Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gratitude: East meets West

Yesterday morning my partner and I met with my oncologist to go over the results of my breast MRI and PET/CT scan. Other than remnants of my surgery from mid May which showed that healing was still taking place, my scans all came back squeaky clean -- no cancer! I am glad we got a second opinion and that I took these additional tests. It has given me the reassurance that my surgeon was right :). She felt confident she had removed all the pre-cancer cells during surgery and recommended coming back in 6 months for an MRI. She said nothing would show up now. My partner and I were concerned, what if she missed something? Now we can rest that she didn't. Both the surgeon and oncologist have said I am at risk of abnormal cells coming back ... essentially, I am predisposed to getting cancer. With family history of cancer, it's my genetic make up. The key is to catch it early. This time, I caught it very early.

I went to see my acupuncturist, Jill, after my doctor's appointment. Jill has been a god send to me through these health bumps. I have chosen to utilize both the eastern and western approaches to healthcare in a complementary way. I said to her, "I got lucky this time in that we got to the cancer before it officially became cancer." My surgeon read the pathology report after my surgery ... I was right on the edge. Yes, an arbitrary (okay, maybe not so arbitrary) line that must be drawn. I certainly got the impression i could've fallen on either side of that line, but in the end does it really matter? What matters is recognizing that yes, I am at high risk of getting cancer. Jill reminded me that it's not "luck". I need to give myself credit for living such a healthy lifestyle and for being so in tune with my body that I was able to notice a lump. My dear friend Elaine (who passed away in April to breast cancer) unknowingly tapped me on my shoulder and reminded me to listen to my body and to pay attention.

Jill said to me "eastern medicine is about prevention -- it's hard to see the results." She's right ... eastern medicine is about preventing disease. Western medicine is about treating disease. It's become very clear to me even in this entire experience that my western doctors (whom I absolutely love and respect) are telling me that what I now need to do is be closely monitored and to come back every 6 months for more tests. It's about catching "the cancer" early. My conversations with Jill have all been about prevention, strengthening my immune system, my digestive system, my body and working with me as we figure out together what I can do/change in my life. She also asks me how I am feeling (yes, emotions). She wants to know what's going on in my life. She sees me as a whole person (mind, body, heart, spirit) and reminds me that everything going on in my life is connected.

One simple thing I have learned is that cancer cells LOVE sugar. In fact, that's why for my PET/CT scan I was injected with radioactive glucose as abnormal/cancer cells relish the sugar. For the past two months I have given up all sugar. I also gave up soy products. Dietary changes that Jill recommended took away fatigue that was incapacitating me for months. Over the past 9 months I have been losing weight ... I've gone from 138 lbs down to 105 lbs. My weight loss despite the restrictive diet i've been on for the past 2 months under Jill's guidance has actually slowed down. It's not just about eating lots of food and calories -- it's about eating the right foods and the ones that my digestive system can handle and the ones that will provide my cells with the rich nutrients they need. For me, it's also about feeding my healthy cells and in many ways, starving any cells that have any desire to become cancer cells. It's about flushing out all toxins from my body. Now we are actively working on ensuring I don't lose anymore weight.

I believe in the interconnectedness of mind, body, spirit and heart. We can't separate one from the other. Life is not black or white. Disease manifests when our mind, body, spirit and heart are out of balance.

"The curves and circles of the Yin-Yang symbol imply a kaleidoscope-like movement. This implied movement represents the ways in which Yin and Yang are mutually-arising, interdependent, and continuously transforming, one into the other. One could not exist without the other, for each contains the essence of the other. Night becomes day, and day becomes night. Birth becomes death, and death becomes birth (think: composting). Friends become enemies, and enemies become friends. Such is the nature - Taoism teaches - of everything in the relative world."
From the taosim site

On October 1st I will be celebrating 21 years of sobriety. Shortly before that I had "hit my bottom." It was one of my darkest moments in my life. Yet out of the pitch black I had the opportunity to emerge. Almost 21 years later I can now see that being a recovering alcoholic has been a gift and gave me the chance to choose another path. Right around that time, my doctor in St. Louis sat me down and instead of increasing my dosage of Seldane (meds I was taking for hives that were getting worse) he said "you need to take a look at your lifestyle and what you are doing." My cholesterol was 260 and my hives were progressively getting worse. I was eating junk food like crazy and working 70 hour work weeks. My diet consisted of quarter pounders, super size fries, and diet coke ... of course, ice cream for dessert. And we won't even discuss what kinds of snacks I had. Shortly after that conversation, I made a decision. I became a vegetarian and took a new path. I went back in two months to see my doctor. My cholesterol level had dropped to 160 and I no longer had hives or had to take medication.

Now, as I emerge from the worries of health issues ... I recognize that I have been given yet another gift. I am grateful for my life today. I am grateful for my partner. I am grateful for my family and friends. And I am grateful to have the opportunity to experience all that life has to offer.

Namaste. And thanks to all for your thoughts and prayers.


  1. I'm so grateful for you and for how you role model taking good care of yourself/your health...Yes, emotions included!, especially! :)

  2. I'm very glad to hear of this good piece of news. What a fantastic way of thinking--something I have always agreed with. We need to focus on preventing issues from ever coming up in the first place, not try to correct them after the damage has been done. You have a great inspires me.