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The Case for Doing Nothing

30 Oct

I never buy Time magazine.  But while at the airport looking for something to read, the provocative cover caught my eye.  On it was a nude woman, hand over her breast, with the big caption, “What if I decide to just do nothing?”  The subtitle?  “Breast Cancer’s New Frontier.”  Author, Siobhan O’Connor.

I had to read it.

I was thrilled to read that some doctors – surgeons, even – are beginning to realize that many women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer are being pressured to aggressively treat their condition when maybe sometimes a wait-and-see-approach would make more sense.

Currently, 20-25% of all breast cancer diagnoses are DCIS (an acronym for ductal carcinoma in situ.)  DCIS means that all cancer cells found are contained within the milk ducts.  A recent study revealed that the mortality rate for women with DCIS is 3% regardless of how she is treated!  And this survival rate is similar to that of the general population!

In other words, many women are being “massively overtreated.”

I was horrified to read that one woman when informed she had DCIS was then told there was an opening the following week for a mastectomy.  Pressuring someone – directly or indirectly – to remove a breast when she has Stage 0 cancer is unconscionable, in my book.  Fortunately this woman got a second opinion and asked the big question, “What if I decide to just do nothing?”  And, to her credit, this second surgeon admitted, “Well, some people are electing to do just that.”

When I was diagnosed with DCIS in 2011, like all people who hear the word “cancer” directed at them, I was in shock.  I couldn’t even begin to think of intelligent questions to ask.  I couldn’t wrap my head around any of it.  Fortunately, I had several cancer survivor girlfriends to call upon for advice and support.

Julia gave me the best advice, hands down.  She said, “Most cancers are very slow growing.  It’s okay to take the time to make your decisions.  And once you do, you’ll feel better.  This time (right after the diagnosis) is the scariest part.”

Once I heard that, I took a metaphoric breath and dove into research.  I decided I wasn’t going to jump the gun and blindly do whatever I was told. And then I, too, got a second opinion.  The first breast specialist had blithely said to me, “Here’s what we’re going to do.”  Excuse me?  Don’t I get a say here?  This is my body; these are my breasts!

And so, like the woman featured in the article, I also made a decision to do much less than the normal protocol.  Desiree Basila declined surgery, radiation and chemo but decided to take the drug, tamoxifen, which blocks the estrogen which often accelerates the growth of tumors.  Then she would get regular mammograms and MRIs.  I, on the other hand, chose to get a lumpectomy but decided to forgo the tamoxifen and the radiation, both of which were strongly suggested.  In fact, I refused to make an appointment with the radiologist because I knew he would pressure me to submit to radiation therapy.  (I also changed my diet and lifestyle.)

Dr. Eric Winer, director of breast oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, expresses the conundrum of today’s thinking oncologists: “Our two greatest challenges are figuring out better treatments for the 40,000 women who die of breast cancer every year, and at  same time, figure out who, on the other end of the spectrum, is getting exposed to needless toxicity.” (sic)

Absolutely.  You don’t have to be a surgeon to know that radiation causes cancer or that almost all drugs have challenging side effects.  The benefits must outweigh the risks.  “First do no harm” (or words to that effect) is part of the Hippocratic Oath that all medical doctors take.

At long last, there appears to be a gradual willingness on the part of many oncologists to admit that sometimes the treatments being offered are not necessarily necessary and therefore they don’t always warrant the risk.

Author Siobhan O’Connor also makes the extremely valid point  that the word “cancer” is almost, without fail, a very scary word to hear.  But that same word is used to describe a low-grade DCIS that may never be life-threatening as well as a rapacious Stage IV cancer.  This often results in excessive fear that sometimes promotes what could be considered overly drastic treatments.

I love the ending sentence of this article when Basila encourages us to think of quality of life when making decisions regarding breast cancer treatment options.  She says, “I think we really hurt ourselves by trying to just not be dead.”

I believe it is the responsibility of clinicians to be careful how diagnoses are presented so that patients do not unduly panic.  We can also hope that oncologists won’t push certain treatments simply so they can theoretically avoid the possibility of malpractice suits by not treating aggressively.

If you are a woman with DCIS, I encourage you to get as well-informed as possible.  Let’s not blindly put our faith in our doctors and mutely do whatever they suggest.  Let’s do as much research as we can and ask as many questions as necessary.  Let’s find the clinicians who respect our questions and consider all the options.  Then make the decision that’s right for you.  Go full-on with both guns blazing, if that’s your choice.  Just don’t assume it’s the only choice.

 

Blessings and good health to each one of you.

 

Stalling on Getting Another Mammogram

30 Jun

(I wrote this on April 16, 2013.  It’s now June 30th.  Clearly I’m stalling not only on getting a mammogram, but on sharing this with you all.)

Hi folks.  I decided it’s time to admit to you all (and me) that I have been stalling.  My last mammogram was January of 2012.  It’s now fifteen months later and I still haven’t gotten another one.  For the average woman, this would be just fine.  But I was diagnosed with early breast cancer (DCIS – ductal carcinoma in situ) during the summer of 2011.  General practice is to get six-month mammograms for a year or two after that to keep tabs on things.  I rejected that recommendation for reasons listed in a previous blog (concerns about radiation, etc.) however even I know that I’m kind of pushing the envelope here.  I was going to compromise and get a mammogram at ten months.  Then I pushed it back to one year.  And here I still haven’t had one.

Initially I tried to get one but found it too difficult.  I still don’t have health insurance and I was surprised to find that there weren’t any free or discounted mammograms available.  Or at least none that I could easily find.  Then I was caught up in caring for my parents, preparing for and leading a retreat, packing up and moving to Colorado, and I just didn’t feel I could put anything else on my plate.

I confess I am of two minds.  There is one part of me that is worried I might have cancer again.  I continue to second-guess myself about choosing not to follow the allopathic recommendations of my surgeon and the oncologists – ie, drugs and radiation.  I haven’t been as pure with my diet as I should be and I have gotten lax with taking the supplements that would help me.  (It’s kind of mind-boggling that I have let myself get so lax with the supplements.)

There is another part of me.  This is the positive-thinking, spiritual side of me.  (Some might call it a Pollyanna rose-colored glasses side.)  Although I may not be perfect in the care of my physical body, I have made great strides in the care of my emotional/mental/spiritual side.  I have made changes in my life that feel really good to my spirit.  I’ve moved to a place that makes me happy, I am doing work that I love, I have very little stress, and I am immersed in more spiritual practices than I have been for a long time.  I know of cases in which cancer has disappeared when the person began making much-needed changes and began living the life they always wanted to live.  There is a part of me that believes I am so on the right track now.  Haven’t I learned the lessons of cancer and embraced a new life for myself?

On the other hand, I worry that if I focus on cancer – ie, get a mammogram, I will be calling it to me.  As I write that last sentence I kind of cringe at how dumb that sounds.  Simply getting a mammogram does not exactly equate with “focusing on cancer.”  I’m quite sure the average person would say, “Just get the darn mammogram so you can set your mind at ease!”

I still have reservations about mammograms.  I still think they are unhealthy in many ways – not just the radiation, but the squishing of a breast that has already faced trauma multiple times.  It just doesn’t feel like a very respectful or safe way to treat an already injured breast with previous cancer cells.  (Why doesn’t someone invent another method???  Come on now!)

I realize if I get the darn mammogram and it looks clear, I don’t have to have these small niggling worries.  On the other hand, if it shows a possibility of cancer again, yikes.

I’m noticing I’m reluctant to share this post with my friends.  They’re going to get on my case and tell me to hop to it.  I know they are.

Well, I guess it’s time to be brave and ‘fess up.  I need a mammogram.

PREVENTING BREAST CANCER

8 Jul

This is my most important blog post to date.

It’s about PREVENTING breast cancer.   And indeed ANY kind of cancer.

Good food and healthy eating is the key.  I had always known that it was important to eat healthy, unprocessed food, but it wasn’t until I found out I had breast cancer that I began to learn that many foods actually work to prevent cancer and/or assist the body in fighting cancer.   The key is to focus on foods that come from plants (the green growing things, not the factory kind) and especially to eat as many colorful vegetables and fruits as possible.

We can take all the medicine and drugs we can stand; we can pull out the “big guns” of chemo and radiation to fight our cancer; but unless and until we SUPPORT our body in its healing – through good food, healthy thoughts, plus emotional and spiritual work, our chances for true healing will be greatly diminished.

The following is excerpted from a book in process and I want to share it here and now so that you will support yourself in either getting well or keeping well, whichever the case may be.

You can memorize this list (below) or you can simply try to eat a more vegetarian diet.  Please note that I don’t tell people they must be a vegan or vegetarian or raw foodie because we are all different and we each have different body types, different temperaments, different physical demands, and different taste preferences.  However, the more vegetables and fruits, beans, whole grains, and nuts we can incorporate into our diet, the better.

One more thing to remember: if you can, please try to eat organic as much as you can.  Or at least eat food that is grown by local farmers who are more likely to use less herbicides and pesticides than huge industrial farms.  I know it’s usually more expensive.  I, too, was reluctant to spend the extra money because I was truly financially challenged for quite a while.  However, when I realized my health and life were on the line, the choice became clear.  The bonus is I feel better ethically supporting those who are being kind to our planet.

 

 

CANCER-FIGHTING FOODS!

 

(Much of this I got from the website:  http://www.cancure.org/cancer_fighting_foods.htm)

  • All fruits – preferably organic and especially berries which are exceeding high in anti-oxidants!  Grapes can “put primary tumors into remission and prevent recurrences.”  And raisins are “antimutagenic and particularly good at preventing breast cancers that arise with age.”[1]  Apples, raw and cooked, in fresh-pressed cider and in vinegar block the formation of cancer and help prevent recurrences. Apricots, especially dried, are exceptionally high in anti-cancer carotenes. [2] The bromelain found in pineapple “disrupts the glycol-protein shield that tumors use to protect themselves” and has been found to “reduce metastatic recurrence.”[3] Among 1, 271 elderly Americans, those who ate the most strawberries were least likely to develop cancer.[4] (Strawberries should be organic.)
  • All veggies – preferably organic and especially cruciferous veggies like cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, horseradish, bok choy.  Cabbage, broccoli and brussel sprouts are purported to be the best anti-cancer foods. [5]  A compound found in cruciferous vegetables, as well as kale and collard greens, changes the way estrogen metabolizes and makes one’s estrogen less apt to promote cancer.[6] Besides cruciferous veggies, the next best choice is: Dark, leafy greens, which “are rich in cancer-preventing carotenes, chlorophyll, antioxidants, folic acid, flavanoids, and – if fresh and lightly washed – Vitamin C.”[7]  Cucumbers are also anti-cancer (and taste great in smoothies.) Carrots contain a lot of beta carotene, which may help reduce a wide range of cancers including lung, mouth, throat, stomach, intestine, bladder, prostate and breast.  But the carrots should be raw, not cooked.[8] Cancer researchers have found that eating … one raw carrot daily can prevent certain kinds of cancer.[9]  Sweet potatoes can lower cancer risk and “are especially good allies for women exposed to environmental organochlorines and for those wishing to avoid breast cancer recurrence.”[10] “High consumption of tomatoes correlates strongly with lessened risk of cancer.”[11] In fact, all red foods appear to be really good for fighting cancer – red peppers, beets, red grapefruit, red/purple grapes, etc. Turnips and watercress are also very high in anti-cancer compounds.
  • Garlic. “Garlic, the queen of cancer-preventive and cancer-inhibiting foods, counters the initiation, promotion, and recurrence of many kinds of cancer.”[12] Garlic has also “been clinically proven to inhibit the growth of breast cancer cells…. Raw garlic is far more effective than cooked or encapsulated garlic; the active principle is linked with the smell.  As little as half a clove of raw garlic a day strengthens immunity and increases the number and power of natural killer cells.” [13] 
  • Ginger.  Used even in small doses, ginger helps prevent the initiation of breast cancer.
  • Legumes.  This includes all kinds of beans – black beans, lentils, kidney beans, split peas, etc.  Peanuts are also legumes but are probably not as healthy as other legumes (or nuts.)  Legumes should be a large part of your protein intake.  They are very high in fiber and very nutritious.  They offer cancer-inhibiting enzymes. Lentils especially are “capable of reversing cancerous cellular changes.”[14]  Chick peas/garbanzo beans are one of the richest sources of protease inhibitors.[15]
  • Nettles/stinging nettles.  You will not find nettles in a grocery store.  But you can find them in many fields.  Or look for an area herbalist to guide you.  Nettles are one of the most nourishing plants we can consume (taken as a tea).  Well-known herbalist Susun Weed says, “Nettle is the world’s riches source of carotenes and chlorophyll, as well as an excellent source of folic acid and selenium.  Nettle is a powerful ally for women choosing chemotherapy, as it protects the blood itself from the mutagenic changes (which can lead to leukemia) caused by the chemotherapeutic drugs.”[16]  Well-known herbalist David Hoffman says that nettles “strengthen and support the whole body.”[17]
  • ·        Whole grains – especially brown rice. (Pre-menopausal women eating the most fiber (>30 grams daily) more than halved their risk of developing breast cancer, enjoying a 52% lower risk of breast cancer compared to women whose diets supplied the least fiber (<20 grams/day). Fiber supplied by whole grains offered the most protection. Pre-menopausal women eating the most whole grain fiber (at least 13 g/day) had a 41% reduced risk of breast cancer, compared to those with the lowest whole grain fiber intake (4 g or less per day). www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=128  Amaranth is also anti-cancer. Oats, barley and rye are also good.  Wheatgrass is extremely alkalinizing and “the enzymes and amino acids found in wheatgrass can protect us from carcinogens like no other food or medicine.”  It is also extremely detoxifying.[22]
  • Mushrooms.  Not the kind normally found in supermarkets, but certain wild and exotic mushrooms like puffballs, reishii, oyster mushrooms, shiitake, straw mushrooms, maitake, Zhu ling, polyporacea, chaga, enokidake, and tree ears are exceedingly healthy and important in the fight against cancer.  However, foraging for these mushrooms is very risky as mistaken identity can lead to serious poisoning or death.  Therefore, buy from Chinese herbalists or other reputable sources who know what they’re doing.
  • Nuts contain the antioxidants quercetin and campferol that may suppress the growth of cancers. (Note: Many people are allergic to the proteins in nuts, so if you have any symptoms such as itchy mouth, tight throat, wheezing, etc. after eating nuts, stop. Consider taking a selenium supplement instead or work with someone on how to eliminate this allergy.)  www.cancure.org/cancer_fighting_foods.htm “All nuts and seeds are good sources of anti-cancer protease inhibitors, essential fatty acids, and antioxidants.” [18]Almonds are especially anti-cancer.
  • Seaweeds like wakame, kelp, and kombu.  Seaweed and other sea vegetables contain beta-carotene, protein, vitamin B12, fiber, and chlorophyll, as well as chlorophylones – important fatty acids that may help in the fight against breast cancer. Many sea vegetables also have high concentrations of the minerals potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, and iodine. www.cancure.org/cancer_fighting_foods.htm  “Seaweed in the daily diet protects the thyroid, strengthens the lymphatic and immune systems, and prevents the initiation of cancer.”  Seaweed is anti-tumor and helps prevent a cancer recurrence.[19] Kelp also helps protect the body from the effects of radiation, which often leads to cancer.
  • Seeds – especially flax.  Flax contains lignans, which may have an antioxidant effect and block or suppress cancerous changes. Flax is also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are thought to protect against colon cancer and heart disease.  www.cancure.org/cancer_fighting_foods.htm  Best of all, flaxseed appears to be anti-estrogenic and quite specific against breast cancer.[20]
  • Tea.  Both black and green tea “checks the initiation, promotion, and growth of breast cancer (and eight other cancers including lung and liver.)”[21]
  • Yogurt.  Christiane Northrup, M.D. says that organic yogurt or other potent forms of Lactobacillus acidophilus help to minimize hyperestrogenism and reduce the risk of breast cancer.[23]
  • A note about soy.  There are numerous studies both encouraging and discouraging the use of soy as a cancer preventive.  I consulted my surgeon as the evidence was confusing.  She told me it was okay in moderation but not as my primary source of protein.

That’s all for now, folks.  Enjoy!  Because once you start eating this way, you will feel so much better!  And it tastes good!

Stay tuned for the “cookbook” I’m completing which gives tips on how to make your healthy food more interesting, healthy, and inviting!

Bless you, bless you.


[1] Susun S. Weed, Breast Cancer?  Breast Health!  The Wise Woman Way, Ash Tree Publishing, Woodstock, NY (1996), p.34.

[2] Weed, p. 28.

[3] Weed, p. 39.

[4] Weed, p. 42-3.

[5] Weed, p. 30.

[6] J. Michnovicz and H. Bradlow, “Altered Estrogen Metabolism and Excretion in Humans Following Consumption of Indole-3-Carbinol,” Nutrition and Cancer, vol. 16 (1991), pp. 59-66, as referred to by Northrup, p. 357.

[7] Weed, p. 34

[8] http://www.cancure.org/cancer_fighting_foods.htm

[9] Earl Mindell, Earl Mindell’s Herb Bible, Simon and Schuster/Fireside, NY (1992), p.248.

[10] Weed, p. 43.

[11] Weed, p. 44.

[12] “Garlic fights nitrosamine formation… as do tomatoes and other  produce,” Science News, Vol. 145, February 1994, as referenced in Weed, p. 33.

[13] Weed, p. 33.

[14] Weed, p. 35.

[15] Weed, p. 31.

[16] Weed, p. 42.

[17] David Hoffman, The New Holistic Herbal, Element, Shaftsbury, Dorset and Rockport, Massachusetts (1900), p.218.

[18] Weed, p. 36.

[19] Weed, p. 41.

[20] Lilian Thompson and M. Serraino, “Lignans in Flaxseed and Breast Carcinogenesis,” Dept. of Nutritional Sciences, Univ.  of Toronot, 1989, as referenced in Weed., p. 32.

[21] Bonnie Liebman, “Tea  for 250 Million,” Nutrition Action Newsletter, Nov. 1994 (Cancer Research, 52:3875, 1992 and Journal of National Cancer Institute, 85: 1038,  1993) as mentioned in Weed, p. 43.

[22] Ann Wigmore, The Wheatgrass Book, as referenced by Carr, p. 110.

[23] Northrup, p. 357.

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.

Confessions of a Yoyo-ing Health Food Convert

28 Feb

February 28, 2012

(Note: A dear friend said he found the following blog entry “more than a little obsessive.”  My initial reaction was embarrassment.  I immediately wanted to delete the post.  However, I’m going to leave this up here  because it’s real.  For those fighting cancer who are educated and somewhat health-conscious, there is a tendency to get obsessive about the foods we put in our body.  It’s one thing  we do have control over and, as research shows, it definitely can make a difference.  So the upshot is, obsessive or not, I feel this is an important blog and I’m keeping it.)

Let me assure you that I’ve always been a fan of healthy eating (aside from when I was a child and didn’t know better – eating Lebanon baloney on white bread for lunch every day, along with a Tastycake for dessert.)  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that eating “foods” that have very little actual food left in them (but tons of additives) are not really good for you. I may not have been as healthy as some of the slim vegetarian yoga aficionados we see trotting around in Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but I certainly knew how to cook a good healthy meal with real food, brown rice, veggies, etc.  However, I do confess that I became much more lax the last decade or so.

Like many people who have busy lives, taking the time to prepare healthy food was not always among the top contenders on my to-do list.   I began eating out more, and more and more often, I am quite embarrassed to say, I would resort to fast food figuring that anything was better than nothing and at least  I’d have some protein or carbs to keep me going energy-wise.  (I hasten to add that I now know that I was deluding myself big-time with that theory.)

Having a cancer scare quickly makes one take stock of delusional thinking like that.  I got myself back on board quickly!  I knew I needed to be more vegetarian.  While vegetarians may not necessarily agree that the vegetarian lifestyle can include the words “more” or “less,” for me it made sense to aspire to the lifestyle without having to be a complete and total purist.

I consider myself fairly well educated in general, and specifically with regard to nutritional issues, I am probably more well-read than most.  However there’s nothing like the big C word to make one read a bit more voraciously on the topic. I quickly learned that there were foods that were not only generally healthy, but specifically important in the fight against cancer.  I strove to incorporate as many of them as possible.

Living in a vegetarian household for which I have agreed to prepare a fairly large percentage of the dinners has helped me to eat quite well for several days of the week. Consider, for instance, my diet today:

  • For breakfast:  Smoothie – almond milk, homemade hormone-free yogurt, kale, half an organic banana, and a teaspoon of organic peanut butter.
  • For lunch: Sesame tofu stir fry with local cabbage, organic onions, organic carrots, and daikon, seasoned with lots of cancer-fighting turmeric, some garlic, and a couple dashes of tamari.  Brown rice cooked in organic vegetable broth.
  • For dinner:  Red lentils cooked in organic vegetable broth and seasoned with turmeric and coriander.  Salad with organic baby greens, shredded cabbage, local organic micro-greens, shredded organic carrots, diced daikon, cucumbers, zucchini, and local organic watercress.  Dressed with olive oil and organic lemon seasoned with tarragon and marjoram.
  • For snacks: One small square of dark chocolate, off-the-charts in anti-oxidants.  A gluten-free peanut butter cookie.

Not bad, right?  I confess, even I was impressed with today’s feast.

Now let me confess to you yesterday’s diet:

  • Small smoothie (See above.)
  • 2 chicken tenders (prepared by Carversville General Store.)
  • One bottle Snapple Peach Tea.
  • Mug of blackberry tea.
  • Brown rice with dribble of chicken drippings.
  • Blanched broccoli.
  • 3 slices of whole grain bread with butter.
  • Purified water.
  • Homemade unsweetened iced tea.
  • 2 large helpings of salad (See above, but without the daikon, carrot, or watercress.)
  • 2 1/2 pieces of iced carrot cake (with only a modest amount of carrot observed in it.)
  • Fairly good-sized bowl of microwave popcorn (with very little butter in it.)
  • Bowl of homemade (by friend’s son Adam) soup with chicken, carrots, rice, and seasoned with sesame oil.

Well, on second thought, that may not be too horrifying, but I confess to feeling no small amount of guilt about the cake and the Snapple.  (I did enjoy both though.  I did, I did.)  Plus, although I don’t have a problem with butter specifically, this was not organic butter and so it no doubt contained the hormones that are very uncool for someone with estrogen receptor positive breast cancer issues to ingest.   The chicken may have had been raised in an unhealthy corporate farm as well.

And while one day like yesterday is not a huge deal, I am chagrined to confess that it followed a week of some indulgence.  I was out of town for 3 days last week. Those of you who travel can attest that it is much harder to eat healthfully when one is on the road.

In the car ride to the destination, I did eat a couple of delicious locally grown apples (from Solebury Orchards) and snack on things like organic nachos, nuts, and rice thins.  And for the first lunch from the small buffet at corporate headquarters I had egg salad on half a piece of whole grain bread with lettuce, spring water, and fresh fruit salad.  But that night at a wonderful and very fine Italian restaurant I did allow myself one piece of bruschetta, two fried risotto balls, a salad, and half of a large plate of spaghetti and meatballs.  (Oh was it ever good.  It was really, really good.)  And the next day I had, among other things, the rest of the spaghetti, the dessert I’d taken home (the best and lightest cheesecake I’ve ever, ever had), and, on the road, some local candied pecans.

Perhaps you’re thinking, Cindy, this is not such a big deal. You are allowed to eat real food that doesn’t look like it was prepared at an ashram.  The problem is: once you’ve had a cancer scare, you tend to be a bit more nervous about what you do and don’t eat.  I have several friends who’ve had breast cancer who were/are MUCH more disciplined about their food intake. One dear friend was so afraid to put anything non-organic or unhealthy in her mouth that she was literally afraid to eat for a couple months.  Another ate a strictly macrobiotic meal the whole time she was getting treatments – even taking containers of the “good stuff” with her to parties and social gatherings.  Another friend is able to refrain from putting a single piece of cheese in her mouth.  Her boyfriend confirms that she does not veer from healthy eating.  Ever.  Sadly, I don’t seem capable (yet) of such discipline.

Here is the test to see whether I’ve gone too far off-balance.  A couple days ago I finally received in the mail some pH strips with which to test the alkaline/acid balance of my body.  For those who don’t know, disease of any kind has a much harder time getting a foothold in an alkaline environment.  Sadly, most Americans are way on the acidic side.  I was eager to see how my body was doing.

I returned from my trip on Thursday night.  The next morning I found the mail carrier had delivered my package of pH strips while I was gone. I eagerly opened it and went to take a pee so I could test it out.  The result?  I was one step below the target alkaline range.   In other words, I was acidic, but on the lowest end of the acidic scale. I was pleased.  After a couple days of indulgence, I was close to the alkaline zone.  I could get back on track, I was sure.

The next day, I had the same exact reading.  Okay, so taking my supplements and getting back on track for one day was not going to be enough.  I tried to make up for it by eating lots of salads that day, even though I was out and about and not at home. I began the day with a smoothie and by the time I finally had time for lunch, I was ravenous.  So in addition to a salad, I had another Peach Snapple, some baked potato crisps, a bit of tunafish, and two gluten-free peanut butter cookies.  For dinner I had a Caesar salad (light on dressing, no added cheese) with wonderful grilled chicken.   I was only halfway good. And the accumulation of all of the past days’ dietary digressions led to a more seriously acidic reading this morn.

Let me add here that part of the reason for my added anxiety about my diet is that about two months ago I had asked a professional intuitive/channel whom I know if I was “doing enough” to stay cancer-free.   What she was told was that I was on the right track but that I needed to focus on staying alkalinized. (I knew the importance of alkalinization from my research as well.)

This is why I’m sharing with you the monotony of my dietary dealings.  I want you to learn from me!   If you want to be healthy, stay alkalinized and eat healthy!  Lots and lots and lots of greens, lots of veggies, lots of salads and raw foods. You can do it!  And hopefully, in another month or two, I will be more consistently on track and a living, breathing, beautifully energetic and radiant model of glowing health.

Thanks for listening.  Be well, friends!

PS  In the afternoon on the 29th and in the morning  on March 2, I made it into the “green zone!”   The green colors on the color scale of the pH strips indicate one is in  the alkaline zone.  The optimal  zone is 6.75 to 7.5.  I was there twice! YAYYYYY!!!!

PS2  (Added March 3, 2012)  Rather than write a separate entry, I decided  to add a postscript to this blog.  If anyone thought I didn’t misbehave too badly diet-wise (above), let me assure you, I really really really did last night and this morn.   There will be no dispute about how far off my healthy eating plan I fell.

Let me confess.  I began the morning well – leftover brown rice with spinach and almonds plus red lentils, followed shortly thereafter by one organic egg (from the chickens who live on my property) with red onion, goat cheese and herbs.  I also made a big pot of vegetable soup, but only ate about a cup of it.   All well and good, right?

Well about 3 hours later I remembered the Breyers chocolate ice cream my housemate  had in the freezer.  I indulged in not one, but TWO bowls of it.  (Oh my, it was good.)

Four hours later I am ravenous.  Of course.  I’ve waited way too long for my next good meal.  And  when that happens, look out.

I was craving something salty and crunchy and I had nothing.   So I went to the grocery store and debated between several options before getting a bag of Herr’s popcorn, which my companion and I began eating as  we walked through the store. Then the subject of (yes, I am in confession mode, I have to tell you) McDonald’s came up.  And we ended up going and I had a $1.00 double cheeseburger, a small fries, AND an apple pie.  The only thing I DIDN’T do wrong  was have a small cup of unsweetened iced tea.

Oh, it’s not over, friends.  This morning I got up early and decided to join my parents on their weekly Saturday breakfast out.  They chose Perkins.  Perkins does not have too many healthy options.  I looked over the menu and the only thing that was calling to me was… pancakes.  Ay yay yay, Cindy.  White flour is soooo not good for me.  It makes me bloat.   Syrup is sooo not good for me.  (Or for fighting cancer.   Simple sugars like syrup actually feed cancers.)  (I did have a side of fresh fruit cup.)

And ya know what?  I notice my physical energy is low today.  When I eat healthy food, my energy is usually pretty good.  But I can officially vouch for the fact that junk food, fast food, carbs and sugars will deplete your energy!  Guilt is one thing (and yes, of course I feel it), but low energy is another.  Perhaps I will eventually remember that when I eat this kind of thing  the feel good part is only temporary!  Then I crash energy-wise.

I  obviously can’t do anything about the crap I put into my body the last  twelve hours or so.  But what I can do is eat lots of soup and salad today.  I will also drink lots of water and take extra drops of my detoxifier.   (Pure Body.  Go to http://ToYourHealth.MyTouchstoneEssentials.com)  I also need to  take a long walk and get some extra  exercise and fresh air.

Back on track.  That’s all I can do – get back on track and resolve to go longer before falling off the wagon next time.  I know myself well enough that I won’t be able to be a total purist any time soon, if ever.  But I can go for longer periods before any indulgences….

Please disregard my lapses, dear body.  I want what’s best for you.  I will try to consider your needs more diligently next time!

Playing the Second-Guessing-Myself Game

11 Feb

January 26, 2012

Fighting Doubts

So, here is the latest.  I went to pick up my radiology report at the hospital. As I suspected, they rated my most recent mammogram results a BI-RADS 3.   This indicates that the one microcalcification they found near the site of my surgery is “probably benign” but that some follow-up with my doctor would be wise.

I looked at the digital image of my films.  I am clearly not an expert at reading films, but I did see one big bright white spot, which is what I assume is the calcification to which they were referring.

How interesting:  “one bright white spot.”  So what is the bright side of all this?  The bright spot is I am more acutely conscious of my health and have made significant lifestyle changes as a result. The bright spot is I am learning a lot and I have the opportunity to share some of that knowledge with others.  The bright spot is I AM ALIVE and I have both my breasts and I feel quite good!  I can’t ask for much more than that, can I?!

Here, however, is my current challenge:  to stay in this place of gratitude and trust, even when I am the recipient of someone else’s fears and concerns for me.   I am noticing that when I read a message that is fearful, it takes great will for me to stand balanced in my own internal knowing and not get knocked off-course.  This does not mean that I am unwilling to consider alternate points of view, however I truly don’t want to “catch” other people’s fears or projections. I don’t believe that serves me..

Here are a couple examples of messages I have received recently:

  •  “From someone who has used diet for cancer for over 35 years … the people with the greatest success use a combination of standard treatment, meditations for guidance (spiritual help), and clean diet. Especially when caught early and handled aggressively. Once certain cancers get a foothold it is very hard otherwise. (Emphasis mine.)  If I had it to do over I would have had a complete mastectomy like I was guided to to do with my visions back in 2003 instead of the skin sparing one I opted for. So here I am dealing with it a third time. It is my diet and chemo that helped keep it local though. Don’t mess with breast ca, it ain’t leukemia that has been documented to go into remission with dietary changes alone. :)”
  • “I too was diagnosed with DCIS. That was 5/1/2008. Because by accident the US tech found another suspicious area on the day of my biopsy, that also turned out to be cancer, I decided to have a mastectomy. Good thing, the pathology study found that my entire breast had DCIS. A lumpectomy and radiation would not have been a cure for me. That was my left breast.
    I have to be honest, I worry for you. Lumpectomy without radiation is not standard treatment for DCIS. The radiation is done to kill any cells left behind. Since nothing showed on my Mammo for the second spot on my left breast, and nothing at all on the MRI, but pathology provide my entire breast had DCIS, I believe we need to go the full course. (sic)
    Certainly healthy eating will help, but I worry about you using that as a cure.
    When any woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, all women are affected. Just want you to have a long, happy life.
    Be well.”

So, just reading these comments, my guess is that you, too, will start worrying for me.  Fear is insidious, isn’t it?

Here is what  I told  myself  after reading the above comments from  very well-intentioned friends or  readers:

  1. Obviously both these women have had more aggressive or widespread cancers.  And, I believe in both cases (but I could be mistaken), the technology used originally missed something important.  Understandably, these women therefore have a greater fear of cancer and are in favor of more aggressive treatment.
  2. There are untold numbers of women who treated their cancer conservatively – with surgery alone, and survived/thrived.  So one could argue either way.   ie, Either be safe and fight this with all the tools the medical establishment throws your way, or take your time and choose what feels right for you because most cancers are slow growing and some never do  threaten  our lives.

Here are some reasons I am suggesting moderation is also an appropriate tool FOR ME:

First of all, ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) is not considered life-threatening. The problem with DCIS is sometimes it develops into a more invasive form of cancer and sometimes it doesn’t.  Approximately 80% of the time, it never escalates into a more serious form of cancer.

One site says the following:

“DCIS is considered noninvasive (meaning it has not spread), but does have the potential to spread to other parts of the breast if not treated. (Usual treatments include lumpectomy with or without radiation, use of tamoxifen after lumpectomy, or mastectomy.)” (Italics mine.)  http://health.msn.com/health-topics/breast-cancer/breast-calcifications

Meanwhile, an article about UCSF breast cancer oncologist Shelley Hwang, MD says the following:

“…(U)nlike invasive breast cancer, DCIS is not life-threatening.

Unfortunately, women who are diagnosed with DCIS have a higher than average risk of developing invasive breast cancer later – although some never will. (Italics mine.) As it stands, there is no proven way to predict which women diagnosed with DCIS will eventually develop invasive breast cancer. But because of the elevated risk, surgery to remove DCIS – generally a lumpectomy with radiation, or mastectomy – has become standard treatment. Treatment options are the same as for early-stage invasive breast.”  (Italics mine.) http://www.ucsf.edu/news/2009/03/8165/dcis-not-invasive-breast-cancer-and-might-not-require-surgery

I think most people consider radiation following a lumpectomy standard treatment.  However there are most certainly many women who choose not to go the radiation route.

I do want to mention that I am very grateful I got the lumpectomy.   It does give me an element of piece of mind.  It’s everything else the medical establishment recommends after the surgery that I personally have concerns about, although if I had a more aggressive form of cancer, I would likely consider them much more seriously.

Oh dear.  Guess what.  I was doing research to try to back up my point of view.  And in the process, I am finding that I really am going against the grain of  recommended treatment.  Here is something I just read which is concerning me:

“Of all the debates surrounding the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer in recent decades, the most persistent and perplexing one involves a very early cancer called D.C.I.S., or ductal carcinoma in situ.

This cancer is noninvasive, confined to the milk duct where it arose. Some of these cancers will eventually become invasive, others never will. In autopsies, about 10 percent of women are found to have a ductal carcinoma that never became evident.

Then it is up to the pathologist to determine whether cancer is present, and if so, what type of D.C.I.S. it is. There are two main categories, a more aggressive type called comedo, which resembles a blackhead because it contains a core of dead cancer cells, and noncomedo. The comedo type may become an invasive cancer and, thus, less curable in three to five years; the noncomedo type may not progress to invasive cancer for a decade. (Italics mine.)

The guide continues, “Lumpectomy without radiation therapy is usually considered an option only for women with small areas of low-grade D.C.I.S.” An eight-year study of 814 women found that radiation after lumpectomy significantly reduced the risk of recurrence. Radiation also greatly reduced the risk of a later invasive cancer.  http://www.nytimes.com/2005/02/22/health/22brod.html

And this:

“In the case of DCIS, cells multiply rapidly and are different from normal ductal cells—they’re different in size, shape, and architectural arrangement and more closely resemble invasive cancer, says Arnold Schwartz, professor of pathology at George Washington University Hospital in Washington and a member of the NIH panel. Not all DCIS is alike; there’s a spectrum. The less closely the cells resemble their normal parent cells, the greater the potential danger seems to be, particularly in the presence of necrosis (dead cells) and in younger women (among other risk factors). All those factors suggest a potentially more-aggressive form of DCIS that may recur or become invasive cancer, says Schwartz.”   http://health.usnews.com/health-news/family-health/cancer/articles/2009/10/22/the-confusion-over-dcis-what-to-do-about-stage-zero-breast-cancer

I confess “my” DCIS is the comedo type.  And it was not graded a 1 but a 2-3 out of 4.

So in the process of writing this blog I find myself, once again, faced with some nagging doubts.

Can I fight cancer with diet, herbs, and supplements alone?  Actually, that’s not my entire plan of attack.  I have heard multiple stories of advanced cancer disappearing when the person chose to live the life they always wanted to live.  There are certainly emotional/psychological factors that affect our healing and I will continue to work on these issues as well.

My current intentions include the following:

  • Eat a primarily vegetarian diet.
  • Strive to make 75% of my diet vegetables and fruits.  (I’m not there yet.)
  • Eat as many greens as possible.
  • Eat more raw foods.
  • Keep my body in the alkaline zone.
  • Take the following supplements, all of which aid in preventing cancer, inhibiting tumor growth, eliminating toxins, helping to neutralize the effects of radiation, and/or aiding in the proper metabolism of excess estrogen (The cancer I was diagnosed with was estrogen receptor positive.)  Vitamin D, Vitamin C, flaxseed, DIM-3, kelp, curcumin, garlic capsules, a mushroom product called Agrigold, and a product called Natural  Cellular Defense are all now a part of my health regimen.
  • Exercise more.

In addition, I am going to a healer next week.

So, friends, the process continues.  Can I trust my intuition to guide me?  Can I get healthy following my own instincts?  Am I doing enough to prevent a recurrence or a more invasive cancer?  Or  (I am challenging myself to be brutally honest here) was I perhaps more afraid of the treatment than the disease?

Whichever is the case, I am determined to not let fear rule my life.  I am claiming good health.  I will feed myself not only with healthy and healing foods, but with success stories.  Stories of people who have healed themselves of cancer abound.

I think I will save that for another blog.

As always, thanks for “listening.”  May you be blessed with abundant health and happiness.

First Mammogram Post-Lumpectomy

16 Jan

January 13, 14, and 16, 2012

So, on Friday I returned to the scene of the mammogram which catapulted me on an unexpected journey last year.   Last year’s mammogram – the one with the “suspicious abnormalities” – took me on my journey to a DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ) diagnosis and lumpectomy.  This was to be my first follow-up mammogram – almost five months after my bilateral surgery on August 22nd of last year.

I went there feeling calm.  I was not future-thinking or worrying and stressing.  But truthfully, that was probably because I was multi-tasking big time – trying to communicate and coordinate with a sister, a niece, and another caregiver about a doctor appointment for my mother that morning which had been scheduled just the night before.  I wasn’t thinking about the mammogram; I was just concerned with getting there on time while simultaneously making about five phone calls.

Anyway, long story short, the (really wonderful) technician took two x-rays of each breast and showed them to the radiologist who then ordered close-up shots of the surgery site.  The upshot is he found “one calcification”  – right next to the place where tissue had been removed during the lumpectomy.  We’re not quite sure what to make of it.  Does that mean they didn’t get it all after all?  Even though the pathology report said that the margins were clear last August?  Or is this something that happened as a result of surgery?  Apparently calcifications can form after cell injury.  Apparently it’s not unusual to have some appear after surgery and radiation.

This particular  radiologist hadn’t seen me since May 31, 2011.  He hadn’t known until he saw my surgeon’s order for this mammogram that I’d been diagnosed with DCIS and had had surgery on each breast.  He also didn’t have access to my pathology report, so he didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what that “one calcification” meant.  (Or if he did, he wasn’t letting on.)  He said he would call my surgeon to talk with her.

I kind of thought I might have heard from her by now, but alas, no such luck.

I guess I was a bit surprised by what they found but I don’t think any shock or panic showed on my face.  Instead I continued to smile, be polite, ask a question or two.  (Feels kind of strange admitting that, but smiling is usually fairly second nature for me.)  He did ask me a few questions about whether I’d had radiation therapy (RT) or not.  I’m not positive why he was asking.  It could be he was surprised I didn’t get RT (which is how I took it at the time) or it could be because apparently RT can result in some calcifications. (I found this out during later research.)   I suspect he was trying to get a feel for how “suspicious” this one lonely calcification was.  I kind of feel sorry for him having to do a report on this.  How is he going to rate this one little calcification?  How will he determine how “concerning” it is?  (To use a term mentioned in my radiology report last June.)

Mammograms are rated using the BI-RADS system (Breast Imaging and Reporting Data System.)  Radiologists rate their findings 0 through 5. You may recall that my mammograms and ultrasounds last year “earned” a 4.

The wonderful chart explaining these ratings would not copy to this blog.  However here is the verbal description of how a radiologist determines a rating:

“A negative diagnostic examination is one that is negative, with a benign or probably benign finding (BI-RADS 1, 2 or 3).
In BI-RADS 3 the radiologist prefers to establish the stability of a lesion by short term follow-up.
In the evaluation of your BI-RADS 3 lesions the malignancy rate should be < 2%.
A positive diagnostic examination is one that requires a tissue diagnosis (BI-RADS 4 and 5).
In BI-RADS 4 the radiologist has sufficient concern to urge a biopsy (2-95% chance of malignancy).
In BI-RADS 5 the chance of malignancy should be > 95%.” http://www.radiologyassistant.nl/en/4349108442109

The radiologist seemed to be unsure what to make of this one microcalcification, so I’m going to guess he’ll rate it a 3 or 4 based on what my surgeon tells him.  I imagine they won’t be able to say it’s definitively benign, so I’m guessing it won’t be a 2.

By the way, macrocalcifications are not concerning.  It’s only the microcalcifications which are.  For those late to this party, here is a brief summary on breast calcifications:

“On a mammogram, breast calcifications can appear as large white dots or dashes (macrocalcifications) or fine, white specks, similar to grains of salt (microcalcifications). Macrocalcifications are almost always noncancerous and require no further testing or follow-up. Microcalcifications are usually noncancerous, but certain patterns can be a sign of cancer. If calcifications are suspicious, further testing may be necessary, including additional mammograms with magnification views or a breast biopsy.”  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/breast-calcifications/MY00101

How do I feel about all this?  Well, on the one hand, ONE calcification can’t be too scary.   First of all, there’s a great possibility it is a byproduct of the surgery itself and therefore completely benign.  And if it is cancerous, it’s only one little spot of it.  But to be honest, one of the things I started to do after listening to the radiologist was second-guess my decision not to do radiation therapy.  RT is supposed to get whatever stray cells weren’t removed during surgery.   It is usually considered “standard  operating  procedure”  to get radiation therapy following a lumpectomy.  Perhaps I was hasty in my decision to not go that route.  Perhaps I should have considered it after all.

I have discovered that microcalcifications often form at the lumpectomy “bed.”  In a study of 402 patients who had a lumpectomy followed by radiation therapy, 68 developed new calcifications.

The results of the study were: “In 63 cases (93%), the new calcifications developed in the same quadrant as the primary tumor. None of the calcifications initially interpreted as BI-RADS category 2 (n = 40/68; 59%) and category 3 (n = 19/68; 28%) represented recurrent disease. Nine (13%) of 68 calcifications were initially classified as BI-RADS category 4 or 5; six (67%) of the nine were malignant and three (33%) were benign at biopsy.”  http://www.ajronline.org/content/188/2/393.full

You realize, of course, that I am no expert AT ALL on any of this stuff.  The purpose of this blog is to share my experiences, my thoughts, my emotions, and the research I do.  I imagine in a few months or years some of my thoughts and conclusions will seem incredibly naive or even ridiculous, but you are getting a view of what it’s like for a woman as this stuff happens.

Anyway, after worrying a bit, I decided to pull a couple cards from some oracle decks.  The card that resonated with me the most spoke about the power of the words we use and suggested it was a good time for affirmations.  “Say it is so – and it will be so,” the author declared.  SO!  I declare that I am healthy!  (And I do feel healthy!)  I do believe that if I continue to be vigilant with my diet, I will be healthier than I’ve been for many years.  (In fact,  already I have lost weight  and have much more energy.)

Perhaps the whole reason for this one little calcification is to remind me to continue to be vigilant.  I can’t afford to get complacent.  I have to be very conscious of my choices.  My health absolutely depends upon what I feed my body and how I care for my physical, emotional, and spiritual self.

I do want to conclude by reminding myself that even though I can let myself get a bit worried, what I am experiencing is NOTHING compared to what many people on the planet are experiencing.  I am supremely conscious of my friend who only a short month or so ago discovered that her excruciating back pain was the result of cancer which had, unbeknownst to her, formed in multiple places throughout her body.  I think of her often.  It certainly helps me keep my tiny little health issue in perspective.

However, even though my health issue may be minor compared to others’ issues, I know it’s important for me to document this process so that women who go through a similar journey can learn and/or perhaps not feel so alone in their process.  Also, when I write, it helps me to process things.  Also, it’s much easier to write this blog post than to tell every friend and acquaintance the details of what happened!

Thanks for rooting for me, everyone!

May you be blessed.