Going dry this July will help more than just your health

Melbourne oncologist A/Prof Vinod Ganju explains what you can do to help those living with cancer.

People watching their loved ones go through cancer treatment can often feel helpless to do much, but participating in a program like Dry July is one way that they can feel like they can support more than just their own loved one. It helps people direct their energies in a more constructive way.

A number of people that we work with - patients, their families, friends and work colleagues - are doing various things to raise funds for cancer awareness and treatment through Dry July.

At the moment in my clinic we are seeing local sporting clubs trying to get people involved in fundraising and awareness efforts for cancer, such as a group at the local football club. We have also seen collections taken at workplaces, and people participating in fun runs.

Dry July is a wide-ranging program that supports a lot of different initiatives and it's trying to highlight the recognition of a connection between cancer and alcohol. There is increasing evidence that the risk of developing certain types of cancers, like cancer of the throat and the upper gut, is linked to amounts of alcohol consumption.

There is also evidence that common cancers like breast and bowel cancer tend to have a risk of relapse if people have a high amount of alcohol consumption. People are beginning to realise that alcohol is a contributory factor to developing cancer- and affects how cancers respond to treatment.

Alcohol is also a factor in other health issues as well.

People are generally supportive of wanting to do something to raise awareness for cancer prevention and minimisation. Often, they have been affected by the fact that one of their family members have been involved, or in our case, people that we work with see patients or their family that are affected by it, and they are happy to participate or donate.

I think people receiving treatment experience a psychological benefit from seeing the people around them participating in activities like Dry July, be it their family, colleagues or even the people who work at the place where they are receiving their treatment. Not only does it encourage the patients, it also helps the family members.

Where does the money go?

Money raised through Dry July helps provide treatment and accommodation centres with equipment and furnishings; specialist cancer nurses; helping patients with transport and comfort items such as wigs and turbans; and the provision of information about cancer and treatment in accessible and multilingual formats.

Going through cancer treatment can be a confusing and emotionally draining process, so music, art and animal therapy help patients manage their physical side effects as well as spending time with other people who are facing the same challenges.

Recovery from cancer treatments is an important focus of late, through rehabilitation and survivorship programs. Programs like those that help survivors adjust to life after cancer, including nutrition, exercise, psychological support and financial advice are valuable as cancer survivors are at an increased risk for long-term morbidity and financial grief caused by the treatment.

Young people experiencing cancer also receive counselling to help them develop their skills and confidence for future education and careers.

Since its inception in 2008 the Dry July program has raised $37 million for people affected by cancer, thanks to 160,000 'dry' participants. To register for Dry July visit the website www.dryjuly.com

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