A Mother and her Two Daughters

26 April 2011

Cooking Cancer

As one oncologist said to me, “Once cancer has invaded your body, the potential for recurrence is always present.  Stay emotionally calm and healthy.  Remember, stress cooks cancer.” 

And he was right. 

For those of us in the cancer survivors club, we are all too familiar with regular references to relieving stress during and after treatment.  And while a little bit of stress can do us good from time to time, chronic stress can define our overall health and is a widely known to adversely effect the immune system, increasing the risk of heart disease, hypertension, obesity, diabetes and depression. 

For a number of years, almost 30 to be exact, researchers have also tried to determine the impact of stress on cancer.  Now comes research released only a few short weeks ago from M.D. Anderson Cancer Institute. 

M.D. Anderson has been examining how stress might promote cancer in order to better understand the role of stress in cancer patients to reduce its negative influence.  And here is what they've discovered:
  • Stress is a normal function of life.  In fact, occasional stress can actually be good in terms of improving cognitive function and the body's immune system.  However, chronic stress can and does negatively impact every system in the body. 
  • While stress has not been proven to initiate cancer, there is ample evidence suggesting that chronic stress can promote tumor growth, progression, and metastasis.

You can read more about the details of the study by clicking here.

Future research by M.D. Anderson will delve into a stress ranking system; in other words, how to rank what are called “stressors” based on how individuals respond psychologically, physiologically and behaviorally to various challenging events.  And that’s what makes it complicated.  We all have our different stress thresholds, similar to our pain thresholds.  So each of us has a different “breaking point” in terms of stress.  What may feel like stress for one woman could likely feel energizing for another. 

Hans Selye (the father of stress studies) once wrote of the rabbit and the turtle. Some of us approach life more like a rabbit, running from place to place, nibbling when we can, shooting off in all directions. Others approach life more like a turtle, proceeding methodically from point to point with careful attention to detail, taking things one at a time. Both extremes are healthy. What is unhealthy, or stressful, is trying to be different from our nature. For example, the rabbit says to his or her turtle spouse, "You never want to go anywhere or do anything." The turtle, feeling guilty, decides to become a rabbit for the night and go barhopping with the rabbit spouse. That, Selye says, is what causes stress- being untrue to our nature.

I admit - I’m the rabbit.  Competition, multi-tasking and risk-taking have long been a big part of my normal day.  The constant life of a turtle would be very difficult for me.  Take for example my job – public relations.  Just last week my daughter sent me a CNN article that names PR as the second highest stressful job, a career she is now pursuing.  Really?  For me, the world of public relations feels like healthy competition, the challenge of deadlines, and the ability to conquer tough assignments.  I just really like what I do, but I'm also wondering if maybe I’ve just become accustomed to a stressful lifestyle.  Yes, I’m a risk taker, never been accused of avoiding harm if the stakes are high.  But is this good for me long-term? 

With all of that said, I’m working to eliminate stress from my life, and it seems to be agreeing with me.  
  • I’m finding Saturdays and Sundays to sometimes be good “turtle days” – never leaving the house, piddling with projects here at home, enjoying the peace and quiet and solitude.  
  • I'm getting better at saying "no" - not to my children or my clients, but to all the worthy community projects that call my heard.  If not "no", at least I'm getting better at explaining my limitations
  • I'm settling in to the best use of me and my talents at CJRW.  I've long enjoyed strategic planning with clients, and PR writing too.  So, I'm spending more time with these client projects, and it's suiting my lifestyle very well.    
  • And just today, I’ve decided to join a course long overdue – yoga.  Years ago my meditation training introduced the practice of yoga.  But not wanting to take on too much at one time, I just stayed focused on the meditation.  But more and more research continues to show that yoga provides both physical and psychological support for breast cancer survivors, and other cancers too – creating a calmer existence, relieving anxiety, reducing depression and strengthening the body from the side effects of treatment.  So, I’ve signed up and looking forward to a 6 week introductory class at Barefoot Studio.  And what a lovely place – they give breast cancer survivors a discount.  Wahoo!

If you have OR have had cancer, what’s your plan?  Don’t waste a minute - put STRESS RELIEF on the top of your pile.  Do it today!   Stop cooking cancer.  


  1. Thanks for the inspiration - been thinking about a yoga class. And have heard about the stress connection with cancer, but haven't seen anything written up, so thanks for that too -

  2. I LOVE your posts.
    I really really look forward to what you have to say.
    This hit home, and has driven the point very deeply. I needed that, thank you.


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