Jeff Sirlin seemed to experience every side effect imaginable when he was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2010. The active 37-year-old dad and business owner was fatigued, losing weight and strength, and dealing with the psychological effects of his disease. But he didn’t wait long to take action.
“I’m the type of person who needs to help his own cause,” Sirlin says. Once he got fully understood his stage III diagnosis, he started meeting regularly with Dana-Farber’s nutrition team, making simple diet changes to help him better tolerate treatment and reduce his long-term risk of recurrence.
“These conversations opened the door to wellness for me,” Sirlin explains. And nutrition was just the tipping point.
When he was diagnosed with a metastatic recurrence in 2013 – what he describes as a huge wake-up call – Sirlin made staying healthy his number one priority. In addition to eating well, he started to incorporate exercise and meditation into his life, becoming a frequent visitor to Dana-Farber’s Leonard P. Zakim Center for Integrative Therapies.
What started with tai chi, qigong, and yoga classes led to breathing exercises, writing therapy, and meditation, all of which Sirlin credits with strengthening his body and mind. Once he learned the skills from Zakim Center instructors, he began using them at home – from bed on days he was too tired to get dressed, or to avoid the anticipatory nausea he often experienced when coming to Dana-Farber for his appointments.
“I started seeing the benefits right away,” Sirlin says. “I had a clearer mind, I was focused on what I needed to do, and my body was stronger.”
Because Sirlin gained so much from nutrition and integrative therapies, and because he knew many patients struggle to get to the hospital to participate in these programs, he decided in late 2015 to introduce an online resource to bring these therapies directly to patients.
Cancer Wellness TV was born to help patients like Sirlin across the country and around the world easily incorporate health and wellness into their daily lives and improve their quality of life during treatment. The site features instructional videos on integrative therapies, including those that helped Sirlin, and nutrition advice from experts, such as Dana-Farber’s Stacy Kennedy, RD, LDN. Ramel Rones, the Zakim Center instructor who introduced Sirlin to tai chi, qigong, and the mind-body connection, co-founded the free resource.
“Using integrative therapies is as simple as going for a walk every day, changing one or two things in your diet, or doing a two-minute stretch when you get out of bed in the morning,” Sirlin says. “Everyone’s different, just like everyone’s cancer journey. What works for me might not work for someone else.”
“I had to recover twice from cancer,” Sirlin adds, explaining that his first diagnosis and treatment left him with significant post-traumatic stress. “It’s like night and day with my second recovery because of how I’ve integrated fitness and health.”