• This was a big identity shift for me, going from one end of the scale, fit and strong, to weak and extremely unfit. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
For Andy Zagami, 2012 saw the end of his three-year cancer journey. But it was also the start of a new battle, returning to life and health after cancer.
Andy Zagami

7 Jul 2016 - 3:25 PM  UPDATED 7 Jul 2016 - 3:25 PM

While there were feelings of happiness and relief that it was all over, I also experienced a fair bit of shock. Somehow I had to return to normal life after I had been left a skin and bone version of my former self. The problem was I had no idea where to start.

My hospital was only set up to support in-patients, so I was unable to access certain services I felt I needed, specifically their dietitian. While I knew a little bit about nutrition, I was severely lacking when it came to using it for its healing properties, so I hit the books and started researching and later became a nutritional therapist, which gave me a far deeper understanding of how to use the healing powers of food.

I knew I had to look at the food I was eating as I had learnt through my studies and reading online publicationsjust how beneficial eating a vegetarian-based diet could be; importantly, for me, a plant-based diet has been shown to decrease various diseases, including cancer, so I was sold.

The transition to a vegetarian lifestyle was made much easier for me since meat, wheat and dairy post-cancer were making me sick every time I ate them. Once I cut them out, I noticed a drastic shift in how I felt on a daily basis. I started feeling more energetic, slept better and felt less foggy in the head - or less ‘chemo-brain’ as we called it.

I took it a day at a time and, for once, I listened to my body.

Once I had nutrition relatively under control I started on my next step, rebuilding my body through exercise. Being a personal trainer I knew what to do. But having the motivation or energy to do it was an entirely different story. My first goal was to complete a 10-minute workout. When I started I could barely do a set of 10 push ups and squats without feeling out of breath and exhausted, so I knew I had a long road ahead.

I was frustrated in the beginning because I knew I was capable of doing so much more. But that was the old me, the ex-gymnast. The guy who used to train 25 to 30 hours a week found that holding his body up with ease no longer existed. The new me needed patience, so I gave myself as long as I needed, otherwise the old me would show himself and most likely get injured.

This was a big identity shift for me, going from one end of the scale, fit and strong, to weak and extremely unfit. Initially I struggled; this wasn’t me at all so I had no idea how to adapt let alone deal with the feelings of frustration and disappointment within myself.

I took it a day at a time and, for once, I listened to my body.

I started out fasting for 24 hours, which wasn’t too hard since I had been skipping a fair amount of food recently during treatment anyway. 

Moving forward I wanted to experiment with my food more, so I started introducing fasting techniques. I started out fasting for 24 hours, which wasn’t too hard since I had been skipping a fair amount of food recently during treatment anyway. I needed to give my health a big kick so I looked at what else fasting could do for my body.

One of the major benefits of fasting is it rests our digestive system, which means our body has more energy to heal and repair itself. I started doing a 24-hour fast every week and a 72-hour fast on a monthly basis, which I feel helped speed up my recovery the most.

With all the changes taking place I finally looked into meditation to help keep me grounded. I knew what it was and how to do it; I just never had the patience for it until a friend of mine took me through one of his processes. It was nothing profound, just the simple act of sitting in a room together and focusing on our breathing was enough to start me off and pay attention. I initially struggled with the idea of sitting still for so long but sitting alongside him made it a whole lot easier as I didn’t want to disturb him.

Now, four years on from my last treatment, I still use these practices daily and feel all the better for it. I’m grateful for my experiences as they have made me into who I am today, which I’m able to translate into helping others.

Andy’s tips

1. Take control of your nutrition: Experiment yourself, if you notice a particular food doesn’t agree with you, cut it out for a while and see if you notice a difference in your energy/mood. Speak with a nutritional therapist to develop a suitable meal plan for your needs.

2.Move your body: Daily activities from walking to body weight exercise will help increase lean muscle mass and improve your lung capacity while releasing those feel good endorphins. Push ups, squats, lunges, pull ups and hill sprints are all great exercises you can do anywhere.

3.Fasting: Fasting from food is a great way to give your digestive system a rest and start repairing your body on the cellular level, something our bodies don’t get enough of a chance to do when we are constantly eating every few hours.

4.Meditation: Regular meditation has been proven to increase immune function, decrease inflammation at the cellular level, regulate your emotions and improve your memory. Anyone who’s experienced cancer can relate to all of these so it’s pretty clear how powerful meditation would be. Headspace is a great app to help people get started.

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Andy has a passion for sharing his knowledge. His story has inspired and shaped the lives of thousands through his consulting and first published book Unbreakable. He loves sharing what he learns so his clients and readers can live the life they want, one of health and abundance.

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