to prioritize. Make lists or pyramids of priorities and tackle them one by one.
- Sometimes you just need to allow yourself to recover.
- Practice any activity you enjoy (such as singing, playing an instrument, or painting).
- Move more. Be in nature more. Sleep more.
Not all these techniques will resonate with you. That is ok. Find the ones that do. Or find your own techniques. Seek professional help if needed and do not be afraid or ashamed of asking for help. The right people will help you help yourself, and heal.
Do not buy into the thinking that “chemotherapy, radiation, surgery is all that you can do for cancer treatment” narrative. There is so much more that you can do. Read, do your own research. Discover more about what works for you and develop your own tools and routines.
Empower yourself and find your own path for healing.
Vanessa Pinto graduated with a degree in Biology and Masters in Ecology from Lisbon University. After graduating, she underwent a series of professional and personal growth experiences, including being an officer in the Portuguese Army, working in countries as diverse as Iceland and Costa Rica. Vanessa became certified as a Yoga and Meditation teacher in rural India.
Being a compassionate person by nature, Vanessa is able to bring her connectedness when working with others while enhancing the importance and practicality of a pragmatic evidence-based approach to facilitating lasting and permanent change. Vanessa is a certified health coach whose specialties are nutrition, exercise, and mind/ body connection. She works both in Portugal, Thailand and USA, where she develops her work closely with people diagnosed with cancer, mainly in the areas of nutrition, movement and health education.