A Lasting Gift – Straight Talk About Breast Cancer
Every October, the pink paraphernalia blossoms everywhere-car magnets, bracelets, coffee mugs, and even upscale attire. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. With the lifetime incidence of cancer at 1 in 8, everyone knows someone who has had breast cancer, received treatment for it, or passed away from it. Honoring loved ones and celebrating survivors feels rewarding temporarily, but we honor them best in the long term by taking meaningful action that will help many over time. That’s why I’m writing this short commentary and research-based strategy, as a way of thanking everyone who has ever helped a loved-one through cancer or memorialized them after a heart-wrenching loss. This paper is a gift that you may send to anyone who needs it. Some medical “experts” aren’t likely to agree with me, but I won’t let that dampen my resolve. I speak from both scientific knowledge and first-hand experience.
I am a survivor of chemotherapy, radiation, and bi-lateral mastectomy, as I like to say. These can often prove deadlier than cancer. I was diagnosed with Stage III lobular carcinoma of the right breast in 2002, after many regular mammograms, “doing all the right things” except for sleep deprivation, and considering myself as succeeding against the odds after my mother succumbed to the disease. Today I am healthier than ever. My mother was not so fortunate: after a second diagnosis of cancer around her 48th birthday, she bravely endured the accelerating downward spiral of terminal cancer for 9 very long years.
The long-term survival statistics for breast cancer, despite decades and billions of research dollars and years of “races for the cure”, are still not very encouraging. While the official word is that deaths from breast cancer are declining, the reality is very different: since chemo damages the immune system, breast cancer patients often have a diagnosis of a second cancer, not just a recurrence or metastasis of breast cancer. It’s that second cancer that the medical authorities associate with the patient’s demise, not the breast cancer treatment that destroyed their immune system in the first place.
After my treatment, recovery and experience of health regained, I can speak with no small amount of authority. We can do much about breast cancer, but the conventional thinking about it is wrong.
Last fall, Laura Bush was interviewed at the White House after lighting it pink (outdoors, no less) in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. While I admire her willingness to speak out for causes, I was dismayed with her message: get a mammogram and get every woman you love to have one, too. She emphasized ONLY the value of early detection. The problem is that mammography is radiation, which recent studies are showing contributes to cancer. Newer practitioners are very concerned about radiation exposure.
Not only that, but many women like me (or the former me!) have dense breast tissue and mammography often doesn’t reveal tumors in such tissue. Furthermore, certain forms of cancer, such as lobular–about 15% of cases, mine included– are impossible to detect early because they do not form well-defined tumors until the later stages. Mammography can give women a false sense of security that they can continue unhealthy lifestyles and not have to be concerned about breast cancer. That is, until it’s too late.
Prevention, not frequent mammography, should be the emphasis. And for those who have been treated, rebuilding the immune system should be a life-long pursuit.
I’ve been reading research since before I was diagnosed in 2002, and I want to pass along to you and your loved ones what I have learned.
1. You can take meaningful steps to avoid breast cancer, and every woman can do them:
o Get plenty of sleep (easier said than done!). Studies show that this is a risk factor for breast cancer. The body and the immune system need daily recovery and repair.
o Get plenty of sunshine and Vitamin D. Studies show that Vitamin D, as much as 5,000 units daily, is needed for proper immune function. The RDA of 400 units is woefully inadequate.
o Support your liver. Studies show an increased risk of breast cancer after long-term alcohol consumption. What they aren’t telling you is how medications, such as seemingly harmless Tylenol®, can damage it. You can protect and restore your liver with a number of herbs, and by limiting medications and alcohol.
o Maintain a normal body weight.
o Exercise. Cardio exercise in at least moderation (but not over-training) stimulates the immune system.
o Supplement your health:
– Try flax seed oil, which can reduce the risk of breast cancer.
– Selenium and turmeric have tumor suppressing benefits.
– IP-6, an inositol-based substance, can increase natural killer cells in the body (those that attack mutated cells) as much as 300%.
– Nucleic acids, such as RNA, help with correcting errors in cell replication, and should be seriously considered by anyone at risk by age or genetics.
These strategies are not expensive or time-consuming. However, entrenched patterns of behavior are resistant to change.
2. If you have been treated for cancer by chemotherapy or radiation, you MUST rebuild your immune system.
Chemotherapy and radiation kill healthy cells as well as cancerous ones. They damage the body’s ability to resist another assault and hinder the natural process of identifying and killing cancer/mutated cells. The reason why the long-term survival rates for breast cancer appear to be improving is because thousands of women are diagnosed with another cancer within years of cancer treatment, and that second cancer is then counted as the immediate cause of death. When immune systems are compromised, the body cannot fend off additional attacks. Also, many women find that their brains no longer function as well as they did before chemotherapy: this condition is known as “chemobrain” or chemotherapy-induced cognitive impairment. The good news is that you can recover and you can help your immune system.
o Follow ALL the recommendations above, with a stricter adherence to the plan, and:
o Avoid soy and plastics (emit gases). These may have undesirable estrogenic effects in the body.
o Drink filtered spring water, not tap water, which has added fluoride and chlorine.
o Restore your digestive system, which also affects immunity, by taking a broad spectrum probiotic.
o Address your stress. If you had a stressful life before cancer diagnosis, don’t dive back into it.
o Add more immune-enhancing supplements, such as quercetin, magnesium, Vitamin C and a cordyceps mushroom complex.
o Go to a reputable complementary medicine practitioner and have your thyroid and adrenal functions tested. Chiropractic can also help the healing process.
The mind is powerful. Healing and recovery begin in the mind and spirit. Believing that you can recover helps motivate you. Visualizing the new, revitalized body and mind can create new experiences that will enrich your life, not just extend it.
If you know someone who can benefit from this paper, please send it with my best wishes for health.