Written by: Dr. Hal Gunn, MD, co-founder and CEO of InspireHealth
We often metaphorically think of cancer in the terms of warfare, as in, we are in a battle or a fight against an invisible enemy inside ourselves. Part of that same lexicon is the word ‘survivorship’ which is often a word that defines those who have had a cancer diagnosis and are still living. The good news is that with the world-class cancer prevention and treatment, there are more survivors of cancer who are living longer.
Many cancers have high rates of survival. According to Canadian Cancer Statistics from 2014, 63% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. In some of the most common varieties the five year survival numbers climb: breast cancer (88%) and prostate cancer (96%) depending on how early the stage of cancer.
In a sense, we can no longer think of cancer as specifically as an acute illness, but one that requires a long-term management approach, similar to that of other chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease.
The example often presented of our evolving understanding of chronic disease management is how we treat patients with heart disease. Just a couple decades ago, if you had heart disease it was considered a life-limiting condition that often led many people living with the condition to withdraw from life. An American medical doctor named Dean Ornish upset the applecart when he published his ground breaking research in the Lancet medical journal in 1990 that showed how a lifestyle driven approach could reverse the course of heart disease. His approach engaged patients to change their diets, increase their physical activity and use stress reduction techniques like yoga and meditation along with other psychosocial support.
In many ways the amazing medical results Dr. Ornish’s program achieved were just the tip of the profound benefits that come with patients adopting an approach that allowed them to take more control in their lives and to better engage in their health. This lifestyle based approach is now broadly applied to many different chronic illnesses, and it is likely the next frontier for cancer follow-up care.
Quality of Life is a term often mentioned in medicine, and it is increasingly recognized that Quality of Life impacts health and outcomes in many different ways. For a person diagnosed with cancer, their life takes a dramatic turn towards the unknown which includes a wide gamut of psychological, physical and other social challenges that come as a result of a cancer diagnosis. During this challenging time, supporting health and quality of life can be essential to regaining health, improving outcomes, and getting life back on track.
The human body has a remarkable ability to heal. As we engage in our own health by making the choices that best serve us mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually, we greatly support the healing process. The not-for-profit organization I co-founded, InspireHealth, has worked with people living with cancer for over 17 years, and we have found that nutrition, exercise, stress relief, meditation, and emotional and spiritual support can help transform the anxiety and fear of a cancer diagnosis into improved Quality of Life and engagement in health.
Starting this month, InspireHealth will be offering free membership to all people from Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands living with cancer thanks to a grant from the Victoria Foundation and private donors. This is the first time we have ever been able to provide our services without fees, which we believe to be the biggest barrier to access for most cancer patients.
Many services that relate to nutrition, exercise therapy, counseling and health either have fees or have limited resources, despite a growing body of evidence that demonstrates that lifestyle changes that result from these programs can have an important and essential impact on the lives of people living with cancer. Today is World Cancer Day, and this is a good time to reflect on how vital follow-up care can be to help the many who live with cancer to find hope and meaning beyond just surviving.
InspireHealth is a team of family physicians, nutritionists, exercise therapists, clinical counsellors and administrative staff who offer cancer patients an opportunity to take an honest look at the bigger picture of their health and formulate an individualized plan to improve on aspects of health like nutrition, exercise, sleep, how to deal with stress, healthy communication, rekindling passion and joy in living and their place in the community. This process can happen any time before, during and after standard cancer treatments. Learn more at www.inspirehealth.ca.