Cancer is not only affected by our environment, diet and mind; our body obviously also plays an essential role in not only beating cancer, but also recovering from, and preventing recurrence of, it. In past studies doctors have witnessed the difference between those who exercise and those who do not, when it comes to recovery, and recurrence. There are instances where people have continued to live, despite the little hope doctors had. Though these are isolated events, and other factors might have played a role; the way these individuals took care of their body surely had a positive impact on their recovery, and remaining years.
This section of our website advocates the importance of caring for your body during all stages of cancer, from diagnosis to recovery.
More and more doctors are starting to recognise the importance of massage therapy in the recovery process of cancer patients. As said by Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, of the Commonweal Centre, “Touching is a very old way of healing. Touch as a mother would touch a child, because what a mother is saying through her touch is ‘live’. Something in touching strengthens the will to live in us. Healing is evoking the will to live in another person. It comes about not by doing something by letting another person know what their pain and their suffering and their fear matters. It really matters.”
In a recent study experiments on baby rats isolated from their mother at birth proved that the absence of physical contact caused the body’s cells to literally refuse to divide and grow. In each cell, the part of the genome responsible for producing the enzymes needed for growth was no longer expressed, thus the whole organism went into a form of hibernation. But when the doctors stroked a baby rat’s back with a wet brush, to imitate the way a mother rat responds to her babies’ cries, immediately triggers enzyme production and, with it, growth. This experiment concludes that attentive physical contact, such as a massage practiced with benevolent intention, very probably stimulates the life-force in human adults, not just on an emotional level, but on a biological level inside their very cells. A further research conducted at a different institute has shown that three weekly 30-minute sessions of massage slowed down the production of stress hormones and increased the rate of NK cells ion women with breast cancer. These women were also more serene and felt less physical pain after just the very first session.
In addition to massage therapy, physical exercise is another way for us to strengthen our bodies before and after treatment. There are numerous mechanisms by which exercise improves overall physiology:
- It reduces the quantity of adipose tissue (fat), the principal storage site of carcinogenic toxins in humans.
- Physical exercise modifies our hormonal balance. It reduces the excess estrogens and testosterone that stimulate the growth of cancers (in particular, cancer of the breast, prostate, ovary, uterus and testicles).
- Exercise also reduces blood sugar levels, and, as a result, the secretion of insulin and IGF, which contribute so dramatically to tissue inflammation and to the growth and spread of tumors.
- Physical exercise even acts directly on the cytokines responsible for inflammation, by lowering their level in the blood.
- Physical activity, like meditation, has a direct effect on the immune system, seemingly protecting it against the stress of bad news.
CAUTION: certain exercises may be dangerous.
Some cancer may affect parts of the body that make certain exercises dangerous (arm movements after surgery in the armpit, jogging for individuals who have bone metastases, etc.). It is imperative for patients to consult their oncologist before choosing a kind of physical activity, in order to adapt it to their condition.
Keys to Success
A few very simple secrets ease the transition toward this new relationship with our bodies.
- Begin slowly, gently – You shouldn’t try to run a marathon the first time you exercise; you can start small and build from there.
- Exercise everywhere and anywhere – You don’t have to make an occasion of it, you can simply walk to the grocery store, or to the office; any exercise counts.
- Try easy activities – There is no need to go to the gym and start power training, yoga or Tai Chi, which stimulate the body gently, can be practiced by almost anyone.
- Join a group – Encouragement and support of others, or simply emulation in a group devoted to the same exercise, make a great difference to our capacity to stick to a program.
- Have fun – It will be easier to stick with an exercise you enjoy doing.
- Get in the picture – You can turn the use of a stationary bike, treadmill or elliptical trainer into entertainment thanks to a TV and/or DVD player.
- Figure out the dose – For breast cancer, there seems to be a measurable effect after three to five hours a week of walking at a normal speed, which is 9 MET (Metabolic Equivalent) a week.
Note: all the above information is derived from Anticancer, a new way of life, courtesy of Dr. David Servan-Schreiber.