It was probably about a year ago that I first heard of Sophie Trew. It was a patient on a Facebook group (Sarcoma Patients Exploring Integrative Medicine) who told me about Trew Fields Festival and recommended I connect with Sophie, and earlier this year I interviewed her for this blog (see our interview in May here).
This weekend past was Trew Fields season #3 and I went along to learn and connect and soak up the atmosphere, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the big shifts I’d have personally. More about that later.
But first, I want to give you a quick rundown of the major highlights for me, along with the key insights and lessons learned.
Keto - fad, fake or breakthrough?
The first speaker on the cancer awareness stage was Rob Verkerk of Alliance for National Health, speaking about keto - not “the ketogenic diet” (although that was part of it), but rather, the notion that we as a society don’t activate ketosis nearly enough these days.
In Western society, we are so well-fed and have such freely available access to food (generally speaking) that we now eat between 5 and 7 times a day, barely 2 hours apart sometimes.
But from an evolutionary point of view, we’re designed to sustain extended periods of fasting.
It’s well documented that fasting can help clear the body of dead, dying and “long-in-the-tooth” cells, as well as precancerous cells, and then mobilise our stem cells to repopulate the tissue. I’ve written about this previously when I wrote about intermittent fasting.
In fact, fasting can help reduce cancer risk and can also improve chemosensitivity in cancer cells, whilst boosting chemoresistance in healthy tissues. In a study of breast cancer patients, those who fasted overnight for 13 hours or more had a reduced risk of secondary recurrence.
Rob’s take home message was to try extending the periods between meals to around 5 hours, and extending your overnight fast to at least 13 hours.
Exercise is medicine
The next speaker on stage was Lizzy Davis from CanExercise talking about my favourite topic - the role of exercise in cancer rehabilitation.
She got the whole audience up on their feet and MOVING, while also telling us all about the many, MANY benefits of exercise in improving quality of life, mood, sleep and of course reducing cancer risk.
If you want to learn more about exercise and cancer, I’ve written previously about it here.
How your mind can heal your body
One of my favourite speakers this weekend was the hilarious Dr David Hamilton, author of How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body.
A fellow Scot, David has a PhD in organic chemistry and worked for a few years in the pharmaceutical industry. It was during this time that he became fascinated with the placebo effect and has since written several books about the physiological impact of mindset on the body.
For instance, did you know that just THINKING about an experience in which someone showed you kindness can alter the levels of oxytocin in your blood (what he calls “the kindness hormone”)?
Live like you are dying
Another fellow Scot (and fellow scientist) graced the stage towards the end of the day - the beautiful Fi Munro.
Fi was a research scientist in the NHS for years. Having graduated with a PhD by the age of 25, she talked candidly about how her life was all about work and not enough about enjoyment.
In 2016, Fi was diagnosed with incurable stage 4 ovarian cancer. She told us all about how she literally walked out of her job - no notice period, nothing! - and retrained as a yoga instructor and Shamanic healer.
Caught between the science and the “woo-woo”, she’s open and honest about her struggles here. The science says “not a chance!” but experience says “but it’s working, so….”
As she wrapped her talk up, she left us with a challenge:
“If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you do today?”
What would you do?
...that was a BIG shift - #3...
How to change your genes - epigenetics
Day 2 kicked off with a husband and wife duo - first up was geneticist, Steve Ottersberg, talking about how we can reprogramme our gene expression through breathing.
Yep - you read that right!
Now, to be clear, we’re not talking about reprogramming BRCA1 mutations or anything like that. We’re talking reprogramming the stress response and the impact this has on the biochemical pathways that “pass through” the mitochondria.
When we’re stressed, we have higher levels of the stress hormones, cortisol and adrenaline, kicking around our bloodstream and we also breathe in short, shallow breaths.
By focusing on and controlling our breathing, we can lower the levels of these stress hormones, and this can in turn alter the expression of genes in our mitochondria and make us more metabolically flexible.
Treating the terrain, not just the tumour
Following Steve on stage was his wife, Dr Nasha Winters, author of The Metabolic Approach To Cancer (a book that is now on my birthday wish list…!).
Her story is incredibly inspiring. Diagnosed with end-stage ovarian cancer at the age of 19, Nasha was given 3-6 months to live.
27 years later, she’s a true cancer thriver and internationally renowned thought leader in the field of naturopathic medicine.
Not only was she naturally very funny, but she was frank about the damage we are all exposing ourselves to on a daily basis.
She talked about the 10 components that contribute to increasing cancer incidence, and what we can be doing to reduce our risk factor in each area. I took as many notes as I could, but if you want more detail, then I’d recommend you visit her website or read her book.
Now there’s a challenge! Shift #4...
Sophie Sabbage and the fear protocol
Having been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer 5 years ago, Sophie has outlived her doctors’ expectations (there’s a wonderful recurring theme here, isn’t there?!). Since her diagnosis, the cancer has spread to her brain - several times. At one point, she was told she had 27 different tumours on her brain. Yet still she dedicates her life to helping others live through their own cancer experience.
She opened her talk by saying, “I can’t help you live without cancer, but I can help you live without fear.”
As a “mindset alchemist”, Sophie has been transforming lives for 30 years through her work, but in the last 5 years has she turned her own adversity into a powerful force for good in patient advocacy.
So what is her “fear protocol”?
First, you need to admit that you’re afraid. In doing so, you have begun to take back some power.
Next, you need to try and identify the moment when the fear began. Fear is all locked up in a memory in a single moment in time. Can you identify that moment - that lifeshock - which offers an opportunity for personal awakening?
Then, the trick is to get good at identifying these lifeshocks. Practice writing down your lifeshocks, big and small, every single day.
And finally, realise that we cause our own fears. Something happens - the lifeshock - but then it’s US that give it meaning. The good news is that you can control what you think and challenge your perceptions of it.
...That was another BIG shift…#5...
The biggest shift
Of all the nuggets of wisdom I gleaned across the weekend, the stand out moment for me was when Sophie Sabbage said this:
“There are a lot of truth seekers out there. Don’t be a truth seeker. Seek out the lies, hunt them down and spear them to the ground - then all that remains is the truth!”
She was, of course, referring to hunting down the lies that run through your head every day (what she calls your “mindtalk”). But I think it applies to many realms of life.
As a typical scientist, I’m ALLLL about seeking out the truth. WHY does THIS thing cause THAT outcome? But in actual fact, all my scientific studies to date have unearthed a whole lot more UNtruths than truths.
Let me explain…
In my work, I’ll come up with a hypothesis. Let’s say it’s that ‘drug A’ will kill off cancer cells. But then I do the experiment, and see that ‘drug A’ only kills of, say, 50% of cancer cells.
So what am I left with?
A puzzle to figure out why the other 50% of cells didn’t die.
Just like when Thomas Edison allegedly said, “I have not failed 1000 times. I have successfully discovered 1000 ways to NOT make a light bulb”, if I just shift my perspective and look at the SAME problem from a different angle, and I start looking for the 1000 ways NOT to kill the cancer cells instead, then in spearing all those “lies” to the ground, all that remains is the truth.
Sophie Sabbage concluded by reminding us of two simple truths:
Step out from behind your fear
And so I want to leave you with a challenge. Four simple steps to take action on:
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Essential Cancer Education exists to make a difference in the lives of those living through the cancer experience indirectly by assisting cancer professionals in engaging their patients and clients with lasting, positive lifestyle changes to reduce secondary cancer risk.
I believe that through education and increasing public awareness of the impact of our dietary and lifestyle habits on cancer risk, we ALL have the power to reduce cancer incidence. Nearly half of all cancers can be prevented by making positive diet and lifestyle changes. Nearly half!
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