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February 12, 2018 | 4 minute read

How I help myself reduce the risk of another recurrence

I never thought I’d be in this position.  Fourteen years in, and I continue to have chronic breast cancer. I’m much better now and stronger than I was when my journey first began, yet I still see my oncologist for a maintenance dose of a targeted chemotherapy every three weeks.

I’ve built my new life around my breast cancer to keep moving forward. One of the best things I’ve learned is to never look back at what might have been. I try to live in the moment and I know that I can only control certain aspects of the future.

In addition to my maintenance chemo, I spend a lot of my week taking care of myself and doing what I can to improve my health and prevent another recurrence. I eat a healthy diet, exercise almost every day, get enough sleep, and try to live mindfully and as stress-free as I can manage, given the nature of my medical history.

“I am very careful about spending my time only on activities that support my goals.”

I also don’t smoke (never did), and gave up alcohol a couple of years ago.  There is too much scientific evidence that shows a strong association between drinking alcohol and increasing risk of developing breast cancer. For me, I can’t enjoy a glass of wine without triggering my fear – it no longer gives me pleasure.  I’ve moved on with my life.

Another important aspect of my self-care is pursuing my passions of taking care of my family and helping others with their breast cancer concerns. It is important to me to live my life with purpose, and I am very careful about spending my time only on activities that support my goals. It’s too easy to say yes to yet another volunteer opportunity or project!

I’ve learned to focus my life on things that really matter to me, and to let the rest go. This is easier to say than to do but I’ve gotten better at this over time. I can still get caught up in things that don’t really support my mission, but then I can quickly pull myself back to my central purpose.

The best way to help prevent having a recurrence is to do the things that science shows will likely help.

  • Diet.  Do you eat a standard American diet or do you follow some version of AICR’s plant-based New American Plate?
  • Exercise. You can get active by walking, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and even include short walks spread throughout your day if you aren’t a health club type of person.
  • Sleep. One of my resolutions for this year is to get to bed much earlier in order to get a full night’s sleep.  Since I started this routine about a month ago, I can tell you, I am less tired and more able to do my work without taking a nap in the afternoon.
  • Stress. Can have a strong effect on your physical and mental health.  I never fully appreciated how important reducing stress can be to help me feel better and more lively when going through a tough situation.
  • Smoking. Smoking raises risk dramatically for several types of cancer.  If you smoke, please find a way to stop. It could literally save your life.
  • Alcohol. There is strong science on alcohol and cancer.  While this association has been known for some time, in November of last year the American Society of Clinical Oncology confirmed that “the link between increased alcohol consumption and cancer has been firmly established” (ASCO,  November 7, 2017).

It’s cancer prevention month and whether you are newly diagnosed, in the middle of treatment or have moved into the recovery and survivorship phase, I urge you to take the steps you can to help prevent/reduce your risk of getting an unwanted personal invitation to “the club that no one ever wants to be a part of.”


Barbara Spalding, MA, MS, RDN, CDN is a culinary dietitian who has personally lived with breast cancer, on and off, for fourteen years. Barbara is a speaker, author, and blogger on topics related to nutrition, lifestyle and ways to build your resilience to help you manage your breast cancer journey. Visit her two blogs, breastcancerkitchen.com and secondactkitchen.com, for more information.

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