World Cancer Day - reduce your risk

I haven't been a clinical dietitian for that long (2.5 years) but I have seen, learned and experienced a lot in the hospital. Although it was never my goal when I pursued my RD credential, I really wanted to experience (and challenge) to learn more about the body when it is not in optimal health. I can say that my job is so rewarding when I work as an inpatient clinical RD and I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to learn from those who are sick to better help those who want to be well. 

Alcoholism, drug overdose, anorexia/bulimia, cancer, heart attack, stroke, pneumonia, UTI....

The list goes on and on as to what patients get diagnosed with when they are admitted and seen in the hospital and I still can't believe all the illnesses and conditions that patients are diagnosed with on a daily basis. I learn something new every time I am in the hospital for work. 

It's absolutely unreal to think about all that goes on in a human body that can not heal itself. It's very easy to take for granted what the human body is capable of (ex. if you have had the flu recently and you were able to recover without being admitted to the hospital, consider your body "healthy" that it could heal itself) especially if you ever think you are "healthy." 

It's also easy to take for granted your "good health" when you do get diagnosed with a disease or experience an illness or injury. 

And as a dietitian who specializes in sport nutrition, I come across a lot of bodies who train and race for finish lines. I absolutely love a body in motion but what I do not appreciate is a body that is pushed through extreme pain, injuries and even with low fuel in the tank, just for a training session or race. But, nonetheless, when a race is on the horizon,  it's all too common that athletes will often compromise their health at any cost just to get in a workout because it's on the training plan, or to burn calories or to start a race that was on the schedule.

In honor of World Cancer Day, it's important that you are doing everything possible to take care of your health. Not later, but now. 

Just like you can not prevent accidents that may increase mortality risk, you also can not prevent cancer. 

However, because cancer is a group of diseases characterized by the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells (if spread is not controlled may cause death), it's important that you live an awesome life, making memories as you check off things on your bucket list, as you also take control in your lifestyle to reduce your risk. 

Cancer is caused by external (ex. tobacco, infectious organisms, chemicals, radiation) and internal factors (inherited mutations, hormones, immune conditions and mutations that occur from metabolism) according to cancer.org facts and figures 2014. Ten or more years often pass between exposure to external factors and detectable cancer. 

The World Cancer Fund has estimated that up to 1/3 of cancer cases that occur in economically developed countries like the US are related to overweight or obesity, physical inactivity and/or poor nutrition. Many cancers can be prevented through behavior changes and screenings offer the ability for secondary prevention by detecting cancer early, before symptoms appear. Early detection results in less extensive treatment and better outcomes according to Cancer.org. 

Because all cancers involve the malfunction of genes that control cell growth and division, there is great evidence as to how you can reduce your risk of cancer and promote overall health. 

Remember, you can not prevent cancer. The goal for any individual is to live a quality life and while you may not diet from cancer, you also have to be sure you are taking care of your health to prevent your risk for other diseases as well. I know it's not the happiest topic to discuss but if you are going to live to 50 or 100 years of age, what kind of life do you want to live for the years you are given on this earth? Are you going to let 65 years go by and then when you retire you are going to make the time to take care of your health? Or do you keep telling yourself that tomorrow you will be better but instead, it turns into another year that you are still trying to make a change? 

I once heard a fabulous doctor talk at the Mayo Clinic and someone asked her "what are the top foods that can reduce risk for cancer." I was very excited to hear her response and the first thing she said was along these lines, "you know, we can't live our entire life trying to eat to prevent cancer. You also can't live your entire life trying to prevent cancer. You have to live your life and if you get cancer, you have to be strong enough to fight for your life. Don't be scared of cancer."

I found that really powerful because it's so true that we can't assume that only the diet will reduce risk for cancer.  Cancer affects so many for so many reasons but among those who choose to fight...wow, do they fight hard, inspire others and many times, they are the reasons that so many of us get incredibly motivated and excited to set goals and work hard for them. Why? Because 50 years or 100 years...life is short and you only get one shot at it with your one and only body. 

A few ways that you can reduce your risk for cancer:
1) Maintain a healthy body weight throughout your life
2) Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes
3) Emphasize a plant-strong diet - reduce added sugar, fruit juices and sodium in the diet and limit processed and red meat. Choose whole grains, low fat dairy and naturally-rich high fiber foods, emphasizing lots of fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, lentils, fish, fermented soy and heart healthy oils. Portion control, eat slowly, drink water.
4) Get a restful night of sleep most days of the week
5) Manage stress
6) Surround yourself with positive people and maintain a positive attitude
7) Alcohol in moderation - don't start drinking if you don't currently drink

When it comes to nutrition and cancer, it's very complex. There is no cause and effect, one specific answer how the diet can reduce risk for cancer. However, there is much evidence showing that it is not one single nutrient, but instead the combination of nutrients in a balanced and portioned manner to nourish the body and to support daily activity, all while helping the body achieve a healthy weight, that can reduce the risk for cancer. Oh, and fad diets, detoxes, elimination diets and anything else extreme does not cure, prevent or control cancer. Considering the many different eating styles by cultures around the world, we can only look at research that shows us that yes, there are many ways to eat in order to be healthy but there is one style of eating (ex. plant strong) that is universal for improving overall health because of the nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc. that our body receives to to protect our immune system.
We all know someone who has been impacted by cancer. Cancer affects everyone, not just the person who gets the diagnosis. 

According to cancer.org, in 2014 there will be an estimated 1,665,540 new cancer cases diagnosed and 585,720 cancer deaths in the US. Cancer remains the 2nd most common cause of death in the US, accounting for nearly 1 of every 4 deaths. 

Regardless if you train for an Ironman, finish a marathon or make a 6 figure salary, cancer doesn't really care how fit or successful you are in life. Also, disease or accidents often come without much warning so no amount of credentials or highlights in your resume make you destined to live until you are 100 years of age. 

I encourage you to never give up on what you want to achieve in life. Do not wait for the perfect time to start living the life you want to live. You are never guaranteed a tomorrow but if you get one, make it a great day. 

Take the steps to reduce your risk for cancer and you will find that your ability to improve your health also makes way for an awesome life. And if you get diagnosed with cancer or experience a disease or illness or injury, my hope is that you have years of memories that will help you stay strong and continue to fight but also the good health that you have worked so hard for will allow you to prolong life or even better, come out a winner in the fight for your life. 

I'm all for a quality life. I'd rather live 50 amazing, memory-filled years than 60 unhappy, miserable years. More so, I want to be independent, free of medicine and very active when I grow older and I know that I have to take care of myself now so that I can increase the odds of me living a quality filled life as I age with Karel by my side.  I can't predict the future so I choose to make the most of every day that I am given on this earth.

What makes you happy to live, to be alive, to smell fresh air and to move your body freely? 

If you are happy you are making enough money to support your family or to travel, that's fantastic...just be sure your health is helping you continue that success. 

If you have a goal of finishing an Ironman, writing a book, getting a promotion or running in a marathon or climbing a mountain.... take care of your health as you continue dreaming big, working hard and enjoying the journey of life. 

To everyone who has been affected with cancer, stay strong and make the most out of every single day.