“Don’t let the complexity of cancer blind you to the simplicity of healing.”Dawn Waldron
Whenever we face life’s big challenges we do it in our own particular way. We use a vast set of skills to put our plans into action: instinct, intuition, self-knowledge, experience, family history, and education; myths, fears and beliefs play a big part too. We might consult a range of experts to get a sense of scope and perspective, but even if we take their advice, we always put our own spin on it, and shape it to our needs.
Cancer recovery is one of the biggest challenges you will ever face and the same applies: you need to do it your way. Only you know what it will take to get through it. You need to prioritise your agenda and cultivate your inner guru more than ever before. I hope you will consult a wide range of experts, including your doctor and oncologist, but also recognise that they are not in charge. It’s your body, your choice, and your life. Every step of the way.
One of the hardest things we face with a cancer diagnosis is the uncertainty; no one can tell us how it will all work out but, while the NHS stubbornly refuses to think outside the box, there is strong evidence that changing your diet and lifestyle is an important factor in recovery and survival. Cancer outcomes appear to be random but as soon as you scratch the surface it’s obvious that they’re not. Patients with better nutrient status at diagnosis do better overall, stress and diabetes impact survival statistics, and projects like Radical Remission tell us that your medical prognosis becomes meaningless in the face of self-determination. If only we measured some of these things at outset and tracked them longer term I’m sure the results would tell a different story: we need more than medicine to get well again.
Still, the cancer patient faces the dilemma of which ‘alternative’ route to choose, and the choices are multiplying. It’s more important than ever to get some support along the way: someone with an overview of the options available, an understanding of the biology, and an insight into the mindset of the cancer patient. I can’t over-emphasise the importance of being in tune with your healing helpers, to ensure you are working in the same direction for the same aims. (And if that isn’t the case with your oncologist, you should consider finding one who will work with you in a more respectful way.) That’s why I go to great lengths to explain where I’m coming from so that you can decide whether you want to work with me.
Even among alternative practitioners there are different approaches. For example, repurposed drugs aligns more closely with the medical model, looking for a ‘magic bullet’ to stop cancer in its tracks. As we unravel the way cancer behaves at a cellular level, there are different ways to use this knowledge: you can try to micromanage the process, starving cells and blocking pathways and wrestling with PhD level biochemistry, or marvel at the wonders of the human body and do everything you can to support it to do its job.
I fall into the latter category. In my view we still don’t have enough knowledge or evidence of survival (evidence of safety is not the same thing!) to justify focussing on managing cancer at the coal face. I have noticed that the more we focus on the microscopic aspects of cancer the more we lose touch with the balance of the ‘whole body’. It’s easy (and seductive) to get caught up in the complexity of cancer — forgetting what health really means, and forgetting where healing really comes from.
Cancer is unarguably complex but, in truth, all human biology is immensely technical at a cellular level. For example, we know how to smile, but we don’t need to know what happens at a molecular level to make us smile. The impulse comes from an external stimulus – a much-loved face, an uplifting experience or a happy memory. If we focus on how to make ourselves smile by manipulating molecules with supplements, or by taping up our tear ducts, we are missing the point. To an extent, the same thing applies with cancer. When we spend all our time and energy focussing on how to micromanage cancer cells we risk bypassing the body’s innate healing intelligence, as well as missing out on life!
The ability to heal is a power that you were born with, and it never leaves you. There are countless stories of people healing from cancer of all types and at all stages: you can heal too. Your body has more healing power than anything the NHS can offer but it’s not under conscious control. For healing to happen we need to create the right conditions and let it unfold.
The natural approach to cancer is all about changing the tumour microenvironment, a phrase coined by Dr Mina Bissell, and what Dr Nasha Winters calls The Terrain. We need to change the chemical environment that surrounds your cells, to make it less comfortable for cancer cells while still supporting healthy cells. Here again it’s important to take a holistic approach. Focussing on sleep, sunshine, exercise, love, fun, meaning can be just as effective as broccoli, sardines, turmeric, selenium and Vitamin C. Of course, all the elements work together but it’s very easy to become obsessive about one area (especially diet) and forget about the others. Behavioural science tells us that a top down approach, dealing with beliefs before broccoli and sleep before selenium is likely to be more successful, while nutrigenetics allows us to take a highly personalised approach to the big picture.
My practice has evolved over the years, and in the same way that I avoid trying to avoid micromanaging cancer cells, I have learned that there’s no point trying to micromanage my clients! I’m here to inspire and guide you to work out what you need, try new things and trust your instincts. I have years of research and resources in my head but my aim is to focus in on what’s relevant for you right now. Giving you information is not the same as helping you change, and my focus is increasingly on the latter. I draw on the Dilt’s Logical Levels model and the theory of Transactional Analysis to support the behavioural changes that we discuss, and I’ve found it’s better to pinpoint three of four important areas than trying to cram a lifetime of knowledge into a one hour consultation.
Our work is designed to unfold step by step, one conversation at a time. After each session, you’ll have a clear but short list of things to do and explore. Then, I hope, you’ll come and find me again when you’ve had time to integrate those suggestions, begin to feel better, and want to take it to the next stage. Our work will build into a personalised recovery programme to suit your needs and your timescale. My approach has more in common with coaching than you might expect from nutritional therapy.
Many of my clients have very strong self-knowledge and finely tuned instincts about why they got cancer: they know they were ignoring chronic health issues and trying to withstand unsustainable life pressure, and not paying enough attention to their health. If that’s how you feel then it may be enough to work together to create a healthier balance. If, on the other hand, you are bemused about your diagnosis, if you feel that cancer came out of the blue, despite a healthy lifestyle, then we can explore functional and nutrigenetic testing. This can allow a deeper level of personalisation based on molecular or genetic risks and vulnerabilities.
If you want a wider health perspective, something ‘more than medicine’, I’d love to be on your team. I’m a twenty-four year survivor and I’ve been a nutritional therapist for eighteen years. I’ve learned a lot about cancer and, more importantly, about how to help people, and guide them through the maze. I have helped hundreds of breast cancer patients return to health and happiness after diagnosis.
My clients tell me our work transforms their view of cancer and their beliefs about health – providing a deeper understanding of their diagnosis, overturning many of the popular myths, helping them see beyond the limitations of the medical perspective, and supporting them at a deeper level than the ‘one-size-fits’ all cancer programmes found in popular cancer books and websites. It doesn’t matter where you are in your cancer experience – just diagnosed, having treatment, or out the other side – only that you have a little bit of energy to bring to our sessions.
It has been a great privilege to work with the clients who choose me and I am never surprised with I hear the phrase, ‘my oncologist can’t believe how well I’m doing’. Approaching cancer in this way attracts exceptional people and it can bring exceptional results. It’s not unusual for the people I work with to have strong instincts and convictions about the path they want to take, and any recovery programme needs to encourage self-expression and our own intuitive feelings about health.
To ensure that I can stay on top of the research and provide the level of personalisation that you need, I take a maximum of 8 new clients each month. Therefore there is sometimes a short wait before our work can start but that can work well, allowing you to focus on the process of diagnosis and the immediate life changes before getting into new habits and the business of recovery. While you are waiting I recommend focussing on five key things:
- Ensuring excellent sleep quality in a restful darkened room with a daily nap if you need one, limiting evening screen time and ensuring daily outdoors time.
- Rigorous stress management, saying no to everything you don’t want to do, choosing things you do want to do, and learning how to manage your response to the inevitable stresses of life at this time.
- Diet diversity: fresh, home-cooked whole food, organic if you can afford it, a range of good quality proteins, fifty different plant foods a week, lots of herbs and spices, and a reduction in refined and processed foods.
- Daily exercise or movement within your capacity: your body is under siege and treatment will increase the pressure: moderate, oxygenating exercise, maybe some gentle weights, and an active day is your best strategy so you don’t add to your body’s repair bill with injury or hypoxia.
- Focussing on stories of survival rather than the details of your diagnosis is perhaps the most important thing you can do. You can accept the medical treatment on offer without buying in to the medical philosophy. The most inspiring success stories are from people who have radically improved their quality of life after diagnosis. Hold on to that idea and give your imagination free rein as to what that could look like!
You can book and appointment or an exploratory chat over here.
If you’d like to be one of the first to know when the book comes out, please add your name to the wait list here.
Picture: Artwork by Tracey Emin from a photograph by Dawn Waldron