lee bowers, ph.d.
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

Coping With the Dreaded �C-word�
By Lee A. Bowers, Ph.D.

�It�s cancer,� the doctor said, looking at me solemnly and waiting to see my response. I remained composed. It wasn�t a total surprise � I knew there was a strong possibility. Still, that word, being attached to my name � it felt like a kick in the stomach. Here I was � the person who�d helped hundreds of others manage the crisis of a serious health problem, now facing one herself.

The thoughts and emotions came so fast and furiously, it was a whirlwind. It was a very aggressive form � I had to act quickly � no time to waste, or to do much research, for that matter. I felt pressured, and anyone who knows me knows I do not like to be pressured. I was fortunate. I�d worked with enough cancer patients in my practice as a medical psychologist to have learned a lot. I�d researched and studied alternative and complimentary methods. Maybe most importantly, I had friends and health care practitioners I could turn to for advice and support.

For me, I�m far enough on the other side of it now that I can look back on the experience and once again remember that traumas usually come with gifts attached � but it can certainly take a lot of time and perspective to recognize them! I was reminded of that twice this week, when clients I�d been working with on other things suddenly had to deal with huge life crises. For one, it was a recurrence of cancer thought destroyed 20 years ago. My gut clenched when I heard the news � for her, for me, and for everyone who has or will ever hear those words.

In a recent (11/07) issue of the journal Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, researchers showed that in cell cultures, the stress hormone norepinephrine appears to promote the biochemical signals that stimulate certain tumor cells to grow and spread. This finding may suggest a way of slowing the progression and spread of some cancers enough so that conventional and/or alternative treatments would have a better chance to work.

We hear all the time about the importance of reducing and managing stress in our lives, and most typically, we think of heart disease as the most common health risk of a high stress lifestyle. But actually, stress is very depleting to the immune system, and a compromised immune system is fertile ground for cancer, autoimmune disorders, and a host of maladies.

A study, released 10/31/07 by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, shows food, nutrition and lack of exercise appear critical in causing many cases - perhaps up to one-third - of all cancers. That means controllable lifestyle factors associated with diet and weight have about the same impact on cancer rates as smoking.

An international team conducted an exhaustive, five-year review of more than 7,000 research papers that investigated whether food, nutrition or lack of physical exercise had an impact on cancer incidence and made 10 recommendations for prevention:

Ten recommendations
  • Be as lean as possible within the normal range of body weight.
    � Be physically active as part of everyday life.
    � Limit consumption of energy-dense foods high in fat and sugar but low in fiber
    � Eat mostly foods of plant origin.
    � Limit intake of red meat and avoid processed meat.
    � Limit alcoholic drinks.
    � Limit consumption of salt.
    � Aim to meet nutritional needs through diet alone.
    � Mothers to breastfeed; children to be breastfed.
    � Cancer survivors to follow the recommendations for cancer prevention.

  • It�s not surprising that the factors that contribute to cancer are similar to those for heart disease. The good news is that so many of these factors are controllable. Besides not stressing the body by smoking or poor eating habits, the effects of stress can be mediated by including exercise, meditation, and fun into your life. And as with most things, there�s no better time to start than the present!

    Dr. Bowers is a health psychologist in Villanova and semi-regular contributor to Yoga Living. You can contact her at: 610-520-0443, leebowers@comcast.net, or www.drleebowers.com.