It took 4 years after I had contracted, dealt with and moved beyond cancer for something to go horribly wrong in my body. Acute pneumonia. There I was together with three hundred odd people at a weekend conference in Malaysia and I’m the one who ends up fighting for my life in ICU 2 days later. What could I have done wrong?
Actually, despite all of my good intentions, I did what many of us who’ve gone through cancer do – I tried to leave it in the past to get on with my life and everything that I was before it. And in doing so, I neglected myself. I hadn’t stopped doing what I knew was good for me – yoga, deep breathing, green smoothies – but I allowed myself to be consumed again by the demands, concerns and turmoil associated with work and living away from family. Combine that with minimal sleep, dubious eating habits due to tiredness, work hours and circumstance. And, of course, stress. A veritable recipe for disaster.
It was during my recovery though that I learnt about a key element to maintaining my health – the immune system. To the lay person, the immune system is simply that important buffer between health and illness, however, it is in fact a highly complex combination of unique and complementary processes. According to Dr William R. Kellas, the co-founder of the Centre for Advanced Medicine in California, “Although no system works alone, the immune system, unlike the cardiovascular or digestive systems, cannot be isolated and pinpointed in a diagram of the human body. Because it is so important, and must react so quickly to invaders, its components and cells are found everywhere in the body” (//www.awarenessmag.com/julaug9/JA9_IMMU.HTML).
At a cellular level, the body has 2 strands of immune response – non-specific and specific. The first type, otherwise known as innate immunity, is the body’s first line of defence, manifested through such physical barriers as the skin, gastrointestinal and respiratory tracts, mechanisms such as bile, mucous, saliva and tears, and internally, through the action of our army of white blood cells. This is our primary immune response to pathogens (bacteria, viruses and parasites) and operates through the identification of “non-self” elements within the body. It is automatic and non-discriminatory, working tirelessly in the background to keep anything foreign from interfering with normal physiological function.
The other type of immunity known as specific or adaptive immunity, is highly specialised in terms of targeting particular foreign organisms in the body and, through memory mechanisms, is even able to work at negating subsequent infection (eg. as in the case of measles which is usually only contracted once in an individual’s lifetime).
At the heart of our immune response is a sophisticated network of cells, chemical enzymes and proteins with specific roles and responsibilities. As an example, those of us who’ve experienced chemo are familiar with the neutrophil count that is the blood test measure used to determine if the body is strong enough to withstand chemo, which destroys healthy as well as cancerous cells. Neutrophils make up 55 – 70% of our white blood cells in the innate immune system and are essential to the body’s ability to fight infection. They are, however, only one component of the white blood cell army, working in tandem with macrophages, dendritic cells, mast cells, eosinophils, basophils, natural killer cells and the lymphocytes of the specific immune response. The complexity of their individual and various functions highlights why there is no singular approach to the medical and scientific fight against disease.
According to Dr Rashid Buttar, a board-certified American doctor in Clinical Metal Toxicology & Preventative Medicine, “If you have a cancer you have to, by definition, have a compromised immune system” (Truth About Cancer Series: The Quest for the Cures Continues, Episode 2, 2014). Once you’ve had cancer though, it becomes even more imperative to keep the immune system working at its optimum every single day, especially if you’ve undergone the standard treatment protocols of chemo and radio which have long-lasting effects on the body.
So what can we do to help our own natural defences work effectively in order to ward off any potential infection? Healthy life-sustaining nutrition (primarily plant-based), proper hydration, regular exercise, adequate sleep, reduction of the toxic load on the body through reducing the chemicals we put in and on our bodies, vitamin and mineral supplementation as required and wellbeing in mind, emotion and spirit. This may seem like a tall order, however, the more I’ve learnt about staying well, the more logical and natural these elements have become to me.
When I started my blog, I shared 3 major health crisis points that I had experienced in my life – salmonella poisoning, cancer and acute pneumonia. Each has brought with it new learning, insight and awareness. Essentially, we have a lot of control over self-protection against disease. Even in the case of genetic predisposition, we are not the sum total of our genes. Knowledge, choice and action. What we do with each ultimately determines the path of our individual health journeys.