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In Honor of National Cancer Survivors Day, Expert Recommends Top Three Tips for Survivorship

Cancer survivors who implemented these tips account personal journeys, offer suggestions to achieving fulfilling life after cancer

Los Angeles – May 29, 2013 – Incorporating just three easy steps into a daily routine can increase a cancer patient's chance at survival, according to a physician who specializes in cancer survivorship.

"It's not enough to help a patient through the management of pain, sleep deprivation and cognitive challenges as a result of treatment," said Arash Asher, MD, director of the Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship program at the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute. He views his role as supporting patients through the entire spectrum of cancer — from diagnosis to survivorship — and the many hurdles in between. "Our approach is to help each patient find meaning through the journey they've been given and provide tactical ways to improve their chance at survivorship and overall quality of life." 

To mark National Cancer Survivors Day on June 2, Asher put together his top three tips for cancer survivorship:

1. Avoid social isolation and chronic loneliness

Chronic loneliness can change a patient's biological makeup, possibly increasing the chance of recurrence as well as higher death rates, Asher said. In fact, according to Asher, chronic loneliness is as dangerous as smoking cigarettes and more dangerous than physical inactivity or obesity. If patients surround themselves with positive and supportive friends and relatives, however, they can increase their longevity and quality of life, Asher said.

2. Tailored, moderate exercise

Exercise offers a myriad of benefits to any individual, but may be even more valuable to cancer patients and survivors, Asher said. Unfortunately, fewer than 50 percent of cancer survivors achieve their pre-cancer level of exercise, and many patients never talk about physical activity with their physicians. At the Cedars-Sinai Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute, exercise specialists design workouts formulated for each patient's abilities. Asher suggests that just like the benefits of a support system, exercise may improve the quality and quantity of life.

3. Get enough sleep

Americans often view sleep as a luxury and rest is one of the first things to be sacrificed if time doesn't permit. Asher said that not getting enough sleep has serious consequences, including chronic illness and possibly an increased risk in cancer. Multiple studies have found that nightshift workers have a higher percentage of breast, colon and prostate cancer, as well as cognitive issues, and a higher risk of obesity and physical limitations. Half of all cancer survivors have some form of insomnia. The Cedars-Sinai Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship program works with these survivors to determine the cause of insomnia and then takes tactical steps toward managing these issues.

The following five survivors have implemented Asher's top three tips for survivorship, improving both the quality and quite possibly, their quantity of life, while regaining control they seemingly lost when they heard the diagnosis, "You have cancer."

Susan Schnell has been battling multiple diseases since 1966 and is a five-time cancer survivor, including diagnoses of thyroid, lung and brain cancer. Through the Cedars-Sinai Cancer Rehabilitation and Survivorship program, Schnell has regained her health and is living life to the fullest. She often says that her doctors helped to not only save her life, but helped rebuild her life after cancer.

Schnell's advice for cancer patients: "Don't only fight to stay alive for your family and friends, fight like hell to stay alive for you."

Jasmin Palmer was only 33 years old when she was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma that had metastasized throughout her body to several organs. Due to the severity of her disease, surgery was not an option — but chemotherapy, radiation and a stem cell transplant were. Palmer used visualization to help her cope with disease and pictured chemotherapy entering her body and attacking her cancer cells one-by-one. Today, between yoga classes and taking care of her family, she volunteers at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute and was in the pilot class of the "Emerging from the Haze" "Chemobrain" Rehabilitation Program to help achieve mental clarity to improve cognition and overall quality of life after treatment.

Palmer's advice for cancer patients: "Realize that you are not the cancer. Cancer affects your physical makeup, but it cannot steal your heart and soul."

Adele Renault is a world traveler and foreign exchange host, but all of that was put on hold at the age of 65 when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. After undergoing surgery, five months of chemotherapy and eight weeks of daily radiation, Renault participated in several survivorship programs at Cedars-Sinai, including the "Emerging from the Haze" course that have helped her stay mentally and physically fit.

Renault's advice for cancer patients: "Don't let cancer consume you. I realized I was more than a couple of breasts and wanted to be treated that way. I made a conscious effort to treat every person I came across with kindness and consideration and, in return, every person I encountered treated me just as kindly."

Andrea Fox had always been cautious with her health and strictly adhered to yearly exams. In October 2011, she underwent a full health screening, including blood work, all of which came back normal. When Thanksgiving came around, however, she began experiencing severe pain in her lower abdomen. She quickly made an appointment at the Cedars-Sinai Women's Cancer Program at the Samuel Oschin Comprehensive Cancer Institute and learned that she had aggressive uterine cancer. After chemotherapy and radiation, Fox has continued conquering the side effects of chemotherapy and is an active participant in the "Emerging from the Haze" class.

Fox's advice for cancer patients: "Be your own advocate by finding a medical team you trust entirely. Don't stop looking until you can trust that team with your life."

Steve Davenport was 17 years old when he had his first stroke, caused by an auto-immune disease called Behcet's syndrome. He had his second stroke at age 24. Then, at 36, Davenport learned he had leukemia and was in need of bone marrow transplant. He began chemotherapy immediately, but severe side effects left him too weak for the marrow transplant. For one year, he rigorously followed Asher's rehabilitation programs, allowing him the strength he needed for a transplant. In 2012, he underwent a successful bone marrow transplant that also freed him of Behcet's syndrome. Today, Davenport continues his journey to strength and wellness with yoga and gym sessions three times per week.

Davenport's advice for cancer patients: "Patients only have two options when it comes to fighting illness — hope or no hope. A positive mind-set and supportive family and friends can give a patient something to believe in."