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Traci L. Stanard, CPT-NSCA, CWC Headshot

The Congratulations Cancer

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Have you ever been in a situation where you felt pressure to pull a positive out of a negative without forewarning? Try this: "Congratulations on your degree, your father has Cancer." Looking back now, the blunt proximity of my college graduation and my father's illness made his diagnosis seem like an oxymoron. "Be happy you are about to embark on an adventurous time of your life, begin your Master's towards your career and please do not worry, we have some of the best doctors in the country who are going to cut out your father's prostate. We will let you know if there is anything you can do."

The sadness in my father's eyes and the fear in my mom's burned a pit in my stomach, not to mention seeing my brothers' efforts to function in emotional numbness. There had to be ways I could help.

The opposite of cancer to me is health... yet in my father's situation, it may have been cancer that brought him health. I have always spent much of my time wondering the natural ways one can work, within their own systems, to prevent illness. In my father's situation, an interest in health was my thing, but more importantly... was it his?

This is the trick of cancer. It is a disease that affects not only the victim but those around them as well. During this time my father was very sure his health regimen was not the trigger of his cancer, and who's to say he was wrong. Although, it still did not make sense to take the "wait and see how the surgery turns out" approach. We needed to combat this illness from many angles, yet my plot to spruce up and eventually detoxify his current health regimen had to be subtle. Who needs stress upon stress, right?

We began with a simple conversation about what the doctors had told him. My father likes things to be explained plainly, getting to the end quickly. So, much of his explanation of the procedure went like this:

"Due to my age they are going to remove my prostate and this is going to be the recovery process..."

He skipped mentioning any of the prep phases, bone scans, blood work and so forth, perseverating on one part of the recovery process: time off from work. The idea of time off from work seemed to be something that almost confused him. Rightly so, barring a family vacation here and there, my father had never taken time off from work. Similar to many business owners, for years it was a staple in his life.

Sensing the recovery being the most important time for him, I began with that. Using an unbiased information source, I told him about an article in the newspaper on the impact of diet almost being therapeutic in some forms of cancer.

"Dad," I said in a hopeful tone, "Some simple dietary changes may aide in the healing process of your recovery."

"My diet seems to be okay, though," he said.

"Maybe," I said. "What's your daily diet like -- you start with breakfast, right?"

And, as you could have guessed, the answer was no to that question and many other questions about a healthy diet and lifestyle regimen. We came to find his diet had consisted of some of the most refined forms of carbohydrates: pretzels and crackers. He was going for long periods during the day without eating. He consumed few, if any, raw or cultured foods: veggies, fruits, yogurt and so forth -- let alone consistent fresh air and exercise. It may also be important to mention he was a former smoker, which in my theory, requires a little more "health" aggression to make up for the damage caused in the past.

Much to our family and his benefit, he was surprisingly receptive to suggestions. Over the course of his surgery and recovery process, my father reconstructed his diet, exercise and perspective of healthy living on life. Mentally, he stayed strong. With the extra care and support of my mother, he took time off from work, found a niche at home, maintained as many of his daily rituals as he could and added additional healthy ones.

Every morning he now has breakfast with fruit or something fresh, and he walks briskly outside regardless of the weather. In general, he maintains a diet with low, if any, amounts of sugar or refined carbohydrates and eats vegetables whenever possible. It became apparent he was holding higher health standards for himself and making it work for his new lifestyle.

During this process of my father's illness, surgery and recovery, I spent a significant time across the country at school, hearing only of the healing by phone. Again feeling helpless at the time, I felt comfort in writing. I would write to him, hints of health and hints of living a relaxing, fulfilling life. Between the two of our efforts the sickness of cancer allowed us to see 10 -- although the list goes well beyond that -- important things in optimal living are:

Your health

Without it, functioning in life is not what it could be... why not put forth that little extra effort to maintain a healthy diet, fitness plan and sleep schedule?

Your drive

Without goals we cease to see how far we can go.

Your passions

Sometimes we are lucky enough to fall into our passions. Sometimes it is a trial-and-error run -- either way, we are all granted the right to have them.

The love you give

There is just as much to gain from giving as there is from receiving.

The love you get

The more love you accept, the more receive.

Sharing

"You can't take it all with you when you really go... can you?"

Friends

This may include family for some and not for others but, kind human interaction is a boost to health.

Humor

Enough said.

Nature

Fresh air, sunshine... yes, I know Vitamin D comes in a pill, but fresh air and sunshine does not.

Gratitude

Being appreciative for what you have is the best way to keep depression at bay.

Initiative

If you are not going to take it... who will? Are you okay with that?

These things were not in place for my father before he had cancer... I could tell. And now what I see is a lifestyle that he took the opportunity to change during a challenging time of his life. This worked for him. But I am sure looking back now, he would have preferred to have lived a healthier life before, rather than fight cancer to become healthy.

For more on inspiration, click here.

For more on cancer, click here.

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