The Epigenetics Myth

Epigentics came into my life around the same time I was first diagnosed with Lynch Syndrome and then more strongly when I was diagnosed with cancer. Always the seeker I purchased many books, and read many articles on the subject. Epigentics is “the study of changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself” defined by Google. Wikipedia defines it as “the study of heritable phenotype changes that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequence. In more common language epigentics is controlling your external environment (everything from where you live to what you eat, put on your body, lifestyle, exercise etc) to prevent certain genes from turning on and increasing the risk of cancer or heart disease, or some other disease or illness. When there is an awareness about what we put on and in our bodies our health can be positively affected. However, in my experience what is currently written about in books on epigentics and disease prevention, does not provide the full picture about disease and healing.

Epigentics itself is an important field however, there are some problems as to the style, presentation of the information, as well as gaps into the big picture of illness, disease and healing. This can leave those with cancer, or a loved one with a disease feeling isolated, shamed, confused and frustrated.

There are a few issues with some of the articles and books supporting epigentics. First, is they ignore and skip over any hereditary genetic mutations like Lynch or BRCA (which is different than a gene just being turned on). Several of the books I read mentioned that individuals with a hereditary gene mutation only make up a small percentage of cancers- 5% or less. This is mentioned twice in the first 48 pages of The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton Ph.D, who states “95% of breast cancers are not due to inherited genes.” Personally I believe this is inaccurate, due to gene testing/profiling being relatively new. For example, my grandma lived her whole life with Lynch Syndrome probably (she never had a genetic profile). She had multiple cancers and surgeries, with doctors preaching a healthy lifestyle to her. She listened and lived with shame, blame and guilt thinking her health, diet etc was never good enough, as well as fear about what to feed her grand kids. However, she was healthy, yes she could have improved slight areas, but she Rollerbladed several miles in her 70s or did some type of cardiovascular exercise most days of the week for an hour or two, and cooked 98% of her meals at home with grown vegetables and picked fruit. She actually was beyond her time compared to most females of her generation in actions and thoughts on health. I think there are many individuals with cancer, or cancer survivors who have an undiagnosed gene mutation, like her,  because doctors just do not know. With short times in doctor offices, and multiple specialists it often takes years or generations for the story to come together for a gene mutation diagnosis, like Lynch. However, as more doctors become aware, and more genetic profiling is completed I do believe the percentage of cancers from genetic mutations will increase, which will make several books on epigentics out of date. I e-mailed Dr. Lipton regarding this, and received no response. As someone with a genetic mutation I do not believe all is lost, or there is no hope. I believe we can still learn to listen to our bodies, meditate, and live a healthy lifestyle, and reduce our risks.

The second issue is the language, and tone of several of the articles and books. The tone indicates that the individual with the disease should have been able to prevent, and keep their bodies healthy if they had followed the exact guidelines put forth in the book. Because of this there is a sense of shame, self blame, and guilt associated with receiving a diagnosis such as heart disease or cancer in the community. Or, even the expectation that an individual should be able to heal themselves through diet, lifestyle and mediation without help of western medicine, which can have some huge irreversible consequences. One book even mentions that individuals with cancer have a weakness. As mention in Yogic Management of Cancer by Dr. Swami Nirmalananda. She states “with disease there are weak body systems.... inviting various diseases”. Don't we all have a weakness? How can this be an invitation to disease? This is also an awareness for those of you with a friend going through cancer. They maybe experiencing these emotions, but are afraid to express them due to displaying their "weakness".

I find myself having conversations with other individuals with cancer or diseases saying “cancer is not your fault” or “do not feel guilty relying on western medicine to help heal and become cancer free”. Or other individuals are stressing themselves out trying to have the “perfect diet”, “perfect workout routine” as defined by someone else. Not from what their body's tell them they need. Then the overdoing and restrictiveness combined with stress, actually increase inflammation putting them at higher risk for all sorts of issues including cancer. A paradoxial situation.

 My current cancer prevention- western and alternative modalities

My current cancer prevention- western and alternative modalities

Yes, we need to take responsibility for our health, our bodies, what we put in and outside and if we abuse our bodies, and our emotional state. Awareness is key. This is my passion. However, it is not a guarantee, nor the only factor to keep diseases and injuries away. I know many people, myself included who have been diagnosed with cancer while living a "healthy lifestyle" and doing the inner work of emotional and mental healing and evolution. Now I am not perfect, yes my diet is not 100% pure organic, I store anger in my body unconsciously, and am learning how to more effectively process emotions. But, I am human being learning and evolving just like everyone else. I do not have a faulty weakness, a defect or something wrong with me that lead me to have cancer. I am an imperfect vulnerable human, just like the authors of the books and articles. Sometimes cancer is just part of our journey, and we need western medicine to help heal and prevent in combination with lifestyle and emotional management. It' not anything we did wrong, or could control. I wonder if the tone of some of these books would change if the author themselves went through the journey of a cancer patient? It's not just the cancer diagnosis that makes this journey difficult, it's all that cancer brings with it. It's the decisions, doubt, ups and downs, procedures, complete changes in schedule and what is known, unknowing, lack of control, fear, just to name a few.....

Maybe that's the biggest lesson I learned from my cancer journey. We only get one shot here on this merry go round called earth, and we might as well take some risks, live from and follow our hearts, as well as, own up to areas we can improve. Maybe this the best way to prevent cancer and diseases after all? When we are in alignment with our purpose, then ideally we are supported in whatever way life evolves. Cancer or no cancer. So yes, eat your kale, get to the gym, but also take a lazy lounge day and have your donuts once in a while too. Listen and love yourself moment to moment to determine what it is you really need. If you have cancer believe you can heal, love yourself (even the part with cancer) and create a support community that also believes you can heal. There is power and hope in that more than anything else. There are some wonderful books supporting the power of the mind and belief on overcoming. However, let go of the shaming if you do need help, and realize it's not a perfect path. Because perfect environment or not, there are no guarantees, we are not invincible. S**t of all sorts happen so we might as well enjoy the ride while we are here on this planet earth. Even if the moments are not perfect, we can still learn how to enjoy each one and make them "perfect" in our own way. When I do this I can truly experience appreciation and gratitude for all that I do have, genetic mutation or not.

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