HOW DO WE INTEGRATE CANCER PREVENTION IN OUR FESTIVITIES?

Tomorrow is one of the well-celebrated holidays in the Christian calendar. We commemorate the birth of Jesus Christ our Saviour. There are a variety of ways to celebrate this. In the Northern hemisphere it’s been a crazy experience to see how serious these end of year celebrations are taken materialistically starting as early as December 1st, putting up the Christmas tree, decorations and excessive splurge on gifts. I personally prefer to be gifted generously on my own birthday rather than someone else’s but that’s just my opinion. 

The Christmas lights finally make sense to me. You see, up here by mid November it starts getting dark by 4 pm in the afternoon. So people decorate their houses in all these Christmas lights and it does look beautiful. The point is whether you like it or not one is out and about by the time it gets dark so it gives you a chance to admire these fabulous decorations. The city also has a special Christmas lighting event of the town centre tree. So much time goes into house decorating, for which I am currently unpopular with my seven year old as I try to juggle the busy work schedule and social activities. 

As different as the two worlds are, I have observed two commonalities, Northern or Southern hemisphere, during this period people gather as families and they share a lot of good food. Someone passed a comment saying all jeans are skinny jeans in the festive season. Everywhere we turn there is food. At work, home, church you name it. This makes me think of one of the pillars of cancer prevention, which is diet. I thought to myself how do we keep the fun and taste in Christmas healthy? A large number of people gather in many places at a go. For an evangelist of something ‘tis time to take the opportunity to preach about your something. There are a lot of snacks and dishes with a bit of effort that can be just as tasty without the ‘bad’ stuff. Last Sunday a colleague invited my family and I for a taste of Canadian Christmas buffet and being considerate of my vegetarian status they prepared a scrumptious meal fit for a king with modifications. Even my 20 month old was gulping down second servings, demonstrating his approval of this meal. He is a hundred percent meatarian. 

The other thing I noted when attending pre-Christmas dinners is the excessive conversion of otherwise healthy dishes by adding sugar and saturated fats. Serving a perfectly good fruit salad with chocolate sauce flips it. Yes you read right chocolate sauce! Coating strawberries and kiwis in white sugar or frosting. Zambians why would you do that – we don’t even have snow!

Anyway enough of the chiding, here is how we turn things around. For all those who take pride in their cooking your fame will only be heightened by turning healthy meals into tasty meals and then taking the opportunity of this family gathering to spread the recipe around. It can definitely be done as we have such tasty diabetic meals around. As children grow up in this environment this becomes their new normal. I have a friend who absolutely does not tolerate sugar in her tea because that is the way her mother raised her. Substitutes like cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla make such a delicious difference. And the best thing is you can probably eat as much as you like without feeling ill.

The second pillar of cancer preventionthat can be discreetly incorporated in to our festivities is exercise. As families come together usually you have crowds of 30 plus people. This gives a perfect chance to play a game of sorts. Usually you can choose one that a grandparent or parent was particularly good at like soccer, netball or even track events and make it a mini tournament. This will serve two purposes; firstly it instantly burns all that excessive sugar one would have accumulated that day. Secondly one doesn’t just go into a tournament it takes weeks of training. This will help bring some form of exercise into the routine of family members who may never exercise as they prepare or this match. Its great fun and bonds the families. 

My father was a track and field event guy, so all his grand kids try to emulate him and race each other out whenever they have a chance to meet. I was track, field, swimmer, and cross-country runner in my day too. So you can imagine my disappointment when my 14-year-old nephew beat me 2 Christmases ago. He doesn’t know this but I have been training for him these past 24 months. I will claim my victorious place back one day, I hope.

So lets shift the focus a little bit on how we celebrate as Zambians. A little less of the beer and T-bone, a little more of activity and lean meat. Believe me you will wake up more refreshed on Boxing Day and stride into 2019 more vibrant.

Our leaders are taking healthy living seriously. We should join them in the clearly demonstrated effort. Remember, cancer doesn’t take a break when developing so neither should you preventing it. I have a very good friend who I think is one of Zambia’s first interventional cardiologists. She never travels without her pair of sneakers. You see her posting she is in a conference anywhere in the world; next you will see an update of her having completed a running trail in that city. I personally love jogging because its minimal infrastructure sort of thing and can be done anywhere.

Second last Monday of the year fellow countrymen and women, count down into 2019! As Craig Lounsbrough elequently put it‘Every tomorrow is an outcome of what I do today, and the beauty of it all is that today is happening all the time.’ 

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