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Appreciating What You’ve Got

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It’s often all-too-easy to get complacent about what you’ve got, be it friends, family, money, warmth – and your health.

I’ve got a cold at the moment, and dammit, I feel sorry for myself. Really sorry for myself. I’ve noticed this more since I’ve been living a healthy lifestyle – the fact that I feel so much better 99% of the time means that in the 1% of the time I’m not firing on all cylinders, I’m really sad about it. But this is just a cold.

I was talking to a lovely lady yesterday whose husband has stomach cancer, and it’s terminal. It’s returned despite doctors’ best efforts through radiotherapy – they’ve even removed his stomach, but unfortunately, it’s back. That sort of thing makes you really think about what you take for granted. The health of yourself and your family is so, so important, and yet all too easily forgotten.

In my family, we have a really bad history of cancer, and I’ve lost a number of family members to it. It’s actually recently been the anniversary of my Nan’s death, so it’s been on my mind quite a lot, which is why I’m taking part in the Race for Life in June – and look! My number arrived this week:

Events like the Race for Life aren’t just about raising money, although obviously funding the research that the guys at Cancer Research UK do is incredibly important. It’s also about awareness – of the fact that everyone knows someone who’s had cancer, and that every two minutes, someone in the UK is diagnosed with some form of the disease. These facts are hard to ignore.

What is easier to forget, however, is the fact that lifestyle and cancer are fundamentally linked in a number of ways. Now, I’m not saying that everyone who suffers with the disease has ‘brought it on themselves’ – of course, that wouldn’t be true, and it certainly wouldn’t be fair. Most of the incidences in my family are as a result of the BRCA-1 gene, so we’re proof of that.

However, have a look at some of these statistics:

  • It’s estimated that obesity is behind around 17,000 cases of cancer each year in the UK.
  • If the average lifetime risk of breast cancer is one in nine, an obese woman’s lifetime risk is one in seven.
  • Obesity is one of the main causes of bowel cancer. Some groups have estimated that obesity causes about 11-14% of bowel cancer cases.
  • Putting on 2-10 kg (4.4 – 22 lb) after the menopause increases the risk of breast cancer by 30%.
  • Putting on 25 kg (55 lb) after the age of 18 increases the risk of breast cancer by 45%.

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding those statistics pretty terrifying – especially as I’ve still got some way to go to reaching a really healthy weight. And as an ex-smoker, and sometime drinker, there are some more pretty scary numbers too:

  • Smoking accounts for one in four UK cancer deaths, and nearly a fifth of all cancer cases. In the UK, smoking kills five times more people than road accidents, overdoses, murder, suicide and HIV all put together.
  • Every year, alcohol causes around 4% of cancer cases in the UK, about 12,500 cases. As little as 3 units a day can increase the risk of mouth, throat, food pipe, breast and bowel cancers. That’s one pint of premium lager, or a large glass of wine!

Now, I’m not saying you should give up everything fun and stay in a padded cell for fear of cancer. You should be living your life to the full, regardless of how exactly you choose to do that – it’s up to you. And I’m totally behind the philosophy that you’re here for a good time, not a long time – a life without fun isn’t really worth living.

That said, however, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that, since I ‘woke up’ and changed my life for the better – giving up smoking, eating better, getting regular exercise and drinking less – I’ve been considerably happier, and I’ve had considerably more fun. That’s why I’m so miffed at this cold – because the lethargy, the inability to get out and about, the loneliness, all remind me of the day-to-day of being morbidly obese. I didn’t realise how miserable I was until I changed – and now, the thought of going back to that fills me with despair, no matter how much the idea of a life of pizza, wine and cigarettes sounds like fun.

Because really, it’s not fun. It’s escapism, and it’s a release, but it’s not fun. Cooking yourself a delicious, super-healthy meal whilst dancing to the radio? That’s fun. Walking home from work on a sunny day without getting out of breath – and enjoying it so much you take a detour to go see a gorgeous view? That’s fun. Going to Global Gathering and dancing for two days straight? Definitely fun.

And taking part in the Race for Life, raising money for a great cause and helping in the fight against cancer?

That’s going to be really fun.

If you’re not making the most of what you’ve got – and I’m willing to bet there’s at least one area of your life that you’re neglecting to fully, wholly appreciate – I’m going to set you a challenge.  Make one change today that will make your life better. Whether it’s improving your health, making contact with a friend or family member that you’ve lost touch with, or finally getting down to writing that novel – think of one thing, and commit to it.

Once you’ve made one change, you’ll make others – and pretty soon, you’ll find your life is better, and you appreciate it for what it is. The biggest tribute you can make to people who are fighting diseases like cancer isn’t running a race – as much as that will help.

Nope – the biggest tribute is making the most of your life, and being grateful every day for what you’ve got.

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