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Lymphoma

Lifestyle and attitude changes

A life-threatening illness is a major life event. Some people try to continue their lives in the same way as before, others try to change how they will live in future. Some people we talked to had decided to try to live healthier lives to have the best chance of avoiding a recurrence of their cancer and living to old age. Many therefore adopted a healthier diet by eating more fruit and vegetables and other foods rich in antioxidants, and less alcohol, caffeine, processed food and red meat. Other changes that people hoped would improve their health included eating organic food, taking vitamin and mineral supplements or drinking more water. Some people treated themselves to more cakes and desserts than usual during treatment because they thought they might die from their lymphoma but said that if they achieved remission they would then eat more healthily.

 

Learned about foods that have anti-cancer properties, changed his diet accordingly and thinks all...

Learned about foods that have anti-cancer properties, changed his diet accordingly and thinks all...

Age at interview: 55
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 52
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The other interesting feature about cancer is that it doesn't really get, it's difficult to get from hospital or doctors is the connection between food, if you start reading about cancer a lot of the research nowadays is connected with eating certain foods can minimise the risk of getting cancer. For certain cancers, I believe for example prostate cancer there's a link to eating broccoli' broccoli is good for you, taking selenium tablets or brazil nuts is good for you. Lycopene that comes from cooked tomatoes is good for you, drinking a glass of red wine a day is good for you. Presumably the anti-oxidant effects in all of these chemicals could help fight any particular cancer, I don't know. 

But I think it's important that people should know, should eat correctly if they've been diagnosed with cancer and been treated successfully but have the risk of it coming back, just to minimise the possibility of it coming back, eat the right foods, plenty of fruit and vegetables, and sort of minimise certain things in your diet, perhaps red meat and so forth, so on. That's I think one aspect of cancer that perhaps some cancer patients don't get enough information on. So stop there.

OK so I take it you have altered your diet have you as a result of your illness?

Yeah, yeah I actually even bought a book, 'Eat to Beat Cancer'. But basically these were just sort of like vegan recipes but I think it's quite an interesting aspect. I mean eating chocolate, or eating dark chocolate now is considered to be possibly good for you from a cancer point of view. So I mean I think all of these things are interesting and people should know about them.

Yes and you were saying that you don't necessarily find this stuff out when you're in hospital?

No, no, I think you start finding this out perhaps when you come out of hospital you're a bit curious as to how you got this condition, and you're a bit worried, 'Oh I don't want this condition to come back, what can I do to prevent it?' And that's when you start exploring the internet or get the odd book and find out about these things. Anyway to me possibly it's a scientific sort of approach to things, so I like doing research to find out. And the internet is a pretty good tool actually that perhaps wasn't available say ten years ago, so you can get this information more readily available than it was previously.

No the only complementary thing, which isn't really complementary, was investigating, well what foods are potential anti-cancer agents. And that ends up basically fruit and vegetables, eating plenty of fruit and vegetables. And one important thing is try, if you're going to try and eat five portions of vegetables to make them different colours because you're probably getting a slightly different chemical in each fruit. So you're getting, you're trying to hit it with an array of different chemicals rather than, you know, don't eat all greens but eat coloured fruit like beetroot, red peppers, green peppers, tomatoes, all the different colours.

Some people had stopped smoking to improve their general health; one woman was 'thrilled' to have managed to stop. Others were looking at ways to take more exercise. Some tried to rest more or pace themselves. One was looking for ways to reduce stress and relax more. Another said he and his wife had bought a weekend cottage in the country to escape their stressful lives. They moved to the country full-time when he had to give up work through illness, which much improved their quality of life. Some people took up new hobbies such as sailing, singing or learning a language. One woman said she intended to do voluntary work.

 

Smoked before his illness and was advised to quit after treatment, which he did for a while; he...

Smoked before his illness and was advised to quit after treatment, which he did for a while; he...

Age at interview: 46
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 29
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Did you change your lifestyle in any way as a result of your illness in terms of diet, exercise, smoking, that sort of thing?

Well I was a smoker at the time and throughout the whole process I was told that smoking as a contributor to lymphoma would not necessarily have had anything to do with it. And in fact they advised me through the process, 'If you're a smoker keep smoking because the stress factors are high enough anyway and we don't necessarily want you to create more stress by giving up smoking through the process. Though of course they advised that it would be in my long term interest to give up smoking afterwards because if I'd had a type of cancer in the past that was probably some kind of indicator that I might be more liable to other types of cancer in the future and it was best for me to reduce my risk. But I was not advised to stop smoking through the process.

And did you stop smoking later?

I did stop smoking later and then I took up smoking again some time after that, and I've stopped now.

Well done. Was that difficult?

It's always difficult to give up smoking I think because you can give up for a period of time and then three years without a cigarette and then you can pick one up and it's like you did it yesterday. So I imagine it's the same as alcohol or any other drug.

Did you just use willpower or did you use any particular method to do that?

No I just used willpower. And actually it was when I met my second wife really that I stopped. She didn't like it, I wanted her, she didn't like it, so I gave up.

 

In place of the job he'd had to give up, he learned how to sail, bought a boat, fitted it out and...

In place of the job he'd had to give up, he learned how to sail, bought a boat, fitted it out and...

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 52
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My very clever wife, she decided that if she was going to keep me alive, having been totally committed to a very interesting job - one that I'd loved, I'd done it since I was fifteen, never wanted to change - she had to find a substitute. So she told me to dream, she said, 'What have you wanted to do?' And I said, 'Well I've always wanted to work'. And she said, 'Well I'm sorry love but that's not on the cards. What have you dreamed of doing, not what have you wanted to do, but what have you dreamed of doing?' And it was the difference between wanting and dreaming that was the important bit because I'd always dreamed of having a boat, it didn't really matter what sort. And she had been made redundant about six months before and had a little money tucked away in a savings account, and when I said that I've always really wanted to sail, I've always dreamt of sailing, she said, 'Well let's go and buy a boat.' Came back twenty minutes later and said, 'I think we'll find out if you like sailing before we spend my money.' 

The upshot of that was at Easter we did a competent crew together, we did a day skipper theory together, I did the day skipper practical in the September and we bought a boat in November. 

You're then feeling pretty horrible, weak, can't do much and it was during this time that the boat really came into its own. I didn't sail, it was on the water or in the yard, the great thing about it was that I could dream. I could dream where I was going to go, what I was going to do, how I was to improve the boat without spending an absolute fortune in the chandlers. What ideas I could gather from the magazines and adapt, what ideas I could take from my experience as a surveyor and adapt for the boat. And obviously as a surveyor you have to do drainage and sanitation, water supplies and things like that, all of which you could use because basically a boat, or at least a cruising boat is a little home, got to have all the same sort of things. And eventually I managed to achieved my dreams, I sailed across to France and over a period of three years spent four, six and then eight weeks in France over three separate summers and had crew come and join me so that I could sail with people who knew what my situation was. And well, as I say, just achieved my dreams and go through some experiences like coming back across the channel with no wind, under engine.

Some people had to give up certain activities because they had not regained the level of fitness and stamina they had before the illness. Some gave up sporting activities, one gave up his motorbike, others needed to take more rest (see 'Recovery, remissions and follow-up'). One woman had felt the cold more since her illness. Some people changed their lifestyle because of health problems other than their lymphoma.

Many people also found that having cancer changed their attitude to life. Many came to value what was important in life, and to be more tolerant and less selfish. Some said they had learned more about themselves and found a strength they didn't know they had, making them more confident and better able to deal with problems. Several said they lived for today and took opportunities to do things now that they might otherwise have put off until later. A man who was a GP said his lymphoma experience had given him valuable insights into what it was like to be a patient that would influence his professional practice. Some people said it had changed their career plans or made them want to help others. A few had joined the Lymphoma Association's 'buddy' scheme, which puts people with lymphoma in touch with each other as a means of support (see 'Resources' section).

 

Tries to make the most of life since his diagnosis and does things now that he only thought about...

Tries to make the most of life since his diagnosis and does things now that he only thought about...

Age at interview: 53
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 42
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Have you thought about any changes to your lifestyle as a result of having Hodgkin's, things like exercise, diet, smoking?

I didn't smoke before so I certainly wasn't going to take it up. I'm not a great Guinness drinker so I've stopped drinking the Guinness, although I still enjoy the odd half pint. The exercise' not really, but what it does do is it opens up your eyes to, you don't know when you're ill like that how long you're going to have, and you've got to make the most of your life when you're out there. So things that I thought about doing before I would now go and do, like if I was going to have a holiday, if I wanted to go to a particular place on holiday I would go on it. And I went on holidays during my chemotherapy, I actually went to Amsterdam during my chemotherapy and the doctor had to give me a letter, he told me I couldn't go swimming or anything like that in a swimming pool, gave me a letter with some drugs' names written on there to give to the local doctors in case that I got taken ill. Very strong drugs, one of them apparently could've damaged my hearing permanently if I had to take it, but that was emergency drugs, if something went wrong when I was away from the country. But he said, 'No don't not have a holiday'. 

And so I did everything as I would before, just opens your mind to what's out there and the fact that you've had a serous illness, you got through it, you've got to make the most of life because you never know what's round the corner for anybody, nobody knows what's round the corner, so make the most of life. You don't appreciate life until you've been ill like that. I think people think they appreciate life but they don't until they think, 'Well I'd love to have done this, love to do that'. Go out and do it, enjoy it. Don't wait even till the end of the chemotherapy if you can walk around. I did struggle a bit, mind you, going on the holidays and walking around a strange city having diarrhoea and things like that, but I was determined to do everything and go to work every day. The only days I missed were the days, the actual treatment days, and if I had an appointment to see the specialist, but all the rest of the time I was at work.

 

Since his illness he has become quieter and calmer, more understanding of others and prefers...

Since his illness he has become quieter and calmer, more understanding of others and prefers...

Age at interview: 49
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 39
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And it does change you, I mean really, the change in people I suppose from the time they're diagnosed, it makes you think differently. My partner has always said that since we've been moving in these kind of circles, if you like, we've met a lot of people who've survived and they're different' they think differently from other people, their priorities aren't what you'd expect. And I think for quite a lot of, I was going to say normal people, it's a very difficult thing to get your head round, but we're managing OK.

Do you think you've changed?

Oh yeah, oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

In what ways?

I'm quieter, I'm a lot quieter. I'm a lot less trouble than I used to be. When I was diagnosed I had hair down to here, big beard, I wore steel toe cap boots and drove a Harley Davidson and I would have a go at anybody, you know, I'd put somebody in hospital for looking sideways at me if I didn't like the look on their face. And now, not now I'm, I'd rather speak to people now than take a punch at them. I'm more understanding, a lot more understanding, I'm calmer, I'm calmer in myself.

 

His cancer experience gave him confidence and a reason for living, making him want to help other...

His cancer experience gave him confidence and a reason for living, making him want to help other...

Age at interview: 24
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 16
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The positive thing yeah, yeah its kind of strange because I do owe so much to my cancer, I mean before I was just a 16-year-old kid with nothing interest' not special in any way, well not, you know, I didn't have anything to give to anyone, I didn't have any kind of reason. I didn't have any idea, I just went round in this kind of stupid thought of instability of being just 16 and everything would be the same forever and I'd just kind of carry on life from day to day and just waiting for the weekends and not really with any aspirations of doing anything.

I owe my cancer so much, the way that it's given me so much confidence, I feel as though I can now help people. And its given me a great deal of sympathy for other people who are both ill or who are also going through anything, any sort of pain, any sort of depression, I now feel as though I can help and I feel as though I've had this chance and this experience for, you know, that's given me such a' made my personality who I am now. I feel as though I went through my kind of teenage years of just, well my early teenage years of not having any sort of clarity of thought of what I wanted to do or to who I really was. But now I really sort of feel confident and happy in who I am and I now know so much more about the world than I did before.

A friend of mine a couple of years ago said to me, who had also been ill, she said to me, 'To have known true suffering it's inevitable that that person dedicates their life to ending the suffering of others'. I think that's kind of true because I mean the other people who I've met who have been ill sort of feel that way that you, to have sort of gone through that is the same, such a negative experience so many positive things can come out of it, it's a really amazing thing. Once, if I had the choice of, and I would never go through it again - bloody awful - but if I had a choice of having that in my past and not having it in my past I definitely would have it in my past, its been a life changing experience so much so that I would' I mean everything that I, most of the things that are now good in me are directly through the cancer. The things that I hold that are good in me, the things that I really like about myself and my personality are because of what I've experienced through having the cancer, has been very enlightening I suppose. 

Now how do you see your future, how do you? What are your plans?

I want to help people with cancer, that's all I want to do really, that's all I've ever wanted to do since I've been ill, it was like my defining moment. I just want to help people, I want to help people, ideally young people, sort of who have, younger people who are receiving therapy. 

I've just finished a pharmacy degree and I'm just about, I've got a year before I can practice but I'd like to ideally work in an oncology ward, ideally perhaps one attached to a teenage cancer trust which is a'

A unit?

A unit which I would like, I'd really, really, I'd like to help because I think that I could give more than just, just like professionally I think I could give something emotionally as well to people who are young, when I was 16 I know what it feels like, I know what it's like. I want to help. And that's what I would like to do, my goal.

One woman's attitude had changed in an unusual way' as well as becoming intolerant of minor illnesses she had become relatively unsympathetic to other people's cancer diagnoses because she knew they could be treated and many would survive. A woman who had Hodgkin lymphoma as a teenager and non-Hodgkin lymphoma twenty years later said that, beyond realising that there is a life outside work, her illness experiences had not changed her attitude to life.

Last reviewed February 2016.

Last updated February 2016.


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