This time two year ago, I was preparing to have a mastectomy. I'm not actually sure how you prepare for something like that. Nevertheless, I had surgery on October 2nd, 2012. Today I had the pleasure of attending Puttin' on the Pink, a breast cancer education day. The first speaker was an oncologist, who has MS and is also a breast cancer survivor. She spoke on the "spirit of survivorship." She came up with 5 characteristics that survivors have (and this includes survivors of other life altering events). The 5 traits were courage, empathy, perspective, adaptability, and humor.
1) Courage - Although some people may argue that the are not courageous, she said to become survivors we had to have courage to face surgeries, treatments etc., even when we are scared or dreading what we are facing.
2) Empathy- After experiencing such a painful time we are much more able to empathize with others who are going through a difficult time. I can definitely agree that I am more compassionate than I used to be and can more easily understand someone else's pain.
3) Perspective - Let me tell you, facing your own mortality gives you a healthy dose of perspective really quickly. There are so many things that we allow to "ruin" our day when most of it is stuff that really doesn't matter once it's put in to perspective.
4) Adaptability - Normally we have an idea of how we expect our lives to go. We will graduate from high school, go to a certain college, get a degree in ______________, find a job doing _____________, etc. Facing a cancer diagnosis requires you to put your life plans aside, or maybe just modify them as you change course.
5) Humor - The speaker had been told if you can't find things to laugh about every day you aren't looking hard enough. I think that's so true and a sense of humor can get you through a lot!
Later in the day my mom and I were talking with the speaker and I was telling her how I really related with the characteristics that she had spoken about. During the course of our conversation she told us that she has a job offer to come work in our town! My first oncologist left earlier this year and I was really sad to see her go. I told the speaker what a great town we live in, hoping to convince her to accept the job offer. We'll see. :)
The actual key note speaker did a presentation on healthy eating. The main take away from her presentation was that our diet can have a lot to do with cancer prevention. She compared it to smoking and how most everyone would say that smoking increases your risk of cancer. Our diet is the same way. She compared sets of data on people in the U.S. having the highest occurrence of several different kinds of cancer. She specifically compared the U.S. rate to the rate in China. The incidents of cancer are way way lower over there. Although you might want to make the argument that genetics plays a big role in that, it's not the case. If these people come to the U.S. and are here for more than 5 years their rates go way up!
She brought up several key things that have quite a bit of science behind them.
- The American diet is very unbalanced. We should be getting 5-9 servings of fruit and vegetables per day but the actual average is much lower than that. A serving is about 1/2 cup.
- We should be eating a lot more cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, kale, and cabbage. One tip she had for broccoli was to eat broccoli sprouts.
- Green tea is something that a lot of Asian countries drink a lot of but Americans don't drink much at all. It goes through less processing than black tea and contains cancer fighting compounds. These compounds are easily broken down by light so she said it's best if it has been freshly brewed. The green tea you buy at the store is pretty much just sugar water.
- Barbecuing meat, specifically when it gets chard creates a lot of carcinogens and is something to be careful of. Marinating your meat prior to cooking it significantly reduces the level of carcinogens.
Finally, I attended a session teaching you how to do self breast exams. This is my yearly reminder to all of you reading this...do your self breast exams! Early detection truly does save lives and makes your treatment that much easier.
(A side note: we ran in to an acquaintance of my mom's who had been getting a treatment for metastatic breast canter while I was getting one of my rounds of chemo. It was neat to see her still doing well....and she was concerned with how I'm doing. )