Monday, January 07, 2008
Preventing cancer in 2008
I went to three funerals in 2007. Two were for cancer patients.
The first was back in June. Eight-year-old Tony Nata lost his battle with leukemia. I first met him when we were doing a story on the smallest cancer patients searching for treatment after Hurricane Katrina shut down Children's Hospital in New Orleans, where Tony was undergoing chemotherapy. I'll never forget the tears rolling down his face as he bravely and quietly underwent yet another medical exam. His family thought he had beaten cancer already, but it came back. And even though his sister Ali donated bone marrow, which put his cancer in remission for the second time, his reprieve didn't last. The cancer came back yet again, and this time little Tony couldn't fight it off.
The last funeral I went to in 2007 was just a few weeks ago, when everyone in CNN's Medical Unit said goodbye to a beloved colleague, Rhonda Grayson. She had beaten blood cancer almost two decades ago but then learned she had bladder cancer last January. She fought a good fight and never lost her optimistic outlook, but this was a battle she couldn't win. We're left with the memory of a wonderful friend with a gorgeous smile.
I've been covering medical news for eight years and counting and followed many cancer stories. I can't tell you how often I've produced segments on ways to lower the risk of getting cancer (lose weight, exercise, eat more fruits & vegetables). But like some of you, I don't necessarily follow the advice.
Tony's passing and Rhonda's declining health certainly had an impact on me. Cancer was on my mind all year long. Then in the fall, the World Cancer Research Fund released a report on cancer prevention. It reiterated a lot of what we already knew, but also had some new information. I don't know why it had more impact on me than previous reports but it did.
Some of the recommendations:
- reducing your salt intake (I'm a salt-a-holic)
- eating less than 18 ounces of red meat a week (that includes beef, pork, lamb & processed meats that have been cured or smoked or have chemicals preservatives)
- avoid gaining weight throughout adulthood (this may be one of the most important ways to protect against cancer, and something I haven't been able to do)
- exercise (60 minutes of moderate or 30 minutes of vigorous exercise daily)
Despite having a family history of several cancers, I've been lucky so far. And there's probably very little Rhonda or Tony could have done to prevent getting cancer - sometimes it's just in your genes. But I think knowing how these two people lost the cancer battle and the World Cancer Research Fund report once again spelling out what one can do reduce the risk of this dreaded disease finally made a light bulb turn on in my head.
So in 2008, I don't have any resolutions - instead, I'm going to try to practice what I preach. I'm going to stick to two to three servings of red meat per week. I will reach for the salt shaker as little as possible. I'll avoid some of my favorite "processed" salami and bacon, as best I can. I will try to finally start exercising on a regular basis and maybe even shed a few of the way too many pounds I've accumulated over the years. If I succeed, I'll have the added benefit of reducing my risk of heart disease and stroke (cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in men and women in the U.S.).
Will you be changing any health habits to reduce your chance of getting cancer? Is cancer something that factors into your New Year's resolutions?
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