After a diagnosis of colon cancer, you may be sad, angry or even confused. Friends and loved ones can further complicate your emotions with well-meaning advice. Before your next check-up or treatment session, consider making a few lifestyle changes and giving yourself a mental break. The road to recovery is long, but it doesn't have to be painful.
1. Stop Using Tobacco (Or Don’t Start)
"I already have cancer, so why should I quit now?" Smoking (or any tobacco use) increases your risk of many cancers and it weakens your immune system. Your body is busy waging a war on cancer cells -- now is not the time to give it more work mopping up free radicals and carcinogens from the tobacco use. Talk to your doctor if you are smoking to help alleviate anxiety over your diagnosis or treatment. He or she can help you find healthier alternatives to control stress.
2. Stop Char-grilling Meats
It's not just what you eat, it's also how you cook it that matters. When animal proteins are cooked at very high temperatures (think grilling, frying), carcinogens form in the meat. These compounds increase your risk of breast and colon cancers. If you want to use the backyard grill, consider grilling your veggies and slow-roasting your meats inside to decrease your carcinogen intake.
3. Stop Avoiding Screening Exams
It takes the average polyp anywhere between 10 and 15 years to turn cancerous. Even if you had the tumor removed, there will always be a chance of recurrence (if you still have a portion of your colon). Your risk category changes from "average risk" to increased or high-risk, depending on the stage and grade of your cancer. Schedule your screening exams, such as the colonoscopy, according to the frequency suggested by your doctor. You may need annual or even quarterly screening for a while until you get the "all-clear" -- that the cancer is undetectable.
4. Stop Obsessing
It is human nature to obsess over signs and symptoms. A twinge here, a pain there -- perhaps these symptoms didn't bother you before the diagnosis, but now you find yourself constantly wondering if these are indicators of a recurrence. It is one thing to be in touch with your body, as long as you are not obsessing over twinges and causing yourself undue stress. If you have a concern, talk to your doctor and put it to rest.
5. Stop the Blame
There may come a point after your diagnosis that you wonder, "Why me? What did I do wrong?" Although science has identified lifestyles, diets and other factors that increase your risk of getting colon cancer, even a perfectly healthy individual can get the disease. Don't blame yourself for past choices -- use them as a powerful motivator to make better ones in the future.
6. Stop Overdoing It
During treatment, your energy levels may be zapped. Even though you can't see it, your body is fighting an internal war. Some of the treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, will damage healthy cells alongside the cancerous ones (don't worry, the healthy cells will regenerate). Pick the chores, work, and social responsibilities that are vital -- forget the rest. This is a great time to learn how to gracefully accept help from friends and family.
7. Stop Hiding
Hair loss, colostomies and a damaged self-image can curb your social life as a survivor. There is no shame in reaching out for support, whether through online chats, survivor forums, or even local groups. Remember, you are the same person you have always been -- you just may have a few more interesting scars to talk about.
8. Stop Friendly Advice
Once you begin telling people about your disease, you may become inundated with stories about poor treatment choices, horrible bowel prep experiences, and advice directing what kind of medical care you should receive. You do not have to be rude, but you can fend off pushy "do-gooders" with a few firm, but kind, words letting them know you have it under control.
9. Stop Poisoning Your Colon
Everything you eat and drink ends up passing through your colon. Your diet, weight and alcohol consumption can directly impact your chances of cancer recurrence. Stop making unhealthy food and drink choices and start learning how your diet impacts your body.
10. Stop Relinquishing Control
Even though you have an entire medical team at your disposal, you are still in control of your treatment and recovery. Knowledge is power -- empower yourself through education. The more you learn about colon cancer, the more you can advocate for yourself.
American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Alcohol Use and Cancer. Accessed March 19, 2012.
American Cancer Society. (n.d.). Nutrition and Physical Activity During and After Cancer Treatment. Accessed March 18, 2012.
The Cancer Project. (August 2005). The Five Worst Foods to Grill. Accessed March 19, 2012.