Posted Jan 22, 2013

By now, those who have made New Year’s resolutions have completed their lists.

And chances are topping the lists are the usual suspects — get healthier, go to the gym, quit smoking.

Those resolutions are worth keeping — they are among healthy lifestyle choices that just might avert a cancer diagnosis.

Guidelines on nutrition and physical activity for cancer prevention stress the importance of healthy behaviors, according to the American Cancer Society. Approximately half of all cancer deaths are preventable if health is made a top lifestyle priority, a news release from the ACS states.

The ACS recommends the following four healthy lifestyle choices for reducing cancer risk:

1. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight throughout life.

2. Adopt a physically active lifestyle with at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise activity each week.

3. Consume a healthy diet, with an emphasis on eating at least 2.5 cups of vegetables and fruits each day.

4. Limit consumption of alcoholic beverages to no more than one drink per day for women or two per day for men.

Dr. Nelida Sjak-Shie, a hematologist/oncologist with Mercy Clinic, said she has found that people living in Fort Smith and the surrounding area aren’t making the strides with healthy lifestyle choices that other areas of the country have.

“Fort Smith has a lot of cancer,” said Sjak-Shie, who attended medical school at Washington University in St. Louis before completing her internal medicine residency at the University of Florida and her hematology/oncology fellowship at the University of California-Los Angeles. “A shocking amount for cancer, I must say.”

What Sjak-Shie calls the “obesity epidemic” has contributed greatly to the number of cancer diagnoses.

“Obesity increases the risk for some cancers and is associated with much higher risk for certain cancers,” explained Sjak-Shie, noting cancer of the breast, colon and rectum as a few of those.

Making those healthy lifestyle choices isn’t as easy as it sounds sometimes, Sjak-Shie admits.

“Eating a diet high in fiber and low in fat, especially saturated fat, isn’t easy,” Sjak-Shie said. “You have to train yourself. And it starts early. Kids don’t miss something you don’t have.”

Exercise, even for those already receiving a cancer diagnosis and on chemotherapy treatments, can lead to better outcomes and better quality of life, she added.

Smoking is another lifestyle choice that greatly contributes to cancer, especially lung cancer.

Sjak-Shie said she saw a patient recently who smoked an average of five packs a day and another smoker who started as young as 8 years old — both were new records for Sjak-Shie in her practice.

“It’s difficult to change such an addictive habit,” she said. “But you get only one body, and you’ve got to treat it well because you can’t replace it.

“All you can do in life is stack the deck in your favor,” Sjak-Shie added.

Avoiding tobacco products altogether is one of the most important steps to a healthier body, according to the ACS, with tobacco remaining as the single largest preventable cause of cancer and premature death in the country. Quitting smoking can add up to 10 valuable years to a person’s life.

Lia Chapman of Fort Smith has added those 10 years to her life and is stacking the deck in her favor.

As her grandmother, Verna Johnson, lay dying from oral cancer that had spread to her organs, Chapman promised her “Nonnie” she would quit her 17-year-habit.

“I was holding her hand and I promised her I would change my life,” Chapman, 39, the married mother of three, said during a phone interview. “It took me a while to do it, but I did it.”

After her grandmother was diagnosed with oral cancer because of smoking, Johnson underwent surgery and then treatments.

“She had a sore in her mouth that wouldn’t go away,” Chapman explained of her Nonnie’s cancer diagnosis. “She had part of her cheek, tongue and jaw bone removed and was permanently disfigured from the surgery to remove the cancer from her face and jaw. She made it through all the radiation.

“We really thought she had beat it,” she added. “But she didn’t; it came back.”

After five years in remission, Johnson started feeling bad the summer of 2002 and discovered the cancer had returned and spread throughout her organs. Johnson died just after Christmas in 2002.

After several years of attempting to quit smoking, Chapman finally kicked the habit in the spring of 2007.

Since that time, she’s become an avid runner, and now cycles and swims on a regular basis. She has lost 60 pounds, competes in triathlons and has run 24 marathons.

“Every race I run is for Nonnie,” Chapman said.

Chapman also is an encouragement and inspiration for those around her. She leads a group of runners at her workplace and tries to set an example with her meals in the Golden Living dining center.

“I take the stairs at work and make good food choices,” she said. “I’m showing I can make that choice every day.

“People are getting out the door; that’s what counts,” Chapman added.

©2013 Times Record (Fort Smith, Ark.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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