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Brain & Spine Health | Cancer Care | Men’s Health | Wellness | Women’s Health
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Healthy Choices for Aging

A cancer diagnosis spurs a lifestyle makeover

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Once a self-described “poster boy for unhealthy living,” Northeast Ohio resident Lucius B. McKelvey now focuses on a healthy diet, good sleep habits, daily exercise and stress reduction. Today, it’s hard for his friends and family to believe he once smoked, drank and averaged five hours of sleep a night.

“I was a triple Type-A personality,” says Mr. McKelvey.

In 2002, at age 56, Mr. McKelvey was diagnosed with a cancerous brain tumor. Gene Barnett, MD, MBA, Director of the Rose Ella Burkhardt Brain Tumor and Neuro-Oncology Center at Cleveland Clinic and holder of the Rose Ella Burkhardt Chair in Neurosurgery, performed brain surgery but was unable to remove all of the cancerous mass.

As he recovered from surgery, Mr. McKelvey began thinking about how he wanted to live the rest of his life. Though he had quit smoking at age 50, he knew that his other bad habits were affecting his body and its ability to fight the cancer.

Lowering stress

 “I learned I needed to lower my stress level,” says Mr. McKelvey. “I needed to boost the energy and activity in my immune system to fight cancer cells in my body.”

Studies have shown that lower levels of stress and anxiety are related to better health as we age. Older adults may face stressors such as financial challenges because of retirement, health and medical worries, and changing life situations.

Realizing the enormity of his responsibilities and the stress created by running his thriving real estate company, Mr. McKelvey decided to sell it.

“It was a lot of fun, but very stressful day in and day out,” he says. “I realized I needed to get away from that to fight my cancer.”

Eating right

Mr. McKelvey then began reading about cancer and learned why a healthy diet is important. He became a strict vegetarian, giving up meat, poultry and fish. “I don’t eat anything that has a mother, and it’s served me well,” he says proudly.

Proper nutrition remains important throughout our lives. Common aging factors and health problems such as osteoporosis, iron deficiency, vitamin deficiency and protein-calorie malnutrition are attributed to poor nutrition. And for some older adults who have difficulty shopping or preparing healthy foods, weight loss is as concerning as weight gain.

A balanced diet including protein, vegetables and fruits may positively affect some chronic health problems such as diabetes and high cholesterol. It also provides essential vitamins and minerals, although older adults may want to consult their physician about supplements.

Sleeping longer — and better

No longer stressed about his business, Mr. McKelvey began to increase the number of hours he slept each night, gradually working up to seven or eight hours.

“It was so hard at first,” he recalls. “But I believe a body will take good care of itself if you give it a chance. Part of that is getting enough sleep. I feel so much better, and my whole outlook is better now that I get enough sleep every night.”

Sleep problems and disorders are common in older adults — more than half of men and women over age 65 report having trouble sleeping. And insufficient sleep has been found to impair cognitive function, including memory, in people of all ages. Factors such as medications, poor sleep habits and even retirement (because of its lack of routine) can lead to sleep problems. Older adults who are concerned about the amount or quality of their sleep should consult their physician.

Exercising daily

“I was always in pretty good shape, but I now exercise a minimum of one-and-a-half hours a day, seven days a week,” says Mr. McKelvey. “It helps to reduce my stress and helps me sleep better. I’ve just started learning Pilates on top of what I already do.”

Exercise is one of the most important things we can do as we age. An exercise routine that includes stretching, aerobics and weight training is effective in achieving physical fitness. Regular exercise helps to reduce stress levels, lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, fight type 2 diabetes and decrease the risk of certain cancers. It’s also a great way to socialize, which helps ward off depression and anxiety.

Exercise can help to maintain balance and prevent falls in older adults. Recent studies have shown that the slow movements practiced in tai chi, for instance, are particularly beneficial in preventing accidental falls in older adults. But before beginning any new exercise programs, check with your physician.

Staying positive

Reevaluating his life and breaking unhealthy habits changed his outlook on life, Mr. McKelvey says.

“In addition to exercising regularly, becoming a vegetarian, getting more sleep and reducing my stress, I add something else,” he says. “Vitamin A. That ‘A’ stands for attitude. I work every day to maintain and enhance my positive attitude toward life — each and every minute of each and every day.”

Mr. McKelvey serves on Cleveland Clinic’s Taussig Cancer Institute National Leadership Council. He and his wife, Terrie, have been recognized as members of the 1921 Society for their $1 million commitment that established the Sallie Turner McKelvey Endowment Fund — named for Mr. McKelvey’s mother, who also had cancer. Though his cancer remains, a recent MRI showed that his tumor has shrunk.

Mr. McKelvey attributes this to his healthy lifestyle.

“It’s never too late to start to revamp your life and become healthier, no matter what your motivation,” he says. “My friends and family still cannot believe that I would change my lifestyle so drastically.

“But if I can do it, anyone can.”

Tags: blood pressure, brain tumor, cancer, Catalyst, cholesterol, exercise, healthy diet, iron deficiency, nutrition, osteoporosis, sleep, stress
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  • http://www.facebook.com/denise.h.obrien Denise Hearey O’Brien

    Kudos to Mr. McKelvey for making positive changes in his health habits after receiving a devastating diagnosis. I was a realtor for his company, and he was certainly one dynamic leader! I found it interesting he doesn’t “eat anything that has a mother”. Having seen “Forks over Knives” I, too, have cut down on eating most animals (still love my wild salmon) and feel better for it. I’m curious why more health professionals don’t suggest this to their patients before they get sick. We- and the planet- would be healthier for it.

    Mr. McKelvey, may you have continued improvement with your health!

  • Well educated, but broke.

    Try that and be poor! A little harder, isn’t it?

  • http://www.facebook.com/kara.afrates Kara Afrates Alessio

    What an inspiring story! Thank you for sharing it!

  • Geraldine Cevetillo-Tuccillo

    This story is inspiring and parallel to mine. I am also a cancer survivor. My kidney surgery was performed at Cleveland Clinic in 2007. I subsequently had two heart procedures at Cleveland Clinic.
    Following the guidance of my surgeon, Dr. Irving Franco, i changed my lifestyle completely. I now maintain a healthy diet and exercise four times a week or more. I lost 75 lbs. and my cholesterol is now 14 1… Reduced from 250.
    I am working hard to prolong my life. I am now retired and enjoy every day of my life. My heartfelt gratitude to Dr. Franco and the Cleveland Clinic.