March 31, 2023
Featured photo by: Caroline Chia | Words by: Jill Alphonso
(Photo above) Just moving will make a difference. Ms Jill Alphonso exercises 30 minutes a day, even if it means just stretching in her living room. Exercise has been shown to reduce cancer risks significantly. The Bikram hot yoga specialist has found her practice to be an immeasurable pillar of support to her health, especially in her cancer prevention phase of life.
How are you feeling?” Since I started publicly sharing my story, that’s the question I am lovingly asked every time I meet someone or tap open my messages. It fills me with warmth and gratitude, that my friends and loved ones are thinking of me.
To answer it I am — perhaps surprisingly — feeling great. I am celebrating, of course, being cancer-free after my mastectomy, and do not need radiation treatments or chemotherapy.
Clinically speaking, my post-operation recovery was so quick that at a check-up two weeks after surgery, my doctor said: “You’re healing so well… What are you eating? What are you doing? Keep it up!”
Similarly, my physiotherapist working with me through normal mobility issues post- mastectomy echoed that sentiment: “I’ve never seen a recovery so quick. It’s remarkable, Jill.”
I am grateful. I am fortunate. I also attribute that speedy recovery to a total reorientation of my lifestyle in order to continue fighting cancer. In fact, observational studies in the world of natural healing all point to the fact that the cancer fighters who thrive best are on a plant-based diet, exercise regularly, sleep and rest regularly and well, and have a solid spiritual life.
(Above) Post-mastectomy, Ms Jill Alphonso is cancer free. But she continues to keep healthy with the right diet, a mindset shift, and staying connected with her spiritual well being, to keep the disease from coming back. Ms Alphonso’s doctor was impressed with how fast she was healing at her 14-day check up post mastectomy, and told her to keep up whatever she was doing. PHOTO; JILL ALPHONSO’S PERSONAL COLLECTION
So pre-surgery, I changed my mindset, diet, rest, and spiritual life.
This new regimen is what many breast cancer patients who got in touch with me have asked about, after reading about my breast cancer journey.
Given how many people wanted to know, I’m hoping that what I continue to share on WhatAreYouDoing.sg will help many other cancer patients, raising awareness about where they can start helping their bodies heal — and stay well. (Of course, I use my social channels like Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook to share messages, and anti-cancer recipes that I hope you find exciting as I do.)
I’ll begin by telling you about my own baseline: I’ve been a yoga practitioner for 22 years. I started teaching 10 years ago, and specialise in Bikram hot yoga. From my first session, I had recognised yoga as moving meditation, and decided then it would be a lifelong practice for me. In fact, it has been an immeasurable pillar of support to my health all these years, and now, it remains a pillar as I enter my cancer prevention phase of life.
Over the course of my battle with breast cancer, having yoga as a baseline helped me accept many things, and orient my thoughts and emotions towards the positive.
Today, my cancer prevention plan includes shifts that have been super simple, such as improving my rest and exercise habits overall. Other areas where I’ve made changes, especially with my diet, can look radical. But these changes are rooted in my personal, firm beliefs: that radical healing takes radical effort. Conversely, minimal efforts produce minimal results.
I realise not everyone will be motivated in the same way. But I chose this path to give myself the best chances of survival, and thrive in my post-cancer life.
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Turning Off Cancer Genes
How did I choose my current lifestyle, you ask?
The first thing to understand is that there are things one can do to turn off cancer genes, slowing (and even halting) the growth of tumours. Other things can also turn cancer-fighting genes on, whether or not you are afflicted with the disease. In a nutshell, my anti-cancer protocol means that I now:
- Eat a plant-based diet: Because all meats (including chicken and fish) contain methionine, an amino acid that feeds and protects cancer cells, I chose to eliminate these from my diet. What’s my protein source, you ask? Vegetables, beans and grains, which contain all the protein you need and many today are plant-based. Just ask Arnold Schwarzenegger, who’s 99 per cent vegan.
- Get good-quality rest: This means I strive to switch off the lights at 10pm or so, and to sleep eight to nine hours a night. Lack of sleep is linked to cancer risk, and for the record, top-performing athletes are advised to sleep for up to 10 hours a night. Natural healers also say to go to bed as early as possible, since 11pm to 1am has been identified as the period when many organs recharge and repair.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise is indisputably linked to lowering cancer rates by as much as 20 per cent (and that’s a conservative estimate). So I get at least a half hour of moderate exercise a day. That could be a walk, a yoga session, a pilates class, or even a light workout or YouTube qi gong session at home — whatever I’m in the mood for that day. Do what’s fun for you. In short, just move.
- Get sunlight daily: At least 15 minutes, and around an hour after waking. This helps with one’s circadian rhythm. It also means I’m producing Vitamin D, supporting bone health, lowering blood pressure, preventing disease, and promoting good mental health.
- Practise gratitude: In my cancer journey, I really worked on my “happiness muscle”, because gratitude can boost neurotransmitter serotonin, and activate the brain stem to produce dopamine, the brain’s pleasure chemical. The more we think positive, grateful thoughts, the healthier and happier we feel. I now keep a “Happy Thoughts Only” journal, which helps me remember the little things I appreciate about my day. I also stop to breathe, and give thanks for the goodness of life, or what I’m eating, or what I’m doing, just for a moment, at least three times a day.
(Above) Ms Alphonso finds the joy in the everyday with her pillar of strength, her husband, Mr Justin Noreikis, who was her primary caregiver post surgery. PHOTO: JILL ALPHONSO’S PERSONAL COLLECTION
By no means am I perfect every day, on every count. But as my doctor at a natural healing centre, Aenon Healthcare, told me: Adopt what you can today, and incrementally add more to the list so you have a “right living” lifestyle that can help you best keep cancer at bay.
My Diet: Eating to Live
I was not always on a vegan diet. I’d been a big meat-eater before, but had tapered it off over the years, becoming a pescatarian around 2018. Even before my diagnosis, I was only eating fish and shellfish once a month, and on the day of my cancer diagnosis, I switched to a strict diet.
I eat loads of natural foods like vegetables, fruit, grains, nuts and seeds. I see it as purposeful eating, and try to eat as many anti-cancer foods as possible, such as berries and cruciferous vegetables including broccoli and cauliflower, which have been shown to help with apoptosis (cancer-cell death).
I avoid caffeine and alcohol, and have ‘nice cream’ (whipped frozen bananas) instead of ice-cream.
While it can sound restrictive. I see it as joyous, because how I eat and live gives me energy and sustains me.
From my reading and participation in various natural healing groups online, I understand that often, this way of ‘right living’ can also benefit those going through chemotherapy.
For the curious, I am:
- Vegan (100%), since meat is a known carcinogen and has cancer-feeding amino acids
- Gluten-free (90%), as this helps decrease inflammation risk in the body
- Refined sugar-free (90%), as refined sugars increase inflammation and decrease immune function. (NB. This doesn’t include moderate amounts of natural sugars like fruit sugars or molasses, maple syrup and honey; natural glucose is needed for energy!)
- Low salt (about ¾ teaspoon of high-mineral salt like Celtic sea salt, or less a day, including in cooked meals)
- Low oil (about a tablespoon or two of high-quality, certified extra virgin olive oil with high phenolic content for its cancer-killing benefits)
Cancer warriors, if you’ve lived through a diagnosis and treatment protocol, your lifestyle needs to incorporate healthy habits for at least five years, as those are the most crucial years that your body is still constantly renewing its cells. You want the building blocks of those new cells to be the best quality, and the environment in your body as anti-cancer as possible.
Changes you make today will help healthy cells regenerate, to create the fittest, most cancer-free version of yourself.
(Above) Eating healthily has been a priority for Ms Alphonso since her diagnosis, and she persists in eating right even when she’s not at home. PHOTO: JILL ALPHONSO’S PERSONAL COLLECTION
Optimising Your Health
In addition to nutrition, rest and exercise are key to maintaining optimal health. If you’re fighting cancer, nutrition isn’t the whole plan.
Your mindset and spiritual wellbeing are also critical. Personally, I recalibrated my mindset to focus on living for the future. I am aiming to constantly, actively, create a life filled with intentional joy.
In the lead-up to surgery, I “cleaned house,” literally and metaphorically. I spent time spring cleaning so I would have a beautiful place to return to from the hospital. I had fun steam-cleaning my floors, rearranging my cupboards, and decluttering. Finally getting to tasks I’d had on the backburner for ages felt rewarding, although my husband could barely understand why I wanted to clean when I could be lounging around instead.
I also “cleaned house” in my mind, looking at all the spaces where negativity had taken hold. I wrote down a list of people to forgive, and one by one, let go of past hurts that were needlessly plaguing me.
Post-surgery, I spent time talking to friends and family who had rallied around me. There were many gifts of thanks to send out and thank-you dinners with loved ones. There are many more to be had.
With my doctor’s okay, I took a beach trip during medical leave. Nature, they say, is the greatest healer. And besides, the ocean is my happy place, and swimming in the sea, walking on the sand and kayaking and bird-watching did wonders for my soul.
Besides all this, one thing that I changed in my life for the better that will stick with me is my relationship with my maker. I had sorely neglected it for years. When it comes to cancer, much has been said about miraculous healing when “god” — whoever that is for each person — intervenes.
(Above) Ms Alphonso went back to nature, said to be the greatest healer, especially the ocean, her happy place to help with recovery. PHOTO: JILL ALPHONSO’S PERSONAL COLLECTION
Whether you are a believer or not, here’s what I know: I do not count myself as religious, but I would not have come through without reconnecting to a trust in the divine.
I have always had a solid belief in what I term as “spirit.” And it is on this that I renewed and leaned on during my cancer journey.
During my stay at Aenon, I was especially reminded of a higher power — one with an intelligence greater than yours or mine — who has a way of working that remains a mystery.
If I may paraphrase a proverb, I’d like to offer you this, reader, if you’re struggling as I was:
Trust in the divine with all your heart, and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge the divine — it will direct your path.
When faced with fears, I took deep breaths and reminded myself of that. I surrendered my worries to that higher power, releasing any thoughts that I could even begin to understand why I was going through what I was going through. I just put one foot in front of the other, and prayed.
Usually, in my prayers, I did not usually ask for things. Mostly, I gave thanks for the fresh air I was breathing, the people I was with, going on a drive, or even handling food I was prepping. Even the honour of being able to do even little things, such as steam-cleaning!
As I did so, I found myself becoming more attuned with my day-to-day moments. I experienced profound joy, and it is that joy that I carried with me, and continued to carry me, throughout my cancer journey.
However you seek spirit, please do so as you take on whatever challenge you have ahead of you. I invite you to allow spirit to guide you, and be attuned to it always. This is the pathway to joy and from joy stems good health.
I thank you, reader, for following my journey. I thank you for your attention and I hope some of what I have said is useful to you. Here’s wishing you love, light, and health all the days of your life.
My education on natural healing, the “right living” lifestyle for anti-cancer benefits began with resources like Aenon Healthcare, a stay-in facility in Malaysia that addresses physical and mental health through lifestyle and prayer (people of all religions wishing to regain good health are welcome; I myself do not identify as Christian but was lovingly taken care of and tended to here); various juicing and raw foods sources such as the Gerson Method and Chris Beat Cancer, a book and website (visit the latter link for free health tips like “20 Questions to Ask Your Oncologist,” as well as podcasts and interviews with medically trained doctors who are now natural healers) for holistically healing cancer.
Follow Jill’s Journey as she deals with her diagnosis of breast cancer and ensuing fight to beat it with WhatAreYouDoing.sg:
- Part 1 of Jill’s Journey: When Breast Cancer Upturns Her Life, Jill Alphonso Fights Back
- Part 2 of Jill’s Journey: Jill Alphonso Shoots Down Breast Cancer Misconceptions
- Part 3 of Jill’s Journey: Facing the Scars of Breast Cancer, and Finding Beauty in Them
Singaporeans and PRs above age 50 get subsidies for mammograms and screenings. But as breast cancer is on the rise in those even younger than that, getting screened is key to early treatment. Visit the Breast Cancer Foundation or the Singapore Cancer Society for advice and more. Private practitioners such as Solis Breast Care And Surgery Centre, where the author received treatment, also are a good place to start for information on mammograms, screening options and advice.
The aim of this documentary series is to encourage and uplift readers and their support networks facing breast cancer. The editorial team at WhatAreYouDoing.sg stands alongside the author in assuring all women who undergo mastectomies that we embrace their scars as a natural part of healing and their courageous fight against breast cancer. Follow Jill on social media where she regularly shares recipes, thoughts and inspiration on Instagram, @jillhealsnaturally, TikTok, @jillhealsnaturally, and Facebook.