Monday Motivation: exercise and eat healthy to reduce your breast cancer risk

Welcome to the second installment of Monday Motivation! Once a week, I’ll be posting something to help keep you motivated to eat well and exercise daily.

Today, my motivational tip is health-related. I’m not trying to scare you into living a healthier lifestyle, but the choices you make today can have important consequences on your future. In particular, on your risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer.

In 2002, just two months after my daughter was born, my mom (59 at the time) called me on an a-typical night of the week. While her voice was calm and gave no hint about the information she was about to relay, my radar kicked in, I knew it was bad news.

During a routine self-examination of her breasts, she had found a lump. Immediately, she called her GP and was sent for a mammogram (her annual mammogram had been just months early and was uneventful) which showed that she had a large mass in her breast.

Two months later she underwent a radical mastectomy. Analysis of both the breast tissue and the nearby lymph nodes confirmed that the mass was indeed cancer and that it had already metastasized.

She completed several months of chemotherapy and happily, has been cancer-free for just over 9 years now.

Fast forward to 2010. Another phone call with the air of something-not-quite-right. This time it was my youngest sister (38 at the time). Her annual mammogram was showing a suspicious mass and she was being referred to a breast cancer specialist for further investigation.

Her diagnosis was pre-cancerous ductal carcinoma; not cancer yet, but quite likely to turn into cancer at some unspecified time in the future.

Being a single mother of two young girls, she elected for a radical bilateral mastectomy. Her doctors were overly cautious and recommended radiation as well.

While there is no genetic predisposition to breast cancer in my family (my mom and sister’s cancers were different in nature and my sister underwent genetic screening to rule out having a genetic mutation that her daughters and our other sister and I might also be carriers of), I am religious about scheduling my annual mammogram and worry the entire time I’m waiting to hear the results.

We all know someone who has been touched by breast cancer. And the odds are quite high (according to the Canadian Cancer Society, 1 in 9 women) that we ourselves will be diagnosed with it at some point in our lifetime too.

But the good news is that there are important steps we all can take to reduce our risk and improve our odds of surviving a breast cancer diagnosis. These include (but are not limited to):

  • maintaining a healthy weight; overweight and obese women (defined as having BMI’s over 25) have a higher risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer than women who maintain a healthy weight, in particular, after menopause. Why? Fat cells make estrogen and estrogen can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers grow and develop
  • regularly exercising at a moderate to intense level for 4-7 hours per week (40-60 minutes per day); exercise consumes and controls blood sugar and limits blood levels of insulin growth factor, a hormone that may affect how breast cancer cells grow
  • following a healthy diet, particularly one low in fat and high in vegetables and fiber; studies with which women got only about 25% of their daily calories from fat found a lower risk of recurrence in women with a prior estrogen-receptor-negative breast cancer

My family’s experiences with breast cancer (as well as my husband’s recent bowel tumor scare) contribute to my motivation to exercise and eat well. While there are no guarantees in life, stacking the deck in your favor seems a smart thing to do!

Big hugs to my amazing mom and sis today! I love them so much and am so happy that they’re both recovered and cancer-free!

Have you or a friend or family member been diagnosed with breast cancer?

Do you exercise and eat well to reduce your risk of illness and disease?

Comments

  1. I have to admit that when I exercise and eat well, I am not thinking about illness and disease, i am thinking about how I will look. And that’s really not a healthy focus! A lot of times I find myself skipping the articles in magazines that talk about foods to eat to beat cancer or beat another disease, but I always read the ones about how to “keep the weight off” or “get abs fast”. Thank you for making a post that serves as a reminder to me that it’s about what’s INSIDE too, not outside. And your mom and sis are certainly amazing and inspiring to read about!

    • Hey Caitlin, well we ALL exercise to look better. Aesthetics are a great motivator! But it’s important to remind ourselves that there are other, more distant benefits too. I want to be healthy when I lose my looks! LOL!

  2. I had a breast cancer scare earlier this year, but thankfully it was only a benign lump. My grandmother died in her late 40’s due to breast cancer, so it is something that is in the back of my mind. It is scary though when you start to see your peers get cancer, and some of them not recover. Sure puts things in perspective.

    • Anna, so glad that everything turned out well for you. As we get older, the number of women we know who have been touched by breast cancer will only increase. Reduce the odds!

  3. Given my background in health care, I am a firm believer in the importance of a healthy diet and exercise to promote good health and prevent disease. Although cancer may still occur, its incidence can be lowered by maintaining a healthy lifestyle (e.g., lower colon cancer risk in those who consume little red meat).

    I am so pleased your mother and sister are doing well. Thanks for posting on such an important topic.

    • Don’t you wish medical plans covered some of the costs of eating well and exercising? A little prevention goes a long way (and can save the health care industry a lot of money too!)

  4. Thanks for sharing something so personal and important about your life. Cancer is such a scary thing! What we put into our bodies and how we treat ourselves impacts us in more ways than we remember. If there is a chance at prevention we should all take it!

  5. Oh my goodness! Impressive article dude! Thanks, However I am having problems with your RSS.

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  6. Cancer cure depends on variables including the age and Sex of the patient, his health record and also the degree to which the illness has spread. Mainly, the treatment includes chemotherapy, radiation and biological therapy. When fighting the Ailment of cancer in lymph nodes, your medical Attention adviser and doctor are the best source of guidance.

  7. you are one of a few people who emphasize the importance of eating well and exercise when it comes to preventing cancer. most websites just talk about donating money for a cure. but perhaps there is no cure for cancer, wouldn’t it be better to prevent it?

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