What is Cancer? Demystifying the “C” word.
by Sue Hughes, MSEd, HHP, CNC
“Cancer.” Nobody likes to hear that word. It’s a word that conjures up feelings of fear and loss of control. It’s a word that we have been conditioned to associate with demise – after all, the stories we often hear are those of struggle that don’t necessarily end well while the occasional account of a complete remission tends to be credited to luck or a rare miracle from the heavens at best.
So why is it that our race to find a cure for this imposing disease appears to have no finish line in sight? Why can’t we get to the bottom of an illness that runs rampant in our society while it seemingly evades destruction? I think the first step to finding the answer to that question is to truly understand what “cancer” is in the first place, so let’s go there.
What is CANCER, actually?
Put simply, cancer occurs when cells run amok. Out of control. Sort of crazy – not behaving normally. Put more scientifically, it’s abnormal cell proliferation and growth with the potential to invade other parts of the body.
Why do some folks get cancer while others don’t?
Truth is, we all have cancer cells. The difference is in the immune system. Some people have a healthy immune system that is more than able to defend against these abnormal cells, assuring that they do not multiply or compromise overall health, and other people don’t. So the problem isn’t really the cancer cells themselves. No. The issue lies in the ability of the body to stop the cell craziness before it is able to establish itself as its own entity (think tumor).
The significance of toxic load.
I’ve written about something called “toxic load” in a few of my other posts. It warrants repeating because it is a succinct way to refer to the amount of stress we subject our bodies to on an ongoing, cumulative basis. You see, this crazy behavior by our cells that is called “cancer” results from the cumulative effects of stress, infection, oxidation and inflammation. And don’t think of “stress” as just emotional . . . it is actually anything that causes the body to take a defensive stand; to protect itself; to mobilize energy in order to fight off an invader. This can, indeed, mean emotional stress like not being able to pay your bills or a recent divorce or taking care of an elderly parent. Even traffic on the way to work counts as emotional stress. But “stress” to the body also includes household products like chemical cleaning agents or personal care products like deodorant or makeup with ingredients that the body recognizes as foreign and unnatural and therefore feels it must fight against to eliminate. Medications, air pollution – both indoor and outdoor, and of course the ingredients in the food we eat are all included. Yes, these are all stressors that set the stage for inflammation, oxidation, infection and even DNA damage, as they wreak havoc on the “blueprint” that the cells need to replicate correctly. The latter is actually thought to be the first step toward cancer development in many cases.
More about inflammation.
“Inflammation” refers to the body’s attempt at self-protection to begin the healing process. When we injure ourselves – imagine burning your hand on a hot stove – the area of the burn becomes inflamed meaning there is a biological response (redness, swelling, pain) that is indicative of the body trying to heal itself. This is an example of acute inflammation. Once and done. Your hand heals and life goes on.
Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, occurs when the body is constantly attempting to remove harmful stimuli, toxins, damaged cells … to achieve healing. Some inflammation occurs naturally as a result of normal metabolism (the generation of energy). But if we add to that a multitude of those other stressors … well, that’s where the problem begins. And you don’t always feel inflammation, although it can present itself as anything from a headache to arthritis to heart disease and most other “conditions” for which there is a medical diagnosis. Let’s look at it more closely:
The significance of chronic inflammation lies in the triggered release of something called “cytokines” or “cell-signaling molecules”. These cytokines cause disruption of normal, healthy communication within and between cells which, in turn, changes their reproductive cycle. Interestingly, healthy cells are typically destroyed at a certain point to prevent tissue overgrowth (a process termed “apoptosis”). When cell signaling goes awry, this pre-programmed death of cells fails which leads to uncontrolled cell reproduction and tissue overgrowth. Keep in mind that the cells which are chronically reproducing begin as healthy cells, but their uncontrolled proliferation increases the chance of mutation which, in turn, gets the ball rolling for cancer development.
Now, triggered by the abnormal cell growth, certain enzymes are produced that actually dissolve healthy tissue, allowing an “invasion” of the good cells by the bad cells. This results in the formation of a tumor. The tumor now has the ability to generate its own blood vessels to use for nourishment (angiogenesis) so that it can continue to grow and potentially invade other organs and tissues (metastasize).
The other “C” word – CONTROL
Given the information that I present above, what are the odds that we have even a tiny bit of control over our pre- or post-cancer-diagnosis destiny? I, personally, believe that we have a lot of control. Clearly cancer, or any other disease or condition, doesn’t just appear magically one day. The difficult part for us to grasp is that cause-and-effect of the disease process is often separated by years so not only are we often unaware that our own deterioration is occurring in the first place (based on lack of symptoms early on), but we also can’t necessarily tell what is leading to that deterioration. For instance, you may have lived on junk food when you were a teenager, but you still felt great back then. So does that mean that your poor quality diet wasn’t stressful and inflammation-provoking to your body? Now think about the digestive distress, hormonal issues or joint pain you began to feel when you hit 30? Hmm. Perhaps that’s the “cause-and-effect” that can be expected, but difficult to trace because of the 15-20 year separation between the poor diet beginning early on and the ultimate breakdown of the body.
Overall health is cumulative. Everything you think, everything you eat, everything you breathe throughout your earthly journey matters and plays a role in your long-term wellness. Don’t be fooled by those who tell you otherwise. The good news is, although the task of healing becomes more difficult by the time symptoms arise, it is not impossible. Given the tools to heal, that’s just what the body will begin to do.
Look for Part 2 of this series: The First Step Toward Healing – You Better Believe It
Have you been diagnosed with cancer? Schedule a free 15-minute telephone session with Sue to find out how she can help you best support your body’s natural healing response whether or not you are using conventional cancer therapies.
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