11 Invaluable Lessons I Learned From Having Breast Cancer

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Posted on 22 January 2015

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By Peggy Nolan

The threat of being diagnosed with breast cancer is very real. Next to skin cancer, it’s the second most common cancer in women.

According to the National Cancer Institute:

  • 232,670 new cases of breast cancer were estimated in 2014
  • 40,000 women were estimated to die from breast cancer in 2014
  • Breast cancer accounts for 14% of new cancer cases in the United States

Not too long ago, one year ended and another began. Without fanfare or angst, I witnessed a day in early January pass, a day that once was filled with dread. It was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer 11 years ago.

My diagnosis, two surgeries and year-long treatment to eradicate this dreadful disease from my body taught me invaluable lessons that I’m sharing with you. These lessons may help you reduce your risk of being a new breast cancer statistic or a reoccurring case in 2015 and beyond.

1. Make Healthier Nutrition Choices

Breast cancer forced me to learn everything I could as fast as I could about nutrition and the healing benefits of certain foods. While my doctors treated me through the traditional means of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy, I treated myself with proper nutrition. For example, I learned that broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts (cruciferous vegetables) have an enzyme called Indole-3-Carbinol (I3C), which has proven cancer prevention properties.

According to a study published in the Journal for Nutrition:

Vegetable consumption could reduce breast cancer risk by numerous mechanisms, specific to particular vegetable families, including sources of carotenoids, vitamins A, E, and C, minerals such as selenium, and such compounds as isoflavones and lignans. Glucosinolates, found in cruciferous vegetables, may be important anti-carcinogens.

Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist, reports that more recent research indicates that I3C thwarts the growth or spreading of breast and prostate cancers as it “reduces the inappropriate excess signaling of IGF-1“, a growth hormone which helps cancer grow.

Eat your Brussel sprouts and say yes to cauliflower. Remember to bake or roast them. Add garlic, olive oil, turmeric, which as anti-inflammatory properties and a little black pepper. Your body will thank you.

2. Be Physically Active

Breast cancer taught me the importance of physical weight bearing exercise.

This sounds almost like, “What? You didn’t know how good exercise is for you?” Pass me a V-8 thwap on the head, right?

In all seriousness, chemo drugs are toxic. I was 40 and pre-menopausal when I was diagnosed. Chemotherapy put me in early menopause. According to NIH , “studies suggest that chemotherapy also may have a direct negative effect on bone. In addition, the breast cancer itself may stimulate the production of osteoclasts, the cells that break down bone.”

I had a bone density test done and sure enough, there were tiny pin prick holes in my hip bones. Those tiny holes represented osteopenia, the precursor to full-blown osteoporosis.

I was already practicing yoga, which is a weight-bearing exercise, and two years after my treatment was complete, I added Muay Thai kickboxing to the mix. I went in for another bone density test in 2008 and voila — no signs of those pesky tiny pin prick holes in my bones. The holes were gone. I completely reversed the onset of osteoporosis.

Three cheers for weight bearing exercising! Extra benefits include weight management, better mood, reduced stress, and an overall happier outlook on life. I highly recommend it.

3. Set Healthy Boundaries

Breast cancer taught me that other people would continue to suck me dry and walk all over me as long as I allowed them to. I had to learn how to distinguish doing important things for other people and doing important things for me. I was no longer at anyone’s beck and call.

I learned that I did not have to alter my mood just because a loved one was in a bad mood. I learned that I was not the owner of other people’s issues, problems, or drama. I learned that I didn’t have to go to every argument I was invited to.

Breast cancer taught me that I alone am responsible for not only setting my boundaries but enforcing them as well.

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