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AWARH 2017 - Rita Nilsen speech

“Alcohol and Cancer”

Rita Nilsen

Manager, The Retretten Foundation, Norway

Dear all,

Thank you for the kind invitation to speak here today.

I would like to focus on a topic that has grabbed my attention for the last three years: Alcohol and cancer - and the need for better information on the topic.

So, why do I care so much about it?

I started drinking at the age of 10 and kept on drinking heavily until I was 34. Exactly 21 years ago, November 23rd 1996, I had my last alcoholic drink.

For the last 15 years have I worked at Retretten in Norway helping addicts to find the right motivation and help so they can stay sober, and get on with their lives.

3 years ago I got a sad message. ”You have breast cancer”, the doctor said. 18 years after I got sober. I experienced few problems during chemotherapy but the side effects have proved challenging, both physically and psychologically. The latter has been the heaviest to cope with.

At Retretten we run a peer educational programme where we pass on knowledge about the dynamics and dangers of addiction. Several have been sober for a number of years but still need someone to talk to about their daily challenges. Through our work we discovered a big knowledge gap about cancer treatment, its side effects, and relapse dangers.

Some of the side effects of chemotherapy are sensitivity, energy loss, fatigue and drowsiness. This, combined with the fact that former alcoholics often have little physical and psychological strength, often creates difficult situations. Alcohol relapse is not uncommon. The same applies to adults born with alcohol withdrawal syndrome; some are also born with oversensitive nerve systems. Needless to say, relapses inflict great suffering on many people, including families and relatives.

Having this in mind, it is important to convey to former alcoholics the possible side effects of chemotherapy, and the need for follow-up care with hormonal remedies.

Therefore I urge you all to focus on the side effects that chemotherapy can have on former alcoholics, and provide them with the information and tools to avoid relapses.

Thank you very much for your attention. I am happy to answer any questions.


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