What CAN we be doing about cancer?
I think it’s safe to say that as a nation our awareness of cancer has increased over the last few months or so. Having lost national treasures David Bowie, Lemmy, Alan Rickman, Terry Wogan, and Victoria Wood to the disease in 2016 alone, has left us all a little bit shell-shocked. We can all agree that Cancer sucks. Big time. We hate cancer. But what can the average human being do about it? And what the hell even IS it???
So in a nutshell, Cancer is where abnormal cells in the body multiply uncontrollably. They can kill the healthy cells around it and form a mass called a tumour. If the tumour is malignant (rather than benign), the cancerous cells can split off and invade other parts of the body. This is why you’ll always hear people saying that it’s important to catch cancer early, because the earlier it’s found, the less likely it is to have spread to other parts of the body and become harder to treat. Because it kills healthy cells, it obviously makes the patient feel like crap (to put it mildly).
So that’s what cancer is. But what can we do? Most of us aren’t medics or scientists. I grew up in a household where the matriarch was a cancer nurse, so she was always insistent of the things we could be doing. Here are a couple of things that I think are worth thinking about:
This is so important. Teach yourself how to check for lumps and bumps and do it regularly. The more often you do it, the better you’ll get to know your body and the more easily it’ll be to notice that something has changed. I regularly get texts from breakthrough breast cancer (now known as breast cancer now http://breastcancernow.org/) to remind me to check my tits, and I’m sure there are similar services for men for testicular cancer. If you need anything else, check out the NHS website, or these videos as well.
Not only is it important for you to know yourself how to check, it’s especially important for young people to know and get into the habit of checking as well. If you are responsible in any way or capacity for pre-teens or young people, you should probably find a way of telling them they should be checking and how to do it. Some kids do get taught this in school, but I know that I was never really shown by teachers until I was 16, by which age some people are already experiencing the disease. The earlier kids learn, the more they will get into the habit and the more they will know their own bodies (so that if something does change they will find it). It can be as subtle as leaving a leaflet on your kid’s pillow, or asking teenagers that you teach if they know how to check, and telling them that if they want to talk about it your door is open. At first they will roll their eyes, but I guarantee curiosity will get to them in the end and that will spark their first check.
So technically we should actually all wear light suncream all the time. The sun’s rays can still harm your skin through the weather you’d least expect it (like clouds or rain.) But I actually can name tonnes of people (myself included) who don’t wear suncream unless abroad. That’s a bit silly. Try to put a little bit on when it’s a sunny morning, or you can even buy make-up nowadays with an SPF factor. Once it becomes routine it’ll seem less of a hassle. Especially if you make it a family thing and get your kids involved as well. It takes two minutes and your skin will thank you for it
So you’ve all heard it. Don’t smoke. Don’t eat too much red meat. Don’t have too much refined sugar. Don’t drink too much alcohol. Etc. But for the average human being to just suddenly cut loads of this stuff out of your life is hard. So think less about eradication, and just have a bit less. Have a meat free Monday occasionally or replace one of your lasagnes for a veggie one once a week. Everyone knows they shouldn’t smoke, but if you do, your lungs and bank balance would thank you for cutting down to one fewer cigarette a day or one fewer packet a week. And drinking? I mean I can’t tell you to leave out your evening glass of wine because that would be hypocritical. Maybe just have a half instead of that extra pint, or have a nice cup of tea when you want to relax. If it goes well, then slowly you can cut down more to a place that is super healthy. But baby steps for now guys. That’s cool too
Fruit and Veg are your friends. If you’re missing something sweet especially, it feels really good to pick up a handful of dates, or to blend some frozen bananas to make “Ice-Cream” (that actually works. It’s very good. When I went on my last holiday I bought a handwoven fruit bowl because I thought it was pretty and I promise you my fruit intake has gone up by at least 50%. It’s both cheap and easy to have a fruit bowl in your kitchen that you keep a few apples and bananas in. And also because I’m really stingy, I don’t like to see food wasted so I have to make sure I eat them all before they get bruised and gross. Give it a go
Find ways of helping out
I’m not really one for donating to cancer charities. I know that makes me a terrible person, but I can’t help thinking that they must use some donation money for their TV adverts, and when people call you up afterwards to try to guilt you into increasing your donation you know they’re probably getting paid from it as well. So I like to find other ways of doing it. I do the race for life when I can (my next one’s in Hemel Hempstead in September) because it’s a great vibe and when that many people all gather together to beat a common enemy that can only be a good thing. Go ahead and host a Macmillan morning if that’s your bag.
But the main way that I think it’s important to help out is to find out where your local hospice is. Donate your time, or some money, or whatever there. Because we do need to find a cure for cancer, but equally that’s not going to help those who have already been told they’ve not got much time left, and hospices are amazing places for making sure that those people pass on in comfort and surrounded by love and support.
Truthfully there is no way of guaranteeing that you’re not going to have cancer. It’s a fickle disease and it doesn’t care how old you are, what gender you identify as, or how well you look after yourself. And we obviously can’t live our lives fearing that cancer may strike at any moment because you’d just never leave your room. Hopefully one day we will find a foolproof way of dealing with Cancer, but til then we can just raise the awareness a little, spread the word, and start doing the things that we CAN control. That’s all we can ask of ourselves.