October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it’s important to understand the impact of the most common cancer in women. It is also a time to show support to those currently fighting their battle against breast cancer, and encourage women to take charge of their health.
For this month’s Wellness Talk, we are honoured to have Isabel Galiano, the Co-founder of The Cancer Coach. She is a Certified Nutrition & Health Coach, specializing in working with patients affected by cancer, as well as their families. Isabel is a Functional Medicine Practitioner, Certified Yoga Instructor and Reiki Practitioner.
After healing from breast cancer herself, Isabel quit her job as CEO of a successful radio station in Europe in 2007 to focus on health and wellbeing. Determined to turn her personal experience into a positive inspiration for others, her aim is to empower people affected by cancer to take an active role in their healing journey. Her coaching is unique as it provides knowledge, support and holistic guidance on physical and emotional wellbeing.Before we get started, could you share with us how you started your day this morning? (we love hearing about morning routines!)
After my kids leave on the school bus, I usually exercise; like going for a brisk walk in Botanic Gardens, doing a Qigong class in Botanic Gardens, or swimming in the pool at my condo.
After exercising, I start my working day, usually with a coaching session.
What is your story, what do you do and how you got into the work you are doing?
In 2006, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 years old. I had just come back from my honeymoon and we were planning on starting a family. Five years before my diagnosis, my mother had passed away from cancer at the age of 53 and I thought cancer would no longer be a part of my life. I was by her side throughout her battle so I knew all too well the scary and painful journey ahead: multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiotherapy…
I instinctively knew that in addition to medical treatments, I had to address many other aspects of health. I started my quest to put my body and mind in the best possible position to heal and to remain healthy.
Once I was cancer free, I felt the need to make sense of it all. I wanted to turn both mine and my mother’s experiences into something constructive and positive. I set myself on a mission to become a Cancer Coach and find ways to empower people so that those affected by cancer could not only take an active role in their healing journey, but also feel supported and understood.
I have been continuously educating myself about health and wellbeing - specifically health coaching, functional medicine, nutrition in the context of cancer, yoga therapy, stress management, sleep coaching, and emotional wellbeing. I have found inspiration and support through mentors, teachers and dedicated colleagues.
My biggest inspiration comes from my everyday interactions with cancer patients and their families. I am humbled by their stories, drive and motivation. Every person, every journey is unique and together we work on achieving a higher level of health, quality of life, and emotional and physical wellbeing. In becoming a Cancer Coach, I found my passion and my purpose.
Can you share more about how you personally healed from your cancer?
I believe in an integrative approach to health. I did all the conventional treatments (surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapies), but I realized that although necessary, it was not enough.
My first step was probably to admit to myself that I did not take care of my physical and emotional health for many years.I knew I needed to start being very honest and ask myself difficult questions, like “What made your body get into such a vulnerable position that it could not fight off the disease?”.
Years of high stress and sleep deprivation took a huge toll on me. Taking care of my mother, managing her business, my job, my studies, family issues, etc…I wore multiple hats and there was a lot that my body and mind had gone through which I did not address. Even after my first cancer diagnosis, I was so focused on only my medical treatments and not other aspects of health.
When my cancer came back in 2008, I needed to make sure that this time, I would do everything I could to remain healthy and minimize risks of my cancer coming back a third time.
I started doing yoga on a regular basis and eventually certified as a yoga instructor. I dove into breathing techniques, meditation, and improved my connection with nature. That’s one of the things I absolutely love about Singapore; being able to do daily walks in beautiful places like the Botanic Gardens.
Nutrition was another aspect that plays a major role in my health. I learned a lot by studying integrative nutrition, oncology nutrition, functional medicine, but the biggest realization for me was that there is no one-size-fits-all diet. An individualized approach is absolutely the way to go. I also make sure my diet promotes a healthy gut microbiome, which is crucial to promote a strong immune system.
Finally, movement plays an important part of my life now. I am not a very athletic person at all, but as a cancer survivor, exercise is an absolute priority. Research is very clear that regular exercise (at least 150 min a week) significantly reduces your risk of many cancers but also specifically breast cancer recurrence. It took me a long time to find my way and to stay motivated. At the moment, I do 2 hours of Pilates, 2-3 hours of brisk walking and Qigong every week. In addition, my two young boys keep me active. We like to do scooter, biking or swimming.
At the end, it’s never about perfection, but about creating long term habit changes that are realistic and sustainable for you. That’s exactly the philosophy of The Cancer Coach, an individualized approach with each and every client in terms of nutrition, emotional wellbeing, optimal sleep, exercise, and more. We guide our clients every step of the way and meet them at where they are in their journey.
What do you see are the biggest hurdles to overcome with your clients?
Misinformation and controversial information out there. People feel confused and frustrated because they don’t know what to believe anymore.
How has COVID-19 impacted you personally and professionally?
On a personal level, like so many of us, the hardest part is not being able to see families and friends who live overseas.
Professionally, it created a sense of urgency to create a digital platform that cancer patients from all over the world could access from their homes. I realized that cancer patients were more isolated than ever and at the same time had less access than ever to any kind of support. That is how me and my Co-founders created The Cancer Coach platform and I started to train other Cancer Coaches in different parts of the world to be able to offer individualized cancer coaching online in every timezone and in 5 different languages.
From your experience, what do you feel are the biggest health challenges people are facing today?
Physical: Obesity - often combined with type 2 diabetes, sedentary lifestyle and lack of adequate sleep.
What we eat and the way we eat has changed dramatically. We are eating more than ever before, but are often malnourished and deficient in many nutrients because of excessive consumption of highly processed foods barely containing any nutrients. The way we eat has also become increasingly unhealthy, we eat at irregular times, often in a rush, on the go and snacking too much during the day.
These unhealthy habits have affected our body weight, blood sugar levels, insulin levels, but also our gut health, which is a crucial part of our immune system and makes us much more vulnerable to many types of diseases.
Emotional: Higher levels of stress and anxiety, feeling more isolated and detached. We spend more and more time online, boundaries between work life and private life are fading away, less human interaction, losing precious sleep. All these factors deeply affect our emotional and mental health, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 situation.
Can you describe your food philosophy?
A balanced diet rich in wholefoods that gives your body all the nutrients it needs for optimal health. Having a lot of variety in our food intake, especially a high intake of colourful plant based. Regularity in the timing of our meals is also important. And let’s not forget joy and pleasure; fostering a positive relationship with food and viewing food as our ally for our health and wellbeing.What does gluten free mean to you?
What we know for sure is that gluten does not provide any essential nutrients, it is clearly not an ingredient that we need in our diet.
We all have different sensitivities to gluten. Those who have celiac disease, absolutely need to completely avoid gluten, but many have gluten intolerances/sensitivities and are not even aware of it. Signs of gluten sensitivity vary considerably and are not always obvious; they can manifest in all sorts of digestive issues, headaches, fatigue, brain fog, or sleep disruptions.
If you have any of these symptoms it is worth trying having a completely gluten free diet for at least 2-3 weeks and see what difference it makes for you.
For those without any obvious gluten sensitivities? I believe that it is still a good habit to keep gluten to a minimum, but there is a catch. In my opinion it all depends on what food you replace it with. Gluten-free does not necessarily mean healthy; like with any other food, you should always look at the ingredient list. Lots of gluten free products are filled with added chemicals and added sugar. For example, potato chips and sodas might be gluten free but that does not make it healthy.
We definitely eat lots of avocado and hummus. Quinoa salad is also often on the menu as a side dish. Baked fish and lots of different kinds of vegetables, like green asparagus, broccoli, bok choy. We like to change it up all the time using lots of various spices and herbs for different flavours.
What are your top three tips for healthy living?
A balanced diet, high in nutrients and high in plant based foods.
Regular exercise and daily movement.
Good sleep habits.
For someone wanting to learn more about wellness/nutrition, what resources would you recommend?
I like Dr Mark Hyman’s approach, it’s quite balanced and not too extreme. He has interesting podcasts and books.
I also think highly of Dr Rangan Chatterjee, who has a great ability to simplify and make healthy habits easy to follow.Do you have any affirmations, quotes, or mantras that you turn to regularly?
I like the saying: “We should all meditate for 20 minutes every day, unless you don’t have time; then you should meditate for an hour”.
I also practice gratitude every single day and recognize daily how lucky I am in so many aspects of my life.How can our readers connect with you further? (any programs/social platforms?)
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or to request a 20-minute free consultation
And finally, just a bit of fun, some sentence starters (just say the first thing that pops into your head!)
To relax: I spend time in nature
I’m most grateful for: Being healthy right now
If I could eat only one thing for the rest of my life it would be: Avocados
If you are interested in health coaching for you or someone close to you, here is a little background on how Isabel and her team work at The Cancer Coach.org:
The Cancer Coach.org provides one-on-one health coaching for cancer patients.
Cancer coaching helps you through current difficulties by exploring options and making choices that work for you, your cancer and your life. We do this through custom health coaching plans using areas of functional medicine - nutrition therapy, mobility & exercise, sleep, stress, anxiety, depression, gut health and environmental toxins to create new lifestyle habits that can influence a cancer diagnosis. Your journey with The Cancer Coach starts with an initial free consultation to review your prognosis and understand how we can help you https://members.thecancercoach.org/consult/register
Together we will work out a plan personalized to your priorities and needs. We will develop realistic action steps that fit into your day-to-day life. We believe in long term habit changes that will lead you to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle. That’s why it is so important to have an individualized approach. It is not always about turning everything upside down, we believe in consistent small steps that will lead you to a sustainable and long term healthy lifestyle.