“Mum, what’s irony?” my son asked recently. I thought for a bit, searching for an easy way to explain to a 12-year old a concept denoting “an outcome of events contrary to what might have been expected, and the incongruity of this” (www.dictionary.com).
I plumped for the first best example that popped into my head: “Imagine your mother is writing a cancer-prevention cookbook. She tests and eats anti-cancer dishes every day. And just as she finishes the book, she is diagnosed with cancer.”
My example was probably a little close to home; I have, in fact, spent the past two years writing a cancer-prevention cookbook, and I did overcome early-stage cervical cancer 10 years ago. To avoid alarming my son, I quickly reassured him that this was not a real-life scenario and that I am in excellent health. But our conversation gave rise to a niggling question in my mind: am I really doing everything I can to be healthy?
One thing is sure: I eat a healthy diet. Especially since researching and writing the book, I consume more green leafy vegetables, multicolored fruits, omega-3-rich fish, raw cocoa and green tea than most people can imagine. But while focusing so intently on the health-giving powers of food, I have, during the past two years, neglected two other important lifestyle factors that are vital in boosting my body's defences: exercise and rest.
I have three children, aged 7, 7 and 12, and a husband who is out of town many weekdays. As school is a ½-hour drive away, I spend a lot of time in an unpaid taxi-driver role. I am also a nutritionist, cooking instructor and health writer. I deal with sick pets, car and home repairs and anything else that might crop up. And because I want to feed my family healthily, I prepare our meals from scratch daily. No wonder I struggle to make time for exercise.
Or for sleep, for that matter! To service my overcharged agenda, I soldier on like the Duracell Bunny, some nights as late as 1 or 2 a.m. With the alarm set for 6.20 a.m. on weekday mornings, I often get no more than five or six hours of sleep – just enough to get by on but pushing my mental and physical limits.
Research has shown that regular physical activity and sleep boost immunity and reduce cancer risk. If I carry on at this rate it’s possible that no amount of green tea or beetroot soup will save me from myself.
So recently, I got thinking: “If I am still struggling with exercise and stress-management, how can I advise clients and readers to adopt an anti-cancer lifestyle? Am I capable of following my own advice?” And thus was born the idea of the Anti-Cancer Challenge.
I have decided to spend the next 365 days adhering to a correct and complete anti-cancer lifestyle revolving around three principal elements – optimum nutrition, regular exercise and adequate rest – and to blog on my experience. The blog has its own dedicated site here and a selection of posts will appear on my 'Psychology Today' blog, Nourish.
The aim of thisproject is not to “prove that I didn’t get cancer” after my year of anti-cancer living, but to really understand what it’s like to practice what I preach: holistic disease-prevention through an all-round healthy lifestyle. I want to show that it is possible – and even enjoyable! – for an ordinary person with a job and a family to live healthily without spending a fortune on personal trainers or nutritional supplements.
Swapping old habits for new ones is never easy; I feel more than a little nervous at the thought of making these changes. I am counting on your support and hope that others will join the Anti-Cancer Challenge too, making it a place where we can support and encourage each other on our journey to a fuller life and optimum health.