If you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer, it’s no longer a death sentence. In fact, cancer deaths decreased by a whopping 20.1 percent nationwide from 1980 to 2014. But the growing number of survivors creates another problem. Until recently, hospitals and clinics haven’t addressed what to do after you beat cancer. Survivors have had to figure out how to implement certain diet and lifestyle changes, which are necessary to remain healthy post-cancer, on their own.
With more individuals in remission, that’s changing. Last year, the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer even mandated that cancer centers do a better job of helping survivors move forward with their lives.
Cancer survivors Dr. Lise Alschuler and Karolyn A. Gazella are trying to help them do just that. Alschuler, a naturopathic oncologist, and Gazella, a health journalist, have been working together for nearly 20 years—writing guides to cancer treatment, hosting a radio show on cancer prevention and healing, and, this past October, launching iThrive Plan, a Boulder-based app that provides survivors with personalized wellness plans.
“When people are diagnosed with cancer, they get this mirror thrown up in front of their face,” Alschuler says. “They’re staring at their mortality in a very acute way, and it causes a lot of shifting of priorities. Basics like diet and exercise are hard to focus on then because there’s so much else going on, but that’s where survivorship becomes such a great opportunity; that’s when they’ve got the motivation and energy to improve their health.”
To start, an iThrive user will answer questions about everything from their level of exercise to their spiritual practices. The app uses the responses to assess what you need to work on in five different areas: diet, movement, environment, spirit, and rejuvenation. Users then receive a customized plan with “action steps” made up of easy tasks. For instance, one of the beginner-level diet steps directs patients to experiment with adding red, white, and blue foods to their diets; a beginner movement step suggests fidgeting more. Once you complete five tasks, you move on to a new level. All activities include a brief scientific explanation and references to peer-reviewed research studies as well as actionable extras like recipes users can make at home. The hope is that breaking down these changes into succinct, doable steps will make grand lifestyle adjustments feel easier.
So far, iThrive has partnered with cancer centers in California, New Mexico, and Georgia to offer the app for free. No Colorado cancer centers have jumped on board yet, but anyone can download iThrive online for $8.99 per month.