Breast cancer survivors thriving

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 3:49 PM

Cynthia Craft

A new generation of breast cancer patients are stiffening their backs, bypassing the soft-lens, pink-ribbon approach and, to some degree, outsmarting cancer. They are no longer survivors -- they are breast cancer "thrivers."

They are putting breast cancer on notice and taking charge of their well-being.

"Part of the thriving is taking control," said Diane Pulley, who attended a recent gathering of Save Ourselves, a Sacramento, Calif., breast cancer support group. "It’s keeping your body a hostile environment for the cancer."

And how exactly does that work?

Start with attitude, add healthy doses of antioxidants and organic whole foods, take important supplements, laugh, exercise, de-stress, relax, be optimistic, learn the science, dismiss doctors who are all about authority, and own your healing process.

That advice came from a recent "Cancer as a Turning Point" conference in Sacramento, where a celebration of healing took place. In addition, experts from a variety of sources -- including Save Ourselves, the National Cancer Institute, "The Definitive Guide to Cancer" and "Five to Thrive" by Lise Alschuler, as well as "A World Without Cancer" by Margaret I. Cuomo -- provided these tips:

-- Eat your way to a healthy immune system. Consume foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids that strengthen the body’s "killer cells" and T-cells that seek out cancer like soldiers on a battlefield. Examples are fish, seaweed, seeds and nuts.

Also, consume a plant-based diet, and the more colorful the better.

"Color kills cancer," Alschuler said at the recent Sacramento healing conference.

The rich reds in tomatoes and oranges in carrots reveal the presence of polyphenols, which blunt the inflammatory process that allows cancer cells to gather blood supplies.

Meanwhile, whole grains reduce the circulation of excess levels of hormones such as estrogen, linked by clinical research to breast cancer.

In fact, a robust diet -- with modest portions and no refined, processed or packaged foods -- can reduce the risk of dying of cancer by one-third, research shows.

-- Exercise with exuberance. It reduces the inflammation and stress hormones that cancer feeds on. Go outdoors and get your body moving, whether it’s hiking, running or biking.

Make sure to exercise at least 30 minutes daily, six days a week. A little bit of walking won’t do the trick. Move with a bounce in your step and try some resistance training, too.

Movement can stimulate the body’s killer cells and helps jump-start the liver’s detoxification mechanism. It’s considered the most important anti-cancer strategy anyone can employ.

Regular exercise can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer or colon cancer by 41 percent to 61 percent, Alschuler said.

-- Relax. Get eight to nine hours of nightly sleep. It reduces the activity of inflammatory genes and relieves chronic stress.

-- Rejuvenate yourself. Replenish your spirit through creativity. Spend part of your day with an art project or music.

Be open to optimism. Pessimism facilitates cancer growth, said Alschuler.

And, be true to yourself and embrace the "soul of a thriver," with a yearning for vibrant health and healthy living, she said.

-- Find your community in social-support groups that boost your wellbeing. Save Ourselves Group leader Cass Capel, a clinical psychologist, said that often patients join up with trepidation but quickly adopt the group’s "I can kick this" attitude.

"When they first come, I say, ’It’s OK to spend some time in Pity City,’ " Capel said. ’ "Just don’t plan on buying real estate there.’ "

Jan Adrian, executive director of the nonprofit Healing Journeys, which produces the popular Cancer as a Turning Point conferences and the Cancer-Fighting Kitchens workshops, makes the point that a cancer diagnosis can be a gateway.

"There are many things you can do, many avenues to explore," said Adrian, who has survived three primary cancers, two of them breast cancers.

"The object becomes more than just surviving cancer, but also thriving in the face of adversity. Each step is an accomplishment in the journey through cancer -- and it is a journey with new opportunities for personal growth and understanding."

(Contact writer Cynthia Craft at

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