How I Survived Cancer Using An Integrated Approach

Using A Multi-Disciplinary Approach Helped Save My Life

Resilince Coach
The Author: Chris Geal – Leader, Resilience Coach and Survivor

How did you survive Cancer, and how did you heal from it?

It’s a question I get asked often.

First things first — I am not offering you a miracle cure, because there isn’t one. Nor am I here to judge you for whatever path you choose to go down. This article provides you an approach that has worked for me and may help you if you have been diagnosed with Cancer.

Any hopes of a quick resolution to my Cancer problem were quickly dashed when my doctor informed me this was going to be “twelve months out of my life” — if everything goes to plan. I quickly learned that Cancer is about playing the long game. Once you progress into the world of a life-changing Cancer diagnosis — it becomes a journey, and if any journey is going to reach its intended destination — there needs to be a plan.

Once the dust settles, it’s time to think about your treatment strategy — and the part that you will play in it.

Yes, I had “conventional treatment” — this included Radiation, Chemotherapy, and various surgical procedures (including a reversed Ileostomy) I am a pragmatic person and had no issue with listening to my doctors advise; and then following it: it helped save my life, so I have no regrets.

What I have an issue with is putting all your eggs in one basket. For me just sitting back and “letting the experts handle it”, was not an option. This was my life, and I was going to play my part. I told myself I was doing this once and once only. I was going to throw everything I had at Cancer. My survivability was said to be 50/50 — and if my very survival was the equivalent of a coin toss, I was sure as hell going to land on the right side.

In my mind my Conventional treatment of Chemo, Radiation and surgery was roughly half of my overall strategy. This is where the term “Integrated” comes into play. An integrated strategy can include Conventional treatment, but is also supported by complimentary strategies that can complement, and (in my experience) improve survivability and manage treatment related symptoms such as nausea, fatigue, etc.

It seems crazy that I had to learn about this stuff myself, but unfortunately that’s the way it was. I credit the doctors, nurses, and specialists as being part of the reason I’m still alive. But in Ireland where I was treated, they were often overworked and under the pump. From talking extensively to other Cancer patients and survivors, this is not uncommon across the globe. They are working with the tools they have, and in most cases, this is the standard treatment that we all know — Chemo, Radiation and Surgery.

Modern medicine can be slow to catch up and integrate now proven strategies that a patient can take charge of themselves and play their own part.

Read on to learn what I used to get me through my own Cancer journey.

Improve Survivability By Staying Active

Running Through Chemo (Can you spot the PICC line?)

When I was diagnosed in 2018, the advice my team gave me was to “take it easy” and enjoy my life as much as I could. During treatment cycles I was told to get plenty of rest and watch Netflix. It all sounded very palliative.

This was advice I politely ignored and I’m glad that I did. To this day I credit my exercise and training as being critical to my survival during and after Cancer. The physical and mental benefits were profound and trust me, you will never feel more in control of your Cancer journey then when you are exercising.

I regularly ran the 12 kilometers to hospital for my treatment and used my hydration pack to store my Chemo bottle when running. My doctors thought I was slightly crazy, but personally I was already a long-distance runner so didn’t want to stop.

Everyone is different, so it is important to not overdo it during active Cancer Treatment. The important thing is to just do something.

Since then, the evidence supporting exercise during Cancer, and even its link to improved survival is overwhelming and shouldn’t be ignored.

There are times during a Cancer journey that you may need to rest, but there are also times when you can be active.

The UK government and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) recommends the following for Cancer Patients and Survivors.

150 minutes of moderate intensity activity per week; for example, 30 minutes 5 times per week (and/or)

75 minutes of vigorous activity per week

This can be running, brisk walking and any other form of exercise you may enjoy.

If you don’t already exercise; there has never been a better time to start — use Cancer as your motivation to get moving — your life may depend on it.

Just keep moving…

Reduce Stress with Mindfulness

Start Simple With Mindfulness

Stress is normal, but unhealthy levels during a Cancer journey can be a problem. Even a Cancer diagnosis by itself can be enough to send our stress level rocketing.

Stress and anxiety can also interfere with much-needed rest and overall wellness.

So how do we manage our stress levels during something that is inherently stressful?

Mindfulness — that’s how. Mindfulness based strategies are a powerful tool to help improve a patients outlook and come to terms with their own Cancer journey.

It’s a good start to keep it simple and establish one daily practise and stick to it: rather than try to do it all.

Meditation is no doubt one of the most popular techniques, and it is also my main weapon of choice against Cancer. It was Cancer that led me to living a mindful life; and to this day It is one of its unexpected gifts. Not only did I find a way to bring my already unhealthy stress levels down — it literally changed my life; and I couldn’t imagine living without it.

Whether it’s mindful eating, walking or even breath work: it all helps during your treatment journey and into survivorship.

Manage Treatment Symptoms with Cannabis Oil.

Consider Cannabis Oil — If You Can Get It

Here is a disclaimer: if you are going to use Cannabis oil (particularly RSO) you need to inform your doctor and seek some professional advice. There is further information available online here

I am also not able to access RSO oil, which is also illegal in many countries — beware of scammers on the internet claiming to sell it online.

When it comes to using RSO, this is not recreational, and should be treated as any other medication. It is strong and potent, so treat it with respect.

CBD oil can also be used and often purchased over the counter in most countries, but this is not the THC based Cannabis oil that I used.

I hadn’t used or even thought of Cannabis, recreationally or otherwise for years. But extreme times call for extreme measures; and a Cancer diagnosis can be a little extreme.

I also want to be clear at this point that there is no hard evidence showing that Cannabis of any sort kills Cancer. So why did I use it? I found it to be very effective at managing treatment-based symptoms such as nausea and fatigue; most of all it was excellent for maintaining a good appetite and resting well.

Once I integrated a Cannabis oil dosing regime into my treatment cycles, I didn’t need the other prescribed steroids and medications that created their own issues (of course I kept up my Cancer Treatment — just without the side effects)

Through using Cannabis, I was able to stay active, rest well and eat well at a time when I needed it most. I have honestly never slept so well in my life than during the twelve months I used Cannabis Oil.

If you are fortunate enough to be able to access it safely and legally — It may be worth considering helping manage treatment related side effects and improve your rest.

Eat Sensibly and Well.

Eat Sensible And Well — Without Getting Stressed About It

It was quite overwhelming when I first started exploring various diets during and after Cancer. Juicing, Supplements, Turmeric — I think I tried it all.

There can also be some quite strong opinions about diets, and everyone seems to have something to say when they find out about your Cancer. While most may have good intentions — I found Making extreme diet changes during Cancer was not a good idea (for me personally) — and my doctors agreed.

I know there are plenty of nutrition experts out there, but this is what has worked for me.

During treatment and beyond I focused on eating a sensible and balanced diet of quality food that I gradually refined over time. It is sensible to reduce sugar and processed food — so that is what I focused on, without getting stressed over exactly what to eat. Plenty of fruit, vegetables, nuts and let’s face it: the food that we already know we should be eating.

I just kept it simple, without stressing over exactly what I should be eating at any given time. In my view it was still important to enjoy the things we like in life — so the odd glass of wine or ice cream in moderation has not brought my Cancer back.

If you find yourself stressed out endlessly googling the latest “anti-cancer” diet, maybe it’s time to step away from the keyboard and take a more balanced approach.

These days I live on the Mediterranean, so follow a Mediterranean diet of good quality fish and local produce as best I can.

Yes, I still enjoy Spanish beer and wine — that’s something I think I would never give up!

Find The Opportunity Within Cancer And Change Your Life

Becoming A Different Person Through Cancer

While many view Cancer as a curse; We can also see it as an opportunity for change. The term “life-changing” is often used to describe Cancer — so why can’t it be just that: only for the better.

Here is an important question to ask yourself if you’ve been diagnosed with Cancer. What would you change about yourself before you were diagnosed?

Did you have a stressful or unfulfilling job? Toxic People in your life? Overweight or not active enough?

For me I had struggled with stress for years, and this was my opportunity to make a change for the better. I had 12 months of downtime in hospitals to learn how I would — so this became my focus.

We decided we would move to Spain, and while this might sound like a crazy thing to do during Cancer — it’s exactly what we done.

Cancer would revolve around me — I wouldn’t revolve around it: It is very important to keep your life going and focus on your goals and projects, as if you didn’t have Cancer.

I treated these changes in my life as projects by themselves, and they became a great distraction over my treatment journey. As I evolved through my Cancer journey, and I focused on the opportunities within Cancer, it became a truly transformative experience — not the catastrophe I first thought it would be.

Seeing the opportunity in Cancer, is one of the most powerful and symbolic changes you can make. It is what turns patients into survivors. For me personally I saw Cancer as my own “dismantling” — my opportunity to change for the better.

Thanks to my own Integrated approach, I’m still here: healthier, happier, and more grateful than I’ve ever been.

Above all — when the time came for my final scans: I had this feeling that I had done my bit. I felt like Cancer didn’t stand a chance with everything I had thrown at it. At the end of my journey, I felt confident, not scared.

My scans confirmed this, and my doctors called my recovery “remarkable”.

Whatever path you choose to go down — don’t sit back and be a passenger on your own Cancer journey — take control, play your part and rise to the most important challenge of your life.

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