When I was 34, I had cancer.
I was fortunate. It was so borderline that it took two months for doctors to decide if it was even malignant. It was removed, I had local radiation, and I didn’t need to do chemo. But it got me thinking. It got me researching and reading. It got me angry, and it got me moving. It opened Pandora’s box for me.
I want to share my journey with you here at Pandora’s Health, as I learn more and apply what I learn to improve my life. Even when I backslide, I want to share that with you, since we all live in a world full of temptation (and brownies!). Each day is a new day to stack the deck in our favor.
I’ve learned that it’s in some ways a subversive act to be healthy in the U.S. Because the truth is that we are surrounded. Our water, our food, the air we breathe, and the products we use every day are often hazardous to our long-term health and well-being. Corporations and governments too often are not helping, although some enlightened firms are doing a great job.
Current statistics are that about 41% of people born in the U.S. today will develop cancer in their lifetime. 1 Of those who reach 50 without cardiovascular disease, about 52% of men and about 39% of women subsequently will develop it. 2 3 About 33% of men born in 2000 will develop Type II diabetes, and about 39% of women. 4 (I know these are U.S.-centric numbers. Future efforts will work on putting together the picture at a more global level.) We’re getting sicker at a younger age, too. Obesity is rising steadily 5, and more children and young adults are developing Type II diabetes 6, for example.
Prevention versus Treatment
Unsurprisingly, most advertisements from the medical industry tend to focus on treatment, not prevention. But the better way is to prevent illness before it happens. It seems likely that Type II diabetes is frequently preventable, the chance of cardiovascular problems can be cut dramatically, and even the risk of cancer can be cut through lifestyle changes.
Although rare people prove conventional wisdom wrong by recovering from so-called “incurable” illnesses, prevention is much easier. Prevention is also cheap, with skyrocketing return on investment for you as an individual, not for some company. Granted, prevention requires awareness and ownership of your own health. But the payoff for this effort is personal empowerment and, ideally, general well-being that frees you to pursue all of your other life goals wholeheartedly and without reservation.
From my perspective, I would take that deal.
Of course, no single supplement, diet, drug, or lifestyle modification will work for everyone. Instead, prevention is a philosophy of building up overall health to crowd out the chance for disease to develop. Every step that you take toward health is a step away from a life that just happens to you.
What to Do When There’s a Problem
If or when a problem crops up, you may find that you are only presented with conventional options. I would never presume to tell anyone what to do or not do about a medical problem. I know all too well that this is a deeply individual choice. But I do believe there’s value in knowing all of your options.
Over time, this site will catalog the key studies on our environment, lifestyles, supplements, and synthetic medicines, weighted by the rigor of each study, and summarize that data objectively, concisely, and visually.
Double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials will be weighted more heavily than prospective studies, which will be weighted more heavily than animal studies, and so on. Of course, it’s impossible to conduct double-blind trials for many non-drug lifestyle changes — for example, in a trial of exercise versus control group, you’d know which group you were in — but that doesn’t mean lifestyle changes don’t work or are necessarily inferior to drugs. Likewise, just because a company doesn’t have the money to drive a large, expensive trial doesn’t mean its product is necessarily worthless. It does mean you’re taking more of a gamble by relying on more anecdotal evidence, but the fact is that all studies existing should receive due consideration, and you should know what they are, what they show, and what we still don’t know. Only as a fully informed individual can you make empowered decisions about your health.
That said, in the daze of a diagnosis, you may not have time or energy to seek out everything on your own, in all the corners of the Internet. I’ll try to catalog as much as possible here and make it easy to summarize and visualize, so you can read the published studies, talk with your doctor, and make the choice that is right for you.
I do believe that those who are or have been sick can recover. As I mentioned, I’ve already had cancer, and I don’t know what will happen next, but I believe strongly that by taking ownership of my health and building up my body’s defenses, I reduce the odds that I’ll get sick (with anything) in the future, and increase the odds that I’ll enjoy the journey along the way as my most powerful, best self. I am implementing 10 changes in my life, and I invite you to read about them.
Philosophy and Mantra
One last note: Modern life is wonderful, but it poses new risks, and it would be impossible for humans to have adapted fully in a century or two. As the home page says, we are part of a giant experiment, and the outcome is uncertain.
We can’t remove ourselves from modern life. That wouldn’t be practical or desirable. But we can reject the mainstream messages that tell us a polluted environment and poor-quality food are acceptable. We can minimize exposure to questionable or harmful substances, and build ourselves up to increase our odds of dealing well with what we can’t minimize. In other words, we can stack the deck in our favor, one small decision at a time. In doing so, one by one, we can send a message to the marketplace that supports a healthier environment for all people.
One of my favorite quotes is phrased simply: “Be great, feel great, and act great.” This does not mean “you will enjoy perfect health,” but it does mean, “You can play a conscious role in how you live.” Our world has changed. We need to get informed and make responsive changes to stay in balance.
This site follows my journey to do that and aims to share what I learn with you.
Still have questions? Try this FAQ.
- Cancer of All Sites, Surveillance Epidemiology and End Results (SEER), National Cancer Institute, 2010. ↩
- Lifetime Risk — A New Way to Determine Risk for Cardiovascular Disease, Medscape Nurses, 2008. ↩
- Framingham Heart Study, ongoing. ↩
- Lifetime Risk for Diabetes Mellitus in the United States, Journal of the American Medical Association, 2003. ↩
- U.S. Obesity Trends: Trends by State 1985-2009, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ↩
- Type 2 diabetes in children, British Medical Journal, 2001. ↩