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Alcohol and breast cancer - read Nina's story

Sunday 1 May, 2011 by Bek

On 1 May we launched our new alcohol and cancer TV ad campaign – Stain and Spread. At the launch, the lovely Nina Tovey, 31, told her story about why she's cut back on alcohol. We thought we'd share it with you.

In 2005 my family’s life was forever changed when my 53 year old mother was diagnosed suddenly with breast cancer. It came as a big shock to all who knew her as she is such a vibrant person who always exudes strength, wit and charm. Mum debunked so many cancer stereotypes – she exercised daily, ate a diet rich in fruit and vegetables and lived a social, balanced life.

When dad called to tell me about mum’s diagnosis and her decision to have her left breast removed, I remember sitting on the floor and curling into a small ball as I cried and processed what lied ahead and how frightened my parents must be.

I was working in a very busy PR position in the financial services industry and was lucky enough to have a boss that was extremely supportive and gave me the time I needed to support my family. I flew up to Brisbane immediately and went straight to visit mum in the hospital as she recovered from her mastectomy. The memory of her lying in her hospital bed after her operation is a painful one to re-visit. I tried to be strong but as soon as I saw her I broke down and cried in her arms.

Since the operation mum has gone from strength to strength and is incredibly focussed on her health and wellbeing. We recently celebrated the wonderful news she is now ‘cancer-free’ when five years passed from her initial diagnosis. She has made a number of changes to her diet and lifestyle. She practices yoga daily, has learnt to meditate, and has cut down on her alcohol intake.

Since my mother’s cancer diagnosis I have asked many doctors about the best things I can do to reduce my risk of breast cancer, and they have all pointed me in the same direction. ‘Reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, and if you can, cut it out altogether.’ I researched the topic and was taken aback by what I found – particularly the fact that one small glass of wine a day increases the risk of breast cancer. I was shocked by the lack of awareness in the community about the link.

Medical experts agree that moderation is key when it comes to alcohol consumption. But how many Australians do you know who drink in moderation? For the most part, I have found alcohol to be completely embedded into Australian culture – it forms part of the way we do business, the way we socialise and how we relax. This is particularly so for Australian males. And sadly, I too rarely see moderation as part of the equation.

My lifestyle was no exception. A few glasses of wine marked the end of my working week more often than not, and it became too easy to dull the effects of a particularly stressful day with a few drinks. I started to ask myself some tough questions – did I even like the taste of alcohol or did I actually like the way it made me feel?

I knew reducing the amount of alcohol I drank was the right decision but it was also an easy one to postpone because it was something I enjoyed, along with the vast majority of my friends and family. It wasn’t until I decided to start my own PR business in 2010 that I gained the clarity and perspective to do something about it.

Changing my relationship with alcohol prompted me to make other changes to my life in order to improve my health. I cut out most dairy products and refined sugars, and fell in love with zumba which I practice four times a week.

It hasn’t always been an easy transition but it becomes easier with time. The biggest challenge is to train yourself into realising you can celebrate the good times, relax with your loved ones, and socialise without alcohol being the common link.

My advice to others is to get as informed as possible about how alcohol can impact your health. There are plenty of reputable studies available online. Read them and talk about the issues with your friends and family. Try giving up alcohol for a month with the support of a loved one to know you can do it, and notice how your body responds.

It is easy to use alcohol as a crutch when pressure mounts in your life so I’ve been careful to have healthier ways up my sleeve to relieve stress. Exercise has been particularly beneficial (and guilt-free!). When it comes to the benefits of an alcohol-free life, there are so many – I’ve lost weight, spend less money, sleep better. I get so much more out of my weekends and I’m more centred in my work and personal life. I also have the peace of mind of knowing that I’m doing the best thing for my health.

Most of my friends and family have supported my decision but of course there are times where friends will push me to have a drink or give me a hard time. I laugh it off and the moment soon passes. I’ve found it is also important to be comfortable around alcohol – I don’t push my views onto people. I’m not overly rigid either, which is important for me when making a long-term change. If I want to drink the odd glass of champagne to mark an occasion I will. But I don’t need a glass in my hand any more to get the party started, and for me that is all the difference.

Alcohol and cancer ads


What do you think of these ads? Would they make you think before your next drink? Do you find them shocking or not shocking enough? Follow the conversation on Twitter - #alcoholCancervic

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