reprinted with permission from New Hampshire Magazine

Start by imagining yourself as a garden

At some point in their lives, 40% of Americans will hear the words “You have cancer.” In 2001, I became one of them, and so entered the one sorority that no woman wants to join. I was living a full and busy life in Concord with my husband and three kids, then aged 8, 10 and 12. I trudged through my “killing cure” treatment of surgery, chemo and radiation, and moved on. Unfortunately, the cancer did not, and in 2008 I was treated for a recurrence.

My discovery that the disease was, in fact, metastatic shook me in a way that the original diagnosis did not. I was successfully treated once again, but this time I became interested in learning what I could do to help myself. I asked my kind oncologist to provide some guidance, and got the advice that most of us get when such questions are posed: Go back to your life as normal, try to keep your stress level down, and I’ll see you in six months for your scan.

I refused to accept that I was powerless to affect the course of my disease. At that time, I met and befriended Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, who himself had been diagnosed with cancer 15 years earlier. David was a physician and neuroscientist who found himself asking similar questions about how to take a positive role in his own healing. He set about researching the scientific literature concerning the many ways that lifestyle habits—the choices we make every day—impact cancer and cancer recurrence. The result was a remarkable book that became a best-seller: Anticancer: A New Way of Life. David’s book features information about the role of diet, fitness, mindset and environment in the development of cancer.

David and his book affected me profoundly, and led me to make many changes in my daily habits—changes that statistically not only reduced my odds of cancer recurrence, but that made me feel better too—physically and psychologically. Feeling a sense of duty to share this important information with other cancer survivors, I approached Nancy Kane, the director of the Payson Center for Cancer Care in Concord (where I had received some of my treatment) with the idea of creating a course based on the sound principles and advice in David’s book.

Nancy and her hospital colleagues read the book and were impressed with its basis in scientific evidence gleaned from some of the world’s most prestigious peer-reviewed journals. Nevertheless, I was amazed and impressed when Nancy said yes.

Nancy and I, along with several subject matter experts from the hospital and in our community, spent a year designing a 12-week in-person course inspired by the material in David’s book.

Since 2011, the Anticancer Lifestyle Program has served hundreds of cancer patients. Concord Hospital is justifiably proud of this course, which is unique in the country, in that it provides a comprehensive, evidence-based look at major lifestyle factors that can impact the development of cancer, along with other chronic illnesses. In addition, for seven years now, the hospital has offered an annual Anticancer lecture, free to the community, featuring world-renowned experts in the areas covered by the course.

A few years ago, I created a nonprofit, the Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation, to further promote the course. Nancy retired from the Payson Center and now works as my colleague in this effort. We hired Geneia LLC, a company with New Hampshire ties, to help us create an online version of the program.

In October 2019, we launched the online “e-ACLP” course, making the critical information we’ve been teaching in-person easily available to all who wish to reduce their odds of cancer and cancer recurrence, and those who are interested in overall prevention of chronic illness. The course features videos, text, animation, quizzes and other features to engage the learner and help them along the path toward creating a healthier lifestyle. Each module has its own “toolkit” housed on the website that lists articles, videos, books, apps, tip sheets and more.

Information matters, but so do words. It’s hard to escape all the war metaphors surrounding cancer. Cancer survivors are in a “fight” or a “battle.” We are all engaged in a “war on cancer.” This metaphor doesn’t quite work when it’s your own body harboring the disease; what exactly am I at war with—myself? Instead, our program promotes another way to look at cancer. From our perspective, it’s the oncologist’s job to wage war on cancer, using every reasonable armament at their disposal. For the cancer patient, the task is different.

As an avid gardener, I started visualizing my role in my cancer treatment as a gardener of my body, a manager of my own diverse ecosystem. After all, as with garden soil, our bodies are awash with bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms. In fact, more than half our cells are not even our own DNA. We have the power to enrich our inner soil—with healthy food, some exercise, stress management and clean home and body care products. We can pull the weeds of a bad diet and inactivity. We can lower our pest infestation by lowering overall inflammation and enhancing our immune systems—growing, in other words, our body’s ability to fight disease, and maximizing our own potential to make a difference in outcome. This is surprisingly easy to do. It’s a process, to be sure, and like most others who’ve picked up these tools, I am still learning and constantly making changes in the ways I cultivate my own health.

The e-ACLP makes the information you need to be a great “gardener” easily available, approachable and accessible. Our goal with our new online course is to reach as many cancer survivors—and those interested in prevention—as we possibly can. None of us has to be a passive victim in the face of this difficult disease. As one of our course graduates wrote: “When you get cancer, everything is done to you. This is something I get to do for myself.”

A few quick “lifestyle tweaks” from the folks at Anticancer Lifestyle

1. Read labels on food packaging and on personal and homecare products. Know what you are eating, drinking and using on your body and in your home. The ACLP diet and environment modules teach people about easy-to-use resources that will help them choose the healthiest products.

2. Get up! It’s now often said that sitting is the new smoking. The fitness module explains easy ways to work activity into daily life.

3. Calm down. Stress is a killer, and our lives are filled with it. The mindset module teaches simple practices that can bring calm and focus into even the most hectic day.

If you live near Concord, consider signing up for the 12-week Anticancer Lifestyle Program, offered twice yearly. Call  (603) 230-6031 to learn more.

Anticancer Lifestyle Program ›
A comprehensive online lifestyle transformation course for cancer survivors and those who seek to reduce their risk of cancer and other chronic illnesses.

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About the Author

Meg Cadoux Hirshberg

Meg Cadoux Hirshberg is founder of The Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting evidence-based lifestyle transformation for cancer survivors.

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Meg Cadoux Hirshberg is founder of The Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting evidence-based lifestyle transformation for cancer survivors. For 15 years, she was a magazine freelance writer, and she also created the column “Balancing Acts,” which she expanded into her book For Better or For Work: A Survival Guide For Entrepreneurs and Their Families.

Meg Cadoux Hirshberg Founder of The Anticancer Lifestyle Foundation and CancerChoices advisor