As an active supporter of lifestyle-based health promotion, my prescriptions often include a dietary recommendation, deep breathing exercises, orders for a weekly bath date, yoga session or meditation CD. The underlying goal is always adding health to the body. Surprisingly, it is with mixed feelings that I join the hype of the Pink ribbon team.
See, this event was a little different. Heather Lennon of Virtual Pinch Hitter and Joni Banks of Benefittings Custom Mastectomy and Medical Garments are both dear friends of mine and truly inspirational human beings. And unlike many Breast Cancer Awareness events out there, the focus of this project is to celebrate the more inclusive "breast health" rather than breast cancer awareness and proceeds were going to a great local charity.. A subtle distinction, but an important one.
As a Naturopathic Doctor, I was taught how to perform a breast examination and learned how to teach women (and men at risk) how to examine their own breasts. In 2011, the Canadian Task Force on Preventative Health issued updated guidelines recommending against routine in-office (clinical) breast exams and also teaching individuals how to check their own breasts. Additionally, mammograms were no longer recommended for women aged 40-49 unless they are at higher risk, and increasing mammogram screenings from annually to every 2-3 years for women aged 50-74.
Initially, there was a lot of back-lash from radiologists and the population because we've always been told get checked. If you feel a lump, get checked. Mammograms save lives. There is still a lot of confusion: I often hear people referring to mammograms as breast cancer prevention. This is not the case. Mammograms screen for changes in density of the breasts which can signify cancerous changes. And yes, they undoubtedly do catch some tumours at earlier stages which can lead to earlier treatment. They don't prevent cancer.
My mixed feelings are in part because of the energy of the word: Cancer. Walk for the cure, buy pink lipstick to support breast cancer research, frozen TV dinners that help support research or awareness. Many of us have a great desire to contribute and we have great intentions. I feel we need to focus more on health promotion. I still teach women how to examine their breasts, but it is more about familiarizing oneself with your body rather than finding an abnormal. I do this because I firmly believe that you know your body better than I do.
Here's the thing: much of our scanning, and indeed our prevention programs are based on a "search-and-destroy" paradigm, rather than a health point of view: Check for lumps, get scanned (and bruised) regularly to see if you have cancer, eat this Anti-cancer diet, exercise so you don't get cancer, prevent cancer, someone you know will get cancer/has cancer/died of cancer, odds are one of you will be diagnosed with cancer.. Cancer. Cancer. Cancer.
It is well known that our thoughts can influence our genetic expression ie. our beliefs can turn on some genes and shut off others. With cancer, it is all about some genes that multiple out of control that avoid normal shut off and other protective genes that aren't able to kick in. While I'm certainly not saying that our thoughts are the only thing that can cause cancer.. because it is truly a multi-factorial disease, a dysfunction of the body... but our brains can play a role in health and in illness.
Here's what you can do:
- Focus on health rather than illness-avoidance - for yourself and for family. Eat a diet loaded in dark leafy green veggies, high quality protein, healthy fats like coconut oil, ghee, olive oil. Drink green tea, lots of fresh water.. and cut down on sugar, alcohol, processed foods. Just. Don't. Smoke. (or quit ASAP!). Walk more, exercise in a way that feels good for your body. Make sleep a priority. Make laughter and fun an even bigger priority. Work out your frustrations and don't be a martyr. Don't start an anti-cancer anything.. live a health promoting lifestyle for the sake of health rather than avoiding disease.
- Forget the hype of hormone-disrupting cosmetics, sweat-shop made pink ribbon clothing and hotdog/hamburger/ice cream fundraisers for research funds. Each of these things contributes to carcinogenic changes in the human body. Much of the money raised in these efforts has to filter through many layers of administration and marketing rather than direct support to people and families.
- Support each other. Illness of any form takes its toll on us as individuals and as communities in countless ways, and often isolates us. Offer to cook a healthy meal, keep company, do chores and ask how you can be helpful to somebody that is suffering.
- Donate where you can see the results. I prefer to donate my time and money to local causes and organizations where people in my community benefit. The Wig Room Cancer Care program at Knox United Church in Stratford and Wellspring Stratford are two fantastic groups that promote whole-person wellness in so many big and little ways.
p.s. I realize that this is a BIG topic and also an important one. I am always available to have a chat about your specific concerns during a free health strategy session. Book online at www.KeilaRoesnerND.com/book