During my teens and twenties, I celebrated (or avoided) Valentine’s Day. Each year had its own flavor. Heartache, romantic plans gone awry and some very sweet moments, too. But, February 14th, 2003, changed that day forever. That’s the day I was diagnosed with an incurable, stage IV cancer.
Life stopped… and then transformed. Valentine’s Day is a very spiritual celebration now. I call it my “cancerversary”, a day of deep self-love, reflection, gratitude and re-birth. It took me over a decade, post-diagnosis, to get to that sacred place. But, I’m here now and if you’re newly diagnosed, trust that you will get there, too.
For many patients, cancer is no longer a death sentence. Really take that in. The first doctor I spoke to suggested a triple organ transplant, the second gave me 10 years to live. Thankfully, both were wrong and I didn’t listen. If you’ve been given statistical projections or an expiration date, there’s a good chance your well-meaning doctor could be wrong, too.
Once I found a better oncologist 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, today I call myself a cancer thriver and I bet that no matter what your personal medical or emotional pickle is (cancer or something else), you can be a thriver too.
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 and get stronger along the way. I think they’ll be useful for you or someone you love, too. Even if you don’t have cancer, many of these tips are universal.
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 even some 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. Thankfully, I was willing to travel to find the best oncologist for my sarcoma. If you’re newly diagnosed (with any medical issue), 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 discuss your case? Your local hospital may not 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 (but not my last).
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 support by asking 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 (or other doctor) probably 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 M.D.: Check out the directories below. Again, network your butt off. Ask around and interview the prospective healing candidates—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 dairy and other 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 and other bullshit). 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 lean 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, Crazy Sexy Juice and Crazy Sexy Kitchen.
5. Juice your ass off. Not sugary juices.
Avoid store bought processed juices and choose 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 for patients is a 3:1 ratio—three veggies to one low-glycemic fruit. You can also add lemon, as it has very little sugar. Ginger rocks too. Juices are nutrient dense, hydrating, energizing and medicinal. If you only have a blender, that’s great, too. Make green smoothies instead. 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 risks 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 (Dirty Dozen Endocrine Disruptors) and learn about toxic chemicals and body burden here.
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 and other medical procedures 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 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 minutes a day and see if you can work up to 30 minutes.
8. Sleep like a champ.
A proper night’s sleep, especially between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., 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!