What My Doctors Didn’t Tell Me About Cancer


By Brian C. Holley (www.o-books.com)

A diagnosis of cancer can be like arriving home and finding part of your house taken over by squatters. If you’re lucky they can be evicted quickly. For some that takes a little longer, but a few people find their unwanted ‘visitors’ invite their friends. That’s when it really starts to get serious. In between these two situations is one in which many cancer patients, including me, find themselves. Sure, the squatters and their friends are still there, but they’re not being very disruptive. Medical treatment, as well as following a sensible lifestyle, can keep them under reasonable control. We can increase our chances of surviving and living an active life for longer by taking a few simple steps.

My own journey has been a long one. 15 years and counting. Nine years ago, when they told me my cancer had become metastatic and spread to my lungs, I thought I’d be lucky to see my 80th birthday. I was 75 at the time. My oncologist offered chemotherapy and I spent time weighing up the pros and cons. I’d weathered three major operations but was fit and active. I asked my oncologist how long I’d have to be on chemo and was told, ‘For the rest of your life.’ I talked it over with Liz, my wife and best friend. My particular treatment would most likely cause side effects that would significantly impair my quality of life. I felt it better to have a few years of active life than prolong living with a suppressed immune system, making me vulnerable to all sorts of infections, quite apart from always feeling ‘under the weather’ and suffering frequent sickness and diarrhoea to boot. I really didn’t expect to find myself in my 85th year, still relatively fit and active for my age. At the time of writing, I can still walk for an hour, though not as frequently as I used to. And my usual pace is about 112 to the minute, only eight short of the standard infantry pace that I was marching in 1959.

When, two years ago, tumours were found in my pancreas, I was a bit shaken but not devastated. It seems that I’ve come to terms with my condition and learned to live with it and even to keep it relatively under control. This is, I believe, largely to do with my MEDS regimen: Mind, Exercise, Diet and Support. Looking back, I had always involved aspects of this four-fold approach to health, but an experience in 2021 made me intensify what I’d been doing, which is a central feature of my book, ‘What my Doctors Didn’t Tell me About Cancer’. My MEDS are aspects of a healthy lifestyle I think all doctors would agree with. However, whether it is their training or the pressure they’re under from a poorly managed and inadequately funded healthcare system, few doctors in the field of allopathic medicine provide treatment or advice in these areas. That doesn’t mean they’re not sincere and extremely hard-working people committed to their patients. But they seem, in the main, to be stuck with the paradigm of chemical or surgical intervention. That these are not always necessary and are sometimes ineffective does not appear to be under consideration. I am one among many (though not a majority) who demonstrate that this is often true. One of the reasons for this may be that we patients are over dependent on our doctors, leaving everything to them. My sister, who worked in America as a gerontologist for many years, observes that it’s important that patients be self-advocates wherever possible. The MEDS system can help by providing guidance for lines of enquiry that individual patients can follow in order to tailor a regimen to meet their needs.

M is for Mind:

I practice mindfulness, contemplation, and meditation practically every day. Mindfulness can be as simple as doing the washing up while appreciating the warmth of the water, the noticing the different textures of glass, crockery and cutlery. Or it can be in moving slowly and in awareness of each bodily movement. By simply being aware and enjoying bodily sensations we can bring ourselves into a state of calm. Having the mind emptied of thoughts and mind-chatter is very relaxing. Contemplation for me is simply sitting comfortably in solitude and reading something uplifting or helpful and letting the words provoke meaning in me. Poetry is a wonderful source; I love Tagore’s writing. I find the Upanishads, the Tao Te Ching and Rumi most helpful, but for others it might be a thought-provoking novel, biography or travelogue. For some it’s scripture. Anything inspirational can bring us to a place of peace where we feel content to be alone but not lonely. The immune system thrives in this state.

E is for Exercise:

My forms of exercise are either walking or working in the garden. Anything that gets the heart beating a bit faster and the lungs working harder strengthens the immune system. Even those who are not very mobile can find exercises to perform while sitting or lying.

D is for Diet:

Diet has been the most difficult to manage. Some years ago, Liz read a book with the tongue-in-cheek title, ‘How Not To Die’, by Michael Greger. This gave us good guidelines on what was best to eat and drink to remain healthy as we move towards old age. The reason most of us get ill, especially we ‘seniors’, is because of lifetimes of poor diet, unhealthy practices and lack of appropriate exercise. Up until the mid-20th century most people died from infections, now most people die from lifestyle-induced practices leading to obesity, heart disease, diabetes and yes, cancer. To get it right, I needed help and the cancer charity, Penny Brohn, based in Bristol, was most helpful in this respect.

Whatever the long-term illness, we need support, both medical and social. Ideally, I’d like my doctor to be a coach rather than a commentator; someone who doesn’t simply tell me the state of the game but who helps me improve the way I play it. Sadly, that’s rarely the case. Our overburdened health care system largely precludes that kind of support, though what they are able to do is often enough thanks to dedicated and hard-working medical teams.

The caring starts at home and it is essential that families rally at times like these, providing encouragement and help as needed — but not where it isn’t. It’s not beneficial to have someone fussing around you, trying to meet your every need, when all you want is someone to sit and talk to. Worse, is to have someone fretting about how they’ll cope and what will happen to them when you die of your illness, not considering what will happen to you if they go first! A peaceful mind, a healthy immune system, a healthy diet and loving support can radically change the trajectory of your illness.

Find out more about my MEDS regimen and how I implement it for myself in What my Doctors Didn’t Tell Me About Cancer, available for pre-order now from all good bookshops and Amazon and to buy from 3rd July 2024.


What My Doctors Didn’t Tell Me About Cancer is the story of one man who continues to live a happy and active lifestyle while living with cancer.

Describing the many aspects of his regimen, what author Brian Holley calls MEDS: Mindfulness, Exercise, Diet, Support, What My Doctors Didn’t Tell Me About Cancer includes helpful practices and references full of information and support.

What My Doctors Didn’t Tell Me About Cancer by Brian C. Holley is available from www.o-books.com and from wherever books are sold.

BOOK LINK: https://www.collectiveinkbooks.com/o-books/our-books/what-my-doctors-didnt-tell-me-about-cancer

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