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Dr Duncan

Living with cancer

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One of the joys about living a healthy life is that there are so many different ways in which to stay healthy! One trap that many people fall into is to keep doing the same form of exercise day in and day out and then succumbing to repetitive strain injuries to a particular area such as the shoulder, the knees or the back. That’s why I like to vary my sports from time to time in order to work different areas of my body and maintain reasonable muscle tone in those areas. It’s also what’s led me to take up kayaking in the past couple of months. This is a great sport for everyone and is really good for back and upper limb flexibility and strength.

Being of a “senior inclination”, my wife and I joined the Kayak Gold group at UWA for the over 50s: but many in the group are actually a few years older than that! We start off with some flexibility exercises under the professional guidance of a wise physiotherapist. His  aim is to discover those areas of the spine that have remained immobile for several decades, and to get them moving again accompanied by the sounds of creaks and groans from around the room! After that it’s time for a quick lunch before we hit the water.

But I am coming to the realisation that this lunch period, and the afternoon tea we have once we have finished on the water, is also a very important time for the whole group too. We now have three people who have been diagnosed with varying types and stages of lymphoma - which is a form of blood cancer - a lady who has had a mastectomy and others who have had surgery for skin cancers on different parts of their bodies.

Our latest lymphoma sufferer had his problem picked up “by accident” and is now undergoing therapy and it was interesting to see him sharing his story with the other two. Not only did they all suddenly go from being almost strangers to having an intimate insight into each other’s life story, but they were able to share common-sense knowledge with each other which they all found very reassuring too. And the lady with the history of breast cancer spoke of it as something that had happened to her in the past, but life was going on as normal and it really was no “big deal”.

All of them were inspiringly, normal people and can teach each one of us a lesson.

Cancer is going to affect each one of us in some way or form during the course of our lives. We’re either going to get it or have someone very close to us suffer from it.  As the treatment of cancer changes from looking for an instant cure, to being able to manage it so that we can live with it “for the rest of our lives”, the terror that the word cancer brings with it should begin to abate.

Living with cancer should not be different from living with heart disease, asthma, arthritis or any other chronic health condition. The aim should always to be to maximize health and reduce future risk; and everyone should know the health facts that go with this message:

  •  No smoking.
  •  Minimize alcohol consumption.
  •  Reduce exposure to radiation in all its forms where possible - solar, industrial and medical.
  •  Eat a balanced diet high of fresh veggies, salads, nuts and fruits and cut down on red and processed meat.
Exercise also plays a significant role in maintaining general health and helps reduce the risks for other diseases that can impair our health such as heart disease, depression, mood disorders, musculo-skeletal problems and lung diseases.

For many, having cancer may well be a part of the final chapter in their lives, but that shouldn’t limit them in living life as fully  as they can. Over the years I have spent many hours as a former hospice doctor caring for patients in the final weeks/months of their lives. I learned that far from being a depressing time it is often a time of great peace and much laughter along with the tears of those closest to them. I still vividly remember giving my dear Mum a blood transfusion at home during her final stages with cancer. This is a precious memory of a close shared experience where we held hands and chatted whilst the blood did its job of giving her a temporary fillip of energy and strength.

And it’s precious memories that a life well lived is made up of. The diagnosis of a cancer is not a death sentence, but a serious reminder that life is brief and should be made the most of. With improved methods of care, with targeted treatments and with our improving understanding of what “cancer” really is, patients should be able to write a chapter about it rather than just a sentence.

Article written by Dr. Duncan Jefferson. More articles here. For more information on health care and private health cover, visit HBF Insurance at www.hbf.com.au.

The content of these articles is not tailored for any particular individual's circumstances. The author does not take into account your physical condition, medical history or any medication you may be taking. Any advice or information provided by the author cannot replace the advice of your health care professional. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent those of HBF unless clearly indicated.

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