I am, I will, this World Cancer Day

The Union for International Cancer Control (UICC) is the largest and oldest international cancer organisation in the world. They started the initiative of World Cancer Day in hopes of uniting the world in the fight against cancer, spreading awareness and promoting cancer control in the world health and development agenda.

Mopani Pharmacy consulted with Winnie Stiglingh, a social worker whom works with oncology patients. She works for local oncologist, Dr Neethling. Stiglingh shared with us, the most common risk factors and what to expect when having treatment for cancer.

Common causes of cancer

  • Smoking and Tobacco

“Tobacco contains chemicals that can be harmful to your health. Examples of these chemicals are nicotine, hydrogen cyanide, formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, ammonia, benzene and carbon monoxide.  Many of these chemicals are not only linked to cancer but also other diseases like heart disease”, said Stiglingh.

  • Sun and other types of radiation

“UV (ultraviolet) radiation from the sun and man-made sources like tanning beds will increase your risk for cancer.”

  • Viruses and other infections

“Certain infection can increase your risk of cancer. Some viruses can affect the genes inside a cell and can then cause the cell to grow out of control. Some infections can affect a person’s immune system which normally help to protect you against cancer. We also know that certain forms of hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis, or liver cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) contributes to cancers of the colon and cervix.”

  • Diet and physical activity

“Research found that a poor diet and not being active can contribute to your risk of getting cancer. The good news is that you can do something about this risk factor.”

How to reduce your cancer risk factors

  • Quit smoking
  • Control your weight by eating a healthy diet
  • Get some moderate exercise, at least 20 minutes, three times a week
  • Limit your alcohol consumption
  • Protect yourself from the sun
  • Get vaccinated
  • Avoid risky behaviours
  • Go for regular medical check-ups and tests like mammograms and pap smears.
  • Most common treatments for cancer
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation treatment (radiotherapy)

Common side effects of chemotherapy

“Your overall health and wellness will take a knock. You may experience easy bruising and bleeding, infection, kidney problems, low red blood cell counts and sores in the mouth and throat. Your appearance may change as your nails change in colour, and your skin feels dry. Hair-loss is common as well.”

“You have to do your best to stay healthy during this time, you won’t always want to eat. You may have a loss of appetite, be constipated or have diarrhoea, be nauseated and vomit. Your weight might fluctuate.”

“Other effects include neuropathy or other nerve problems like numbness and tingling, chemo brain (problems with concentration and focus), mood changes, a change in your libido and sexual function, fatigue and fertility issues.”

Side effects of radiotherapy

“Side effects because of radiotherapy (radiation treatment) depends on where in the body the treatment is focused on.

A word from a cancer patient in remission – Tharina Schnetler (56)

“I was first diagnosed in 1994, and finally entered remission in 2012. I was diagnosed with a rare cancer, found in my appendix.

My treatment lasted several years, but I was blessed to have an established sleeping-pattern and a healthy digestive tract. I believe that chemo and radiation can destroy some of your capabilities, one often suffers from nausea, constipation and acid reflux.

My handbag was always stocked with an anti-acid, and peppermint drops to get rid of the bloated feeling. If I had no drops, there would be peppermint hard-candies. Sweetness is unfortunately, a recipe for acidity and nausea. Luckily, I don’t have a sweet-tooth, and I rather enjoy mints!

Chemo and radiation can be detrimental to your mucus membranes. I often struggled with mouth sores. For relief, I applied medical glycerine. When at its worst, I went as far as to use some of this glycerine as a mouthwash.

I had a variety of products I always topped up. I always had Rennie, Enos, soft tissues, glycerine, Panado, set-pills and my schedule 04 wafers for nausea stocked. Furthermore, I spoiled myself with a few pretty headscarves. You may feel an itchy scalp one moment, and sit with a bald patch the next.

It is important to keep a notebook and pen with you at all times. You get to blabber on about your current emotional state, write words of encouragement to your future-self. You can scribble down your shopping-list, a few jokes, or even a bible-verse. 

My handbag also contained Labello lip ice, a fragrance-free hand cream, a travel-size toothbrush and toothpaste, Beechies gum, a good book and most importantly, a slab of dark, bitter chocolate. Lindt’s chilly chocolate was the best. It is a huge help in controlling the terrible nausea after chemo.”

Please view the video below for details on this year’s World Cancer Day theme:

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