A healthy lifestyle and breast cancer prevention
Sharon Gavioli is a Registered Nurse with over 30 years’ experience, as well as an Adult Educator and Counsellor. Sharon’s own life has been touched by family members who have had cancer and she is able to appreciate and understand many of the emotional and physical issues and practical options that people with the disease go through. Combining her love of education and ‘informed choice’, Sharon’s understanding of cancer care is insightful and inspiring.
In my recent article 'BRCA Genes – Options for Potential Breast Cancer Prevention', I shared the relevant but understandable facts about the BRCA genes as well as all the current options for women to support them to reduce the risk of breast cancer developing. The article also presents the role that living a healthy lifestyle offers as another viable option in the aim of breast cancer prevention, but is there more to consider in embracing healthy lifestyle choices?
With new research indicating that we are now facing ‘a cancer tidal wave’, it is timely and absolutely vital to understand that cancer is not only due to genetics, and to underline the importance of each person taking responsibility for their own choices in relation to embracing a healthy lifestyle.
So what are healthy lifestyle choices?
- Maintaining a healthy body weight – without being underweight
- Exercise – keeping fit
- Healthy Diet – limiting the consumption of unhealthy fats, salty and sugary foods and drinks; eating fruit, vegetables and pulses; eating less red and processed meat
- Avoiding alcohol – as even 1 drink a day increases the risk of breast cancer
- Avoiding smoking
We all know that healthy lifestyle choices have been the buzz for some few years now and some of us are slowly catching on to these, but is there more to embrace?
Some people find that even though they are aware and would like to make consistent lifestyle changes, they find these difficult to sustain. In my own life I can relate to wanting to support my body with healthy choices but invariably would fall back into not exercising, eating junk foods and stressing out about everything.
This made me wonder:
What stops us from consistently choosing a healthy lifestyle in the face of our understanding that this may contribute to reducing the risk of developing cancer?
This then got me thinking about what beliefs we, as women, uniquely carry that may lead us to behave in ways that affect our bodies – preventing us from embracing true and consistent positive lifestyle choices that come from a deep level of care for ourselves.
Most of us would agree that women today live under a great deal of pressure. We are expected to be career women, loving mums, great friends and to portray a certain physical image, to name but a few. Trying to live up to all these expectations often leaves many of us aligning to ideals that can lead to beliefs such as:
- I don’t have enough time
- I should care for others first
- I am not enough
- I am not worthy
- I never get it right
- I don’t really matter, others are more important than me
- I should try harder
- I will feel better if my children, my boss, my husband, my family are happy.
It’s actually not hard to imagine the impact that holding such thoughts and beliefs about ourselves has on the way we behave – and subsequently on choices that impact our physical and emotional wellbeing. For example, if we feel that we ‘never get things right’, we are likely to push ourselves harder to actually ‘get it right’, even if this is beyond what our bodies are physically capable of. Think about a busy mum who works full-time and does all the running of the home by herself without asking for support, and consequently takes little or no time to look after herself.
This scenario and many others can result in our making unsupportive lifestyle choices, such as reaching for a glass of wine to relax, having another shot of coffee to get us going in the morning, consuming a whole block of chocolate as a reward, staying up late to get some 'me time', staying in bed too long in the morning instead of going for a gentle walk, or for those who have embraced fitness – pushing their bodies harder than is actually supportive.
Instead of being hard on ourselves for making these choices and trying to do better, we could turn it around and firstly be honest around why we are making the choice. From this honesty we can choose to explore what ideals and beliefs are behind the question of why we are not choosing to make caring for ourselves a priority. In committing to this self-exploration, we may discover that much of what we thought was true about ourselves is not the case.
Why genetics is not the answer
Our choices have a much bigger impact on our health than genetics.
The truth is, each of us deserves to lovingly care for ourselves in the same way we would care for a baby, as we are just as precious. The only difference is that we have lost our connection to this understanding by taking on ideals and beliefs – all the expectations out there about what it means to be a woman.
It is only from a foundation of self-care that truly honours, appreciates and deeply respects us as women first – before we are “anything for anyone else” – that we will be able to truly and consistently embrace a healthy lifestyle that supports our goal of breast cancer prevention.
Importantly, for those of us who may be diagnosed with breast cancer (as we can’t always prevent it), having an established routine of self-care will deeply support us during any treatment and onwards in our recovery.