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Life After Cancer: How to Go From Surviving to Thriving

POSTED BY: Florida Hospital

The journey to overcome cancer takes so much of the human spirit. Harnessing every ounce of courage, strength, support and hope, completing treatment and transitioning from a cancer patient to survivor marks the start of another brave journey ahead. This next passage is focused on getting back to feeling your best and being empowered to thrive. 
As a cancer survivor and gynecologic cancer specialist at Florida Hospital, Nathalie McKenzie, MD, knows a thing or two about how to thrive as a cancer survivor. Adopting the same philosophy of cancer risk-reduction and a lifestyle of wellness that she prescribes to many of her patients, she has a unique perspective to share.
Dr. McKenzie explains, "While getting the "cancer-free" all-clear scan is a moment for enormous celebration, we want cancer survivors to do everything they can to optimize their overall wellness to reduce the chances of their cancer recurring, and to live full, healthy lives."
And there is research-backed evidence showing a lifestyle that optimizes balance in body, mind and spirit can make a big impact on health outcomes. 


Current research on cancer prevention

There are about 12 million cancer survivors in the U.S., and with a growing number of early detection methods and promising cancer treatments, this number is expected to rise.
So, how do we help our survivors by decreasing the risk of recurrence, supporting continued healing and optimizing long-term health?


According to an article published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, lifestyle factors - such as body weight, physical activity, diet, alcohol consumption and smoking - could hold the key to improved health outcomes and quality of life among survivors.
Here are some key takeaways from this article:

  1. "Energy balance factors"- the relationship between energy consumed (diet), energy expended (physical activity and basal metabolism) and energy stored (body weight) - may influence the risk of cancer recurrence and mortality in breast, prostate, colon and possibly other cancers.
  2. Evidence has shown that individuals who make positive lifestyle changes after a cancer diagnosis report improved wellness and less fatigue.
  3. Unfavorable lifestyle behaviors like smoking and alcohol consumption have been associated with developing some common cancers, and this risk may further impact cancer survivors.

Dr. McKenzie emphasizes that poor nutrition, bad health habits and stress can increase risk for recurrence.


Aggressive approaches to treatment and survival are key

As a cancer survivor, Dr. McKenzie acknowledges that lifestyle changes can be difficult, especially after persevering through a cancer journey.
"I believe in being aggressive about treatment and survival," she says. 
"My patients are women being treated for some of the most difficult cancers. When they come through to the other side, I want them to feel truly well, and for their lives as cancer survivors to be as abundant as possible."
As research shows, new habits, Dr. McKenzie points out, are essential in going beyond survival into a thriving next chapter. She offers her tips on how to approach your life ahead with the same pursuit for wellness that supported your win over cancer.


How to thrive as a cancer survivor

Dr. McKenzie recommends making these lifestyle factors the cornerstone of your journey to thrive.

  • Diet

You are what you eat, especially after enduring cancer treatment. Limiting red meat and switching to a predominately plant-based diet with five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables, increased beans and whole grains and an overall reduction in fat and salt intake is the way to go.

  • Exercise

You don't have to train for a marathon, just force yourself to get moving for a small part of every day. Moderate exercise for 30-minutes each day can make a huge difference.

  • Smoking

This seems obvious, Dr. McKenzie says, but it's really the most essential thing on the list. Multiple studies have shown that smoking significantly increases the chances for cancer recurrence, and not just at the site of a patient's original cancer.

  • Consuming alcohol

There has also been research indicating that alcohol leads to increased recurrence rates after treatment. Why risk it?
"I tell my patients that I always have my boxing gloves on, fighting for their lives, and the fight doesn't end after surgery or treatment," Dr. McKenzie says. "Every cancer survivor should talk to their doctor about how best to optimize their survival."
Learn more about Dr. McKenzie and Florida Hospital's cancer treatment services.