What can those two illustrious South Africans, the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu and ex-President Nelson Mandela teach us about living with cancer?
In 1997 a concerned world heard that the man fondly known as ‘the Arch’, aged 65, had surgery for prostate cancer. A few years later in 2001, we were again shocked to hear that Madiba, aged 83, had also been diagnosed with prostate cancer.
There were reports at the time of Madiba’s staff weeping at the news. However, he maintained a cheerful disposition throughout his life, until his passing in 2013 at the ripe old age of 95. Desmond Tutu also continued on, passing away this year in 2022 at the age of 90.
There are two clear lessons here:
Cancer is a leading cause of death, accounting for 15% of deaths globally, but being diagnosed need not be seen as a death sentence. Cancer can be treated, and you can live through it.
Your attitude and emotional disposition may have an impact on reducing the severity of your condition and prolong your life, as it did for both the cheerful Archbishop and Madiba.
So, the key questions are: how do you reduce the risk of getting cancer and what do you do if you, or someone close to you, is diagnosed?
Although cancer is not 100% preventable, medical research shows that the risk of developing cancer is closely related to lifestyle, particularly in these areas:
Apply common sense to healthy eating, avoid smoking and get sufficient exercise and adequate sleep and rest.
Learning to manage your emotions mindfully can help prevent your state of mind from compromising the body’s natural ability to self-regulate its immune system. It’s about following the example of Madiba and Archbishop Tutu.
This is about recognising the key role rich and meaningful relationships play and managing them to boost wellbeing. Social wellbeing has a significant impact on mental health, which not only helps, but actually boosts physical health.
During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic we’ve seen how vulnerable some people are, especially those with physical and mental comorbidities. Comorbidities refer to when a patient has two or more medical conditions, usually chronic or long term, which put them at higher risk of developing complications if they get COVID-19Underlying mental health issues can further aggravate a medical condition like cancer. The most common mental comorbidities are depression and anxiety. That is why mindfulness is key.
So, mindfulness around cancer is about actively trying to live a healthy lifestyle and maintaining your mental wellbeing by practicing all of the above – whether you or a loved one have been diagnosed, or you live with someone who has cancer.
- Journal of Cancer Survivorship. 21 October 2020. Quality of life and mental health in breast cancer survivors compared with non-cancer controls: a study of patient-reported outcomes in the United Kingdom.
- US National Library of Medicine (National Institutes of Health). January 2014. Comorbidity of common mental disorders with cancer and their treatment gap: Findings from the World Mental Health Surveys.