One of the most shocking statistics you will ever hear about cancer is that 20-40 percent of people who succumb to the disease have actually passed away due to malnutrition and not the cancer itself.
As disheartening as that statistic is, it should give you hope and empowerment. Your nutrition is something you are able to control. And that is, indeed, good news.
One important distinction I have learned in my more than 20 years serving at the bed side of cancer patients is that malnutrition is not always defined as we have widely recognized in the past. A person can be overweight and malnourished, as the true definition is to be: poorly or improperly nourished.
It is possible to be overweight or obese and still not be getting the proper nutrients your body needs to continue its fight.
"A lot of our patients have protein-calorie malnutrition," said Dr. Michael DelaTorre, Internist/Intake Physician at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® at Midwestern Regional Medical Center in Zion, Ill. "A great majority of them do not have the ability to continue with treatments because they're so weak. If their immune system is compromised, so is their ability to respond to their treatments."
So, how do we ensure we are eating with proper nutrition in mind, exercising properly and maintaining a healthy weight?
My friends, diet and exercise are the best ways to maintain a healthy weight. But what exactly does that look like?
The good news is that it isn't as difficult as you may think. Of course there is a necessary change of mindset, but there are ways to make minor adjustments for a dramatic difference.
"There are general health guidelines such as avoiding tobacco, avoiding smoking, and exercising 30 minutes a day, five times a week – and that's just moderate activity," said Education Specialist Kendra Laufer of CTCA® at Southwestern Regional Medical Center in Tulsa, Okla. "That's not going to the gym. That's just staying busy for a minimum of 30 minutes a day and trying to increase fruits and vegetables. Simple things like that go a long way."
You hear the words diet and exercise and you immediately think of hours devoted to the gym and giving up all the foods you love. While you will certainly have to make some sacrifices in order to take control of your health, small steps are important steps.
If you are looking for optimal nutrition, however, more and more studies continue to point to the benefits of a plant-based diet.
"A lot of the epidemiological and observational data we have shows that people who follow more of a plant-based diet, sometimes find it easier to maintain a healthier body weight," said Carolyn Lammersfeld, Vice President of Integrative Medicine at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.
"There's new literature coming out which shows that a plant-based diet helps maintain a healthy gut microbiome so that we have more healthy bacteria in our gut and less unhealthy bacteria, which plays a role in obesity. A plant-based diet is a way to maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria."
Carolyn is a voice in nutrition and finds that potentially one of the greatest nutrition guides we have access to is the Bible.
From a spiritual standpoint, we have early direction from God on what a healthy diet should look like directly from the Bible.
Lammersfeld states "Certainly, we could argue that the Bible is the first nutrition textbook, or the Book of Leviticus. We’re trying to move to more of a whole-foods, natural, plant-based diet with patients as much as possible."
The Book of Leviticus discusses dietary practices and eating habits. Though the New Testament states that we are free to eat as we choose, throughout the Bible it defines the benefits of vegetables and water to a strong body.
Some helpful tips on what to choose:
For some, cancer treatments can be grueling. You feel nauseous and the furthest thing from your mind is eating. But the importance of keeping your body strong cannot be overstressed. When your body is at its strongest, it has the capability to work in conjunction with your cancer treatments to fight off disease.
The medical community tells you to eat better and exercise more. Making a complete change to the way you lead your life, however, can be a huge challenge. Mentally, it may be even more difficult than it is physically.
When going through cancer treatments, your entire life is altered and nothing feels comfortable. You want to do anything to feel contented, including ingesting unhealthy comfort foods.
And that is where the real challenge comes in. Not only do you have to block out your own voice, which tells you to do what makes you feel comfortable now, but you also have to block out well-intentioned friends and family who also might lead you down the incorrect path.
Find a loved-one who will walk with you through this journey and keep you on this path to health.
Having control over a vital part of your cancer battle is empowering. Although a shift in mindset will be necessary, small changes can produce life-altering results and make you an active participant in your fight.
A fully ordained minister for more than 20 years, Rev. Percy McCray is a member of the United States Chaplains Association. He has been recognized as one of the "most influential African Americans in Lake County (IL)" by the People's Voice newspaper for his religious and leadership roles within the community. Also recognized as one of the most beloved Pastors of the Chicagoland area by the Defender newspaper.
In addition to his role as Director of Faith-Based Programs at CTCA, Rev. McCray helps lead Our Journey of Hope®, a cancer ministry training and support program.