After decades as a cancer researcher, Jane’s world was shattered by three words: “You have cancer.” At age 50, a colonoscopy revealed colon cancer that spread to her lung. “I could die! Why me?” she recalls thinking. But her traumatic journey eventually led her to a place she never expected: “Even though I have cancer, I am much more balanced,” she says now, “Life is beautiful.”

Her remarkable story is told in the short film “Life in Balance” as part of TakeCare, a national initiative rooted in science that provides the reflection, motivation, and implementation to inspire people to create health and well-being in their lives. As an integrative oncologist at the University of California San Francisco’s Osher Center for Integrative Health, I had the pleasure of working with Jane and then acting as Health Advisor to the film about her.

Like hundreds of patients I’ve seen, Jane initially felt panicked and powerless. She was at the mercy of the surgeon, the radiation oncologist, the medical oncologist, and even the chemotherapy nurse, directing her to make appointments, take medications, and prepare for chemo and radiation. Patients feel overwhelmed, even paralyzed, by the sense that there’s nothing they can do except follow orders.

But Jane, like many others, was fortunate to learn about vital methods of self-care; in her case primarily improved nutrition, yoga, and mindfulness practices that have been scientifically proven to help reduce inflammation in the body and manage our stress – two important steps in helping fight disease. They also provide one of the most important sources of healing: hope.

Unleashing Your Body’s Immune Response
We now believe that inflammation is a major cause of diseases of aging including dementia, heart disease, and cancer. Inflammation occurs in the body when the immune system is activated to fight off a virus, bacteria, or damaged tissue. To decrease inflammation, Jane began eating more plant-based foods and increased her physical activity through yoga and daily walks with her daughter’s dog. Before cancer, Jane actually disliked the dog, says her daughter, smiling. Now, her mother is a “completely different person” who has become best friends with the dog on daily walks that allow her to enjoy nature and breathe fresh air.

The Power of Relaxation
Stress generates the hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system and weakens our body’s ability to fight off infection and stay healthy. But when we quiet the mind and relax, it can produce a powerful positive response. Even just a few minutes of slow, deep breathing or a quiet walk outside can reduce cortisol, lower the heart rate and make it easier to manage our response to stress. For Jane, one of the most helpful tools at her disposal was meditation. She made it a daily practice and it helped to clear her mind, reduce her stress, and even made her a happier person.

Fostering Hope
Making small changes to improve our well-being instills the power of hope. It inspires action and gives us newfound courage and strength. When Jane takes on a new perspective and tries new things — cooking more nutritiously, becoming more active, and learning how to rest her mind and body — she says she feels more control and more hope for the future. These really were not huge leaps for Jane, but they have made all the difference, as she puts it: “Little changes to make you feel whole.”

You can read this blog on TakeCare.

Donald Abrams, MD served as a Health Advisor on the film, “Life in Balance,” as a part of The Healthy US Collaborative’s TakeCare initiative. He is a specialist in integrative medicine and cancer treatment at the UCSF Osher Center for Integrative Health. He is also a practicing general oncologist at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.


  • Funded by the nonprofit The Healthy US Collaborative Inc., TakeCare is a national initiative that invites people to take care of their Whole Health: Mind, Body, Spirit, and Community. Through education, community support, and highlighting the simple ways in which people have transformed their lives, TakeCare inspires a Whole Health movement for all.