​​​​Society for Integrative Oncology’s (SIO) 13th Annual Conference: Jodi’s Notes

After attending the SIO’s 13th Annual Conference in Miami, my brain and notebook are filled with new information from top integrative oncology researchers. Winifred Chain, also a patient advisor with the CHOICE Study, and I received scholarships to attend as patient advocates. The second evening of the conference, we boarded a yacht for a gala dinner cruise of Miami Bay. We met incredible doctors and researchers from around the world, and joined other patient advocates the next morning for a breakfast meeting. The theme of this conference was “Advancing the Global Impact of Integrative Oncology”, and we heard presentations on research being performed in this field.

The implications of these presentations are powerful enough for me to consider more lifestyle changes. Before I describe the findings, however, I believe it is essential to understand that even doctors, who possess the most health information, struggle to maintain a healthy, balanced lifestyle (1). The physicians and researchers at the SIO Conference are all caring, kind people, who want us to make small, incremental changes that we can sustain long term. They also propose we take the blame out of the cancer equation (2). Instead of blaming ourselves for not making lifestyle changes sooner, we can use that mental energy to align our health habits with current evidence.

If there were one therapy worthy of a New Year’s resolution for cancer survivors, it would be a mind-body therapy like yoga, tai chi, or mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR). For example, there is strong evidence that cognitive behavior therapy for stress management (CBSM) improves mood in breast cancer survivors. (3) Mindfulness therapies interrupt harmful inflammatory immune responses to stress (4), boost mood (5), and improve our sleep (6). Personally, I am continuing my gentle yoga practice at home, and taking an online course in MSBR. Also, the buddy system can help motivate us and hold ourselves accountable, and smartphone applications like “Headspace” can deliver mindfulness coaching into our hands.

Secondly, good nutrition is essential for cancer patients and survivors. Food can be medicine. It can be a culinary anti-inflammatory regimen (7), and as simple as swapping a less healthy food for a more nutritious one (8). The emphasis in nutrition plan research is not eating less, but increasing the nutritive value of what we put on our plates.

If we had any doubt whether added sugars are harmful to us, we need look no further than the research of Peiying Yang, MS, PhD, of the MD Anderson Cancer Center. Since her lab studies have shown added sugars cause harmful, cancer-encouraging cell processes (9), she is beginning a trial examining decreased sugar intake in the diets of cancer patients. Dr. Yang emphasizes it is the amount of added sugar in our diets that is driving these harmful cell processes. The average American adult’s sugar consumption has increased from seven pounds per year in 1820 to over 100 pounds per year in 2012 (10).  Added sugars are naturally occurring sugars or high fructose corn syrup added to processed foods by manufacturers; added sugars do not include naturally occurring sugars in fruits and milk. A helpful rule of thumb is to eat foods in their form closest to the earth. For example, instead of buying instant mashed potatoes, we can scrub a potato and bake it to receive more nutrition. Researchers at the conference also referred us to the MyPlate (11) recommendations. In the twelve years since my diagnosis, I have slowly reduced the amount of added sugars in my diet. Dr. Yang’s research convinces me to continue this healthy habit of nutritive self-care.

What both mind-body therapies and good nutrition have in common is just that: self-care. Everything I heard in Miami advocated for a healthy, balanced lifestyle, and finding what works for us to sleep well and reduce the effects of stress. So let’s be kind to ourselves, begin change slowly, eat foods that grow from the earth, and find beauty in each day.


(1) Kumar, Sameet PhD, psychologist at Memorial Healthcare System Cancer Institute, Hollywood, FL, speaking at SIO’s Annual Conference, Nov. 5, 2016
(2) Ligibel, Jennifer MD, oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, presenting at SIO’s Annual Conference, Nov. 6, 2016
(3) Antoni, Michael PhD, psychologist at University of Miami, presenting at SIO’s Annual Conference, Nov. 5, 2016. Randomized controlled trial of cognitive behavioral stress management in breast cancer: a brief report of effects on 5-year depressive symptoms
(4) Irwin, Michael MD, psychiatrist at UCLA, presenting at SIO’s Annual Conference, Nov. 5, 2016. Tai chi, cellular inflammation, and transcriptome dynamics in breast cancer survivors with insomnia: a randomized controlled trial
(5) Carlson, Linda PhD, RPsych, The impact of mindfulness-based interventions on symptoms burden, positive psychological outcomes, and biomarkers in cancer patients
(6) Irwin, Michael PhD. Mindfulness meditation and improvement in sleep quality and daytime impairment among older adults with sleep disturbances: a randomized clinical trial
(7) Wargovich, Michael PhD, University of Texas at San Antonio, presenting at SIO’s Annual Conference, Nov. 6, 2016. CanSurvive Cuisine
(8) Ligibel, Jennifer MD, presenting at SIO’s Annual Conference, Nov. 6, 2016. Slide: Swap Your Food
(9) Yang, Peiying PhD at University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, presenting at SIO’s Annual Conference, Nov. 6, 2016. A sucrose-enriched diet promotes tumorigenesis in mammary gland in part through the 12-Lipoxygenase pathway
(10) Guyanet, Stephan, 2012, “wholehealthsource” blog By 2606 US diet will be 100 percent sugar
(11) US Department of Agriculture, www.choosemyplate.gov