We met at the corner of 8th Avenue and 40th Street in New York at a Dean & Deluca coffee shop. I recognized her immediately from her Facebook photo, a beautiful woman in her late 40s with long brown hair and a radiant smile. She looks like my cousins. She said I look like her sister. We had instant familiarity, even though we had only met a few weeks ago online.
Cyndi Freeman found me on the internet. Her story is similar to mine in that we both have sisters who battled breast cancer and have been told by doctors of our high risk of getting the disease in our lifetime. Cyndi lives in New York and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I just happened to be heading to New York the week after she contacted me, so I suggested we meet in person.
Cyndi and I are not just alike in our high risk of the disease, but more importantly in the path we have chosen with this knowledge. Despite being told by doctors that we should consider preventative surgeries and toxic medications, we both have decided to live our most healthy life with active surveillance. It is not an easy road when you make a decision contrary to what doctors tell you. And, unfortunately, there is not an active support group for our course of action, but rather for the recommended course. Thus, finding and supporting each other was a big deal for us.
(Note: This is not a blog about my high risk or course of action, so I won’t go into detail here about it. However, if you want to know more about my story and choices, you can read about it in my book or on my website).
Cyndi and I connected immediately and talked for the next hour with such comfort, as if we had known each other for years. Both of our lives changed from finding out about our high risk. Cyndi had been working as a comedian and actress. When she found out about her high risk, she decided to combine the two and become a burlesque dancer (her stage name is Cherry Pitz). Cyndi describes burlesque dancing as a combination between comedy and striptease; she says it is fun and artsy. She decided she wanted to celebrate her breasts. Cyndi says, “I want my boobs feeling so good about themselves that they don't want to get sick.”
When I returned home, I sent Cyndi a copy of my book since it was the tangible product of my journey and I knew she would especially relate to a few chapters that were personal to our story. Cyndi thanked me for the book and offered to make me some breast tassels in return—the tangible result of her journey!
I never even knew what a burlesque dancer was before I met Cyndi. I had to look it up on the Internet. And, I’ve certainly never thought about wearing tassels on my breasts. In the past, I would have thought “What?!” but instead, I replied , “Sure!” What other opportunity would I have to get tassels? I don’t plan to wear the tassels publicly, but why not say yes? Why not be open to and embrace all ways of life, even if it seems outside of my comfort zone or what I know.
For most of my life I have been a very private person. I don’t share a lot of what is going on in my head or heart with others. When I began writing the book, there was no mention of my story. As I got further along in the publishing process, I received feedback from early readers and agents that it was important to share my story to help people connect to me and what I was writing.
At first I felt very uncomfortable with it. I shared a little at first, became comfortable with that, and then shared more. With the publishing of the book, my story is out there. I’m out there. For someone who has been as private as I have for 40 years, it still seems surreal that I wrote a book, have a blog and website, and share myself the way I have.
What I have gotten in return from my sharing and opening is such an unexpected gift. I find myself connecting with people on a much deeper level than I ever have. I realize that as I open up to people, they open up more to me. And the connection goes so much further below the surface.
My word for this year in my 2-0-1-4 Plan is “Openness.” I chose that word because I want to continue on this journey of being open to everyone. Not judging anyone. Sharing my full, authentic, imperfect self with others and letting them share themselves with me.
Being friends with a burlesque dancer is not something that would have come my way if I had not opened myself up and shared my story. We never would have known we had common ground by the outward showing of our lives.
I’ve only just begun on this journey of connecting with people on a new level and I’m looking forward to what is to come.
Are you someone who puts your guard up or finds yourself judging others without knowing their story? If so, come walk with me on this path of opening your heart and mind and let’s see where it will take us.
Please share your questions and comments below.
Dina Colman, MA, MBA is an author, healthy living coach, and founder of Four Quadrant Living. Dina has a private practice helping clients live healthier and happier lives. Her Amazon Top 100 book, Four Quadrant Living: Making Healthy Living Your New Way of Life, guides readers to make healthy living a part of their daily lives, leading to greater health, vitality, and happiness. Contact Dina at
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What would you do if you were told you had an 87% chance of getting cancer?
a. fear it
b. ignore it
c. beat the odds!
When I was told this by doctors 14 years ago, I did "a" and then "b" until I decided it was time to do "c". I chose to replace the fear and denial with empowerment. I left my sexy and lucrative high-tech job and went back to school to study health. I wondered whether how I lived my life could impact how my genes expressed themselves. In learning about the science of epigenetics, I discovered that yes, how we live our life (diet, stress, relationships, environment, etc) does impact our health. Inspired by what I learned, I founded Four Quadrant Living. My mission is to inspire and inform others that we do have control over our health.
Do you worry about getting cancer, diabetes, autoimmune disease, Alzheimer's disease, or heart disease because it "runs in the family"? Do you think you have high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol because it's "in the genes"? If so, it's time to get empowered and create your new health destiny.
Yes, family history is important and it is a factor in our health—but it is by no means the only factor. It is estimated that over 30 percent of cancers and 80 percent of heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes can be prevented. This means that you have the power to create health in your life! Every day you make choices that impact your health—the foods you eat, the products you use, the exercise you get, the stress you allow, the people you surround yourself with, and the environment you live in.
Scientists used to believe that it was our genotype (DNA) that determined our health. Our DNA is certainly a part of the equation, but it is not the entire equation as once believed. Now scientists believe it is our phenotype that determines our health, which is our genotype plus our environment (where environment is diet, lifestyle, emotions, stress, and so on).
This new science of epigenetics tells us that our genes are not our destiny. The word epigenetics literally means “control above genetics.” The genes by themselves do not cause disease; it is how we live our life that affects how our genes express. And this gene expression is what ultimately results in health or disease. Genes can be turned on by injuries, diet, stresses, hormones, emotions, and infections. The bottom line is that health is in our hands; it is not simply in our genes.
Knowing our genetic code is certainly important because it allows us to change our environment accordingly. We may be susceptible to a hereditary disease, but we can do something about it. For example, if you feel you are at high risk for breast cancer because of family history, there are certain foods you can eat (e.g. the brassica family of vegetables such as broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cauliflower contain the phytochemical sulforaphane shown to have anti-cancer properties), supplements you can take, and lifestyle changes you can make.
Similarly, if you have the celiac gene, knowing your genetic predisposition to the disease arms you with the information to remove gluten from your diet for your best chance at health. And so on. Our genotype (DNA) is important because it is a part of the equation—having knowledge about our DNA helps us take action for health. But, it is not the full equation. Our environment is also a part of the equation.
There are no guarantees in life, but by living a Four Quadrant Life you are proactively doing your best to beat the odds. For me, it's 14 years later and I'm still beating the odds.
If you have a particular health issue you are concerned about, contact Four Quadrant Living to discuss what things can be done specifically to reduce your risk. And, if you have not yet signed up for our newsletter, be sure to subscribe to get your free 47 page Getting Started Guide: Taking Your First Step on the 4QL Journey.
If you are living in fear about a certain health issue, it's time to choose empowerment instead!
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Cancer. I've seen it up close and personal and it's not pretty. My sister had stage 3 breast cancer when she was 31 back in 1998. She went through chemotherapy, stem cell transplant, surgery, and radiation. She had an aggressive cancer and she needed aggressive treatment. She survived the disease and the treatment (Go Deb!). She's one of the lucky ones.
Cancer is just all too prevalent these days. Each year 12.7 million people in the world learn they have cancer, and 7.6 million people die from the disease. Cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S., beat out only by heart disease. The good news is that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-third of cancer deaths can be avoided through prevention, and another third through early detection and treatment.
For those with cancer, nutrition can promote general well-being and support the body's innate healing process. It can work complementary to conventional treatment by reducing side effects and increasing the efficacy of treatment. It is interesting to note that women who have had breast cancer die of heart disease more often than they do from the cancer itself, likely because of the aggressive treatments needed to battle the cancer. Taking this into consideration can impact nutritional and supplemental recommendations.
There is mounting research showing that nutrition, lifestyle, and environmental changes can help with the prevention of cancer as well as with support during cancer treatment. Cancer rates vary across countries, associated with processed and refined diets. The rate of tumors that progress to detection is 5 to 10 times greater in high risk (poor diet) countries than low risk (healthy diet) countries. If we want to give ourselves the best chance for disease prevention and health promotion, we need to eat and live well.
In the interest of not making this blog too lengthy (okay, not lengthier than it already is), I'll focus on a client I worked with recently who had Stage 1 breast cancer a year prior. She had a lumpectomy and radiation for treatment. Although this blog emphasizes breast cancer, many of the recommendations are beneficial for other types of cancer (and for health in general). Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women in the U.S. (the lifetime risk is 1 in 8) and is second only to lung cancer for the most common cause of cancer death.
For diet, I recommended the following:
- Emphasize phytonutrients with anti-cancer properties. By eating a rainbow assortment of fruits and vegetables, particularly the dark color produce, you don't have to know about which food gives you what benefit but you are assured of getting the variety of nutrients. Antioxidants are abundant in fruits and vegetables, but can also be found in beans, nuts, herbs, and grains. They help fight free radicals which are known to promote cancer. Some examples of good phytonutrients are:
– Lignans - flaxseeds
– Ellagic acid - grapes, strawberries, raspberries
– Chlorophyll - Brussels sprouts, leafy greens
– Carotenoids - carrots, yams, squash
– Categchins - green tea
– Sulforaphane - brocolli sprouts
– Curcumin - turmeric
– Allyl sulfides - garlic, onions
- Choose an anti-inflammatory diet. An anti-inflammatory diet is important because inflammation increases the growth of blood vessels that feed the cancer. For a low inflammatory diet, avoid processed foods, trans fats, and high lectin foods. Lectins are carbohydrate binding proteins found in plants. High lectin foods include legumes, grains, and nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, potatoes, eggplant, and peppers). It is also beneficial to eat foods high in omega-3s and to eliminate food allergens (top offenders are gluten, dairy, and soy).
- Balance blood sugar. The insulin surges from the lack of blood sugar regulation feeds inflammation. To balance blood sugar, eat protein with all meals and snacks.
- Get Omega-3s. My client does not like fish, so I recommended she take a fish oil supplement. If you like fish, good omega-3 choices include salmon, mackerel, halibut, and sardines. Fish oil contains EPA and DHA which keep the blood from clotting too quickly and provide anti-inflammatory benefits. Other good sources of Omega-3s include walnuts, flaxseed, and chia seeds.
- Eat organic foods, especially for the higher pesticide produce.
- Buy hormone-free meats. Foods that are not hormone-free could contain estrogenic hormones that are given to animals to promote growth.
- Limit packaged foods, trans fat, hydrogenated oils, and refined sugar. Limiting sugar is essential for those with cancer because insulin surges feed inflammation.
- Avoid carcinogenic foods such as foods that are smoked, barbecued, or treated with nitrates.
- Eat whole grains. My client does not eat a lot of carbs because she is concerned they will make her gain weight. When she does eat carbs, it is wheat bread or cereal. I suggested she'd benefit from substituting these carbs with better grains like brown rice or quinoa. This will help increase her fiber intake and help keep her full longer. Some studies show that fiber is beneficial for breast cancer prevention.
- Reduce caffeine and alcohol. (Drink more water.) Some studies show that consuming as few as three alcoholic drinks a week increases the potential for breast cancer by 50%. Alcohol may interfere with the liver's ability to detoxify chemicals and excess estrogen in the body. My client used to drink a lot of caffeinated beverages throughout the day. Coffee is an adrenal stimulant and burdens the liver so that it is less able to detoxify the body. Switching to decaffeinated green tea would be a good substitution.
- Do a detox. Detoxing periodically is a great cancer prevention strategy. Detoxing helps to keep the immune system healthy, keeps inflammation down, and helps reduce free radical damage. For those with cancer, I would not recommend doing a detox until a year after treatment when the body is strong enough.
If you are interested, you can download a handout I created highlighting key anticancer foods including green tea, turmeric, cruciferous vegetables, berries, and garlic & onions.well.
Cancer and health, like "Autoimmune Disease and Health", is a four quadrant endeavor. It is important that you are healthy in all aspects of your life—Mind, Body, Relationships, and Environment.
For lifestyle, I recommended a few changes as well:
- Reduce stress. My client has a lot of stress in her life. We talked about what type of stress-reducing activities would work for her. After tossing out a few ideas, she liked "kitty meditation." Three times a week, she committed to spending 5-10 minutes doing nothing but snuggling with her cats. During this time, she is mindful—hearing the sound of the purr and feeling the softness of the fur. For more ideas on finding your own style of meditation, read Meditation with Hollywood. Other ideas she came up with was walking with her husband after dinner and taking 5 minute work breaks with relaxing music or guided meditations recorded on her iPod. She also decided to try listening to relaxing music on her drive home instead of listening to news radio. What are the ways that you can reduce stress in your life?
- Exercise more. My client did not exercise very much. I recommended that she get a pedometer and aim for 10,000 steps a day. This is good for people who like structures and goals. Another idea is to make walk or gym dates with a friend. You are more likely to cancel out on yourself than a friend. One study showed that women who engaged in up to 2 hours of brisk walking a week had an 18% lower risk of getting breast cancer. Exercise is also great for reducing stress. For other exercise ideas, read Movement by Gypsy.
- Reduce exposure to radiation. Opt out of the radiation machines at the airport, requesting a body pat-down instead. I do this all of the time. And, I know my next recommendation may be controversial, but I suggest that my clients who have had breast cancer or are concerned about breast cancer do their research about mammograms. I am also at risk for breast cancer and for me, personally, I get mammograms sparingly. I don't get them yearly. I do them every other year. Instead, I do yearly MRIs. Other good detection techniques include regular self and physician exams. Mammograms provide direct radiation to the breast. Radiation causes free radicals which promote cancer. A Canadian study of almost 90,000 women aged 40-49 at 15 hospitals across Canada found a 30-50% increase in deaths from breast cancer among women over 40 who had annual mammograms versus those who were given only physical exams. Everyone needs do their own research, weigh the options, and make the decision that is best for them.
- Reduce exposure to toxins by choosing natural beauty and cleaning products. Another good idea is to get an air cleaner in your house.
There are several supplements I have recommended for my cilent.
- Vitamin D. In an initial blood test, my client showed a Vitamin D level of 25ng/ml. She now takes Vitamin D to get her up into the 60 to 80 range.
- Omega-3 fish oils. As mentioned above, omega-3s are great for reducing inflammation and so much more.
- DIM is a supplement that can bind to estrogen receptors, displacing the body's estrogen which is beneficial for those concerned about breast cancer risk.
- Curcumin. As mentioned above, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant.
- Sulphoraphane. As mentioned above, this is a powerful phytonutrient and has anticancer properties. I recommended a supplement that is a cultivated form of broccoli seed.
I don't have all the answers. No one does. For my own health, I do the research and make the best decisions for me. As a health coach, I can give recommendations to my clients based on what I have learned from studying the research and working with other clients, but ultimately my clients are the ones that need to make the best decisions for themselves. There are no guarantees that if we live well, we won't get cancer or another disease. But, for me, there is enough evidence showing that how we live and what we eat can impact our health. I want to give myself the best fighting chance I can to stay healthy.
This is part of a series looking at specific diseases and what can be done from a nutritional and lifestyle standpoint. Also part of this series is Autoimmune Disease and Health, Heart Disease and Health, Diabetes and Health, and more. These will be forthcoming.