Anticancer: A New Way of Life
by David Servan-Schreiber
New Edition. New York: Penguin Publishing, 2009. 320 pp.
Reviewed by Nancy A. Hardesty
This is a must-read book for all of us who have been touched by cancer—and for all of you who hope not to be touched by it. Each of us carries tiny cancer tumors in our bodies. Many things we do unwittingly encourage cancer growth. There are many things we can do to discourage that growth. This book tells us how.
My friend and co-author Letha Dawson Scanzoni (herself a cancer survivor) mentioned this book to me months ago. I was caught up in chemo; I ignored her. Then a couple of weeks ago she mentioned it again. I immediately downloaded the book to my Kindle. As they say, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”
Psychiatrist and neuroscientist David Servan-Schreiber speaks from experience. At age 30 he was researching the brain’s activities and learned he had a malignant brain tumor. Like me, after surgery and chemo, he went back to his usual busy life. Then he had a relapse. For him, another surgery and extended chemotherapy. Time to take stock. So he began to study the “terrain” of one’s life. Surgeons and oncologists focus solely and blindly on those growing cancer cells. They tend to ignore the rest of life. Servan-Schreiber began to take a look at everything else. And he found a lot of solid, scientific information that “cancer doctors” overlook or dismiss.
This book is heavily documented—one sentence is followed by 15 endnotes(!), each citing a different scientific study supporting the sentence’s assertion. Yet the book itself is very readable, laced with personal stories.
Most helpful to me initially was his outline of the cancer process, how cancer cells highjack our natural healing process in various ways. Cancer treatments often target one or two aspects of that process. But, as the good doctor learned, certain foods can also play roles in inhibiting the growth aspects of the process or enhancing the body’s own fight against the insurgent tumors.
So instead of my usual coffee, I had green tea with my breakfast today (he recommends two cups a day). For lunch, a hard-boiled egg becomes deviled egg salad that includes a quarter teaspoon of the spice turmeric with a shake of black pepper—another daily recommendation. It’s a sunny day in August as I write, so yesterday I went to a local orchard to buy fresh blueberries, peaches, and plums. Scientists have recently discovered that “summer stone fruits” (apricots, peaches, plums, dark red cherries) are also very good cancer fighters. And the list goes on.
The book also discusses farming practices that encourage the eruption of the dormant cancer cells in our bodies. And the environmental poisons that do the same. But that is only part of the “terrain” of our lives.
I mentioned the book to Shayna, my nutritionist at the Cancer Wellness Center. She pulled her dog-eared copy from the shelf and said, “That’s where many of the recommendations I’ve given you come from!”
Servan-Schreiber is a practicing psychiatrist and so he talks about our psyche and our social networks. He reflects on the many stresses of life that may keep our bodies in a constant state of inflammation – the ideal situation for cancer to take advantage. I rejoiced in God’s timing in bringing my friend Evelyn back into my life, and gave thanks for my forty-year friendship with Letha, for all of my EEWC sisters and brothers who pray for me and send me encouraging messages.
Even though Servan-Schreiber is not a religious believer, he lifts up some of the spiritual practices, prayer and meditation, that I shared in my workshop at the June, 2010 EEWC-CFT Gathering, as ways of finding peace and serenity in our lives.
Toward the end of the book, the author takes up the issue of death. Reflecting on the common fear of suffering, he outlines again the natural dying process, which is rather peaceful and painless. Today most enlightened oncologists manage pain with medications that leave one comfortable and mentally alert. That gave me both helpful information and a sense of peace.
Throughout, Servan-Schreiber argues that the most debilitating emotion any sick person can experience is helplessness—a feeling that there is nothing I can do in the face of this illness. This book offers a myriad of information on good things that all of us can do to maintain the health we have and fight the diseases that befall us. And at the very end, he gives the best advice of all: basically take from the book what you can and what you choose; leave the rest. Listen to your body, do what it asks of you, live intentionally. And keep moving.
So multigrain crackers it is. Hummus and bean burritos. And blueberries, peaches, plums, and cherries galore! It all seems to be helping.
Reviewer Nancy A. Hardesty is professor of religion at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina. She coauthored All We’re Meant to Be: Biblical Feminism for Today with Letha Dawson Scanzoni and is the author of many other books as well. Nancy has been undergoing a series of chemotherapy treatments since a few of her dormant pancreatic cancer cells decided to assert themselves.
© 2010 Evangelical & Ecumenical Women’s Caucus – Vol. 34. No. 2 Summer (July–September) 2010