The last time I went for a check-up with my doctor, she pressured me about getting a mammogram. This was the second time that she had brought it up. I have mixed feelings about this test. On the one hand, it has caught early signs of breast cancer in many women. On the other hand, repeated exposure to radiation may actually cause breast cancer. I brought this up to my doctor and she claimed that the amount of radiation I would be exposed to during the test would be minimal. I reminded her that my risk of breast cancer was low because I breast fed each of my four children for at least one year, didn’t smoke or drink, etc. She agreed that my risk was lower, but she still wrote an order for the test in case I decided to go ahead and have the mammogram done. As I have pondered this choice, I am reminded of my three friends who have battled breast cancer and two women I knew who died from it.
None of these women breast fed their babies. None of them smoked or drank alcohol, either, though. Weight didn’t seem to be a factor because out of the five women I mentioned, two of the women were thin. Diet was a factor in helping two of the women overcome their cancer the first time they got it, but in both women, the cancer returned (and one of them died after conventional chemotherapy treatment). The diet of the other three women was more like the standard American diet, high in sugar and processed food. As I try to make sense of all of this, looking for some sort of pattern, it is difficult to come to any conclusions. The only factor common to all is that none breastfed their babies. But, I bet if I searched, I’d probably find women who got cancer who did breastfeed.
Then I started thinking about family members. My aunt has bone cancer and my uncle had colon cancer. One grandfather died of lung cancer and the other died of leukemia. In my aunt’s case, the cancer spread from her thyroid, which was probably damaged by an autoimmune condition that made her vulnerable to cancer. My uncle had longstanding intestinal issues that he ignored. My grandfathers were exposed to toxins—one smoked and one was probably poisoned by chemicals he was regularly around at work. What about my friends? Were there factors I was unaware of that made them vulnerable to breast cancer? I refuse to believe that this stuff is random. It still nagged at me, should I get the mammogram?
Well, cancer isn’t really random. It is a dance between genetic susceptibility and environmental factors. This is why some people can smoke until they die and never develop lung cancer, while another person isn’t so lucky. However, there are some other interesting correlations that, upon digging around in the medical literature, I was able to uncover. There is a higher risk of cancer of the thyroid, breast, and various organs of the digestive system if the person has celiac disease. I might include gluten sensitivity with celiac. Rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of lung, kidney, bladder, breast, prostate, and all digestive organ cancers. In fact, there is a high correlation between autoimmune disease and rate of cancer overall. The chronic inflammation associated with autoimmune conditions sets the stage for development of several types of cancer.
Sugar is also highly correlated with cancer, with diabetics having a higher risk of developing pancreas, liver, endometrium, kidney, thyroid, and gallbladder cancers and also for certain types of leukemia. Wow. Learning all this stuff really struck home because autoimmune diseases run in my family, as well as intestinal issues. As I thought more about my friends, I realized that I truly don’t know about each of their medical histories. Lots of people seem healthy or only share habits that they’re proud of. I tell people all the time that I am on a Paleo diet (which I am), but I wouldn’t go around sharing with people every time that I “cheat.” I am human and I sometimes get sick of eating so clean, so I’ll have a scoop of ice cream or a non-Paleo cupcake (still gluten-free, of course), but most of my friends won’t know about that.
However, out of the five women, only one has consistently sought alternative treatments for cancer. I’m sure she cheats sometimes, but I do know her well enough to know that she is sincere in avoiding chemotherapy and radiation. The first time she got cancer, she had surgery to remove the tumor, but nothing else from the conventional treatment that most doctors offer. She opted to clean up her diet. She avoided all gluten containing foods, used principles from Weston Price (which is a traditional ancestral diet very similar to Paleo, except that grains and legumes that have been soaked and sprouted are included), started using magnets, and eliminated all toxins from her home. I don’t know if she continued with this regimen, but her cancer did return recently and this time, there are several small tumors, so surgery isn’t really practical. She has further honed her alternative treatment regimen this time around. She has included a technique that helps her release past emotional hurts that could prevent her healing. She gets daily, gentle exercise and has tweaked her diet to include large amounts of specific anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting foods. Most of all, she is at peace with the fact that God is in control and whatever happens is good.
Cancer can be a scary thing. It certainly is a concern of mine, given my family background and my own health issues. The last memory I have of my grandfather who died of lung cancer is this: I approached his bed and asked him if I could have a candy bar. His reply was that it was too close to dinner time. I never saw him alive again after that.
Thankfully, I have learned to let go of the candy bar and many other things. Will you accept the challenge of changing your family health tree by adopting some new habits? Please comment below.