Lifestyle Changes to Reduce The Chance of Recurrence

by Jane Ashley

When you ask cancer survivors what their worst fear is, they will tell you, “Fear of recurrence.”

Fear Of Recurrence

There is no way to guarantee that cancer won’t come back. Every person’s cancer is different. Genetic mutations, the stage when diagnosed, other health problems and current lifestyle all play a role in one’s risk for recurrence.

However, there are a few concrete lifestyle changes that have been proven to help reduce the risk of recurrence. Many times, we feel like we have no control over what cancer does, but, in truth, we do.

According to ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology), there is substantial evidence that at least 50 percent of all cancer cases can be attributed to lifestyle. These factors also influence our outcomes after cancer treatment. And the good news is that simple lifestyle changes may help some of our existing health problems too, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure.

Before you say that you can’t make lifestyle changes, please … please read all of this article and consider your improved quality of life and your reduced stress levels knowing that you’re actively reducing your “risk of recurrence.” And the really fascinating part of these lifestyle changes is that they appear to work in synergy to even further reduce inflammation in your body.

Chronic Stress. “Easier said than done,” you say. But learning to reduce stress in your life greatly enhances your quality of life. No more of that tightness in your chest. No more of feeling like your head is going to explode. WebMD offers 13 tips to help manage stress. These are my favorites out of this list;


• A daily walk

• Surround yourself with positive people

• Devote time to a hobby.

Start Your Day With A Healthy Breakfast

Don’t hesitate to consult a mental health professional or counselor to help you learn how to cope with the stress in your life.

Diet. A healthier diet will help your body in several ways. If you’re overweight, you’ll lose some pounds. Your blood sugar will drop. And, you’ll feel less full and more energetic. You don’t have to make MAJOR changes in your diet. Here are my healthier eating tips:

Switch to whole grain bread and pasta. (It only takes a couple of weeks to adjust to the taste changes.)

• Eat more vegetables – my hint to choose several different colors of veggies each day – green beans, different colors of bell peppers, carrots, mushrooms – different color veggies provide different vitamins ensuring you get the vitamins and minerals you need.

• Use canola oil and olive oil – both are healthy fats.

• Eat two different fruits daily – simply a banana and an apple – strawberries on your cereal and a pear.

• Eat less beef and pork – substitute with turkey and salmon. Limit red meat consumption (beef, lamb and pork) to 18 ounces weekly.

• Avoid salt-cured, smoked and pickled foods (bacon, sausage and deli meats) except for a special treat.

• Legumes, beans and peas are your friends. Combined with rice, they make a complete protein.

• Limit alcohol – 1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men. A drink is considered 1.5 oz. of liquor, 5 oz. of wine or 12 oz. of beer.

It’s OK to eat dessert. Sugar doesn’t feed cancer. Avoid cheap snack foods – too high sugar content and too many preservatives. I’ve given up Oreos, but I make homemade cakes and cookies where I can choose a recipe that has less sugar.

If you can’t pronounce the ingredients, don’t eat it.

Environmental Toxins. Environmental toxins include radon, mercury, lead, cadmium, benzene and formaldehyde. Man-made chemicals that you should avoid are BPA, phthalates and pesticides. Those are lots of rather simple things that you can go to eliminate environmental toxins. If you smoke, seek counseling to help you quit smoking.

Physical Activity. Get moving. It doesn’t matter how sedentary you are now. Everyone will benefit from more activity. Most insurance will pay for physical therapy after cancer to help you recover physically from so much inactivity during treatment. Take advantage of your physical therapy benefits, as soon as possible – if you’ve already reached your max-out-of-pocket, you won’t even have a copay.


If you live near one of the over 700 YMCAs that offer the LIVESTRONG program, consider joining. They are either free or at very low cost. If you’re over 65, join a Silver Sneakers program at a local gym.

Besides the fact that exercise helps reduce the risk of recurrence, it increases your quality of life. Exercise helps limit the fatigue you feel after cancer treatment. It stretches tight muscles and ligaments and allows you to do regular household and yard activities more easily.

Make 30 minutes a day of physical activity your goal. Walking, bicycling, swimming or yoga are easy ways to increase your activity level.

Social Support. Many cancer patients feel “different” afterward. We may feel their co-workers don’t understand how hard cancer treatment is. We may experience survivor’s guilt. We suffer body image issues – going shopping with a friend when we’ve lost a breast or have an ostomy is difficult. Friends and family may treat us differently.

Make New Friends

And so … we may isolate ourselves unconsciously. It’s estimated that about 70 percent of cancer survivors experience depression at some point.

Many survivors experience a renewed spirituality afterward. We find new purposes and a renewed interest in life. Some of us will renew our ties to organized religion or spiritual practices like Reiki. These activities lead us to form a new social network and make new friends.

We may volunteer. We may become active in a cancer support group, like WhatNext. We may even decide to go back to school for a new career.

Whatever we decide to do, we must be open to rekindling our social support groups. My far-flung college classmates became my renewed network of friendship and encouragement through our Facebook page. When we have “true” friends that we can share our cancer experiences with, our mental health will prosper.

Don’t allow the fear of recurrence to rob you of TODAY!

Remember that we didn’t fight the hard fight that we fought during treatment just so we could worry about the “fear of recurrence.” Join me and the thousands of other cancer survivors who decided to take charge and make meaningful lifestyle changes. What have you got to lose? Nothing but a few pounds and a lot of peace of mind.

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