Dealing with cancer in a supportive way

Whenever I counsel patients (or anyone who asks) about incorporating more plant foods into their lives, we discuss the way that diet contributes to our disease risk. For example, adopting a whole-foods, plant-based lifestyle reduces risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and many types of cancers.

Once the topic of cancer is brought up, inevitably there is a gut reaction from the person. I think we can all identify with the effect that cancer has on our lives. Whether it's a personal history of cancer, a family member, a best friend, a spouse, cancer is a common thread that permeates our society.

Recently someone mentioned to me that she had stage I breast cancer. She wondered about the foods she currently is consuming and how they may affect her risk for progression, her recovery, etc.

Another person responded to her question implying that they would be "happy" if they only had stage I cancer vs. something like stage IV, where the chances of survival are lower.

It took all of me to control my gut reaction. I was reminded of the time 12 years ago when I sat in my Gynecologic-Oncologist's office and his nurse practitioner told me that "fortunately" I didn't have "real ovarian cancer" so I wouldn't have to worry as much about future recurrence risk.

At age 18, I remember thinking, "If that wasn't 'real' cancer, then can I have my left ovary and Fallopian tube back?"

The purpose of this post is not to discuss how heinous that comment was...because it get's us nowhere.

Instead, let us support each other and those struggling with cancer by understanding that, no matter what stage or type of cancer, hearing that diagnosis is devastating and will change you forever.

I had stage I immature teratoma ovarian cancer. It is a rare but curable type of ovarian cancer. When I was able to be cured with surgery and no adjunct therapy like chemotherapy, I had major survivor's guilt. Why did I have it so "easy" while another member of my family who I love dearly had to endure those grueling treatments for ovarian cancer?

Cancer is complicated. There is no real vs. less real cancer diagnosis. Some stages of cancer are easier to manage than others in terms of medical complexity, but the emotional repercussions are intense regardless.

Our lifestyle certainly plays a huge role in our risk for cancer, our recovery from it if unfortunately diagnosed, and our ability to cope with the appropriate treatments. Part of that lifestyle is not only diet, exercise, sleep, and risk reduction (avoiding smoking, minimizing alcohol intake), but also our emotional support.

If you or someone you know is affected by cancer, I hope no one ever says that what you are experiencing is less real or difficult than another's scenario.

Take care of one another, there is already enough bad energy out there that we have to combat.

Love and light,
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