Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel runs Cancer Help Hub in Calgary, Canada. Barbara shares her personal survivor stories with her readers and inspires other cancer patients and survivors. You can read more about her background here. This article is from Barbara’s blog.

At a time in your life when you truly need to feel safe and rely on the advice of the professionals, it is ironic that this is absolutely the time you need to be your own advocate.

Over the years, along with stories of great care and concern, I have also heard and seen many instances of people falling through the cracks. I don’t think this happens deliberately. I believe it happens in a system that is overworked and understaffed. The other equation is the fact that doctors and nurses are very human. They are not God as some want to put them on that pedestal.

Who knows their body better than anyone else? YOU!!! We know how we feel, whether something is just not right, if we’re out of balance, not functioning well, etc. A doctor can only go by what you share, what they see and by test results which are not always conclusive. It then stands to reason that we need to be better acquainted with our bodies and clearer communicators of our symptoms.

The Internet – Is it Your Friend?

With the widespread use of the internet and the incredible amount of information that is now available, a person can find just about anything online. This access of information can be both good and bad. Good because you can learn about many conditions, symptoms, cures, healing, etc. Bad because the amount of knowledge online can be biased, unproven, and you can quickly become overwhelmed.

Doctors are not always receptive to patients who bring in information they have found on the internet. I’m sure they have little time in their day to actively be researching every symptom and illness that patients present in a given day. However, a great doctor will listen, evaluate, and respect that you want to be an active participant in your health.

Be A Participant, Not a Observer

There are many cases when personal scrutiny and advocacy into a condition, especially cancer, has saved the day. By not accepting sub-standard care or indifference, patients have persisted until they get answers. Going back to the comment that we know our bodies better than anyone else, we know when something is wrong and needs attention. This means we have to advocate for attention and diagnosis.

The days of simply complying with our doctor’s advice are slowing moving into patients being actively involved in their own well-being.

What Does This Mean?

It means learn how to take care of your body, mind and spirit. They are all connected. Being out of balance in any one area will have a direct impact on another. We are not just physical beings, we are whole beings.

What Can You Do?

Here are some cornerstones of a healthy lifestyle – ones that you can undertake yourself. Ask yourself these questions – are you on track?

  1. Diet
    1. What do you eat?
    2. Does the food and drink you ingest actively improve your health?
    3. Do you know which foods agree with you and which do not?
    4. Are you aware of your energy levels before and after eating certain foods?
  2. Exercise
    1. Do you participate in physical activity?
    2. If so, is your participation at a level that contributes to your health?
    3. If not, why not and what will you do to change your non-activity?
  3. Stress Reduction
    1. Are you always stressed?
    2. Do you practise any stress reduction methods such as meditation, a hobby, yoga, walking?
    3. Do you get enough sleep?
    4. Are you a workaholic or do you take time for self-care?

These are just a few of the habits and lifestyle patterns that we can control that will hugely impact our ability to stay healthy. Most of these, in fact all of them, do not need medical intervention. They are simple, down-to-earth, practical ways of living a healthy lifestyle.

Simply put, eating a diet of wholesome foods, walking each day, and taking time to sit quietly to unwind can be done by anyone. It used to be more common in the days before computers, smartphones, iPads, and the buzz of constant communication.

Why Do We Not Pay Heed?

Our lifestyles in this age are crazy. Busyness seems to be the norm. Filling up every minute with activity or productivity, constantly being linked to technology, extracurricular activities, work overflowing into at home hours, all add up to no time to just be.

When was the last time you just sat and thought of nothing? I bet you think this would be a total waste of time. Well, it is not. It is time we all need to recharge our batteries. Our brains as well as our bodies need rest and downtime. If we did this more often, maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t find ourselves in the doctor’s office so often or sick or in this instance getting a cancer diagnosis.

Is It Easy?

It should be, but it is not. This means you may have to walk to a different drummer and be out of step with our modern society. I find this often myself. It is very easy to get caught up in the pulse of this unrelenting busyness.

What is important is being aware when this happens. Awareness allows you to stop, make different choices and get back on track. Over time, this becomes easier to both detect when life has reached an intolerable limit and recognize where your best path for health lies.

If more of us paid attention and advocated for a healthy lifestyle, having to be an advocate in a crisis, such as a cancer diagnosis, could be mitigated.

Wider Implications

Following a healthy lifestyle and advocating for change in our corporate environment as well as our social environment, could save our healthcare system from financial ruin. The way we’re going, with more and more people reaching their senior years, the system will not be sustainable. It is already staggering under the number of cancer patients being diagnosed, not to mention all the other illnesses that come from aging and stress.

We can be the change agent. We don’t have to wait for the government or health providers to find the magic bullet that will allow us to continue in our unhealthy lifestyle choices. We can take back control of our lives and initiate a change wherever we are.

I’m not against progress, but progress at the expense of health is not a good option. Health is your most valuable asset. Without health, life is extremely difficult. With health, solutions are available.

Does Advocating for a Healthy Lifestyle Work?

Many are the stories I have heard where people with disabling, life-threatening, and terminal health conditions have taken major steps to reclaim their health. These stories are often referred to as miracles or in some cases, discredited by the medical community because they can’t explain scientifically how these conditions reversed. However, they are real. There is always hope that if nothing else, the balance of a person’s life can be lived with quality and dignity.

My own story is one of these. I can attest to the fact that a major turn in life can lead to health. It took time and courage to face those parts of life that were not working. It still takes constant vigilance to stay on my healing path. It takes honesty to realize that I may have slipped off the path and need a reset.

In the end, we are our own best advocates for our health. Our lives are too precious to leave them in the hands of others who may or may not have the same vested interest in our survival. It’s always our choice how we handle the situation. If you are not well enough to do this part in a crisis, ensure that you have someone on your team who is vested and will help you find your way back to health and/or a higher quality of life.

To your own advocacy for health,



Reprinted with compliments of Barbara Cunnings-Versaevel

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