Cancer and Lifestyle Improvement

Run towards the healthiest life possible!

We’ve often viewed getting cancer as luck of the draw. Other than eating enough fiber and avoiding smoking and too much sun exposure we haven’t really seen it as having much relationship to lifestyle. Now we’re finding that the way we live our lives has a significant effect on both the prevention of cancer and the course of the illness once it is diagnosed. In previous posts we looked at lifestyle connections to heart disease and diabetes. Now let’s look at lifestyle and cancer.

With the increased treatment success rates we are seeing for many forms of cancer, people are living longer and healthier lives through early detection and more effective treatments. Yet the American Cancer Society ( estimated that for 2010 there would be over one and half million new cases of cancer in the United States and over 21,000 in my home state of Colorado alone. There are several lifestyle-cancer connections we are becoming more acutely aware of.

The lifestyle-breast cancer connection is becoming better known.

The American Cancer Society tells us that roughly one third of all cancers are diet and activity related. The standard call for thirty minutes a day of activity is important as so many of our jobs are increasingly sedentary. We also know that eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and healthier fats, and less processed meats reduces cancer risks. Recent news articles and ( have raised awareness that overweight woman, especially after menopause have a greater risk of breast cancer. Being overweight also can increase the risk of the recurrence of breast cancer. The same risk applies to men and women for increasing the chance of cancers of the colon, endometrium, esophagus, kidney, and other organs.

A wellness lifestyle can mean a better quality of life!

Prostate cancer, the second leading cause of male cancer deaths behind lung cancer, is also showing a lifestyle connection. “Genetics certainly play an important role, but heredity cannot explain most cases. Lifestyle factors have also been implicated; the leading candidate is diet. A high consumption of saturated fat from animal sources is linked to an increased risk of prostate cancer, while whole grains, tomatoes, some vegetables, fish, and soy appear protective. Other lifestyle elements that have been linked to the disease include obesity, lack of exercise, and heavy smoking and drinking.” (

Moderation is, once again, key.

New research is finding that the correlation between alcohol consumption and cancer is greater than we once thought. Two articles published this month in prestigious medical journals suggested that moderation is the key. (  While only 3.5% of deaths from cancer worldwide are because of alcohol, “experts estimate that 90% of the male deaths from cancer worldwide caused by alcohol consumption could be avoided if they limited themselves to only two drinks a day and 50% of the deaths in women could be avoided if they had only one drink a day.”

“Where there are things we can do about cancer, and we don’t tell people what they are, we are giving them false hopelessness.” David Servan-Schreiber

Anticancer– A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber ( outlines the role of diet, exercise, stress management and the environment in reducing your chances for cancer. Avoiding certain chemicals found in household cleaning products and perfumes is one way you can control your environment. Healthy changes to everyday life can reduce cancer risks by stopping the growth of cancer cells, which he calls “outlaws.” These changes, even if they are small, strengthen the immune system. “All in all, anything that boosts our immune system fights cancer,” Servan-Schreiber says. “And, certain food items or behaviors that have anti-inflammatory properties can help stop cancer from spreading.”

More “Good” News!

During the recent (Oct. 2011) United Nations Summit on Non-communicable Diseases (NCD’s) the World Cancer Research Fund reported that 2.8 million lives per year could be saved through better lifestyles and healthier diets. “Global health experts say many deaths from NCDs, including around a third of all common cancers, could be prevented by curbing excessive alcohol intake, improving diets, discouraging smoking and promoting more physical activity.” (

The expression of genes in the body can actually be affected by lifestyle improvement. In the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by Dr. Dean Ornish, head of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, Ornish contends that stress management, changes in diet and exercise can actually result in dramatic changes on a genetic level. “After three months of lifestyle changes, [diet, exercise, etc.] the report notes that the activity of disease-preventing genes increased while a number of disease-promoting genes, including those involved in prostate cancer and breast cancer, shut down.” (

In a WebMD article “10 Lifestyle Tips for Cancer Prevention” are shared and recommended for post-cancer treatment as well. (

Because there is a lifestyle connection where living a wellness lifestyle as much as possible is most advisable some Oncology clinics are actually hiring wellness coaches to be the behavioral change allies for their patients. Coaches can help people with the weight loss, smoking cessation, self-efficacy, and medical compliance that are all so important in prevention, prevention of reoccurrence, and the course of the illness itself.  Once again, wellness and health coaching can help people live their best life possible.


David Servan-Schreiber 1961-2011

On July 24th of this year David Servan-Schreiber, who had survived two deadly encounters with cancer since being diagnosed at age 31, finally succumbed to an even more aggressive third bout with brain cancer at age 50. During those 19 years he not only inspired people with cancer with his own battle, but championed the concept of self-efficacy for people with cancer. This N.Y. Times article highlights his story and efforts to help us all. He will be missed.

To get a real feel for the sincerity of this man, and his dedication to helping others, check out his video “Anticancer – A New Way of Life”.

Retreat, Review, Renew and Rewrite The New Year Now

The "New Year" is here already! Photo by M. Arloski

The ancient Celtic Calendar rings in the New Year at the very end of October with the holiday of Samhain. Looking at a Northern European year’s climate through largely agricultural eyes this makes perfect sense. The last of the harvest is done and it’s time to prepare for winter and a long rest for the land.

For the self-reflective person this is a good time to review the old year and prepare for the new. Don’t wait until the new year has already arrived! From a coaching perspective it’s a perfect time to look at what our “wins” were, to seriously acknowledge our accomplishments on all levels, personal and professional. It’s a time to give ourselves credit first, boost our self-esteem and celebrate. Let’s practice some Positive Psychology on ourselves!

We also will take a sober look at what we wanted to see happen that didn’t. Here it’s time to leave our Inner Critic or Gremlin ( out of the process, and instead get in touch with that part of ourselves that truly cares about us and tells the truth (not the lies of the Inner Critic). Did we live the year in harmony with our values, with our true priorities? Are we still spinning our wheels in a lifestyle improvement effort, or job/career, or relationship? What will it take to get some “traction” in the new year?

2012 is coming at us fast and New Year’s Day is really too late a time to begin planning for what we want in the new year. We always find truth in the old saw “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Having a plan is much different than setting the famously ineffective “New Year’s Resolutions” or just having a “bunch of goals”. A plan, whether a wellness plan for lifestyle improvement, or a plan for your career development, personal growth, or whatever needs to be an integrated plan that is based upon your values and your true priorities in your life. It needs to be entirely congruent with who you are and based upon attained clarity about what you want.

In the Northern Hemisphere the seasons right now lend themselves to this process, if we let them. We might consciously want to engage less in the franticness of “The Holidays” and instead practice both our relevant faith reflected in these holidays, and also practice a time of reflection, replenishment and personal renewal. In fact, if you are a person of faith, how better to celebrate and acknowledge these holidays than to dedicate some time to your own spiritual renewal?

Sit, sip, relax and reflect.

This is a great time for hot cups of tea and journaling. This is also an excellent time for taking stock of our selves in a mindful and conscious way. My best shorthand definition of Wellness is that it is living our lives consciously in ways that enhance our health. Perhaps this is the perfect time to take a day dedicated to no “work” and to no work around the house. Solo time allows us to look within uninterrupted. In today’s high-speed world we may actually have to work hard initially to extract ourselves from the distractions that surround us. Take a day with no cell phones, iPods or Pads, where we can get re-acquainted with an old best friend called our own souls. Have a technological Sabbath.

This can also be a wonderful time to get together with friends, not just by putting on a way-too-much-work party, but spending time together one-on-one. Our children (even adult children) thrive on this one-on-one time with us, and so do our friends. Reconnecting with these people helps us reweave the net of community that supports us, and lets us contribute to that web of support as well.

Create your own personal retreat.

Retreat, Review, Renew and Rewrite


Take time for yourself however you can. Give yourself permission to. Set aside not just a couple of hours, or just one day, but instead mark your calendar for some self-reflective, get-away time more than once. Pull back from everyday obligations, asking for help to do so if need be. You may find that you even need a complete change of scenery, whether it is a local park, a coffee shop or a weekend or two in a cabin “away from it all.” Stretch, unwind, get a massage, hike in nature, breath deep. Don’t permit your “gremlin” to accompany you.


Bring your old calendar, your laptop, your journal, pen and paper, or whatever works for you to look back over the old year. Be kind and compassionate with yourself. Allow yourself to feel your feelings, but don’t let irrational guilt get a foothold and grow in this quiet time. Be honest with yourself and look for the SDB’s (self-defeating behaviors) that slowed you down or held you back. Look for the missed opportunities and the overlooked resources that you did not make use of. Hindsight really is 20/20, unless you let your “gremlin” do the looking for you.


Give yourself permission to recover from stress.

This can be a time for replenishment, for re-charging your worn-down batteries and resupplying your energy. In the bestseller The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working ( the point is continually made (and hard evidence cited to back it up) that our biggest mistake is not experiencing stress in our lives, but not allowing ourselves adequate “volume and intensity” of recovery from it! We function best with rest and renewal. This means not only adequate sleep, but also reconnecting with what renews our own spirit and sense of self. One of the greatest ways to improve self-esteem is through creative self-expression. This can be a time to reconnect with hobbies long neglected. It can also be a time for our renewal through contact with the natural world, where we are merely another creature in the ecosystem, instead of an asset pursued by a busy world.


“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” Henry David Thoreau

The time to rewrite your script is right now. Plan & coach for the new year now, not in January! Realize all the choices you truly do have. Envision the year as you would like it to unfold. Determine what has to change about the way you are living your life currently in order to actualize that vision. From that create a real plan to move forward with it.

Select areas of your life you’d like to improve, where you’d like to grow. Look at the year coming and list the opportunities that it contains. How can you make the best use of them? Look at the barriers you can already anticipate and begin looking at strategies and resources to help you find your way through them.

Avoid simply creating a gigantic “To Do” list. Building a huge list of things to accomplish is like creating an overhang of stress ready to crash down on you like an avalanche. Your tendency will be to simply stay off the mountain! In other words, when you create a daunting “list” the safest route is to avoid working on it at all. As an old friend, and stand-up comedian, once said about priorities, “If they’re priorities, there can’t be very many of them. Otherwise they’re not priorities!”

We can’t anticipate everything in the year ahead, but we can consciously plan (see “conscious calendarizing” in my book Wellness Coaching For Lasting Lifestyle Change ( to include the downtime we need. Plan to take those vacation days. Plan on days for rest and renewal, replenishment and relaxation. Include that in your list of “accomplishments” at the end of this next year, and be well!

Please add your comments, ideas, here to enhance the experience of all readers. Thank you!

Pre-diabetes – A Wellness Opportunity To Help

79 Million Americans are on the road, not to wellness, but to diabetes.

There is an opportunity for wellness and wellness coaching to impact the lives of millions of people in a life-saving way. 79 million Americans are estimated to have a condition called pre-diabetes. Usually symptom free, without intervention they will develop full-fledged Type II diabetes within ten years and possibly endure physical damage to their heart and circulatory system along the way. Yet, according to the American Diabetes Association, if a person is successful at lifestyle improvement they can completely avoid the onset of diabetes 70% of the time. (

Our culture drives diabetes in many ways. Remember when 16 oz. was huge?

A 2010 study on pre-diabetes in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine shows shocking news. They found that in 2005-2006 almost 30% of the U.S. adult population had pre-diabetes, yet only 7.3% of the pre-diabetic people were aware of it! About half of those with pre-diabetes reported engaging in some kind of risk-reduction behavior, but only about one-third of those with pre-diabetes had received advice from their healthcare provider about the lifestyle behaviors they could change. Researchers found adults with pre-diabetes were more likely to be male, older, and have lower educational status than those without the condition. They were also more likely to have an immediate family member with diabetes.

Reaching this population of vulnerable people will take a multi-layered effort across society and the healthcare system. The first step in this preventative approach is to increase awareness through accurate diagnosis. There is no substitute for the annual medical exam. Physicians can determine if one has pre-diabetes by testing your blood glucose levels. However there needs to be follow through on the physician’s part (or their clinic/office) to both advise and, ideally, connect their patients with lifestyle improvement/behavioral change resources that can help them be part of that 70% possibility of success.

We can encourage clients, friends, people we know to take charge of their own health starting with awareness of what is going on inside of their own body. A very successful approach to wellness is called “Know Your Numbers” and makes good sense for all of us. It urges us to know our scores (and what they mean) on five indicators: blood sugar levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body mass index. Checking these numbers regularly, even if you don’t feel sick can help you avoid these silent killers.

The lifestyle improvements required to avoid pre-diabetes developing into diabetes are actually quite basic.
• Improve one’s diet,
• lose weight
• and become more active.
Adding thirty minutes a day of moderate exercise, like walking, can have astounding results. Combined with a 5-10% weight loss studies found that such lifestyle changes yielded a 58% reduction in diabetes. (NDIC -

From the awareness that one may be pre-diabetic to achieving lasting lifestyle improvement can be a challenging journey. It is a journey best taken in the company of others, not alone. Success at lifestyle change works best with a wellness plan that identifies the specific health behaviors you want to improve, keeping an objective record of your progress, and consciously developing the connections with others who can help support your journey. Wellness coaches can be the professional ally that is often lacking to help people succeed in lasting lifestyle change.

Group and individual wellness coaching for people who share this challenge should be promoted through workshops, seminars, and simple brown-bag wellness talks. Wellness coaches who want a niche within the field of health and wellness would do well to explore helping people with diabetes, pre-diabetes and those who would benefit from learning if they are, indeed, pre-diabetic. Diabetes educators who become trained in effective behavioral change methodologies (wellness/health coach training) can increase their effectiveness tremendously.

In many communities healthy resources can be found for help identifying and educating around pre-diabetes, most offering screenings and educational classes on a sliding scale basis.  Hospital’s Diabetes Education departments offer classes on pre-diabetes and more.

Most professional articles on diabetes, and pre-diabetes, focus on science and statistics. We all need to remember the human element here. While people with well-managed diabetes can live lives of thriving, not just surviving, the disease can inflict some of the worst suffering imaginable. We’re not just holding down healthcare costs with our wellness work, we’re doing our best to help people avoid the pain and misery of diseases like diabetes and live the healthiest lives possible.

Please add your comments to enrich a discussion about what we can do to help people be successful at preventing diabetes.