Beating breast cancer with Dr Alexea
Dr Alexea Gaffney is a triple board certified physician, mom, speaker, author, coach and Breast Cancer Survivor. To wrap up Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the New Yorker opens up about her story. She shares who is at risk of breast cancer and her 7 tips on living, surviving and thriving with and beyond breast cancer.
Dr Alexea's diagnosis
Hey ladies! My name is Dr. Alexea and I’m a Girl Rocking Cancer! I was diagnosed with Stage III invasive lobular carcinoma in April 2018 at 37. I openly and publicly shared my Breast Cancer journey from diagnosis, to surgery, chemo and radiation therapy.
There's no gold standard for survival
When I invited Dr Alexea to write a blog for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she said she was thrilled and pondered what to say.
With much insight and encouragement from Melanie we decided that I'd speak from both my personal experience and clinical expertise about what previvors, survivors and thrivers can do to prevent or decrease breast cancer risk and lead happy and healthy lives beyond breast cancer.
I wanted to write a perfect post and offer all the facts but the words weren’t coming together. I then went on the vlog path and as luck would have it, I just couldn’t get the thing to load, so I went back to the drawing board. And then it hit me! I was having perfection paralysis. In trying to produce a perfect blog post, I was producing nothing at all. And that’s because nothing is perfect - including survival!
There’s no gold standard or perfect way to survive breast cancer but there are definitely precautions we can take and more than one way to go about taking them!
How to prevent and decrease breast cancer risk
1. Maintain a healthy body weight
There is an increased risk of development of breast cancer in women who have significant weight gain in their adult years. This is most likely caused by excess oestrogen production in fat cells which can encourage the growth of hormone-responsive breast cancers.
2. Try a plant-based diet (with a twist)
We know that 80% of weight loss and maintenance of a healthy body weight comes via diet. Now, the big secret is there is no perfect diet. Going plant based can be a healthy and helpful way to maintain a healthy body weight, increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and decrease cancer risk.
The great thing about a plant-based diet: it isn’t necessarily vegan or vegetarian, rather it places an emphasis on consuming foods. A plant-based diet consists mostly or entirely of plant-derived foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, grains, seeds or legumes with little to no animal derived food products.
A plant-based diet makes way for many dietary options for a lifestyle prevention strategy (veganism, vegetarian, keto, Mediterranean, paleo diets, etc.)
3. Move your body
A healthy body is a body in motion. Several studies have shown that women who include regular physical exercise in their lifestyle have a decreased risk of developing breast cancer. You can reduce your risk 20%-30% by getting a minimum of 150 minutes of weekly exercise. And just like diet, there is no perfect fitness plan! When it comes to prevention, movement is medicine!! This includes moderate intensity exercise such as brisk walking or yoga to vigorous activities such as jogging, HIIT, dancing and aerobics. Exercise also reduces the risk of recurrence once you’ve have been treated for breast cancer.
A healthy diet coupled with regular exercise can help you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, influence and reduce exposure to circulating hormones including oestrogen, and impact levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factors, which can encourage the growth of breast cancer cells.
4. Cut back on alcohol
Keep your alcohol intake to a minimum (one drink per day or less). Women who consume even a few drinks per week have an increased risk for breast cancer compared to women who do not. It's not clear why but alcohol may raise oestrogen levels, can interact with carcinogens (cancer causing chemicals or compounds) that we are exposed to daily or inhibit the body's capacity to detoxify them hence the need to eat and drink antioxidant rich foods and beverages and about toxic chemicals in lotions, detergents, and cosmetic as part of a risk reducing lifestyle.
Women who have had breast cancer or are at increased risk due to genetics mutations, family history or other risk factors may want to avoid alcohol altogether.
5. Get out in the sun
Vitamin D is all the rage, and rightfully so! Higher Vitamin D levels are associated with a lower risk of breast cancer. My Vitamin D was terribly low at the time of my diagnosis but I improved my levels through supplementation and outdoor activity including exercise during my cancer treatment. Whether the source of Vitamin D was the diet or from spending time outdoors with sun exposure improving the skin’s production of the vitamin, women with higher blood levels had a lower risk for breast cancer. Another study suggested that high blood levels of Vitamin D were associated with a 50% reduction in risk for breast cancer.
These days, it’s not uncommon for health care providers, myself included, to recommend 1,000 to 2,000 IU of Vitamin D per day for adults because it’s association with reduced cancer risk.
6. Strive for a healthy and positive mindset
Taking care of your mental and spiritual health are vital to your health and wellness during and after cancer treatment. Cancer patients go through a range of emotions and most are healthy and normal, even the negative ones!
So while being sad, anxious, angry are very real and valid feeling, it’s important not to get stuck in a stressed, overwhelmed or negative head space. Exercising my faith through prayer, meditating and participating in coaching helped me maintain a healthy and positive mindset.
Minimising stress and managing unhealthy emotions are critical. Mental toxicity and stress has physical consequences, such as increased tension and inflammation, which can be experienced as pain and fatigue. These have additional negative impacts on the body including premature cell aging and damage.
7. Find your tribe
Finding support from your family, friends, faith community, Breast friends or cancer tribe is key. Your medical providers can assist or refer you to counselling, mental health services or support groups.
Taking a comprehensive approach to cancer prevention is best! A healthy lifestyle can be helpful in staving off primary or recurrent breast cancer and other cancers. Stay as active as you can in the fight against cancer and remember that a healthy mind, body and spirit are all necessary to achieve total health and wellness for cancer survivors and wellness warriors!
Thank you Dr Alexea for sharing your story and expert insights. We look forward to seeing you all in the Girls Rocking Cancer Community on Facebook or Instagram. You can also reach out to Dr Alexea on Instagram @dralexea
Dr Alexea and Mel