Who Is a Cancer Survivor?
I recently was diagnosed with cancer, and I'm concerned that the word "survivor" seems
to refer only to those who are in remission. I believe I am surviving cancer on a daily
basis. What are your thoughts on this survivorship issue, and what kinds of integrative
therapies are available to me during treatment?
Today's Answer (Published 06/02/2006)
Originally published 06/04/2004
What better time to address this issue than National Cancer Survivors Day (held this year
on June 4)? I share your frustration about the way conventional medicine identifies
survivors as those who are in long-term recovery when, in fact, from the moment of
diagnosis, everyone touched by cancer is in survival mode. This is true not only of
patients, but also their caregivers, family members, and loved ones.
Survival begins as new cancer patients first confront the suspicion of the disease, and
continues as they undergo the testing, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis. Their
emotions can vary from fear to loneliness. There often is a sense of approaching
mortality, and feelings that they’ve lost control over their lives, as well as confusion in
interpreting medical information.
I applaud you for staking out your ground as a survivor from the outset, and I'm sure that
your conviction is shared by millions all over the world. As far as therapies to complement
your cancer treatment are concerned, you have wide choices.
Meditation and Mind-Body Medicine: Explore mind-body techniques such as guided
imagery, meditation, and energy medicine modalities such as Therapeutic Touch and
Stay Active: Regular exercise is an essential part of maintaining good health. Engage in
gentle exercise (yoga is a good choice) as often as you can.
Nutrition: Eat lots of fresh (organic, if possible) fruits advertisement
and vegetables (consider juicing to increase serving size without feeling too full); drink
several cups of green tea daily (for its cancer protective and antioxidant effects); and eat
foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids (walnuts, ground flaxseeds and cold-water fish such as
wild Alaskan salmon and sardines). Always discuss changes in your diet with your
Seek Support: Join a support program for people with cancer. The inspiration and hope
you’ll find there is priceless.
Have Faith: Don't underestimate the role of your spiritual being in the healing process.
You might also check into retreat centers for those living with cancer. Two that I
recommend are Commonweal in Bolinas, Calif., which offers week-long cancer help
programs, and the Sunstone Cancer Support Centers on the outskirts of Tucson, Ariz.,
which offers three- to five-day intensive healing retreats designed for adult survivors and
their partners, caregivers, healthcare professionals, children and teens. (Some of the
fellows at the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine serve on Sunstone's
faculty; see their Web site at www.sunstonehealing.org for more information.)
For more information on complementary and alternative treatments for cancer see the
book "Choices in Healing" by Michael Lerner, Ph.D., or consult the Moss Reports (visit
www.ralphmoss.com or www.cancerdecisions.com).
I wish you the best, and encourage you to share your convictions with fellow survivors.
Passion can be contagious and therapeutic!
Andrew Weil, M.D.