What would I now tell my younger self if I could change anything? What can I tell my sister and my children as they grow older about cancer awareness? I suppose my message would be to live an awareness lifestyle.
I am of European descent but I am not BRCA positive, which is the genetic marker which suggests you are at a higher risk to develop breast, ovarian, or other types of cancers. But nonetheless, cancer has made a strong mark on my family. My maternal grandmother passed from a female cancer and both of my grandfathers passed of cancer. I was often told to get extra cancer screening while in my late 30's, but was busy living life and caring for my children. I am fortunate that I caught my breast cancer early. I was also aware of the signs of endometriosis, and a biopsy showed signs that I was potentially headed for uterine cancer, so I had my uterus removed.
When I encourage others to live an awareness lifestyle, that may include knowing your family history or genetic risk (if one exists), and then focusing on exercise, proper diet, seeking regular and routine medical care, and conducting self-examinations for breast and testicular cancers should you be male or female. Other routine care may be to monitor for signs of ovarian or uterine cancers, along with colon and prostate cancer through regular examinations, which may begin younger than the norm if there is a family history of a parent having had a similar cancer.
Since transitioning to work as a registered yoga teacher, in addition to being a Licensed Mental Health Professional, I have become more aware of the importance of diet and exercise. Knowing our genetics is great, but some suggest our best protection against cancer or recurrence is to exercise and maintain a healthy body weight. According to the National Cancer Institute, obesity increases the chances of getting certain types of cancer. Personally, to help prevent cancer recurrence, I get out and exercise. I teach and practice yoga, but I also enjoy getting more cardiovascular exercise by walking, for example, at least three days a week for no less than 20 minutes, which makes for a good one to two miles. This also means taking stairs sometimes instead of the elevator, and getting up and walking around every few minutes rather than just sitting behind a desk sedentary for extended periods of time.
When it comes to diet, I had a registered dietician as part of my care team before being diagnosed with breast cancer, but I now follow up on a more regular basis. I take my lab work to my appointments and prepare to discuss any goals I want to maintain in my lab results in regards to cholesterol or sugar levels. Thus far, I have avoided needing to take anything for diabetes or high cholesterol, which is great when considering healthy habits can assist in avoiding a potential recurrence. I have also encouraged family members to make their own individual appointments and take part in preventative wellness care.
These goals are also supported by a cancer policy which advocates for proper medical follow-up and annual screening for certain types of cancer that may run in your family. If you have a cancer care policy you can be reimbursed for seeking annual screening or particular wellness related resources. Some health insurance companies are joining in by adding money to a wellness card if you complete annual assessments and participate in wellness-related goals and complete them. Such wellness checks might include getting mammograms, preventative vaccinations, or, if you're a male, monitoring your PSA levels.
When it comes to personal self-examination, women are encouraged to practice a breast exam monthly while it is recommended that men become educated on performing a monthly testicular exam. Both may initially seem uncomfortable, but may save your life, so I now encourage my children to learn how to perform self-exams as part of my awareness lifestyle.
Awareness may mean different things for different people, but it cannot hurt to be aware.