Physicians highlighted ways to help prevent cancer, as well as how to cope with disease, during the 17th annual Tyler Breast Cancer Conference on Friday.
The community forum was open to the public, while Friday’s presentations unite doctors as they receive a comprehensive review of advances in breast cancer research.
Friday night’s topic focused primarily on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
Dr. Neil Spector, associate professor of medicine and associate professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at Duke Medical Oncology in Durham, N.C., detailed his experience as a heart transplant survivor.
In the 1990s, he went in circles with physicians about a mysterious medical condition, which ultimately left him with only 10 percent heart function. Doctors finally confirmed he had Lyme disease.
In 1997, he had a pacemaker installed. Instead of giving up, he began enjoying his life.
“Don’t be defined by your disease,” he told the audience.
Spector also reminded the crowd that while doctors have expertise in medicine and science, people still have to be their own advocate.
“If you don’t feel like you’re getting an answer and there’s something inside of you that’s telling you, ‘This isn’t right,’ you better seek another opinion or figure it out until you feel comfortable,” he said. “Otherwise, you could die.
“Trust your gut instincts. You’re the only one who knows yourself. There is no one who knows your body like you do.”
Spector said people should not discount meditation and other stress reducing techniques. It’s all about the mind-body connection.
“Most Western medicine doesn’t care about these things,” he said. “All they care about is ‘What can I prescribe for you?’ It’s reactive medicine.”
He cited studies that showed 40 percent of premature deaths are caused by behavioral factors or things that people can control.
Ultimately, Spector said, individuals have to take back control of their health.
“I understood my doctors can only do so much for me and the rest of it is diet, exercise and stress reduction,” he said. “Those are not just nice things to have. There’s a real strong scientific rationale for why anyone with any cancer should lower their stress levels. Some of the things that stress does in the body fuel the growth of tumors.”
“Anyone who goes to the oncologist, if they’re doctor doesn’t say, ‘How are you coping with this? How is your stress?’ It’s almost as negligent as prescribing the wrong drug.”
Spector said while medicine is ever changing and patients face limited face time with their doctors, there is a push for personalized medicine.
He said innovation in genomic research further limits time with physicians, as it may eventually allow patients to quickly present their profile to doctors.
But a change toward more time with their physician will only come from the patients demanding that time, Spector said.
HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFESTYLE
Dr. Sasha Vukelja, a Tyler oncologist who has organized the conference each year, outlined ways to improve lifestyle.
This includes nutrition. Dr. Vukelja emphasized the need to eat slower, small frequent meals and to eat for the right reasons. She warns against dieting, which leads to binge eating and ultimately, weight gain.
“Don’t make restrictions you can’t keep up with,” Dr. Vukelja said.
She also touted the benefits of exercise and taking supplements, particularly vitamin D3, which many people find are deficient in. Limiting alcohol consumption and eliminating tobacco products are other ways to improve health, she said.
As people are living longer after a cancer diagnosis, Dr. Vukelja said terminology and mindsets are changing. No longer are people diagnosed with cancer simply survivors. She prefers “thrivers.” Her mission, she said, is to push the benefits of healthy living to her patients.
“We’re curing cancer. We’re making thrivers,” she said. “But you now what? We want to prevent cancer.”