In the field of health care in its current state, there is one word that tends to rise above all others as most despised, most feared, and most misunderstood. That word is cancer.
We’re going to tackle this word by shedding light on what it is, how its currently being dealt with, and how you can make a daily impact on its potential influence on your own life. Fresh perspective has the power to eliminate fear and empower change for the better.
I was in a group of about 35 individuals, mostly adults over the age of 35-40, about a year ago. The topic of cancer arose, and I asked a simple question:
“How many of you have been affected by cancer at some point of time in your life? Either you yourself or a loved one?”
Even though it was a simple question, and I had an idea as to what to expect as a response, the reality of the moment is something that I don’t think I can ever forget.
All but two of them raised their hands.
As it stands statistically, in 2017 it is projected that 1.7 million Americans will get a cancer diagnosis. and about 600,000 will die from cancer. Total annual expenditures on cancer treatment as of 2016 were over $143 billion, and they are projected to almost double by the year 2020.
It’s no secret that cancer as a whole is becoming more prevalent as each day progresses.
It’s also no secret, though, that this increase in prevalence continues despite our health care industry’s best efforts.
So it’s time to get real about the purpose of this article. We don’t want to give advice out of context, as we know that each individual is unique and different. We don’t want to make blanket statements about an industry that is full of nuance. And we most definitely don’t want to insult the thousands of doctors and other health professionals that work in the cancer-treatment field and are making a positive impact in peoples’ lives despite the circumstances. What we do want to do is provide tangible value to you by speaking truth and helping to bring clarity about a very misunderstood topic.
It’s not fun to talk about the devastating impact that cancer has on our lives individually or on a large scale. But when we can wrap our heads around why things are the way that they are, it equips us to make decisions that decrease our potential to contribute to those numbers mentioned above.
Let’s take a quick step back in order to gain perspective on the situation we are dealing with as a whole. Why has cancer become a ‘normal’ part of life? What has caused the explosion of cancer diagnoses in the past half-century? What can we do to change the trajectory for ourselves and our loved ones?
Starting with an analogy.
Putting Out Fires
Picture this in your mind. You turn the news on one night. The headline story is about a serial arsonist who has been setting buildings on fire throughout your city. It’s causing mass destruction, fear, and economic burden. The fire department is over-extended and can’t seem to put the fires out as quickly as they are popping up. It has become an epidemic.
Your local government representative happens to be on the air with the reporter that night, and has been tasked with putting together resources and organization efforts to find a solution to the widespread disaster. He’s ready to present the plan.
So you have a seat on the couch and listen.
He begins the interview talking about how devastating the situation is. How much sadness he feels for the people and families affected by such unfortunate circumstances. He offers verbal support and encouragement to the citizens of your city. And then he begins talking about the plan to address the problem.
He lays out a 4-point blueprint aimed toward helping the fire-stricken community, and it goes like this:
- We need to understand more about the fires. We will begin placing an emphasis on conducting scientific research on how the fires work, which buildings are most susceptible to damage, and what are some cutting-edge ways that we can put them out.
- We need more firefighters. A program has been instated to subsidize the costs of building new fire stations, equipping them with the newest, state-of-the-art equipment, and training new firefighters.
- We are going to implement a mandatory flame-retardant initiative. In order to be more proactive, we have partnered with the largest flame-retardant chemical industry giants to ramp up production and usage of sprayable flame-retardant chemicals that every homeowner can (and must) purchase to spray on their homes and belongings. This should address fire prevention.
- We must increase awareness and begin fundraising in order to fight these fires. A fundraising coalition has been created, and they have already organized events, social campaigns, and educational resources for people to get involved. A “Walk To End Ashes” has been scheduled, and every man, woman, and child is urged to participate. Donations are encouraged. We must raise money and awareness about this situation.
It was spoken very eloquently. Much attention to detail was obviously paid in devising such a thorough blueprint. Your government representative was full of confidence and hope that this plan will lead to less destruction and a decreased prevalence of fires.
But something just doesn’t sit well with you as you process what you have just heard. You can’t exactly pinpoint what it is, but something seems a bit…off.
One simple question keeps repeating in your mind:
“What about the arsonist?”
Be Lead By Intent
On the surface, a scenario and action plan like this seem to be handled with intelligence and rationality. Bolster our efforts through research, prevention, and improved infrastructure.
It sounds like a great plan.
But take a thorough look beneath the surface, and it doesn’t take an expert to realize that there are a few glaring flaws in the intent of the plan.
It fails to even consider that there is a deranged person who is lighting all of these fires.
This brings up an incredibly important point of consideration: in order to solve a deep-seeded problem, we must align the action plan with the correct goals.
In this example, the powers-that-be saw the situation at hand, and made a conscious decision to improve the city’s ability to fight fires. Now, to their credit, their 4-point blueprint very comprehensively addresses that goal. Given time and effort, the fire-fighting infrastructure will strengthen and grow, potentially improving the ability and efficiency of putting out fires when they arise.
The key words to think about here are “when they arise.”
What this tells us about the decisions being made from the top, down, is that they give no credence to the idea that the fires can be pre-empted or prevented before they actually start.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t believe prevention is possible, but it does mean that they have chosen not to direct their efforts and resources to accomplish that goal.
Remember this concept.
It’s a powerful distinction to understand. We tend to direct our efforts toward either what we believe can be accomplished OR what we have intent to see happen.
The irony of this situation, though, is that it doesn’t take years of research and billions of dollars to realize that there is a much more efficient and effective solution to the problem at hand.
Stop the arsonist.
So What Does This Have To Do With Cancer?!
This is where we will make a pivot in our focus.
If you haven’t noticed by now, this fictional scenario that has been outlined is almost a direct carbon-copy of the action plan currently being executed by the cancer industry (remember, it is an $143 billion industry) in the United States.
Think about it.
As has been stated many times to this point, we know that the prevalence of cancer has skyrocketed over the past half-century. In response, our health care system has bolstered its efforts to utilize research, technology, and scientific development to “treat” these ever-increasing cancers.
But has that even been the right response to the problem?
In the scientific community, there are literally tens of thousands of studies that have been conducted and have shown carcinogenicity of a substance, or a chemical, or an environmental exposure, or a chronic disease state.
Carcinogenicity is a fancy term given to something that has ‘cancer-causing’ ability. This means that exposure to a carcinogen in a certain context has been shown to increase the presence of cancer cells in the body.
Some examples include:
- chemicals like pesticides and herbicides, formaldehyde, aspartame, and alcohol
- heavy metals like arsenic, lead, and aluminum
- radiation sources like (excess) UV radiation, x-rays, and Gamma radiation
- viruses and bacteria like Epstein Barr, H. Pylori, Hepatitis B/C, and HIV
- medications like cyclosporine (immunosuppressant), bisulfan (chemotherapy), estrogen (hormone replacement, oral contraceptive), lindane (anti-parasite)
But how does this happen?
Well, the reality is that every human being on the planet is made of trillions of cells, the majority of which are healthy, thriving, dynamic cells that express normal function. These cells express this normal function because they are governed by a unique genetic code – carried out by normal, healthy DNA – that tells it what to do and how to do it.
So how does a cell go from healthy and thriving to cancerous?
In essence, cancer is initiated because of a series of genetic mutations -damage to the DNA itself. These mutations cause cells to act abnormally, and ultimately begin to divide and multiply without regulation. If this happens for a long enough time or in an aggressive enough environment, the number of abnormal cells continues to grow to the point when a noticeable or symptomatic “lump” develops – a tumor.
This is usually the point at which we intervene. A cancer diagnosis is made, and we begin treatment.
But I want you to think back to what you just read a few minutes ago. I want you to process the emotions that were running through your mind when you thought about how silly it was for our fictitious fire-ridden society to completely disregard the arsonist when devising a plan to rid themselves of fires.
Now frame that emotion in reference to what we know about cancer.
Ok. So here’s the thing. We have identified literally thousands of things that are either known or probable carcinogens. We know that continuous exposure to these things increases the likelihood that we will develop cancer (amongst other problems). And we know that many, many of those carcinogens are in the food that we eat, the water that we drink, the products that we use, and the environment that we live in.
The primary focus of the cancer-care industry as it stands is what happens after that diagnosis is made. Not what leads up to it.
Taking this into consideration, we have come to a fork in the road in regards to how to address such a massive (and growing) concern.
Do we keep going as we are – living our lives with, in many ways, complete disregard for how our environment can affect our health – and wait to intervene with expensive chemotherapy and radiation once cancer arises? Or do we make an effort to clean up our lifestyle so that our bodies are not bombarded with an environment riddled with carcinogens?
Don’t be confused. Research is a great thing. Technology has improved our understanding and ability to learn more. But if we aren’t applying what we have learned in the right way, we will quickly fall victim to a life spent chasing our proverbial tails and wondering why we are constantly dizzy.
Is treating cancer very important once it has been discovered? Absolutely.
But what about the arsonist?
How did it get there? What caused the cancer to develop in the first place? Which carcinogens contributed to its development?
And why is this not our main focus in dealing with the epidemic at hand?
We’re putting all of our eggs in the wrong basket.
If there is an ever-growing body of evidence that continues to shed light on the power of lifestyle mindfulness in relation to chronic disease prevention, we have to use that to our advantage.
We must learn from the research that has been conducted, and consider that there is a consequence to placing our bodies in non-ideal environments. Some of these environmental factors are outside of our immediate control, but many times they lie well within our sphere of influence.
We make choices on a daily basis that directly affect our body’s ability to carry out its normal function. What we eat, the personal care products that we use every day, the quality of water that we drink, the chemicals we are exposed to, and the amount of physical activity we get all impact known cancer-related variables.
So the question is this: if you knew something that you were exposing yourself to was potentially damaging your cells, would you change that exposure, or ignore it until you were forced to make a decision about how to deal with the consequences of it?
Now tell me this:
If you knew who the arsonist was, would you turn him in, or wait until he lights your house on fire to call the fire department for help?
It’s Time To Bridge The Gap
You don’t have to be a doctor to understand these principles. All that is required is common sense and the ability to be brutally honest with yourself about the role you can play in improving your own environment.
Cancer, in all reality, should not be an inevitability. It should be an anomaly. The way things are trending, though, the former seems more likely unless something is done about the status quo.
There is so much power in understanding that the way we live our lives has a direct impact on long-term health outcomes. Cancer does not pop-up overnight. It is the consequence of a series of events that slowly damage our DNA until our bodies can’t keep them at bay anymore.
So what can we practically do about it?
We’ve put together a short list of actionable steps that anyone can implement to reduce the risk of chronic illness and cancer:
- Maintain a healthy immune system. Bar-none, this is the most important thing you can do for yourself in regards to cancer prevention. It has been shown that people with immune cells in their tumors have a much better prognosis than those that do not. Part of your immune system’s function is to distinguish “self” from “non-self”, and eliminate the non-self organisms. This includes cancer cells.
- Clean up what you eat and drink. The rule of thumb that is usually safe to eat by is this: the less human contact and intervention, the better. Food in its God-given, natural, unprocessed form is typically more useful to the body than its processed byproduct. Avoid food that contains potential pesticide and herbicide residue, added sugars, preservatives, dyes, and flavorings. When consuming animal protein, remember that the way that the animal was raised will impact the quality of the meat it produces, so find the best sources possible. Water filtration is a necessity these days as well – be sure to invest in quality drinking water, free of pollutants, heavy metals, and excess chlorine.
- Try to avoid excess sun exposure. Latest research shows us that complete sun avoidance is a mistake, as sunlight is necessary to produce adequate vitamin D levels in your body. But too much exposure on the other hand can lead to damage from UV radiation. Use caution when planning on spending more than 15-20 minutes in direct sunlight, and prepare yourself accordingly.
- Know your health data. This point oftentimes goes overlooked. If you have an idea as to what to look out for in your blood, hair, stool, and urine, you will have a more specific action plan that can address issues unique to you. Sometimes these can be directly related to the development of cancer, but all of this data will nonetheless help you maintain your health instead of waiting for disease to present. Our office can help you with a plan of attack to know and improve your health data.
It is easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about cancer. It is also easy to let fear creep in. At Hill Functional Wellness, we want to be a source of encouragement and a voice of hope in the midst of a confusing, ever-changing health care landscape. We aim to do that by giving you the resources you need to become independently healthy, and provide quality care that empowers your body to thrive instead of simply controlling your symptoms.
If you have any questions about the action steps above, simply request an appointment with Dr. Hill or reach out to our office at 480-897-1788.