Dr. Reyzan Shali has over 30 years of experience advising cancer patients – including her own parents – through the complexities of treatments and its impact on the body and mind. Born in Iraq, Dr. Shali has maintained a steady refusal to live a life defined by a society that minimizes women, which has helped her challenge boundaries along the way. Dr. Shali has written TEAMING UP AGAINST CANCER: Simple, Powerful Ways to Beat the Odds and Take Your Life Back; it’s a layman’s guide that offers support for patients and caregivers, as well as a roadmap to remove cancer-causing elements from your environment and diet to live your healthiest life.
Learn more about what this Salonpas Wellness Warrior has to say about living your healthiest life:
As an internist, why did you decide to focus on cancer patients?
I have a special bond with cancer patients and family members of cancer patients. Whenever I have to deliver a cancer diagnosis to a patient, it takes me back to the days when my dad was diagnosed with cancer and all the overwhelming emotions that engulfed me at that time. I relate to their heartache and find myself extra galvanized to help them ward off the same torment I experienced.
Additionally, cancer statistics are evolving in a more startling fashion. Cancer is emerging as the number one cause of death in twelve European countries and Australia. The United States and other countries are not far behind which highlights the urgency of informing our communities about preventive measures, including diet and a healthy lifestyle.
An early diagnosis for cancer is crucial, but what can people do to ensure they get an early diagnosis? How can people know there could be an issue?
Everybody should follow the recommended screening guidelines and discuss them with their healthcare provider. Listen to your body and if any suspicious or alarming symptoms develop, don’t make any assumptions and please contact your healthcare provider.
What dietary changes do you recommend for cancer patients?
I recommend following the Mediterranean diet which I discuss in my book. This diet is mostly plant-based, composed of a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and seeds, and beans which has been shown to help reduce the risk of many cancers. So whole fruits and vegetables should fill up the majority of your plate—50 percent or more. Aim for a variety of colors on that half of the plate. Your meal should also include at least 25 percent protein, mainly from fish, chicken, beans, and nuts. And up to 25 percent of that plate can be starchy vegetables or whole grains, such as quinoa, brown rice, or whole wheat pasta.
What lifestyle/exercises do you recommend?
Engaging in physical activity not only has been shown to prevent cancer in the first place but also improves well-being and boosts survival rates for cancer sufferers. Making moderate exercise a part of your daily routine will help you live longer and enjoy a better quality of life— regardless of the age at which you start.
You can take a number of other actions to prevent cancer, including not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, and reducing exposure to pollutants. Avoiding these cancer causes allows you to live a longer, healthier life.
What is your opinion on hair dyes, cell phones, microwaves, deodorants and their role with cancer?
- Hair dyes: hair dyes in use before 1980 contained ingredients that could increase the risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, but they have been removed.
- Cell phones: There has been concern that low-frequency radiation emitted by cell phones may cause brain tumors near the side of the brain where people hold the device. But, many of us in the medical community are not strongly alarmed by this prospect because this kind of radiation is too weak.
However, you can take some simple steps to reduce your risk of exposure:
- Don’t use cell phones so much.
- Use a landline whenever possible.
- Keep conversations short.
- Use headsets.
- Monitor your children’s usage
- Microwaves: The reality is that microwave ovens are not in the least bit hazardous. They use radiofrequency (RF) radiation, which is at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Microwaves do not use x-rays or gamma rays, and they do not turn food radioactive. They heat food but do not change the chemical or molecular structure of the food. And microwave ovens are manufactured with effective shielding; they generate microwaves only when in operation.
- Deodorants: It has also been suggested that deodorants could be related to breast cancer because they are applied to an area close to the breast. Several studies have dismissed that proposition.
What is the role of friendship/social interaction with combating cancer?
Studies have suggested that cancer patients who participated in support groups on a regular basis experienced less depression and pain and even lived twice as long as those who didn’t have a support group. I witness this phenomena on a regular basis. The patients who are surrounded by friends and family supporting them and rallying behind them have a much more positive outlook on the diagnosis as well as the treatment plan.
Why did you decide to write TEAMING UP AGAINST CANCER: Simple, Powerful Ways to Beat the Odds and Take Your Life Back?
Over two years ago, I started this process of writing a book about my father and his lung cancer journey and how toxic tobacco can be, hoping to get more people to quit smoking. The book went through its own evolution of different chapters and content added and deleted but the biggest evolutionary change the book had to go through was the loss of my mother due to cancer. So, now, I dedicated the book to both my parents.
Who should read your book? Is it of value for families and friends of cancer patients to read it?
Absolutely. The book is of value for everyone: those who want to prevent cancer, those who are living with and trying to help a cancer patient, those who are caregivers of families who strive to improve their family members’ odds against cancer, and those who have survived cancer and want to enjoy a good quality of life.
Tell me your typical day in your life? From the time you wake up to when you go to sleep.
I wake up early, incorporate some kind of exercise in my early morning routine, get yogurt or oatmeal with tea for breakfast, and get ready to head to work and enjoy several hours of incessant work. On the drive back home, I stop by the store to grab some fresh groceries. Once I get home, I prepare dinner for the family, followed by chasing my boys around and driving them to their different activities, including basketball, soccer, and science Olympiads. I try to squeeze in another half an hour of exercise as I’m waiting for them which could be walking or biking in the park. Afterwards, I go home and get everything ready for the next day and go to bed.