4 pillars of lifestyle as a basis for surviving cancer
Diagnosed January 26, 2007: stage II Hodgkin lymphoma. “People don’t forget dates,” says Dr. Anthony Berry, director of new patient reception and deputy chief of staff at our hospital in Philadelphia. In the blink of an eye, Dr. Perry has gone from a healthy small town doctor in a private practice to a cancer patient facing a life-changing diagnosis. Suddenly, he had to develop a treatment plan: chemotherapy followed by a month of radiotherapy. He had a training run, a family to consider, and the wave of emotions that accompanied it, rising and falling like the daily ebb and flow. In that time, Dr. Perry learned, through experience, what he calls the Four Pillars of Survival: a plan for coping with life after cancer.
“When you look at people who have had cancer treatment, it’s like having PTSD,” he says. “I don’t know if I had PTSD, but I can tell you it was very stressful.” In the years that followed, even after being told he had no signs of cancer, Dr. Perry continued to be shocked by his diagnosis. Inspired by the survival seminar he attended, he sets out to build a new foundation for his life, supported by four pillars: diet, exercise, sleep, and mindfulness. “The control that people used to have control over their lives suddenly disappears during a battle with cancer,” says Dr. Perry. “These pillars are four things that you can really control. They have become part of a routine for my well-being.”
The four pillars support a healthy lifestyle designed not only to improve quality of life, but also to help reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. “The desire to survive is not just to survive cancer, but to live well,” he says. “What you do today affects your ability to achieve this goal.”
Before his diagnosis, Dr. Berry’s diet was low in fat. “It wouldn’t be a thing for me to eat a steak or a hamburger almost every day,” he says. Today, Dr. Berry takes a page from the many studies that conclude that a diet of healthy recipes that includes fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, and whole grains can help reduce cancer risks. “There is strong data that shows what you eat makes a difference,” Dr. Berry says. “We also found that alcohol, red meat, and burning meat can add additional risks. I eat a lot of lean meat: chicken and fish.”
“I would say I’ve been exercising intermittently,” Dr. Perry says. “It damaged my fitness and then I fell.” Now run marathons. Inspired by his wife, who began running as a stress reliever, Dr. Perry completed a 5km run, then a half marathon, then a full marathon. “My wife and I use it as something to bond, to do something we both enjoy,” he says. “I try to run at least three or four days a week.” Exercise, whether it’s running, weights, or some other activity, helps reduce stress, improve immune function, and build muscle and bone mass. It can also reduce the risk of 13 types of cancer. “Current recommendations are that a cancer survivor should do at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week,” says Dr. Perry.
“There are a lot of things we don’t know about sleep,” Dr. Berry says. But what we do know, he says, is that restful sleep has regenerative powers that can boost your immune system and energy levels. Lack of sleep has been linked to an increased risk of cancer and cancer recurrence. For example, a 2015 study published in the Journal of Sleep Research and Sleep Disorders reports that a lack of restful sleep can lead to a poor prognosis for some women with breast cancer. “Women with breast cancer who snored frequently and reported less than six hours of sleep each night had a worse prognosis compared to women who had never snored and slept seven to eight hours each night,” the study says.
awareness – awareness
Dr. Perry’s tests and examinations have not shown any signs of cancer for years. But every year, a little “screening anxiety” emerges. “It’s the anxiety you feel at the time of the exam,” he says. That’s why Dr. Berry practices mindfulness to help reduce stress and view life through a more positive lens.
Mindfulness means different things to different people. However, in general, it is a way to get rid of your fears and find peace within yourself. “Some people like yoga and meditation,” says Dr. Perry. “I choose to exercise. I am also a religious man, so the grace of God is very important to me.” Dr. Perry says that since he was diagnosed, he has taken advantage of the travel opportunities. He goes to the beach on summer weekends and tries to enjoy life. “Outlook makes a difference. What affects our quality of life? How do we handle things and how do we deal with potholes in the road? What’s really important? Don’t worry about the little things. Once you’re there and back in time, you realize we’re every day.”