Monday, February 15, 2010

Recovery is Prevention

Cancer survivors are at greater risk than the general population for multiple chronic (killer) diseases, particularly cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, just for starters, in addition to new primary cancers and recurrence of the first cancer diagnosis. Many of these chronic diseases, new cancers, and cancer recurrences are caused or compounded by being overweight. Much is still to be understood why this happens, i.e., just exactly what is happening at a cellular level, but the fact is that most weight loss research programs have been done on other-wise healthy people.

So it is good news that researchers in the UK are starting a "Healthy Living" program to study weight loss programs in cancer survivors, using individualized nutritional advice and monitoring by a dietitian in addition to exercise regimes.

However, here comes your broken record again, please don't wait for this research project to be completed and published before you seek out the expertise of a Registered Dietitian (RD) to help you design an effective weight loss plan that is individualized to incorporate your specific health needs (both the chronic diseases you already have and those you are at risk of developing), food preferences and tolerances, and lifestyle. Waiting for more research is no different than the "old excuse" of saying "I'll quit smoking when a pack of cigarettes reaches "$_(fill in the blank)_______."

No matter where you are in terms of treatment (newly diagnosed, currently undergoing therapy, recently done with therapy or if you finished many years ago), I urge you to ask your oncologist or surgeon or primary care physician for a referral to an RD, particularly if you are done with treatments and also overweight. In an ideal world, the RD will also be a Certified Oncology Specialist (CSO) or studying toward that specialty certification, but many many RDs have the expertise needed to help you develop a comprehensive diet and lifestyle plan that will address all of your specific needs as a cancer survivor. Here is an article written for RDs for which I was interviewed regarding cancer survivor's comprehensive needs.

In addition to local referrals through your cancer center, RDs can be found at this website. Look for the box near the top of the left side of the screen that says "Find a Registered Dietitian". Speaking about "ideal worlds", I will also add that in an ideal world, any health care dollars spent by you to benefit from the expertise of an RD would be fully covered by a health insurance plan. Some will, some won't, but some will if pushed. So be persistent, submit the claim over and over. It often helps to be the squeaky wheel. Of course, I am really saying "don't wait".

Optimizing your cancer recovery is really focusing on prevention of all the diseases that are not only shortening life, costing us all a bundle, but perhaps most importantly, are diminishing quality of life.

I hope you take that first step to cultivating your life! Turn your cancer recovery into a quest for optimal health through prevention of further disease. Find an RD who will share your goals and help you optimize your life, step by step.

"Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row"

Diana Dyer, MS, RD

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