Cancer survivors have a haunting fear that even when you’re convinced your cancer is “gone”, there’s a chance it will return. I have observed countless times how anxious “survivors” are as they have gone to take their tests, and pray that the “C” word is not back. If you think cancer is not going to impact you think again. We know that almost 12 million Americans are cancer survivors, that means 1 in 25 people have had cancer. I come from a big Samoan family, with lots more than 25 people.
Someone in my family was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age forty-one. I witnessed her journey, and I know there were moments when she felt as if her world was crumbling, but she survived. A year or so later after her last chemotherapy treatment she was diagnosed with a second cancer in her colon.
A “second cancer” is different from “cancer recurrence”. Physicians can test whether a new area of cancer is different type of cancer from the first. You can have 2 types of cancer or 2 primary cancers. These are cancers that start in different kinds of cells and look different in the microscope. According to research secondary cancers are rare, but they can happen.
A “cancer recurrence” is found after a person is treated for one type of cancer, and the cancer comes back in the same place, or somewhere else in the body. When cancer spreads to a new part, it is still named after the part of the body where it started. You cannot guess if a cancer will come back, but we do know that if a cancer comes back it is harder to treat if it’s fast growing, more advanced or spread.
Because we know the dreaded “C” word can return, the American Samoa Community Cancer Coalition urges Cancer Survivors, family members, and friends to know more about Cancer. There are connections between obesity and a sedentary lifestyle for certain types of cancer. We encourage people to move after treatment. Cancer treatment doesn’t stop at the end of your Oncology visits.
The latest research shows that cancer survivors can cut their chances of recurrence with some simple lifestyle changes (supported by the American Cancer Society):
- Eat primarily fruit, vegetables and whole grains, supplemented by fish and poultry. Research shows: breast cancer survivors have shown that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, poultry and fish is associated with lower risk of death, than one with lots of saturated fat, refined grains, sugar and high-fat dairy products. Translation: Eat more chicken (moa) and fish (i’a), eat less pork (pu’a), lamb flaps (mamoe), turkey tails (muli pipi). Eat more green salads, tomatoes, cucumbers, broccoli, etc. Introduce more fruits like papaya, mangoes, vi, Samoan oranges to your diet.
- Eat as little red and processed meat as you can manage.
Research shows: Eat a healthy diet low in red and processed meat protects against cancer progression, risk of recurrence and overall survival for a variety of cancers. Translation: Eat less bacon, sausage, ham, pisupo, and prepackaged lunch meat (bologna, turkey, ham) which is tied to a higher risk of colon cancer and several other cancers.
- Exercise several times a week or more, no matter what!
Research Shows: Moderate exercise during cancer treatment reduces anxiety and fatigue and raises self-esteem and optimism. Exercise boosts muscle strength, endurance and heart health, it’s great for the body. Translation: Join one of the numerous Zumba, and Tae Bo classes on Island. Get out and walk with your family and friends at the OMV, the Coastal Road, or on the newly paved sidewalks. It’s great for you.
- Lose weight to get as close to a normal BMI as possible
Research Show: Cancer survivors who are overweight or obese have a higher rate of recurrence than their counterparts whose weight is within the normal range. Studies of those who’ve successfully lost weight and kept it off following cancer treatment show the effort pays off in lower recurrence and death rates. Translation: American Samoa has the highest rate of obesity. Diabetes, heart disease, as well as cancer are the leading causes of death. We need to get serious about losing weight to combat all types of illness.
- Stop Smoking!!! Make sure your area is Smoke Free!
Research Show: That there is a significant increased risk of recurrence, disease progression, and survival with continued smoking after diagnosis and treatment. Smoking is associated with worse prognosis. Translation: Samoans who continued to smoke or have been smokers for longer periods of time have worse prognosis. Quitting smoking is the best thing for you. Surrounding yourself with a smoke free environment increases your ability to combat cancer.
June is National Cancer Survivor’s Month and the American Samoa Community Cancer Coalition wants to celebrate Life throughout the month. We are doing this by honoring our survivors and arming our community members with knowledge. My cousin who I mentioned before is a Cancer Survivor, she is now living 10 years after being diagnosed the second time.
The best strategy to winning a challenge is learning as much as you can about your opponent. Learn more about cancer, apply and practice what you learn. Ask your healthcare provider for further information.