Grace Gawler discusses Lifestyle Medicine for Cancer Patients:
“For most people changing a way of life or way of eating is stressful, for others it can feel empowering.
Lifestyle Medicine typically involves health promotion and disease prevention and can include management and treatment of chronic, complex, and lifestyle-related conditions. The latter was the basis of my earlier work – more than 4 decades ago.
The question back then was:
Could lifestyle change impact cancer outcome and survivorship?
I have spent the following 46 years exploring the answer to that question.
‘Lifestyle-related’ health conditions are wide, varied and complex. Lifestyle is influenced by how we live, the health promoting choices we make or do not make; environmental challenges including the air we breathe, our social fabric & connections, economic status, behavioural factors and even cultural, religious, or spiritual beliefs.
It is imperative to be aware that whenever human beings make lifestyle changes and in particular dietary changes; the impact can flow through many areas of your life affecting your psychology, emotions, and mental state which are inextricably connected with way of life – lifestyle. This is why making changes in diet and lifestyle; especially rapid or radical change, causes most cancer patients to feel overwhelmed and confused.
In addition, a diagnosis of cancer can instigate fear which in turn becomes the accelerant for change rather than a healthier desire and yearning for a new way of life. For some people change equals excitement, motivation, and adventure whilst for others it means fear and fear of change itself, a loss of the familiar.
It is helpful for cancer patients to think about the impacts of change and to discuss with family, friends or their counsellor.
For cancer patients who are wanting to look at lifestyle medicine as a part of their health restoration plan, I encourage you to be discerning, well-informed and to do your due diligence before making decisions about significant lifestyle changes to enhance your recovery.
Lifestyle Changes - Be Discerning - Be well Informed
Now, back to the question – Can lifestyle change impact cancer outcome and survivorship?
In my experience a consciously made, well thought through lifestyle change can definitely value-add to cancer outcome and recovery.
Surprising results: You may be surprised that patients who have sought my help over the decades have not fitted the widely publicised demographic of over being overweight, with a history of physical inactivity, poor diet or nutrition, smoking, alcohol overconsumption, anxiety, inadequate sleep and other known causes of cancer.
I have 1000s of patient questionnaire records that date back almost 40 years. The records accurately document patient’s lifestyle influences and choices.
These patients were not overweight; they report that they had looked after their health and had quite reasonable balanced diets.
These patients have included vegetarians, vegans, ketogenic followers, meat eaters etc – patients who had consumed all types of diets.
Few had smoked previously – if they had smoked it was often for short period during their youth. The majority were occasional consumers of alcohol – but many did not drink alcohol at all.
Many had high exercise regimens – competitive bike riders, runners, athletes from many disciplines, hikers etc.”
The common factor for most of these patients however was unrelenting poorly managed stress or several acute stressful episodes in their lives. They could identify these events with remarkable recall as a point in time when life-force was reduced from a flame to a flicker.
It is plausible to hypothesise that alongside environmental and inherited influences that stresses of many different types play a significant role in the pathway to a diagnosis of cancer.
The journey of a 1000 miles begins with one small step
The Good News:
When people who have cared for themselves like those mentioned from my questionnaire demographic study, are diagnosed with cancer- reporting good diets, exercise and other positive lifestyle attributes, they tend to demonstrate greater host resistance, robustness and resilience in the face of the disease.
Remember change does not always involve making a new choice. Over the years, many of my clients have returned to a lost passion – a much loved past-time or hobby that they abandoned due to circumstances of study, marriage etc. Rather than seeking new past-times, returning to these types of familiar but lost activities, can be highly therapeutic.
Goal Setting for Lifestyle Change:
Set simple realistic and achievable goals and review them regularly. If you set goals way ahead of your learning capabilities in this new situation you are often setting yourself up for failure. There are many different ways of setting goals. We all learn in different ways. Our best advice is to be patient, go slowly and make small increments in lifestyle changes.
What to do?
For safe self-help – Here are a few areas for change you might consider…
Stress reduction – How do you rate stress in your life and your management of it? If you think this part of your life needs attention, what can you do about it? I suggest you consider some of these practical options as a part of your lifestyle change:
Meditation – does not cure cancer but for some it can improve your life – especially mindfulness meditation – Highly recommended.
I have met with both of the following teachers who walk the talk and who can transform obscure meditative practices into practical applications – excellent for cancer patients.
- Refer to the work of Jon Kabot-Zin https://www.mindfulnesscds.com/
- Thich Nat Hahn – especially “The Miracle of Mindfulness” and other publications. https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/meditate
Active meditations can be…
- Tai chi – join a group (Covid-19 dependent) on learn online via you tube.
- Chi gong – join a group (Covid-19 dependent) on learn online via you tube.
- Mindful walking in nature
- Stretch, Yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais
- Dance, music and movement
There are many more options you can explore.
Diet & Lifestyle:
Refer to diets for cancer patients page on the menu.
Adequate sleep is essential for everyone – but especially for cancer patients. Lack of sleep disturbs circadian rhythms and our metabolism and therefore our healthy immune function. Conventional cancer treatments, especially dexamethasone and cortisone-based treatments, interfere with sleep patterns therefore you need to ask for help in this area if you are impacted. Avoid self-prescribed herbals to enhance sleep – seek professional advice.
For more Information:
Refer to my booklet – available in eBook:
A Helping Hand eBook – Simple Tools to Enhance your Recovery and Life after Cancer – The Grace Gawler Approach
or for Breast Cancer Patients:
Women of Silence eBook – the Emotional Healing of Breast Cancer (238 pages) or