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Preventing Cancer & Colon Cancer Awareness

An Interview with Nurse Adina on Soda City Live with Dawndy Mercer, WIS-TV

Share with us why March in particular is such a pivotal time of year for you?

March is Colon Cancer Awareness Month. It has a dual meaning for me as my dad, Tom, died March 27th, 2014 of colon cancer at the age of 68. He was 1 of 11 children and he worked his entire adult life.  He did smoke when he was younger but quit when he was in his 30’s.  He led an active life and did not drink.  He spent the last 20 years of his life living on his farm in OH with his wife, Rita.

My dad was 1st diagnosed in 2007 when I was in nursing school at San Diego State.  He went through surgery and chemo and was cancer-free for about 6 years.  Then, in November 2013, shortly after he retired, it returned.  I took a leave of absence from work and went to OH to help with his care. He did 1 cycle of chemo, but afterwards, his blood counts did not recover – meaning his 2nd cycle of chemo kept getting delayed. And most importantly, he felt terrible.  I remember the day his wife & I were sitting in the doctor’s office, and he told his oncologist he did not want to do chemo anymore.  I knew what that meant.  I’d always been a “Daddy’s girl” and to hear him say he did not want any more chemo broke my heart.  As his daughter, I selfishly wanted him to be around for a long time.  But, I also understood that I needed to listen and respect my dad’s wishes because only he knew the toll that the cancer was taking on his body – it was hard but it was the right thing to do.

Doesn’t everything cause cancer?

The short answer is ‘No’.  People like to hide behind that statement, so they don’t have to make any lifestyle changes. We, as humans, don’t like to change, but, there are definitely steps each of us can take to help reduce the likelihood of getting cancer.  That being said, there is no perfect, fool-proof plan to avoid cancer.  I’ve had patients and clients who followed a healthy lifestyle, and still got cancer, and I’ve known people, like my Grandma Stanley, who smoked until the day she died and never got cancer. We still don’t know why one person gets cancer and another person doesn’t.  

According to The American Cancer Society, it is estimated that 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women will develop cancer in their lifetime.  Specifically with colon cancer, when we look at race, African Americans have the highest incidence of colon cancer as well as the highest rate of mortality (death). 

The encouraging # is that an estimated 40% of cancers are preventable and diet can impact cancer risk in several ways.

When we look at the statistics for colon cancer, only 5% of colon cancers are genetic – meaning 95% are related to diet and lifestyle.  My dad, and his mom, both had colon cancer, but neither of them had a genetic component.  What they did have in common is learned eating behaviors….so it’s not genetic – it’s behavioral.

What CAN people do?

I’m a big fan of focusing on what people can control ?

1st Get your Colonoscopy!  Let me explain why this is important:  Colonoscopies cannot only detect cancer, but they can also find and remove polyps in your colon and polyps are the pre-cursor to colon cancer. When they remove the polyps, they can no longer turn into colon cancer because they are gone.

2nd, Increase Your Fiber Intake to 25 grams of Fiber a Day.  I remember teaching my dad how to read nutritional labels and educating him about the importance of 25 grams of fiber a day. At the end of our trip through the grocery store, I asked him, “How many grams of fiber do you need?” And he replied, “25.” I said, “Yes! And how often do you need 25 grams of fiber?” He then smiled this foolish grin and opened his eyes real big and said, “A week!” To which I replied, “No!!!! That’s what got you into this mess! You need 25 grams of fiber a DAY.” We both had a really big laugh over that one. He always was a jokester.

3rd, Increase Your Water Intake to 2 Liters a day – or (4) 16 ounce water bottles.  There is no magical # when it comes to drinking water – but you need to increase your water intake because increasing fiber without increasing fluid can lead to constipation.  Fiber is a crucial component as it helps our bodies get rid of what we consume.  What goes in, must come out.  Healthy poops (1-3 a day) are a good sign you are doing something right.

4th, Ensure Your Meal has Lots of Color In It.  Our plates should never be full of brown, tan and white…We want bright, vibrant colors on our plates. Reds, Blues, Purples, Oranges, Yellows and Greens.  Red meat and processed meats such as bacon and hot dogs have been linked to cancer, especially GI cancers, such as colon cancer.

5th, Focus On What You Should Eat. When you focus on what TO DO (bright colors, increased fiber and fluid intake), it leaves little room for the “bad” stuff like fast food, processed food or fried foods.

6th, Every Bite is a Choice.  Don’t beat yourself up.  Your GPS doesn’t scream at you when you make a wrong turn, so don’t condemn yourself for eating a donut once in a while.  And if you really want red meat every now and then, order a 6 oz steak – not a 16-ounce steak.  Or, order a single burger and not a double.

7th, Eating to Live vs Living to Eat. Be aware of the nutritional content of what you are eating.  Fast food is convenient but it’s not your friend.  The U.S. has some of the highest rates of cancer in the world. The Standard American Diet is slowly killing us.

Forks Over Knives, which was originally started by 2 cardiologists, Dr. Esselstyn and Dr. Campbell, is streaming their award-winning food documentary for free on their website right now. It is the grandfather of all food documentaries and I recommend it because it is rooted in science – not hype. The meaning behind its name: Foods you eat with a fork vs going under the knife.

Some people participate in Meatless Mondays; Some folks decide to only eat meat once a day; You have to find what works for you. And, if you are worried about getting enough protein as you start to incorporate more plants into your diet, I encourage you to watch Game Changers.

There are also several excellent plant-based food bloggers:

Sweet Potato Soul

It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken

Oh She Glows

Mrs. Jacked on Plants (private women’s FB group)

Kris Carr – Cancer Thriver and Influencer

Minimalist Baker (has an entire vegan section)

I’ve worked with 1,000’s of cancer patients in my 12 + years of being an oncology nurse, and a recurring theme I hear from them is this:  Don’t get cancer.  They say this because their lives have been kidnapped by cancer and their lives are forever changed because of it. Not to mention the huge amount of suffering that takes place in the cancer world…. suffering I would never wish on anybody…

…So, here is my encouragement for everyone:  We are all works-in-progress. We are all constantly learning and growing. Today is a great day to start doing your part.”

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