11 Tips for Cancer Patients
Hi Sweet Friends,
Many years ago, I celebrated (or avoided) Valentine’s Day like most people. Each year brought new ups and downs. Heartache, romantic plans gone awry, and some very sweet moments too. But February 14th, 2003 changed that day forever. I was diagnosed with an incurable, stage IV cancer.
Life stopped, and then transformed. Valentine’s day is a very different celebration now. I call it my cancerversary, a day of deep self-love, reflection, gratitude and re-birth. It took me over a decade to get to that sacred place. But I’m here now and if you’re newly diagnosed, trust that you will get there too.
Thankfully a kooky oncologist gave me the wrong expiration date. According to him, I should have croaked a while ago. Not so fast, hot shot! If you’ve been given one of those statistical projections, there’s an extremely good chance yours is wrong too. Once I found a better doctor for my disease, my entire world opened up. As you may know, I have a weird slow-moving (could get aggressive one day) sarcoma. And though I live with cancer, I do it in a healthy, harmonious way. In fact, as of my last scan, a handful of my tumors are smaller. Hip, hip cheers!
For many patients, cancer is no longer a death sentence. Really take that in. I would never say that life with cancer is easy, but it can be quite stunning and rich, even in the midst of the pain. In this blog I’m sharing eleven tips that have helped me feel better along way. I think they’ll be useful for you too. And I love you…
1. When the going gets tough, take a really deep breath.
This is the first (and most important) move you can make when the shit hits the fan. There will be endless ideas, advice, theories and medical bullying slung your way. Your breath is the gateway to your intuition, it will help you navigate the noise. Breathe and listen. Your breath also has the power to reduce stress (more on that below). When we’re in prolonged fight or flight mode, it’s hard to make decisions and easy to get depressed, anxious and exhausted. Breathe.
2. Find the best oncologist for your disease.
If I had listened to the first doctor, I wouldn’t be here today. Triple organ transplant? That’s just stupid. Thankfully I was willing to travel to find the best oncologist for my sarcoma. If you’re newly diagnosed (with any medical life lemon), I highly suggest you do the same. Your life is in their hands. Do they have experience and access to the latest research? Are they tapped into a network of colleagues who can talk about your case? Your local hospital probably won’t cut it. My oncologist at Dana Farber Cancer Institute understands all the current traditional treatment options for my disease. I still haven’t had any conventional treatment, but should my disease become aggressive, he’d be my first stop.
How to find an Oncologist: Start by Googling the top 10 cancer hospitals in the U.S. Also, use the resources below to explore the best oncologist for your specific cancer. In addition to these tips, network! I’ve found the best oncologists by speaking to my doctor, family, and friends.
- National Cancer Institute’s Office of Cancer Centers
- American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Cancer.Net Cancer Specific Resources
- Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA)
3. Your oncologist isn’t enough.
Build an integrative team. Integrative and Functional medicine practitioners treat your whole body, not just the symptoms. How do they do that? With dietary recommendations, targeted supplements, IV’s, stress management tips and other integrative therapies that improve your overall well being, including boosting your immune system.
How to find an Integrative MD: Check out the directories below. Again, network your butt off. Ask around and interview the prospective healing candidate—that’s right, they work for you.
- Find a Functional Medicine Practitioner
- American College for Advancement in Medicine
- American Association for Naturopathic Physicians
4. Reduce inflammation. Eat plants.
In a nutshell: Embrace gorgeous greens, beans, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, sea veggies, fruits and vegetables galore. Crowd out inflammatory, hormone-filled animal products (even when organic) by filling your plate with plant-strong whole foods. And while you’re at it, dump the processed white stuff, especially sugar (it feeds cancer). Speaking of sugar, choose low-glycemic fruits and desserts. If you’re not interested in going full tilt vegan, make plants your main dish and animal products the side dish. Reduce your consumption to 2-3 times per week and avoid factory farm products at all costs. For delicious recipes, check out our recipe section at Kriscarr.com and Crazy Sexy Kitchen.
5. Juice your ass off. Not sugary juices.
Not store bought processed juices. Fresh green, healing juices that you make yourself. Organic is definitely best if you can afford it. If not, check out the dirty dozen and the clean fifteen and do your best to avoid highly chemical laden produce. Without a shadow of a doubt, my daily low-glycemic green juice practice has allowed me to thrive in spite of my obstacles. My basic juicing rule is a 3:1 ratio. Three veggies to one low glycemic fruit. You can also add lemon as it has very little sugar. Juices are nutrient dense, hydrating, energizing, and medicinal. If you only have a blender, that’s fine too, make low glycemic green smoothies. Cheers!
6. Choose safe personal care and cleaning products.
The average person uses 9 personal care products per day containing about 126 chemical ingredients. But the FDA doesn’t review or approve the majority of these products before they go to market. In addition, companies aren’t required to test their products and are allowed to leave hazardous chemicals off their labels. So it’s no surprise that many of the chemicals found in personal care products have been linked to increased risk of cancer, infertility, birth defects, hormone disruption etc. Babies, children, teens, adults — we’re all exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis and there’s still much we do not know about their long-term health effects. The same holds true for household cleaning products. Is your laundry detergent safe? Find out. Use the Environmental Working Group’s tools and resources to learn how to lessen your exposure to toxins.
7. Sedentary lifestyles are actually dangerous.
While it’s important to rest, lack of exercise actually speeds up muscle wasting, weakens your endurance and immunity, and creates more fatigue. Your body needs to move and stay strong. You’ll handle cancer treatments better and recover faster when you have more muscle tone and flexibility. Did I mention proper bowel movements? Yeah, that too! Exercise also reduces inflammation and growth stimulators like estrogen, insulin and IGF-1. Studies have shown that even short bursts of exercise can have impressive results for your health. You don’t need a lot of time or fancy equipment to make a difference. But you gotta to get out of your chair and commit to some form of moderate exercise on a regular (almost daily) basis. Light weights, Yoga, dance, martial arts, whatever rings your bell! Start with 10 mins a day and see if you can work up to 30 minutes.
8. Sleep like a champ.
A proper nights sleep, especially between 11 pm and 7 am will help you heal, for real. Not only will you be able to respond to treatments better, but restful sleep activates your body’s own regenerative abilities. You don’t have to enter monastic life and stick to perfect sleep hygiene, ya just need to create the conditions for more sleep on a consistent basis. Keep your room cool, block out all light, dump the coffee by noon—or switch to green tea (coffee = 140 milligrams of caffeine per serving. Green tea = 25 milligrams), peel back on the alcohol and drink it earlier with food (alcohol disrupts melatonin and blood sugar), give yourself time to wind down and set a loving intention: May I be peaceful, calm, and sleepy!
9. Wrangle your stress.
Stress releases a cascade of hormones in your body. This is all well and good when you need to run or move out of the way quickly. But when the source of your stress is prolonged, like a cancer diagnosis that takes years or even a lifetime to manage, stress can become your number one enemy. Being diagnosed with cancer is one of the most traumatic events that can happen in anyone’s life. But there are ways to manage the panic so it doesn’t weaken your immune system, disrupt your sleep and create more illness in your body. Meditation, hiking in the woods, pottery, yoga—anything that gets you out of your head and into your heart/body. In addition, you may need some good ole professional support. Yup, a shrink. Also, check out Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT or tapping), it’s absolutely remarkable. Figure out what works for sweet you, and don’t forget a good ole massage from time to time. We hold so many issues in our precious tissues.
10. Accept where you are right now.
Unconditional acceptance is the path of the spiritual warrior. It takes courage to embrace your current situation, to be present and loving towards yourself exactly as you are. You are your reality. You are your truth. Can you change? Absolutely! But even talking about change puts us in the future. And while there’s definitely a time for that, building a strong foundation on the now will allow you to consistently love and care for yourself. Stop for a minute. Give yourself props. Take in your good. If you’re hell bent on strategizing about all that could be better, then you must promise to give equal time to what’s amazing right now.
When I was first diagnosed, my burning goal was remission. Anything else seemed like colossal failure. And even worse — my fault. Eleven years later, I’m a master at my own advice. I accept me, cancer and all. Does that mean that I’ve given up on my health? Of course not!
Acceptance is different from quitting. It means that no matter what happens, you won’t abandon yourself in your time of need.
And here’s the the part that contributes to your overall well being: Acceptance allows you to rest, renew and replenish. You are your own angel.
11. Educate yourself.
Here are two books that have been cancer lifelines for me.
1. Life Over Cancer by Keith Block M.D.
2. Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips by Kris Carr (yours truly—writing that book rescued my life).
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You are a treasured member of my virtual family and I love you. Keep taking care of yourself.
Peace & thriving,