Can my lifestyle choices affect my cancer prognosis?
Updated: Sep 9, 2022
This week's post is incredibly personal and I am very passionate about this topic. It gives a look inside me and explains more why I am the way that I am and what motivates me to do what I do. I also believes it can offer hope to those who are currently going through a cancer diagnosis or even another chronic disease diagnosis.
A cancer diagnosis with a poor prognosis
On Monday of this week August 22, 2022 my Dad passed away from metastatic melanoma at the age of 83. It has been quite a journey and to fully appreciate all of it, a bit of recent background is important. In January of this year (2022), my dad went to a neurologist because he was having some increasing difficulty cognitively and so an MRI was performed. At that time they found two spots on his brain and then proceeded to do some more imaging and then found a spot on his lungs; thus began this year of treatment with immunotherapy and gamma knife radiation. In May after a series of these treatments they retested the scans, and unfortunately, it did not improve things; in fact some new spots were presents that were very concerning. So at the end of May it was decided at that time that it was actually not benefiting my dad to continue treatment as his quality of life was no longer there (in all honesty it had not been there for quite some time). And so at this time we started hospice and it has been a journey that finally came to an end on Monday.
The hospice and end of life experience has been something that I can't even begin to put into words. At some point with some time, maybe I will, because i think it's a really important topic, just the whole idea of end of life and what that really means; however that is not the point of this post today.
A poor prognosis does not always mean the end: hope.
If you stop reading there, you miss the most important part of this post. My dad's cancer journey actually began a long time ago, 46 years ago. In 1976 at the age of 39, which was a year before I was born, my Dad was first diagnosed with melanoma; it was stage four and he was given a six month prognosis.
At that time my dad did have surgery and if you knew him very well you might have noticed he had a large scar on his neck. His instructions to the surgeon were "I don't care what it looks like just make sure you get it all." At that time it was a very controversial subject and not something that was supported in the United States, but my Dad had learned about an alternative cancer treatment that was based on the chemical found in an apricot seed and using that chemical to help kill the cancer. He actually went to Mexico for this treatment. I believe I was in about seventh grade when he had a recurrence; I remember he went back to Mexico for more alternative treatment (and interestingly after he did this, an exploratory surgery to find the recurrence, actually found nothing...the cancer that was there was no longer there). A huge aspect of this alternative treatment included a very radical lifestyle change, which included exercise and also changing the way that you ate; what you ate was really important. My dad until recently also continued the habit of eating apricot seeds. So I grew up in this environment; if you know me very well, I am all about exercise and movement and just taking care of your body. I also truly believe that food is medicine and that what you eat and what you put in your body really does matter. And I got this from my dad and from his journey. Now I didn't get it only from my dad; I have my own GI problems that have definitely influenced me and the way I see things, but it really started with my dad and the habits that he and my mom changed and that was just normal to me and part of the environment I grew up in
My dad lived another 46 years, which is AMAZING! He went to the gym every day; I grew up, and I can't remember if it was elementary school when it started or junior high, but i went to the gym at 5 00 a.m to Genesis Fitness Center with my dad every single week day. The habit of regular exercise-I started that because of my dad and that started because of his cancer. That would ultimately lead me to choosing physical therapy as a career.
And then of course his eating changed. My mom had to change the way that she cooked and changed the way that they ate. Now some of the things that my dad did, they would not work for me as I have lots of digestive issues (he believed in the fiber of oat bran and that would kill my intestines). But the important thing here is really that he made a radical lifestyle change and one that was based on whole food nutrition. He believed in this did really did look at the things that he ate and tried to eat the best that he could. I will say recently especially with COVID, my dad was not able to get to all of his appointments for prevention which he was very diligent about having skin checks done, so I do believe think this was a factor recently. Like many people with COVID, he had stopped exercising as much as he used to and he had stopped in some ways eating the way that he normally ate so I think those were a factor with recent events. Another really important thing to know (which I forgot to mention in my video), they were never able to determine the origin of the melanoma. A metastases means that it has moved from its point of origin. However, they never did find his point of origin. They also couldn't fathom that the origin was from his melanoma 46 years ago, that's unheard of (yet they never could explain it).
My dad lived 83 years! I was given MY LIFETIME thus far WITH my dad based on those lifestyle choices that he made; I feel truly blessed to have had this time with him and this is what drives me. So yes, your lifestyle choices very much can affect your cancer prognosis.
I just wanted to take this time to write this post in large part to celebrate the life of Ronald Mitchell and thank him for instilling in me some things that are so incredibly important to health both physically and mentally.
How do I start making life changes to improve my health?
If you are on the fence or struggling with whether you should start to exercise or get back to exercise or start to eat healthier or start to think about to change the way that you eat, I hope this encourages to do it; it really does matter. It can have such a profound impact on your health, both mentally and physically, and my Dad's life is a great example of that.
If you are currently on your own journey with cancer, I pray this gives you comfort and hope to just keep going, continue to take care of yourself and to nurture yourself both with food and gentle movement as much as you can depending on where you are in your treatment.
If you have any questions about this or if you are struggling with what to do whether you know you just want to improve your health generally speaking or maybe you recently got a diabetes diagnosis, a cancer diagnosis, please start take one step forward towards a healthier you. Perhaps you start by taking out the sugary drinks or the processed foods. Or maybe you start by moving more by parking your car in the far end of the parking lot to get more steps in and move the way your body was made to move. Look at the foods that you eat as medicine; understand the things you eat can actually also be harmful to you because your body may be reacting to them in a negative manner you are not even aware of. (which are all bigger topics for another day). The first step really is awareness and if anything else, my hope is that you become aware of changes you may need to make with your health and understand that it really does make a difference.
Please reach out to me below or through the contact feature on my website on through social media facebook or instagram and let me know how I can help support you to change your life so that you too can live a long happy life, and perhaps instead of 39 years, maybe you reach 83 years at least!
Thank you for bearing with me through this emotional post and fumbling through what I wanted to say. I feel very strongly about this topic and I also wanted to honor my Dad in some way to say "I love you Dad" and also to acknowledge the influence he and this journey has had on me and my life.