June is known for so many things… Father’s day, graduations and promotions, June gloom, the summer solstice…Since I just returned from a trip to my hometown of Loris, SC, I thought I’d write a tribute to our dads and grads.
FATHER KNOWS BEST
I was thrilled to surprise my parents upon their arrival from the Philippines, where they spend up to half of the year. My brother captured the moment with a picture of us in the airport (see below).
I am very proud to say that my dad is now officially a 5.5 year survivor of colon cancer! He is one of >15 million strong cancer survivors in the U.S. This number has increased by about 3 million (20%) in the past decade. Why, you may ask? Well, some of that is due to better treatments. More of it is due to earlier detection. And this is great news!
However, until the incidence of cancer — that is, the number of people diagnosed — is much more improved, we can expect the number of people affected by cancer to continue to rise. The most effective way of curbing this trend is through prevention.
There are two kinds of prevention, primary and secondary.
Secondary prevention is preventing the recurrence of something you have survived. Like my dad has done with his colon cancer. He has done this, and continues to do so every day, by paying careful attention to his diet (join our Longevity group to access our healthy recipes and fitness tips!). And also by following recommended screening for colon cancer survivors.
Primary prevention is preventing a condition that you have never had, but you are at risk for having. For instance, as my father’s daughter, I live with a higher risk of colon cancer than the average woman (average lifetime risk is 1 in 22 men and 1 in 24 women). So I too, pay very careful attention to my diet, and I follow special high-risk screening guidelines.
Some people, like me, have a higher risk of a particular cancer because of their family history. Others have a higher risk because a history of colon polyps or other medical conditions like inflammatory bowel disease. Yet others have a higher risk by virtue of their lifestyle choices. If you want to learn about your personal risk for colon cancer, you should take our Know4NoTM quiz to find out.
But knowing about your risk is only the first step. The next step is learning about what actions you can take to minimize your risk. And that is what I do through personalized cancer risk and prevention consultation. Finally, the most important step to prevention, whether primary or secondary, is going beyond knowing what to do, and actually doing it. Knowledge is only powerful when it is coupled with action. But so many times even when we know what we should do to be healthy, we have a hard time fitting it into our busy lives. And for that reason, we also offer health coaching. Heck, even I have a health coach of my own! And she really helps me to create time to remember to take care of myself so that I can better take care of others like you.
LAUNCHING INTO THE UNKNOWN
While I was in SC, I very proudly watched my nephew graduate from the same high school that I attended. Some of you may have seen the video I posted on Facebook of him giving his Class Laureate address. A couple of days before his graduation, he told me that he was nervous about graduating. “Nervous about what?” I asked him. “I guess about the unknown,” he replied. Isn’t that hitting the nail on the head! No matter how old we get, although the circumstances may change, so often we are nervous about the unknown… And that anticipatory anxiety can sap away at our enjoyment of the present.
Unchecked, anticipatory anxiety can become part of a chronic stress syndrome that is at the core of so many illnesses, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, and autoimmune disease, just to name a few. Because stress affects our immune system, chronic stress also can lead to cancer. In addition, stress leads to elevated cortisol levels, which leads to obesity, which is associated with 13 different kinds of cancer (a whole article on this will be coming soon… if you don’t want to miss it, sign up for the Cancer Prevention Movement newsletter!).
The World Health Organization has called stress the Health Epidemic of the 21st century. While sometimes little can be done about our stressors, very much can be learned about how we manage our stress. I will be expanding our health coaching programs into this area–if you’re interested in learning more, join our new Serenity group! In the meantime, feel free to drop me a note on what specific ways you feel you could use support in getting and staying healthy.
To your health!
With love, Dr. Mel