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Flurries of Worry: should cancer survivors stress over lifestyle choices?

Posted Jun 09 2011 10:45pm

Our beautiful spring weather was interrupted this past week–and today–by a streak of furious snow flurries and persistent hail. Because I’ve had a car accident in a snowstorm, the least bit of snow on the road drives me into a tizzy. Just the mention of possible snow in the forecast makes me opt for our all-wheel drive over our gas-sparing Prius for my commute-to-work vehicle. I don’t want to be stuck if the snow accumulates over the course of the day.

Worry is something we find hard to control. Especially if we have had close encounters of the weird kind with cancer.

I have tried in vain to suppress my worrisome thoughts.  They crop up when I tell them to beat it.  They rear their ugly head when my boys are on the road alone, when at 35,000 feet above Earth turbulence rocks my tray table, when I’m getting my yearly cancer check-up, and when a symptom-bearing friend enters a clinic for an MRI.

What does worry accomplish? Does it change anything? Will it increase our chances of recurrence? I don’t think it will. I’d like to think it will not. Especially since we feel obligated to heed so many rules if we want to remain in remission, rules we worry that we can’t keep at all times: eat only organic produce, avoid any toxins and hormones as I discuss in a blog a few weeks ago and Brenda Coffee discusses in hers on bioidentical hormones, drink only filtered or mineral water, indulge in no more than two glasses of red wine a week, breathe unpolluted air, get at least three hours of moderate exercise a week, grab at least  7-8 hours of sleep…you get the idea. And then there are the controversies over whether flaxseed and tofu are good for you or whether their phytoestrogens will counteract your daily tamoxifen or aromotase inhibitor pill.

What if we don’t follow all the protocols? What if we miss a step? What would a cancer guru do?

I believe we have to live our lives in a way that satisfies us personally, that jives with our tolerance for risk. For some, contentment only comes from adhering to a lifestyle that maximizes chances for a life without recurrence. For others whose motto is c’est la vie or carpe dium, it means enjoying all life has to offer without thought of consequences for cancer returning. Maybe cost or social or family pressures are factors in not heeding all the lifestyle precautions. I’m somewhere in-between, striving to hit the gym three times a week, drink mineral water and consume as many colorful fruits and vegetables as possible in a smoke-free setting while minimizing junk food. Actually, I really like the tips in Mother Nature Network on reducing breast cancer risks.

But I have a limit, and will not spend all life’s moments pouring over lists of ingredients on everything I buy. I’d rather spend precious time sipping a soy (or not) latte together with friends, skiing with my sons under a cloudless sky, savoring pasta primavera and breadsticks with my husband on date night. Too much angst can’t be all good. I strive to live without regrets, even if it involves some risk. We long to hear the magic words that we are 100% cured, but uncertainty is the only guarantee in life.

Hans Christian Anderson once said, ”Just living is not enough.  One must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower.”  I’m discovering–and stopping to smell–that snow crocus peeking through the rock-strewn, ice-encrusted trail of my cancer past.

During the next snowstorm, I will don my jacket, craft a snowman from any accumulated powder–and drive the AWD to work (just to be on the safe side). Some chances I will take, like slipping on the snow. But driving on it is a different matter entirely. To each her own.

How do you feel about all the risk factors we cancer survivors face after we enter remission? Do you try to heed as many precautions as possible (and not take a chance, at least much of a chance)? Or do you do what you want? Or are you somewhere in the middle on the personal risk threshold scale?

Happy Spring,


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