After being diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 40, my life changed dramatically, not least of all because of the significant changes I had to make to my diet and lifestyle. The biggest change, and possibly the one that was the hardest to embrace, was the decision to stop drinking alcohol.
Anyone in the wellness space will be aware of the effect that alcohol has on the body in terms of inflammation and causing damage to tissues. Alcohol makes it harder for the body to absorb certain nutrients, which are integral to our health and longevity. Alcohol consumption may also increase the risk of cancer recurrence, especially for cancers that have known associations with alcohol drinking, like breast cancer.
I remember meeting a wonderful older lady in the integrative cancer clinic, and she told me that she had cured her own ovarian cancer, and the key thing had been giving up alcohol.
Despite knowing all this and being extremely scared of a recurrence, I still found it hard to come to terms with not drinking alcohol again. I even started wondering if I had a drinking problem, which I didn’t, but the lack of choice definitely made my internal tantrum shout even louder.
I think living in London at the time made it harder, social drinking there is the ‘norm’ and my pre-cancer life had been very sociable, both professionally and personally, especially working in the corporate sales world. It was normal to pop out to meet a friend and share a glass of wine. What was I going to do now?
At first, it was kind of easy because after all the cancer treatment, the last thing you feel like doing is drinking alcohol, but as life moved on, I could feel the desire to ‘fit in’ creep back. I wanted to be ‘normal’ like everyone else.
However, I couldn’t stop thinking about that lady and her words of wisdom about alcohol and cancer recurrence, so I was determined not to cave in.
Not drinking really is a test for friendships; it seems the true friends still want to hang out with you even without a bottle of Merlot. But the great thing is that new friendships developed, and we enjoyed a way of life that didn’t need constant numbing.
10 years later, I still consider myself a non-drinker. I do have the occasional drink, a Campari or Mezcal, possibly a handful of times a year (not even the 80/20 concept). But the pleasure I get from saying, Yes, I AM going to have a drink, and really enjoying that experience is worth it. Sometimes I think a little bit of what you fancy is good medicine.