February is National Cancer Prevention Month. How I wish my thoughts on this topic were restricted to only 28 days of each year. In reality, this very topic has been in my thoughts every month of every year since my mother died from breast cancer almost 15 years ago. At times it consumes me. It keeps me awake at night with fear that I will suffer the same fate as my mother. Admittedly, I have spent far too much time in doctors’ offices chasing down every little ache, pain or abnormality. Why? Because besides exercising regularly, following a healthy diet and trying to keep abreast of the most recent recommendations on “what to do” or “not to do” to avoid getting cancer, this is the way I decided I would prevent cancer from “getting me”. I will get out in front of it. Monitor my body ever so closely and seek out advice or testing on anything that seems erroneous. If I am ever to be diagnosed, I want to be one of the so called, “lucky ones” and have them say, “thank goodness we caught it early.” Is this healthy? Most certainly not. A bit crazy? Most certainly. I recognize the undue anxiety I am causing myself and understand the negative impact stress has on our bodies and overall health. Realizing that by trying to prevent cancer, I could very well cause it, I am striving to do better.
What do the experts say about cancer prevention? They admit that there are many factors that can cause cancer, not all of which are fully understood. Despite this, there are ways to decrease the risk of developing certain types of cancer. It is estimated that one third of cancer cases could be prevented through diet and exercise. Another high-risk area is spending too much time in the sun. Reducing your exposure to the sun between the hours of 12pm – 4 pm and wearing sunscreen when outdoors is recommended to reduce one’s risk of developing skin cancer. One of the most important ways to prevent cancer is though genetic testing. Some cancers, like breast cancer, may have a genetic or hereditary component and can be identified through testing. Be aware of your medical history and talk to your doctor about whether you are a candidate for genetic testing. Regular screenings for other types of cancers like prostrate and cervical can lead to early detection. Catching these types of cancers early before metastasis, can greatly affect your diagnosis and prognosis. We have not yet reached the point where good lifestyle choices will prevent cancer but making deliberate and informed decisions about your lifestyle can lower your risk.
The word “cancer” will most likely always strike the fear of god in me. More concerning for me is that it continues to outsmart us on prevention and a cure. That said I choose to have faith. The articles that report on the massive strides they are making in diagnosis and treatment encourages me. Advancements seem to be coming at a dizzying pace for all types of cancers and certainly the treatment being received today does not even remotely resemble that of which my mother received years ago and even more significant than that, the results seem to be more successful. They continue to learn and therefore, so do we. We take what we can in this grueling battle against cancer and we celebrate each win. We will get there.
Photo by Lucas Vasques