I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer last fall, but my medical adventures started a month earlier while on vacation in August. During a tour of Stonehenge, I noticed a blood blister in my mouth and bright red pin pricks on my leg. I desperately tried not to hyperventilate, but knew in my heart that I was dealing with a second bout of ITP – an immune driven platelet disorder.
The discovery found us in a National Health Service emergency room in London the following day. After my diagnosis, we adjusted our plans and I continued care in Holland while we visited family. By the time we returned home my platelets were recovering, but I was not. I was suffering.
A DIFFERENT DIAGNOSIS
At first I didn’t know what caused the gas and bloating. Could it be the large doses of prednisone, an 80 mg metabolic wallop designed to suppress my overactive immune system? In a vain attempt to calm my symptoms, I tried drinking ginger tea, experimented with my diet, and tapped into acupuncture, yoga, exercise, and every other resource to no avail. The discomfort, gas, and bloating only worsened over time. When the pain topped out at 8-9, I found myself thinking, “I don’t know if I can keep this up.” I didn’t have to.
By mid September I asked my doctor to run tests that would rule out ovarian cancer. I can imagine that she probably rolled her eyes. With over 30 years of working with me, she either tolerates or is resigned to having me direct much of my health care. Soon Dr. Bhai called me with the results. She wasn’t able to rule out ovarian cancer, and I scheduled a biopsy the following week. In quick succession I saw a medical oncologist, then Dr. Vasilev, my gynecological oncologist, and we planned a course of treatment.
MORE INSIGHT, MORE LEARNING
My world spun crazily around me, my husband aged 20 years in two weeks, and I instinctively stepped up for the challenge ahead.
I often wonder why I seamlessly shift into this mode, a bizarrely calm and battle ready stance, navigating what must be done, but I do. Mostly I wasn’t all that surprised by the diagnosis. I’ve always known I was a high risk for ovarian cancer. However, as I step away from this stage of the journey, I want to share what I understand, and what I’ve learned.
ALL LIFE FORMS ARE INTERCONNECTED
We all grow cancer cells. Problems occur when the immune system is unable to shut those cells down, and they start replicating without restraint. Ideally the human body is able to manage this dance, but we are living in complicated times. In my case, heavy doses of prednisone could have primed the pump for tumor promotion. Or cancer cells can run amok from any number of environmental triggers.
Human activity spews over 10,000 chemicals into the environment every year and we only track about 200 of them. Many are known endocrine disruptors, including pesticides, herbicides, insecticides and other agents used in agriculture. These agents compromise our metabolism, our health and our lives. They compromise all life forms because all life is interconnected.
CANCER AND THE FOOD WE EAT, THE PRODUCTS WE USE
I know I can’t control all the chemicals that contribute to my body burden, but I can limit exposure to endocrine disruptors associated with living my life. Our landscaping and herb garden are managed organically. I purposefully limit exposure to endocrine disruptors in my household, using soap, vinegar and baking soda as the primary cleaning agents. I purchase organic and bio-dynamic food, grass fed, pastured, and beyond.
At the initial meeting with my oncologist, board certified in functional and integrative medicine, he asked about my diet. I laid it all out as he nodded in appreciation and told me, “Keep doing all of that.” I choose to eat whole foods grown as responsibly and sustainably as possible, mostly because I understand that I am voting with my dollars for my health, and the health of the planet.
I’m a healthy cancer patient, as strange as that sounds, and basically blew away the medical staff with my body’s capacity to navigate chemotherapy. My body is strong, well nourished in the best possible sense, and capable of fighting the good fight. In fact, the powerful lesson I learned over the past 10 months is that despite my diagnosis, my body was ideally prepared for the battle ahead.
Eating close to the earth, cooking from scratch, lots of physical movement, plenty of sleep, some wine with dinner, good times with friends and family. So many ways I live my life contribute to my health, and yet none of it prevented me from developing disease. Everything I do helps me survive.
EATING WELL TO PREPARE FOR WHATEVER LIFE BRINGS
I didn’t get tripped up with the “Why me?” but others do. During treatment I heard other cancer patients lament that they had done everything ‘right’. I realized they bought into a promise promoted by too many in the medical world–a promise that can’t be delivered. I knew I needed to change how I talk about food, health, and risk of disease.
I no longer encourage clients to eat, exercise, or whatever to reduce risk. What a set up! I now tell clients that eating well and taking care of ourselves serves a larger purpose: preparation for whatever we may encounter. Whatever challenge, whatever hardship, whatever opportunity. My journey was easier because I was already on board.
There is no guarantee that how we live our lives will eliminate risk of disease. However, eating well and living well reinforces all of our resources. I never second guessed what I could have done differently because I was already doing what I could. Without regret and other distractions, I was free to focus on the task at hand.
Today I’m inspired to continue my work, writing, speaking, and counseling as I help others learn to how to enhance, support or restore their metabolic health. I’m just starting to rebuild my practice, and I am looking for opportunities. I’m open to speaking at local events and educational venues, open to new private clients, and happy to work in the community. Contact me if you have specific ideas or opportunities to share. Call me if you would like to figure out an approach to food that works for you.