Monday is World Cancer Day and while this designation is probably one you’re not familiar with, I am delighted that somebody thought it important to educate the world about this scary disease. I’ve said before my grandmother was so afraid of cancer she wouldn’t even say the word. She whispered, “I think I’ve got “c”. After seeing the ravages of this disease, I know why she was scared literally to death of getting it. The wonderful thing about February 4 though is that people across the world are pulling together to educate, celebrate advances, and promote prevention, early diagnosis, new treatments, and support.
Almost every family has been touched in some way by this disease. I got a new respect for suffering in 1996 when my dad was diagnosed with lymphoma that progressed into bone and brain cancer. It seemed like one night he went to bed and lost 60 pounds in his sleep. By the summer of 1997, cancer had taken everything but his heart and soul. Watching him fight made me much more diligent about my monthly self-exams and sticking to my guns when something didn’t feel right.
Every year more than 9.6 million people die from cancer—that’s more than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and malaria combined, according to www.worldcancerday.org. Lifestyle choices contribute to these numbers. For instance, smoking, alcohol and other tobacco usage, physical activity, diet—are personal and controllable choices that affect our quality of life.
As a young woman I tried smoking cigarettes and drinking beer because that’s what everyone else was doing. I soon discovered that beer tasted bad and back then cigarettes cost 35 cents. For that same 35 cents I could have a quarter’s worth of bologna, crackers, and a Coca Cola. I decided to use that money for junk food since I couldn’t figure out how to make the smoke come through my nose! My favorite T-shirt says “In order to be old and wise, you must first be young and stupid.”
This year, let’s get educated about cancer and its risk factors and make better choices. I’ll start the list:
If you’re a smoker, try one more time to quit. Research shows that even if you’re a long-time smoker, whenever you quit, you lessen your chances of getting cancer. If you’re not smoking, but others are, remove yourself from this equation.
Look at how and what you’re eating. More fruits, vegetables and less meat has been proven to improve health and lessen your chances for diet-related cancers. Drink more water and fewer sugared drinks and desserts. A couple bites of peach cobbler will give you that rush you’re after (so I’ve heard) instead of eating the whole bowl.
You’re not going to get 10,000 steps the easy way but do your best to increase your physical activity.
Reduce stress and stressors—my new philosophy is if it won’t matter tomorrow, stop fretting about it today. According to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, stress can affect your immune system. “Studies show that stress interferes with the way certain cells in your immune system work. In particular, it affects cells that find and that kill emerging cancer cells.”
Get your prevention screenings—Pap smears, breast exams—the whole kit and caboodle—so much of what ails us could be fixed if we listen to our bodies and go and see about ourselves. Like the Nike commercial, just do it! From everything I know, attitude makes all the difference. My survivor friends tell me “I may have cancer, but cancer doesn’t have me!”
Donate. Research works. The more we know, the more we can fight. Let’s end cancer in our lifetime.
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