9 lifestyle recommendations from cancer survivors - Quest for Life
9 lifestyle recommendations from cancer survivors

9 lifestyle recommendations from cancer survivors

When I was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in September of 1983 I was told I wouldn’t see Christmas. When I did see Christmas and in fact beyond, I started working with people with cancer as a naturopath and meditation teacher. I shared with my clients my knowledge of nutrition, supplements, meditation and other healing therapies.

Over the years as I saw many people regain their health and I realised there is no one pathway to health and healing. There is no one diet, no best meditation practice and no perfect supplement program for all people.

I’ve had the privilege of working with tens of thousands of people on a one-on-one basis and have facilitated thousands of support groups for people with life-threatening illnesses. I have learnt more about life, health and healing from these people and my own experiences than in all my studies.

I’m living very well indeed, in control of myself, my health and my life. I’ve had good reports from all my medical checks and have just passed another milestone! I’m more relaxed about things in my life – I try not to worry and fuss, to be more peaceful and serene. - Lynne.

A healing environment

When you have peace you also create the very best biochemical environment for healing within your body. Stress increases cortisol and other inflammatory markers in your body. A state of calm and inner equilibrium produces oxytocin and the endorphin family of chemicals which promote the good functioning of your nervous and immune systems. They calm the inflammatory response in your body.

You might say that cancer stands in the way of you being at peace – and that is certainly true for many in the first weeks after diagnosis. With good support and the opportunity to talk about what is happening we can often resolve issues to do with self-esteem, or a relationship, the future or a job that’s overwhelming. What stands in the way of you being at peace?

So, began a time of deep thought, meditation and acceptance. - Joan

Focusing only on the physical aspects of healing addresses only part of the problem of ill health. It’s easy to focus on the aspects of healing involved in doing. We feel reassured when we are busy doing, but our doing can be at the expense of our being.

I search for the meaning in my life and feel the challenge is to look for the positives (they're always there). I’m endlessly fascinated by the great mystery of it all and have decided I don’t have the answers, and that’s OK. - John

Real health

Real health is our capacity to embrace every moment, regardless of its challenges, with an open heart and a quiet mind. The challenge is to recognise that we’re here to grow in wisdom and in our capacity to love and make meaning of our suffering.

Key lifestyle recommendations

The following lifestyle recommendations focus on ways to achieve real health, based on my experience with cancer patients over the last 30 years.

1. Make peace of mind your one goal

  • By doing this, we create the perfect environment for healing within our body.
  • To achieve peace of mind is a challenge at any time. To achieve it while living with a life-threatening illness is a victory indeed! There are many people who, having achieved a deep sense of peace within themselves, have unexpectedly healed, or attained extended remissions or are still alive many years, even decades, after they were told they would die. Those who have achieved their life’s potential – and died – have left a legacy of love within the hearts of those who cared deeply for them.
  • We can choose to experience an illness as an adventure in exploring our inner nature, to find our abilities, talents, feelings, unfulfilled dreams and aspirations. We can learn to appreciate life more fully by really enjoying every day lived, by savouring each moment as it unfolds. 

2. Self-love equals self-care

  • When we truly love and care for ourselves, we can more easily embrace our challenges to maximise our health and sense of wellbeing.
  • Through our behaviours, we can gain a clear image of the extent to which we respect and love ourselves. The body is influenced by the thoughts and feelings of the mind. If the subconscious mind has only ever received messages of a negative, self-demeaning nature, then those are the messages which will flow out to every cell within the body. This happens via our nervous and endocrine systems.
  • If you find ‘self-love’ a foreign concept, think of it as ‘self-care’. It’s your responsibility to take good care of your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. If you make this a priority, then you’ll bring your ‘well-resourced’ self to the challenge your facing.

3. Move your body

  • Physical activity is one of the most useful things to do when you’re emotionally upset. It helps to move the chemistry of distress out of our body. Being physically active also helps to keep your weight at a healthy level and can reduce stress and tiredness. It helps to keep your bones strong and your heart healthy.
  • And you don’t have to go to the gym to exercise; housework, gardening, dancing or just walking in the park all count. If you have physical challenges, then find a form of exercise that works for you. 
  • Research emphasises the importance of exercise particularly when people are undergoing chemotherapy or radiotherapy – they encourage exercise particularly on the days when a person is receiving treatment, which might feel counter-intuitive for some.

4. The right diet

  • A healthy diet consists of food from a wide selection of fruits, vegetables, cereals, nuts, legumes, seafood and free-range/organic chicken. Minimising or better still, eliminating alcohol is a good strategy given that the liver is generally preoccupied with processing the byproducts of chemical treatments.
  • Improving your nutrition impacts on your microbiome (gut bacteria), which is the foundation of your immune system. Indeed, research has found that if you don’t have a healthy microbiome, you will not benefit as much from chemotherapy. Improving your diet before beginning treatment is now being discussed by oncologists who recognise the impact that diet has on our gut bacteria.
  • At the Quest for Life Centre, we serve fresh, seasonal, wholesome and nutritious food and it’s gratifying to see the physical improvements in our participants’ health over the space of a few days – good food really does nourish the spirit as well as the body. We promote and eat SLOW food, that is Seasonal, Local, Organic and Whole.
  • Sometimes the more books you read, the more confused you become! No subject is more open to debate, and it’s easy to become completely bewildered and frustrated by all the conflicting advice.
  • Listen to your intuition and choose a diet that feels right for you bearing in mind the principles of good health.

5. Regain a sense of control over your life

  • It’s unwise to make choices and decisions from a place of fear. One way to regain a sense of control is to choose your medical team wisely. You are in charge of choosing your medical team. They are in your employ so feel free to seek a second or third opinion if you don’t feel you ‘click’ with the doctor you’ve seen.
  • There may be several people on your team including a GP, surgeon, radiotherapist and oncologist. It’s essential that you have complete confidence in your doctors’ skills and that you feel comfortable with them. You must feel free to ask questions, have things explained and that you can contact them when you need to.
  • Persevere until you feel confident in your choices.

6. Achieve deep restful sleep

  • It generally takes 5 hours to go to our deepest level of sleep. This is the level where most healing and repair work takes place in your body; it’s also when children do most of their growing. When we’re stressed, in pain or otherwise restless, we may not arrive at that deep sleep level or, if we do, not stay there long enough to experience the benefits.
  • Learn how to consciously ‘let go’ through relaxation techniques practised during the day when you’re not aiming to fall asleep. Within the first 5 minutes of deep relaxation, your brainwave patterns are the same as in deep sleep. If you fall asleep while doing a relaxation practice, you go straight into your deep sleep pattern where your body does most of its healing and repair work.
  • You’ll find many ideas on how to sleep better in our Toolkit – Keys to help you sleep better

7. Meditate

  • Meditation is simple to learn and with regular practice brings a great sense of well-being. This can range from greater peace of mind to a relaxed body. Meditation also releases energy within the body which can be used for healing.
  • Meditation re-establishes the body’s own equilibrium. Your Sympathetic Nervous System is your flight/fight/freeze system in the body. We activate it when we’re stressed, upset, anxious or fearful. You can activate your Parasympathetic Nervous System through meditation and mindfulness. The body’s brain and body chemistry changes from high cortisol (Sympathetic Nervous System) which has your body ‘on guard’ and waiting for trouble to low cortisol, high oxytocin and endorphins, which are part of our healing chemistry in our body.
  • When you activate your parasympathetic nervous system, you’ll notice your breathing begins to slow down, your heart rate and blood pressure drop, your muscles relax and physiologically you come to rest as the mind begins to settle and a sense of ease and peace is experienced.
  • Mindfulness is about bringing the same quality of observation that you practice during meditation to every activity of your life. When you live in a constant state of being present to what’s happening within and around you – without judgement or resistance – you will find you have constant access to your intuition, insight, wisdom, humour, spontaneity, creativity and compassion.
  • Allow yourself the freedom to find a technique, a voice, music or a teacher that works for you.

8. Stay connected

  • It’s easy to feel isolated. Talking to someone who understands what you're going through can be a relief. Sharing your experiences with someone you trust – family, friends, neighbours – can help.
  • Support groups and being in touch with others experiencing similar things to you, allows you to share stories and support each other and feel less isolated. It’s important to be with people who ‘get’ you; who understand why you may be feeling or acting the way you are.

9. Acceptance

  • A life-threatening diagnosis is often the first impetus we have for deeply contemplating the mysteries of our own mortality. For some it presents an opportunity to face and then let go of their fears.
  • When we acknowledge that we all die, and we accept death’s reality, we’re more easily able to live fully and celebrate every day. Many people who are frightened of death are also frightened of living. People who embrace the reality of their death and find their peace with it, are liberated to focus on really living every day.

Quest for Life’s holistic recovery-oriented programs have the potential to change people’s lives in profoundly positive ways. Long-term research on the impact of Quest programs finds that over 90% of participants improve their quality of life and feel more in control of, and able to make changes to, their life.

Learn more about ways to make positive changes in your life to achieve real health through our Quest for Life intensive 5-day residential program.