Fighting Cancer with Lifestyle Medicine.
Updated: Feb 25
Cancer. One of the most terrifying words in the English language.
There is no getting around it, one in 4 of us will be affected by the big C at some point in our lives. Maybe you already have been, or are going through it right now. Or maybe you have sadly already lost a friend or family member to Cancer.
Whatever your experience, it's not something you can ignore, and while clinical trials and drugs are progressing at an ever hopeful speed, it would be good to think they we could do something to prevent cancer, or at least lessen our chancers of encountering this nemesis and its effects.
To mark World Cancer Day, I spoke to someone who believes how we live can indeed impact our cancer prospects.
In fact, Dr. Laura Freeman knows that four out of ten cases of cancer could be prevented by a change in lifestyle factors.
Laura's story is both remarkable and entirely relatable at the same time. While living in Canada, her obstetrician found a small lump in her neck early on in her second pregnancy but advised her to park it until she had given birth. Following a complicated pregnancy and traumatic first few months with her daughter, who was born with a rare medical issue, Laura remembered to investigate the lump six months later.
Very quickly, she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and underwent surgery two weeks later. And just two weeks after that she was back at work in her busy GP practice.
I'm pleased to say Laura is now recovered, but her experience of becoming the patient rather than the physician changed her outlook forever.
Following her cancer treatment, Laura was on medication that mimicked the effects of multiple daily coffees, combined with the natural exhaustion of looking after two small children, she felt completely burnt out and went in search of alternative remedies. And she tried everything from massage to naturopathy . Eventually, her GP told her to 'do more yoga'
"I just thought there has got to be a better answer than this, so I read up on plant-based nutrition, and before long I was starting to notice results, and not just personally but with my patients. Cholesterol levels were coming down, I was seeing a reversal of some diabetes, even other mums with issues such as postnatal depression were reporting an improvement."
Keen to prove her new approach amongst her colleagues and peers, Laura travelled to Harvard Medical School in Boston to study their lifestyle medicine course.
"I had trained to be a doctor for years, in the UK and Canada, but this was the most amazing medical training I have ever experienced, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time and felt I was finally getting practical advice on nutrition and stress and anxiety management. "
Now a certified lifestyle medicine practitioner, Laura has returned to her native Scotland, where she is passionate about spreading her knowledge about lifestyle implements,
She practices privately but is also supporting the non profit "Walk with a doc' campaign, encouraging people to meet up, walk and discuss their lifestyle challenges and concerns.
"I just feel like it's so worth it, to put in the hard work and spread the message as much as I can because in many cases this better than being handed a prescription. We have become so medicalized. This is all coming at a time when we realize that this is not working.
It fits with me so well, from an ethical standpoint and because of what I have gone through personally and with my patients. I am not telling people to forget conventional medicine, but I believe in using exercise, nutrition, and stress management before reaching for prescriptions - where appropriate for lifestyle related illnesses."
I could not be more impressed by Laura's passion and conviction that lifestyle medicine is a worthwhile practice. But she does recognize that it all relies on people to make changes for themselves, which is not something many of us are naturally comfortable with or ready for.
She says the answer is finding the one thing that makes a difference to you, the thing that matters to you the most. So you might want to improve your diet, but until you work on your stress levels you are not likely to be able to make better food choices. Simple, but fascinating at the same time.
"The evidence is there, it's risk-free, its effective but it's also asking people to make changes. I believe in the ripple effect, it might take time, but this approach does need to be introduced into mainstream medicine, and I hope that one day very soon it will.'