Surviving Cancer, five years on…

It has been five years since my wife was first diagnosed with breast cancer. We are glad that her latest PET scan (completed earlier this month) continues to show no sign of any malignant tissue. She has been cancer-free since her last surgery in July 2012. Given that the 5-year survival rate of women diagnosed with stage III breast cancer is only 55% [1], she has definitely done well in beating the cancer.

A recent photo taken at the Australian outback

A recent photo taken at the Australian outback

While medical treatments including chemotherapy and open surgery help to remove the malignant tumour initially, she has chosen to have minimal medical treatment since then. Today, she is taking no medication and no hormonal therapy (she refuses to start on Tamoxifen in the first place). She is not having any fluid retention issue since her lymph nodes are still intact. She need not go through breast re-construction since only lumpectomy is done on her. She also has no fear of long term effect of radiotherapy since she never goes for it.  Instead, it is her strict discipline in adhering to her diet and lifestyle changes, as well as the commitment to the holistic healing of the mind and body, that helps her to steer clear of any the recurrence of the cancer until now.

In this post, I shall share some the changes made thus far.

Diet

Dietary change has been a centre part of our strategy to fight cancer since her diagnosis. Thanks to the book, “The China Study” by Campbell & Campbell (2004) [2], we switched to a whole-food plant-based diet. I have previously written about her diet plan during her chemo treatment period (See MY WIFE’S DIET PLAN DURING CHEMO TREATMENT).

Consuming a plant-based diet is one of the 3 most important important habits that individuals should enjoy to reduce risk of cancer.

Consuming a plant-based diet is one of the most important habits that individuals should enjoy to reduce risk of cancer. [3]


The change of diet is permanent as we continue to be on a whole-food plant-based diet today, with the following guidelines:
Foods to eat more:

  • Whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, millet, roll oats, wholemeal or rye bread, etc.
  • A variety of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables of all colours, especially those known to be high in antioxidants and cancer preventive such as goji berry, blueberry, asparagus, kale, beetroot, capsicum, etc.
  • Tofu and legumes such as black beans, azuki beans, mug beans (and sprout), lentils, chickpeas, etc.
  • Nuts and seeds such as walnut, almonds, Brazil nuts, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, Chia seeds, flax seeds, etc.
  • Plenty of clean plain water

Foods to reduce and avoid if possible:

  • White rice, white bread, refined noodles and products made with refined whole flour. Go for wholemeal or multigrains options whenever possible.
  • Anything that is deep fried
  • Desserts – take only the healthy vegan version, in moderation.
  • Vegetarian foods that are processed. Ensure with no MSG added.

Foods to abstain from:

  • Meat, seafood, egg, dairy products and animal foods (except high quality Manuka honey)
  • Can or highly processed foods such as instant noodles, can vegetables, frozen meals, etc.
  • White sugar or any products with added sugar
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar-laden packet drinks and carbonated drinks

This dietary regime is not easy to maintain as it requires strong disciplines. It also requires adjustment to social life, especially when eating out with others.  However, such adjustment is necessary to maintain good health. Nevertheless, I will be deceitful if I was to say that we are completely able to adhere to all of the above points 100% of the time, especially on foods to reduce or avoid. Nevertheless, we make our best effort to maintain it.

Dietary Supplements

For immune boosting and antioxidant

For immune boosting and antioxidant

Dietary supplementation also is a part of my wife’s ongoing maintenance regime.  While some people may question the need for additional dietary supplement when the body is in good health and when we are already eating healthily. However, I am of the view that with the toxicity in the city environment that we are living in, the body needs additional help to cope with the constant assailant of the environmental toxins, especially after recovering from cancer.

Regular Supplementing With:

  • Green tea extract, Curcumin (Turmeric), and Lingzhi (Reishi) – For immune boosting and anticancer properties
  • 7.2 Recovery with HydroFX – a proprietary blend of hydrogen releasing mineral tablet as a strong antioxidant
  • Young Living Progessence Phyto Plus – Dermal application of Phyto oestrogen for hormonal balance

Occasional Supplementing With:

  • 7.2 Alkaline Booster or Young Living Alkalime – mineral salts for body alkalising effect, especially useful after an unhealthy meal or minor stomach disturbance
  • Calcium, Zinc, Vitamin D, and B12 – important to ensure sufficient level in the body
  • 7.2 Greens or Green Caps – Super green foods

(Important note: The choice of supplements mentioned here is specific to her conditions and for reference only.  Cancer patients should only take dietary supplements, especially during and after cancer treatment, under the advice of qualified natural medicine practitioners. )

Work-life balance

Celebrating Chinese New Year 2016 in her office

Celebrating Chinese New Year 2016 in her office

Before her diagnosis of breast cancer, my wife was a workaholic. She was also a perfectionist who demanded the highest quality of work from herself and her subordinates.  Inevitably, she worked long hours and had high stress. Cancer diagnosis was a knock to her to reflect on her priority in life. This life event has led her to take a long break from work after her chemo treatment for more than one year just to rest and recharge. After which, she slowly phased back to a new working place with the emphasis on work-life balance.

Today, she has found a new balance in her work. Long working hour is a thing of the past. Her typical work day starts from 8.30am and usually leaves the office around 5.30pm. This is definitely not “typical” in Singapore. She has learned to lessen her strong wanting to be perfect at work, but still able to deliver high quality of work driving herself and people around her nuts! It is a great achievement.

As to how to achieve that, continuing meditation and self-reflection are the keys.

Meditation and mental health

Meditation in the nature - connecting to the mother earth

Meditation in the nature – connecting to the mother earth

Developing self-awareness through meditation and spiritual practice is an important aspect of her holistic healing journey.  We considered ourselves lucky to have met good spiritual teachers who can guide us to open our hearts to feel love, to be mindful and self-aware, to acknowledge our shortcomings, and to gradually lessen the self-conceit that lead us to negative emotions.  Opening of heart with mindfulness also allows us to process our hidden or suppressed emotions and reduce psychological distress.
We practise meditation daily nowadays in the morning. This is an important practice that helps to lessen the impact of daily stress, reduce and address negative emotions, and continues to balance the mind. We also take time off at least twice a year to attend long meditation retreats of 2 to 3 weeks in length to reconnect the mind and heart and to embark on the quest of spiritual detoxification.

Exercise and nature

Connecting with nature. Enjoy the grounding effect of a giant tree

Connecting with nature. Enjoy the grounding effect of a giant tree.

Research has consistently shown that exercise assists in cancer prevention, recovery, and survival. Furthermore, more rigorous exercise is more beneficial than light exercise. Prolonged sitting is especially detrimental to cancer survival rate [4]. Unfortunately, my wife is not a physically active person since young. She dislikes going to the gym, jogging or swimming. She knows neither cycling nor playing any ball games. Luckily, she loves nature. So doing brisk walking (sometimes not so brisk) in nature parks become the choice of exercise we do regularly.

When my wife was on her long break from work, we did daily walking in the nature. There are no lack of nature parks and reserves in Singapore for a workout and a breath of fresh air (See WHERE TO GET FRESH AIR IN THIS LITTLE RED DOT?). We also traveled overseas for trekking in the remote mountains to connect with the healing power of the nature.

However, ever since her return to full time employment, daily nature walk has ceased. Although we still maintain the habit of walking during the weekends, the level of physical activity is insufficient. The obvious result from the reduced in physical activity is weight gain, which she has gradually put on about 5-6kg over the last few years. This is a trend that needs to be halted and reversed. With her current employer embarking on the National Step Challenge programme in collaboration with the Health Promotion Board, she is participating in this national initiative to achieve 10,000 steps daily. We shall see how this can help to increase her physical activity for better cancer prevention.

Conclusion

Cancer is a warning sign. The body is telling us that the way we lives is hurting us. To heal, one has to make changes in life and commit to it. Medical treatments are short term interventions, but never the long term solutions. However, it is still necessary to buy precious time for one to put important changes in place and to embark on the healing journey. In here, I have shared some of the dietary and lifestyle changes my wife has put into practice – some with better commitment than others. This is an on-going journey of not only physical, but also mental and spiritual; it is an ongoing journey of life.

References

  1. Breast cancer survival statistics (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/statistics-by-cancer-type/breast-cancer/survival#heading-Three
  2. Campbell, T. C., & Campbell, T. M. (2004). The China Study. Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long Term Health. Dallas, TX: Benbella Books
  3. Williams, M. T. & Hord, N. G. (2005). The role of dietary factors in cancer prevention: Beyond fruits and vegetables. Nutrition in Clinical Practice, 20(4), 451-459. doi: 10.1177/0115426505020004451
  4. Lemanne, D., Cassileth, B. R., & Gubili, L. (2013). The role of physical activity in cancer prevention, treatment, recovery, and survivorship. Oncology, 27(6), 580-585. Retrieved from http://www.cancernetwork.com/oncology-journal/role-physical-activity-cancer-prevention-treatment-recovery-and-survivorship#sthash.82637cJ4.dpuf
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