I lost a very dear friend recently to this monster known as cancer; it was a very touching experience especially when I found out how far she fought after breast surgery, chemo and other complications which got to her liver and eventually lead to her premature death at 25.
There is an Igbo adage that says, “When another person’s corpse is carried to be buried it looks like firewood.” In other words until it affects us, we care little about other people’s bereavement. I am not so much of a health person. In fact, I hate sickness, hospitals and the sight of blood, but this loss made me go dig up what I could find about this deadly disease that has taken our loved ones and is still ravaging lives. Gone are the days when we thought it was for elderly people. This time anyone irrespective of your age, can be a victim.
These days it is what we do not know that slowly eats deep and consumes promising lives. More awareness about cancer, knowledge of its causes, and prevention is vital for living healthy. Let us look at how this disease works and what we can do to be ahead of its sneakiness. Come along!
What exactly is cancer? Can you explain this term to someone who isn’t a specialist or a child when asked? Let’s see. This term encompasses a complex group of more than 100 types of malignant cancerous diseases. It can affect any organ in the body from head to toe and each cancer is unique with its own causes, symptoms and treatment.
The organs in our bodies divide and multiply as the body needs them to. However, if these cells continue to multiply beyond the body’s requirement, it leads to mass growth called a tumour which can either be benign or malignant. While benign are considered non-cancerous and life threatening, malignant tumours on the other hand invade nearby tissues and organs thus spreading the disease. These cells within the malignant tumour have the ability to break free from the tumour site and enter into the blood stream hence spreading the disease, which grows like liquid.
There are about 38 types of A-Z cancers ranging from AIDS related cancer, anal cancer, breast cancer (which is common with women), brain cancer, colon, cervical, throat, stomach and many others.
Genetics: This factor got me thinking at first but after thorough research, I found it to be true. It plays a big role in cancer development. If there is a family history of cancer especially breast cancer, taking extra precautions is vital. Having a mother, sister, aunt or daughter with the disease doubles the risk of having it. This is not to say that having a family history of cancer makes one develop it, however it does increase the chances. Those without a family history are not exempted as it has been proven that 75% of diagnosed cancer cases especially breast cancer are not genetic.
Sun Exposure: Skin cancer can be caused by exposure to the HV rays of the sun, which damages the skin cells. Does it mean we should not go out under the sun anymore? No. Despite our harsh climate in this part of the world and scorching rays that we can do little or nothing about, one cannot help going out when necessity calls. Nevertheless, we should apply caution especially from 10:00am to 2:00pm when the rays are intense. Wear sunscreen and make sure you do not stand in the sun for too long. If you have to for whatever reason, if possible get a good shed that will not only protect you from the sun rays but generate less heat.
Exposure to Asbestos: Asbestos is a group of minerals found in housing and industrial materials and can cause a variety of medical issues. High exposure to minerals like benzene makes one at risk for cancer. It is a chemical found in gasoline, smoking and pollution. These days’ people live close to sites with communication masts around; I have even seen houses with the mast inside the very compound they live in! This is hazardous, let us not in our quest for money forget that healthy living is paramount. These structures emit substances when they are being exposed to the sun and should be far from our residences because we inhale them involuntarily and they are very dangerous to our health.
Unsafe Sex: Practicing unsafe sex can expose one to Human Papillioma Virus (HPV). This increases the risk factor for cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer. Studies are still being conducted regarding HPV’s role in cancer development.
Tobacco and Alcohol: Just when we thought smoking and an excess intake of alcohol was associated with men, times have changed as women now take the lead in smoking and drinking. Overlooking the fact that women are at risk of the effects of these habits due to our hormonal changes, monthly cycle and child bearing, caution is still thrown to the wind while doing this. I have a neighbour who smokes and drinks terribly, now she complains awfully of aches and monthly cycle pains; it has not made her stop anyway!
Obesity: I really do not see why someone who is obese would feel comfortable taking in large chunks of food daily without caution. There is so much awareness on the side effects of being obese ranging from heart issues; rheumatism, diabetes, and high blood pressure, excess heat accompanied with awful smell and of course cancer. If you are overweight, it is advisable to watch your food intake and engage proper dieting, regular exercise and healthy hygiene to be healthy.
Now we know possible causes of cancer and its risk factors, which is the first step in prevention, let us look at how these factors can be managed. However, genetic cancer risks cannot be avoided.
Early Detection: Studies have shown that if the tumour is detected at an early stage, there are chances that it could improve the effectiveness of treatment, especially in breast cancer where large tumours are more likely to spread beyond the breast quickly if not detected early. It is advised to do your Breast Self-Exam (BSE) regularly at the same time every month. Stand before a mirror, then lie, sit or stand with your hands behind your head while examining. Look out for any abnormal changes, drooping, rash, swell or discharge from the nipples and report to your doctor immediately.
Proper Diet: Adopt a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and vitamins. Take advantage of their oxidants as they help prevent damage to the tissue. Also, look out for fruits with these colours; red, green, yellow, orange and purple.
Regular Exercise: “Fitness- if it comes in a bottle, everybody will have a great body.” – Cher “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.” – Plato
Stay Slim: Obesity is a high risk factor for breast cancer. Breast tumours thrive in estrogen. Body fat can store estrogen, which increases beyond normal. Reduce saturated foods and give cancer no place to hide in your body.
Avoid Smoking and Excessive Alcohol Intake: Smoking causes 30% of cancer deaths and is responsible for 87% of lung cancer cases. Moderate alcohol intake is said to be 1 drink per day for women and 2 per day for men. Consuming more than this is considered excessive and puts one at high risk.
Have a Regular Checkup: A regular visit to the doctor is highly recommended especially for women. When you notice any changes during your BSE, see your doctor immediately.
Hormone Replacement Therapy: Users of HRT have an increased risk of breast cancer. Visit your doctor for medical advice.
Pregnancy and Breast-feeding: Most women argue that breast-feeding could lead to breast cancer whereas the reverse is the case. Breast-feeding reduces the risk of breast cancer combined with good diet and regular exercise.
Live Healthy: Maintaining good physical, mental, spiritual and emotional well-being is paramount for healthy living. Build your future by bringing balance to your life through happiness and celebrating life. “Positive energy is attracted to positive energy.” – Deborah Day
After knowing all of these things, it takes wisdom and discipline to apply them to our everyday lives. Together, let us fight this deadly monster, cancer, for a healthy and better society.
About the author; Esther Chidinma is an English graduate from the University of Nigeria Nsukka and has a diploma in Customer Service and Telemarketing from Telemarketing Diploma Houston Texas.
She is a writer, blogger and an ardent reader who has an interest in impacting youth. you can find her on Twitter @chidinmaesther2, and read more of her work at esteepens.WordPress.com.