Monday, March 22, 2010

Tackling Cancer

Published March 16, 2010 - Muscat Daily

It's no big secret that the number of people diagnosed with cancer nowadays in Oman and worldwide is increasing on a frighteningly rapid basis. According to the World Health Organization, cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide with over 8 million deaths in 2007 alone. That doesn't even count living patients and new cases. Most people I know have a relative or two or even more with cancer, and I'm sure you know a few people yourself.

Despite it being so common, people here in the South of Oman still have a hard time discussing it openly and some cannot even pronounce the word 'cancer' out loud. Furthermore, many are so overcome with fear that they end up refusing to undergo surgery or chemotherapy. Yes, Salalah is still very conservative and many people believe it’s a ‘shame’ for others to know they have cancer. It’s most certainly nothing to be ashamed of! Whether it's breast cancer you're dealing with, colon cancer, stomach cancer, or liver cancer, in the end it all boils down to how you and the doctors deal with it and… what you eat.
The first mistake cancer patients and their network of acquaintances make is to adopt a negative attitude and immediately assume they're dying. In Salalah I've seen women go into mourning simply because a relative was diagnosed with a mild case of colon cancer. Yes, it's a horrible illness, but putting on a sad face and acting helpless isn't going to help those who are sick. Cancer patients need non-stop positive support from family and friends throughout the months, or years of battling.
The second mistake they make is to expect surgery and chemotherapy alone will save those with cancer. The first thing any patient or caregiver must do is spend time doing research on that particular kind of cancer. Understanding the disease, studying nutrition, and going the extra mile to help oneself and others can make a huge difference.
The third mistake is to believe that they have to immediately go abroad to places like Thailand or Germany (and now, even China!), assuming that Oman doesn't have the doctors or the facilities to treat cancer properly. If you believe this, then you are very wrong. Out of experience, I can confirm that hospitals in Muscat have wonderful teams of experienced oncologists and surgeons.
The fourth and last mistake is to underestimate the power of food. You are what you eat, and when undergoing cancer treatments and chemotherapy the most effective method of keeping yourself and your immune system strong is through proper nutrition. Let's face it; Oman in general and Dhofar in particular have some of the world's worst eating habits. Our diet (too much sugar, fat, meat, white flour) feeds cancer cells, and there is no place in Salalah where cancer patients can go to get information on nutrition. A branch of the National Association for Cancer Awareness is very much needed in Dhofar. Patients need information, support, and advice.
I cannot fit all that I have to say on this subject into one column, and I am in no way an expert. However, I have spent hundreds of hours at local and other hospitals supporting others through their battle with this ugly disease, so I know one thing for sure; so much of it is about your attitude. If you know someone with cancer, give them your full support and if you feel they're struggling, help them to understand their illness and what they can do to help themselves. Do whatever you can. It will mean the world to them. And meanwhile, spread awareness about what people (who don’t have cancer) can do through nutrition, a positive attitude and good living habits to lower the odds that they themselves will ever suffer from this horrible disease.

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