Healthy Chillin’ and Grillin’

Summer’s here and who doesn’t love a barbecue? Grilling is a healthy way to eat less calories and fat though technique is key to serving a meal that is healthy in all ways.

Chemicals called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are formed when meats are cooked using high-temperature methods and dripping fat and juices cause flames and form in smoke that lands on it. These chemicals can damage our DNA and possibly increase our risk of developing certain cancers. While research is ongoing and the jury is still out, here are some easy ways you can minimize your exposure to these potential carcinogens and still enjoy barbecuing.

 

10 tips for safer summer grillin’

  • Keep the grill surface clean to help prevent harmful chemicals from building up and transferring to your food.
  • Use an acidic marinade containing vinegar or lemon juice and herbs like mint, garlic and rosemary to greatly reduce the formation of HCA (avoid honey or sugary marinades that can cause charring and more HCA).
  • Grill fish! It has less fat and cooks faster than meat and poultry.
  • Lightly oil the grill. Don’t use lighter fluid, if possible
  • Choose leaner and thinner cuts of meat that will cook faster. Trim any fat or wrap meat in foil to prevent it from dripping and producing more smoke and flare-ups.
  • Partially cook larger cuts of meat inside (oven, microwave) and just finish them on the grill, flipping frequently to reduce char marks. Avoid pressing on food with a spatula which releases drippings and creates more smoke.
  • Don’t char or burn meat, poultry or fish, and don’t eat any charred or blackened areas.
  • Use a meat thermometer to know when food is done. Don’t cook red meat until it’s well-done. Cook at lower temperatures, even if it takes longer.
  • If you use a charcoal grill, replace the charcoal after each use.
  • Grill veggies and fruits! They are delicious and do not form carcinogens themselves when grilled. (You can wrap them to avoid smoke from grilled meats cooking at the same time)

THE WELL-BEING OF LONG-TERM CANCER SURVIVORS

The good news is that there are about 17 million cancer survivors alive today in the United States. Better yet is the fact that there are so many long-term survivors (5 years or more after treatment). While some are able to manage the uncertainties and challenges of life brought on by cancer fairly well, for others the impacts on their physical, emotional, or even financial well-being are felt throughout survivorship. 

It’s never too late to ask for help or seek ongoing support to ease cancer’s lingering burdens and improve one’s quality of life

Physical Well-Being

Survivors are often aware they might experience a few long-term physical side effects of cancer after treatment ends, but not all understand that the main types of treatment can also cause “late effects” that may not appear until months or years later. Long-term survivors can also experience other health conditions due to the treatment received, including an increased risk for other cancers.

Knowing all the cancer treatment (s) (type/duration/dose) you received and its potential effects on your health is important. This is where having a Treatment Summary and Survivorship Care Plan comes in especially handy. It will summarize for you and your other healthcare providers (PCP and other specialists) details about your cancer diagnosis, the treatment you received (and continue to receive, if applicable) and the plan for future follow up care and monitoring for late/long- term treatment side effects, recurrence, etc. It considers the needs of the whole person. 

If you did not receive this document from your oncology care team, you can request one or create one for yourself with information they provide to you. See additional resources below for more information. 

Emotional Well-Being

Even for long-term survivors, anxiety can persist for many years after treatment. Often the anxiety centers around one or more of the following:

  •   fear of a recurrence or second cancer
  •   coping with other ongoing health needs and/or any long-term and late-effects of cancer treatment
  •   the lingering burden of cancer’s impact on household finances
  •   the continued strain on relationships, struggles with body image, difficulties around intimacy and sexuality.

Support groups, one-on-one counseling, exercise, relaxation techniques and other complementary and integrative therapies like yoga, tai chi, meditation, and many more, can help to manage the worry and stress and refocus one’s attention.

Some survivors experience severe anxiety, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or continued depression that significantly disrupts their lives. It is important to speak to your healthcare team and work together to find the best treatment possible for your needs.

Remember that you are not alone. No matter the degree of discomfort or distress, reach out for support so you can heal and find the joy in life you deserve.

Financial Well-being

Whether cancer treatment ends or transitions to maintenance therapy, the healthcare costs for follow-up care and late and long-term effects of treatment can be substantial, creating a burden that can be difficult for long-term survivors to overcome. Even with “good” private health insurance that adequately covers cancer treatment, the toll on one’s overall finances can have lasting effects on their lifestyle, future earning potential, and household assets. A loss of income due to the patient’s and/or other household member’s reduced or inability to work – whether temporary or permanent – can create a financial strain. Serious, unresolved financial hardship can make it difficult for survivors to maintain a consistent standard of living. Large amounts of debt can accumulate over time. Filing for bankruptcy due to medical debt is not uncommon for long-term survivors many years after their cancer diagnosis.

If you are receiving extended cancer treatment and feeling the strain of the out-of-pocket costs of your care, share your concerns with your healthcare team and inquire about your options for care and other community resources available to provide some support.

Links to Additional Resources:

Coping Magazine Survivors Guide
American Society of Clinical Oncologists Survivorship
Cancer Support Community Long-Term Health Concerns
Late effects of cancer treatment
Survivorship Care Plans: Life After Cancer
Survivorship Care Plans: During and After Treatment
Cancer Finances

Just Breathe….

There is a wide variety of relaxation techniques* out there to try in addition to or to pair with your breathing exercises. Sample a few to find the one that is most helpful to you. Regular practice is the key to continued and more profound benefits.

These are just a few:

  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation – this technique involves tightening and then relaxing muscle groups of the body as you take slow, deep breaths, usually while lying down. You can self-guide as you work your way up your body or listen to a recording that will lead you through the exercise.
  • Yoga – an ancient practice generally involving your breath and moving through different body poses which may include some meditation. There are many types and levels of yoga that can be enjoyed solo or in a group setting led by a yoga teacher. Classes of all levels can be found in your local community or online. A consistent yoga practice will yield increased benefits. Check with your doctor regarding any health conditions before beginning a new yoga practice.
  • Meditation – a mind-body practice to increase your awareness of the present moment and promote calmness and relaxation. There are many different types of meditation which focus one’s attention using the breath, mantra, words or an object. Meditation can be guided (sometimes easier when getting started) or self-directed; it can be short or longer in duration. A consistent daily practice typically becomes easier over time and is highly recommended for maximum benefit.
  • Visualization (also known as Guided Imagery) – focus your awareness on a pleasing and calming scenario that can be a place, a memory or sensory elements all of your choosing. You can use a guide or pick an environment of your own making.

Links:

Guided-Imagery Meditation from Memorial Sloan Kettering Other meditations from Memorial Sloan Kettering Integrative Medicine Gentle Yoga Poses from Memorial Sloan Kettering Integrative Medicine Healthline’s best meditation apps for 2020 More relaxation techniques with instructions

*Relaxation techniques are generally considered safe for those who are healthy. People with serious physical or mental health problems should discuss relaxation techniques with their health care providers.