health

"How I beat the cancer I didn't even have yet".

Today is World Cancer Day. Shelly Horton tells you what the hell you can do about that.

I get overwhelmed when I actively think about reducing my risk of cancer.  Doesn’t everything give you cancer?  Mobile phones, pesticides on food, plastic water bottles, air pollution, deodorant, microwaves, takeaway containers, hair dye, x-rays… even bacon.

It just gets so ridiculous it’s easy to throw your hands up in the air and say it’s all too hard.  And no-one is making me give up bacon.  No-one.

No need to get overwhelmed on World Cancer Day. Just focus on the big issues..

So when the NSW Cancer Institute approached me about being their ambassador for World Cancer Day I was surprised.  I don’t avoid any of those cancer-causers I just listed.  But over the last 18 months what I have done is lose 18 kilos, I’ve given up smoking (and fallen off the wagon and then given up again) and I’ve cut back my drinking to two nights a week.

Now that has dramatically improved my chance of avoiding cancer.

And I’m pretty bloody normal.  So if I can do it, it can’t be that hard.

What your friends with cancer want you to know (but are too afraid to tell you).

The experts agree.

CEO of the Cancer Institute of NSW, Professor David Currow,  said a new survey they conducted showed that 88 per cent of Australians understand that cancers are preventable, but many are placing too much emphasis on lower-risk factors, such as mobile phones and pesticides, while high-risk factors such as alcohol and lack of exercise are under-estimated.

Shelly Horton and her fiance Darren Robinson have lost 18 and 15kgs respectively by adopting a healthier lifestyle.

“The truth is that despite a lot of research in the area of mobile phones, none has been able to show that they cause cancer and the same goes for toxins migrating from plastic containers to food,” said Prof Currow.

“Pesticides in food production are mistakenly believed to pose a high cancer risk by 63 per cent of people; while less than half correctly identified alcohol and lack of physical activity as belonging to this high-risk category.

“The reality is that there is no evidence linking modern pesticides with cancer but drinking alcohol daily increases the risk of mouth, throat, liver, colon, rectum and breast cancers; while lack of physical activity increases risk of colorectal cancer, and when linked to obesity, is implicated in cancer of the breast, colon, endometrium, oesophagus and other sites.”

“Cancer may take my life, but it can’t take my friends.”

So it’s actually more important to look at the big picture. Hence the theme for World Cancer Day is “It’s Not Beyond Us”.

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“We want people to understand that reducing their cancer risk is not beyond them, as long as they stay focused where we know it counts – stopping smoking, reducing alcohol, minimising exposure to UV and maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly,” he said.

I used to be a gossip columnist, which meant attending four to five (sometimes 10) functions every week.  Lots of drinking champagne and eating fried canapes.

A change in job gave me the impetus to make a massive lifestyle change.  My goal was to lose 10 kilos but my fiance, Darren Robinson,  said if I wanted him on board it couldn’t be about a number on the scales, it had to be about health.

We’re getting married later this year and he said it was time for us to look to the future and make sure we’d both be around and well enough to travel the world when we retire.

So give up the fags, wear sunscreen, cut back on booze, eat less and move more.

Sunscreen wasn’t a problem because even though I dye my hair red I actually have the fair skin of a true ranger.  You’ll never see me sun baking.

This was me at about the halfway point of my weight loss. It was a slow transformation but consistency is the key.

The exercise bit was surprisingly easy. We both joined the gym and sweated it out together.  Having an exercise buddy really helps.  We didn’t debate over whether or not to go.  We just went.  Five days a week.  And still do.

I find exercise is not the answer to weight loss, smaller portions of healthy food is what works.  But I’m more likely to want to eat something healthy if I’ve been to the gym that day.  To me they work hand in hand.

My attitude to alcohol is now rather than having cheap booze every night, I’d rather wait and share a nice bottle of red with my friends on the weekend.

The cigarettes were much harder for me.  I’ve smoked on and off for 20 years.  Darren’s never smoked.  I managed to give up for nine months, then I was unhappy at work so I started again.  But we were spending two weeks at home in Queensland with my family for Christmas and even though I’m 41, I still don’t like disappointing my parents and they hate smoking.  So I whacked on the nicotine patches and quit again.  I haven’t smoked since. But I’m not exactly the poster child for the nicotine free.

I nervously raised that with the NSW Cancer Institute, thinking they would strike me off their ambassador list.  Instead they said most people struggle with giving up smoking, most people relapse, but the most important thing to remember is “don’t quit quitting.”

So if I can do it, so can you.  It’s not beyond us.