“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: it’s not a one-size fits all process and the best results happen when you do it your way. 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.
Your personal genetic make up is at the heart of who you are and it’s also a significant factor in your diagnosis. The genes you inherited from your parents and the way they are expressed as a result of your diet and lifestyle choices is one of the most important factors driving your recovery and survival. Modern medicine has spent billions trying to isolate common genetic mutations to make cancers more treatable, and there is a growing understanding that varying responses to treatment are also the result of genetic differences in both tumours and patients. Many experts believe that the future of cancer care depends on exploiting these differences but we are a long way off turning this knowledge into treatments.
As a survivor myself, I understand that it can be frustrating (to say the least) that future treatments are not yet widely available. When you are facing diagnosis there is a sense of urgency and a need to do everything you possibly can to improve your chances. My work as a nutritional therapist is all about bringing a wider range of knowledge and possibilities to your cancer recovery plan, to use what we already know about nutrition and genetics to improve outcomes and futures for breast cancer patients.
Nutrigenetics is the science of the way our diet and lifestyle interact with our genes. It’s not a magic bullet but it can show you where to focus your recovery efforts – whether that’s a tendency to hormonal imbalances or a propensity to let stress deplete your energy and immunity. That’s why I offer this testing as a first step in your cancer recovery plan: it means that everything we do together will work with your body and not against it. Of course, you still need to do the work of sorting out your diet and cleaning up your lifestyle but now, at least, you understand why and how.
Working in this area for over twenty years I have noticed that, as our understanding of cancer increases, the science surrounding it also becomes more complex to understand. That complexity can obscure the fact that natural healing is really very simple. We just need to give our bodies the right conditions. 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.
In my view nutrigenetics is the best way to honour your unique personality and biochemistry on the road to health. It offers the best of both worlds: an emerging area of science that is unarguably complex but which ultimately supports natural healing by encouraging optimal genetic function.
I’m not talking about the level of nutrigenetics you get from an online DNA test: although this can be enlightening it misses vital connections because it only analyses your genome and doesn’t consider you, your history and your diagnosis. When we take your DNA data and overlay it with your personality, your family and health history, your diagnosis, diet and lifestyle, we can take personalisation to a whole new level. Using DNA testing in this way cannot be done by a machine algorithm, it takes two, and it takes time, but it is a hugely valuable way of understanding health and happiness, and creates an unbeatable foundation for future health.
The exciting thing about DNA testing is that the results are valid for life. Your DNA doesn’t change, and you can use the insights in the report to manage future health challenges as well as your present situation. Likewise, you can do the test at any time, it’s not affected by drugs and treatment. However, since our nutrition work is all about protecting and optimising the function of your delicate DNA – the complete opposite of cytotoxic radio- and chemotherapy – it’s best to start once treatment is over, and after our initial consultation you can enlist further support to follow your plan. I often recommend clients to do the test during the last few weeks of treatment and book their first appointment for about one month after treatment finishes. That way you have something positive and proactive to anticipate to get your recovery off to a flying start.
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. Others are bemused about their diagnosis, with a sense that cancer came out of the blue, despite a healthy lifestyle. Nutrigenetics can help in both cases by helping us to understand both the physiological and psychological factors leading up to diagnosis, and in both cases it’s clear that making a full recovery is about more than submitting to treatment and carrying on as before.
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. Approaching cancer in this way attracts exceptional people and it can bring exceptional results.
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 six 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 an appointment over here.
Picture: Artwork by Tracey Emin from a photograph by Dawn Waldron