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The Courage to Say No

13 Aug

So today I called to cancel my doctor appointment for September.   It was a regular follow-up/check-up with my breast surgeon – a little over one year after my lumpectomy.

My doctor/surgeon wanted me to get another mammogram prior to the appointment.  She wants me to get them every six months, for the time being.  My girlfriend, Julia, a breast cancer survivor, said this is typical after a cancer diagnosis.

The problem is I know a mammogram every six months following a cancer diagnosis is the standard recommendation for the first year or two.  But I don’t like it.

I have already voiced my concerns multiple times in this blog about the problem of the primary diagnostic method in this country also being a risk factor for contracting the very disease it is supposed to be diagnosing.  It’s a little crazy, to me, that we could be endangering ourselves while attempting to diagnose ourselves.  But there’s another issue.

Every time there is a mammogram that shows a slight irregularity – ie, microcalcifications, or something that could be either a tumor or a cyst, they’re going to want to do a biopsy.  And many of these biopsies are somewhat invasive – at least from my perspective.  When there are microcalcifications, they must do a stereotactic biopsy in order to properly locate the problem area.  For me, this was a painful procedure.  Twice.  And it does leave a little scar.  I could be wrong, but I have some concern that there will be several times my mammograms are “concerning,” and then several times I’ll have to have a subsequent biopsy, and before you know it, I’ll have received several extra doses of radiation and several more scars on my breasts.

I know what you’re probably thinking.  If it catches cancer in time, then of course it’s worth it!

But here’s the thing.  Most of us carry a few cancer cells in our body at any given time.  This is actually normal.*  The problem is when they multiply.  But if we live right – ie, eat well, keep our stress level low, exercise, keep our weight down, and stay away from toxins, excess estrogen, and radiation(!), those cancer cells will likely not multiply.  What particularly interests me is knowing that most vegetables and fruits, as well as some other foods like seaweed, nuts, beans, and grains, can actually prevent those rogue cells from multiplying.

So my own personal choice is this:  get off the clinical hamster wheel.  I don’t want a steady succession of mammos, followed by biopsies, potentially followed by more lumpectomies.  It feels like it could happen repeatedly – and with each time I’m sure I would experience the resulting stress and fear – all of which can further cause dis-ease!!!  Instead, I want to TRUST that I know what to do within my own inner wise self.  And I want to trust that my beautiful wise body can fight off cancer when I live right and eat right.

 

And I can guess what many of you are thinking.  ‘But I know so-and-so, and she has been a vegetarian and a yoga practitioner for years!  And she got cancer!’  Well, who knows what other factors were present in her life?  Who knows what part genetics played in her health?  Who knows what kind of emotional stressors or psychological issues were at play?  And besides, that’s not the point.  I am talking now only about me.

FOR ME, at least for now, I will do occasional mammograms and check-ups.  But I am NOT going to obsess about it and do it every six months. FOR ME, the obsession adds to the fear factor and is counterproductive to my health.

For whatever various reasons, I feel healthy now.  I’ve been healthy my whole life until last year and I trust that I got the message, I heard the wake-up call, and I responded by making some changes.  I feel back on track.  I am trusting my feelings.  I believe that I am cancer-free right now.

 

My current plan is to get another mammogram in December or January.  That will be eleven to twelve months since my last one.  And if that’s good, I will probably get the next one two years later.

This may sound wayyyy too risky or crazy for many of you.  And I get that and I honor your opinions and choices.  But I know I need to listen to my inner voice.  And I believe in her wisdom.

 

My hope is that gradually, I will shift my lifestyle to one that breeds truly exceptional health.  As I get my ducks in a row – greater financial abundance, more exercise and yoga, more consistent exceptionally healthy eating, wonderful healing herbs and supplements, and a joy-filled, love-filled life, I trust that I will live to a very ripe and wise old age.

But in order to stick with this plan, I have to have the courage to say no to many of the recommendations of the medical establishment.  And believe me, it does take courage to stand up to these clinicians.  I am very blessed with a practice who, though somewhat traditional in terms of allopathic recommendations, also respects the right of their patients to make their own choices.  And even so, I have felt extremely nervous voicing my own opinions.

When I spoke with the office manager on the phone yesterday, she was very nice and very respectful.  And I still had knots in my stomach just from talking with her and “sticking to my guns.”  My very non-invasive, intuitive, first-do-no-harm, personal choice guns.

 

I know I will probably receive a few comments from some readers and friends who will be worried that I’m not being aggressive enough in keeping tabs on what’s happening in my body.  But I ask that you please respect my choices.  I am choosing a slightly more moderate, less fear-based road.   For now.  If I find myself getting too far off-track, or if my intuition or dreams start ringing alarm bells, I promise to make an appointment for a mammogram immediately.

 

May you be blessed and healthy and happy and well.

 

* “Cancer is a perfectly natural process. A very small percentage of cells in every person who has ever lived turn cancerous. And the body usually gets rid of those cancerous cells before they do harm. This process has been going on for eons. It is only when more cancer cells are being created than the body can get rid of that the problem comes. With increased toxins, viruses, carcinogens, etc. our immune systems have become significantly overworked and weakened.” (http://www.angelfire.com/az/sthurston/understanding_cancer_and_cancer_cells.html)

 

The Latest Results and… What Next?

9 May

For those of you who may not yet have heard the results of my most recent stereotactic biopsy (I just realized the whole world is not my Facebook friend)….

It was benign.

Yea!  I am so grateful.

I find that since that acknowledgement, I have been able to live my life with considerably less fear.  And for that I am very grateful as well.

I continue to modify my diet.  Sometimes I fall off the wagon and eat stuff I know isn’t good for me.  But then I simply get back on track and eat wonderful mostly vegetarian food again.  And I can feel my body being grateful that I am truly nourishing it.

I am also continually in the process of re-evaluating what I need to do to nourish my spirit.   Because, as many of us are realizing, physical diseases and discomforts are often a result of the needs of our souls going unaddressed for too long.

Being healthy is a process.  I got wayyyyyy off-track for a while.  (For maybe ten years or so.)  And now I’m in the process of living what I hope is a more radiantly healthy life.

Interestingly, people have been telling me lately that I have been glowing.   I figure that’s a good thing.  (And no, I’m not pregnant!)

Thank you, as always, every one of you.

May you be well.  May you be happy.

Facing another biopsy – not very calmly

16 Apr

April 16, 2012

So, today is my second stereotactic biopsy.

I realize a few things:

  1. I have been underplaying the significance to everyone who asks, saying, “I’m sure I’m fine.  I just want to make sure and then I can celebrate and be about my life.”
  2. I’m incredulous that I had called my doctor/surgeon to ask her some questions about the procedure a few weeks ago and somehow I missed her call when she called back and then I never called her back again! What the hell is up with that???  I just “forgot.”
  3. It was strongly suggested to me that because my last experience with this procedure was a bit traumatic (ie, very painful), that I should get Reiki beforehand  (and after) to help ease my body into a relaxed and healing state.  I didn’t do this.

I am really distressed with myself that I’m not following through on these important things.  It’s like I’m either sabotaging myself or that I’m  telling myself I’m not worthy –  of people’s concern, of having my questions answered, of having my body be at peace.

And because I’ve been underplaying this to everyone – including myself, I’ve been postponing the small anxiety that I feel this morn.  I haven’t let myself feel it.  I’ve been “being macho” and stoic about it. Darn it. I am nervous.  I am.

I probably did all the above because I’ve convinced myself I’m okay.  But the body feels what the body feels.  And mine feels a bit anxious.

Hmmm.  Maybe I need to do some visualizations of happy memories before they start sending that awful drilling needle into my poor breast.  (It’s not a simple needle biopsy.   It’s this scary kind of electrical drill kind of thing.  I can’t read about it again.  It’s pretty scary to read about what they actually do during this procedure.)

I’m thinking that maybe I can still ask my girlfriend if she’ll do some Reiki this morn.  I bet she would.  But there’s one more thing I have to do.  Or should do.  Whatever.

Yesterday I took the time to get some new sports bras.  You are absolutely advised to wear a sports bra after this procedure because 1) the breast needs extra support in order to heal properly, and 2) I imagine the compression helps manage the swelling.

The problem is they didn’t have my size.  There were racks and racks of sports bras there and they didn’t go up to my size.  (I’m not really that huge, am I?  I don’t feel like I’m that out of the ordinary.  Surely there are many other women my size!)  So I went one size under figuring it’s better in this case to be a bit more smushed than unsmushed (unsupported.)

I wore the bra to bed.   (If I go more than two nights without a sports bra on in bed, my breasts feel sore the next day.  Especially my right one.)  It barely contains me.  If I’m the slightest bit swollen, it is not only not going to contain me, it is clearly not going to adequately support me.

That means I should make that stop on the way, too.  (Fortunately there apparently is a Walmart right on the way to the doctor’s office/women’s health center.)

Clearly I should be doing some meditating this morning, but my anxiety is a bit high.  Perhaps I should have taken my friend’s advice and gotten some anti-anxiety medication just this one, since my body is, at some level, aware of its previous trauma.

Sigh….

Perhaps I should just go for a walk and see if I can get more clear-headed and calm. Maybe then the next steps will be clearer.

If you’re reading this, thank you.  You’re very kind to care about me in this way.  I find myself wanting to apologize, but I am conscious enough to realize that that’s inappropriate.

I find it interesting that I shield everyone about my concerns in person, but for some reason I am able to let it all out when I’m writing.

Anyway, thank you for being my allies and my friends.  Thank you for caring about me.

Six-month Follow-up Doctor Visit

14 Mar

March 12, 2012

 

So, last Thursday I went for my six-month follow-up appointment with my breast surgeon.

 

The first thing of note happened when I was updating my information with the receptionist.  She asked, “Is Dr. Kracht still your primary care physician?”  “Yes,” I replied.   “And _____________, _______________, and _____________?”  I stared at her blankly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said.   She said, “That’s odd.  They’re right here on your chart.”  I was puzzled also. Then she must have said something about oncologists and the light bulb went off.  I said, “Oh!  I chose not to go to them.”

 

When my doctor arrived to the examining room she was very warm and friendly but also surprised and a little disappointed that I didn’t at least go and talk to the oncologists.  (One was a radiation oncologist and one a hematology oncologist.)  I replied that I hadn’t been interested in either the radiation therapy or the anti-estrogenic drug and I knew it would be hard to stand my ground if I had been face to face with them.   I knew they’d be pushing for me to go the direction they thought was best.

 

(All things considered, I still agree with my decision FOR ME!  I needed to do my own research and come to my own conclusions and decisions before allowing “experts” to exercise their sway.  However, I do, OF COURSE, honor all those who choose differently from me.  We are each individuals and we have to make our own choices.)

 

Okay, back to the doctor visit.  As I suspected, she wants me to get a biopsy.  A stereotactic biopsy.   For those who have been following my blog, my experience with a stereotactic biopsy last August was NOT pleasant.  In fact, that was the most unpleasant of all my breast-related experiences to date.  However it’s not the fear of discomfort which makes me hesitate.  It is the following two factors:

 

  1. I worry about my body having to process additional radiation.  If I were to get this biopsy done in the next month or two, that would mean that during the course of one ten-month period, my body would have been subjected to about 15 x-rays (about  7 or 8 “shots” per set of mammograms) plus two stereotactic biopsies – which would entail at least two more x-ray views each time.  That’s a LOT of radiation.  And radiation, as you know, is a great risk factor for getting cancer!  (“According to Dr. Gofman, MD, PhD, in Radiation and Human Health: A Comprehensive Investigation of the Evidence Relating Low Level Radiation to Cancer and Other Diseases, ionizing radiation is a known carcinogen, there is no safe exposure level to ionizing radiation, and the effects of radiation exposure are cumulative throughout one’s life.”  http://www.holisticcarehawaii.com/Stereotactic.htm)
  2. There are a few articles which express concern about the wisdom of “poking around” surgically or otherwise in an area that already exhibits the presence of cancer cells or cancer growth. The very act of having more surgery at that site could potentially spread that cancer farther.

 

I expressed my concerns and she heard them.  Her concern is that the one calcification showing on my January films could mean something.  If I had had radiation therapy, that one calcification could be (likely would be) a by-product of the RT.  But I didn’t, so to be safe she feels I should check it out.

 

Of course, doctors have to anticipate worst-case scenarios, while I as the patient, want to be aware of them but NOT focus on them!

 

She did say she would like me to have another set of mammograms done before the next six-month follow-up appointment.  I asked her if there were ANY alternatives.   I again expressed my concern about the radiation involved with mammograms. She reiterated that thermographs aren’t able to find anything at this earlier stage of the game.  They are not an adequate early diagnostic tool.  She said they’re working on diagnostic ultrasound technology, but it’s not ready yet.

 

So, in a nutshell, it seems I have three choices:

 

  1. Do neither of these clinical/diagnostic options (neither biopsy nor mammogram) and trust that my natural course of treatment is sufficient.
  2. Skip the biopsy and get another set of mammograms in six months’ time.
  3. Get the biopsy and then go from there.

 

When I left the office yesterday, I was leaning toward Option #2.  However last evening and this morning, I’m leaning toward the last option.  Because if this calcification represents a benign condition, then I feel I can safely wait at least a year for another set of mammograms.  If it proves to be a spot of cancer, then it would be good for me to know this now, rather than later.  However I am choosing not to worry about those decisions until I know what I’m working with!

 

Okay, it sounds like I’ve just talked myself into the stereotactic biopsy.   I guess I’d rather know for sure what is going on in my body.  Or perhaps, if I’m very lucky, I’ll be able to have the opportunity to say, “See! I’m doing just fine!”   And that would feel very good indeed.

 

Thanks for listening.

 

PS  When I woke in the middle of the night the day of my doctor appointment, I found myself thinking about my right breast and what to do about it.  I must have dozed off because I suddenly realized I’d seen an image of my breast with a vertical knife next to it.  I think that perhaps that was a sign that some surgery (a biopsy) is a good idea.