Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Anti-Cancer

well, my meeting with the medical oncologist, dr. C, was frustrating and disappointing. she didn't tell me that i probably won't need chemo, which is what i had (perhaps naively) been expecting. she didn't flat out say i DO need chemo, but i definitely got the sense that she's in favor of it/recommending it - i mean, that's basically her JOB, i guess... but i didn't get the sense that she was recommending chemo because my specific situation warrants it, but more because chemo is the standard of care. she basically only talked about the benefits of hormone therapy (i'm assuming tamoxifen - we didn't get that specific), and chemo, or OVARY REMOVAL instead of chemo. i don't think i need any of those options, and i don't believe they are my ONLY options, as medical oncologists say.

she showed me this computerized tool that calculates a person's risk of recurrence, based on information that you plug in - age, general health, tumor size, grade, and stage. this tool said that with lumpectomy + radiation only, my estimated risk for recurrence in the next 10 years is 35%. it also says that if i do 5 years of hormone therapy, my risk falls to 22%. if i also do chemo, my risk of recurrence becomes 15%. but an online calculator tool doesn't know anything about me personally. i asked, knowing the answer was no, does this calculator take diet and lifestyle changes into account? no, of course not, there's no way to measure that. it also doesn't take into account the fact that my tumor was the MUCINOUS type, which is non-aggressive and unlikely to spread.

that calculator assumes that the person it is assessing is living in a "normal" way - e.g. living a mainstream lifestyle, eating a mainstream diet, and not making any anti-cancer lifestyle or dietary changes after being dx'd with cancer. it says that my risk of recurrence is 35% "without treatment," because it wrongly equates "no chemo/hormone therapy" with "no treatment." it cannot possibly know that during the past several years, i have made big improvements in my diet, environment, and lifestyle and that i am continuing to do so.

the online calculator does not know the following:

- i strongly and consciously practice loving/being a good friend to myself
- i never smoke, drink, or do drugs
- my weight is ideal for my height
- my diet has steadily improved over the years and continues to do so. as a teenager and throughout college, i ate fast food, soda, junk food, white flour everything. now, i've been a vegetarian for 9 years, and eat lots of organic vegetables. since reading "anticancer" by dr. david servan-schreiber, i've started eating a very specific ANTICANCER diet. i haven't had refined sugar in almost a month. i am eating organic fruits and vegetables, sprouted grains, limited dairy, seaweed, turmeric, onions, garlic, berries, etc.
- i found out i was deficient in vitamin D and am now supplementing
- i'm seeing a wonderful naturopath, who has me taking many supplements with proven anti-cancer properties, as corroborated by dr. servan-schreiber's book (melatonin, green tea extract, medicinal mushrooms, etc)
- i get plenty of rest and sleep
- i have THE BEST FAMILY AND FRIENDS IN THE WORLD, who love and support me so, so much. i am swept up in a tidal wave of love every day. my social/support network is better now than it has ever been in my life.
- i exercise! this is new for me in the past few years! i am obsessed with trapeze, and also do yoga regularly, and walk a lot, and rollerskate, and hula hoop!
- i receive immeasurable healing from the michigan womyn's music festival every year
- i am introspective, self-aware, self-analytical. i have several strategies for exploring/healing what's going on in my psyche that may impact my cancer. i meditate, journal, work with psychotherapists off and on, read helpful books, talk with friends and family, pray, etc. i live a "conscious life."
- i am now more conscious than ever of avoiding whatever environmental pollutants i can, whenever i can. i used to be oblivious to this. but now, i reduce my use of plastics, and for several years, i have used only natural body care and cleaning products
- i grew up on cape cod, where the rate of breast cancer is 20% higher than the rest of the state, but i moved away!

and there's even more that i'm just not thinking of right now. because of all of the above, my risk for recurrence is MUCH LOWER than that online calculator can possibly know. i don't know exactly why cancer grew in me... but something about my life/my body was "fertile soil" for cancer to grow in. by the time a tumor gets to be as big as mine was, it's likely that it had been growing for 8-10 years. so it's likely that the tumor started growing several years ago at a time when my body and lifestyle were very different - LESS healthy than today. i've made big improvements in my health and life over the years, and keep continuing to do so. i am doing everything i can to make my life and body TOTALLY UNWELCOMING to cancer. what's exciting is that i am learning lots of SPECIFIC ways in which to do this, thanks mostly to my wonderful naturopath and dr. david servan-schreiber's "anticancer" book (which K herself recommended to me!). i'm learning that there are very specific ways of creating a "terrain" (as david puts it) that cancer cannot thrive in - it's not as simple as just striving to "be healthier." for example, i would not have intuitively known that drinking 10 cups of green tea per day, or eating turmeric and black pepper and olive oil in combination with each other, or having optimal levels of vitamin D helps fight cancer. but now that i DO know, i can do these things.

there are so many GREAT things i can do (and DO do, and will CONTINUE to do!) for my body to make it all-around healthier and stronger, and a body that cancer cannot be at home in. i will treat my body with so much LOVE, and nourish it well. it will be a lot of work, and these lifestyle/diet changes are major, and must be done in symphony with each other - it's not like i'd benefit from just sprinkling a bit of turmeric on my food every now and then. no, i will strive to eat ONLY anti-cancer foods, and exercise regularly, and diligently take my supplements, and do yoga regularly, and deepen my meditation practice, and make big changes in my work life so that work nourishes instead of drains me, and continue to play and laugh and spend quality time with my family and friends, and go back to therapy if that's what it takes to work through some lingering childhood issues and past traumas, and research environmental carcinogens even more so that i can avoid them as best as possible, and ALL of that. i am not your average girl, i'm just not. so that stupid online calculator can BITE ME.

5 comments:

  1. so- i dunno. i'm processing all this...

    have you considered 2nd opinions? I mean, i have no idea how long it takes to get an appointment for any of this stuff, but for any big decision (like surgery, or chemo or anything like this) a 2nd opinion isn't an outrageous thing to do...

    I dunno, the medical nerd in me is saying "DO THE CHEMO!" while the rest of me is saying "BRITTA WILL DECIDE WHAT'S BEST FOR HER!" And i will back up whatever you decide to do as long as it's an informed decision based on facts and not emotions.

    (have you talked to your naturopath about this? what does she think? for the record though i work in western medicine, i do not discount the power of natural/alternative medicine. I used to go to an awesome naturopath.)

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  2. Dear Britta,

    I stumbled upon your blog while searching for something online and got completely engrossed. Thank you for sharing your story with so much detail, humor and courage - I'm sure it will provide a lot of comfort to many people out there.

    Just quickly, by way of introduction: I'm a nutritionist and health writer, live in France and am currently completing an anti-cancer cookbook (that's how I found your blog - I was writing about flax seeds!). I

    also recently started writing a blog called 'Nourish' about dietary cancer prevention on Psychology Today's website. (I've written two general/introductory pieces and haven't had much time to post more as I'm on book-deadline, but plan to write much more hands-on and practical blogs in weeks and months to come.)

    I had early-stage cervical cancer (luckily, so I only needed surgery) 10 years ago but am now fine. Oh, and I'm also an aquarian - born 7th Feb.

    Please contact me if you want nutritional tips or recipes - I'd love to help if I can. Meanwhile, I wish you much courage in the coming weeks as you continue your treatment. You're doing all the right things - keep at it! I'll visit your blog from time to time to see yhow you're doing.

    All best wishes,

    Conner

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  3. Susun Weed's book may be old, but in this regard, it's not dated...Zyflamend by New Chapter combines olive oil and turmeric along with ginger, holy basil, green tea and a few other herbs & it's FABULOUS with documented results in promoting normal cell growth after cancer. i can look up the links for you if you want. xo Cathryn

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  4. Hi Britta,

    Sorry to read that your appt with the oncologist was difficult. It doesn't surprise me at ALL that she is leaning toward chemotherapy as part of your treatment. Particularly due to your age.

    BUT, I totally respect you and whatever decision you make. I think a second opinion is in order. I would call the Vermont Cancer Center and see if you can get an appointment.

    http://vermontcancer.org/
    802.656.4414 phone
    Toll-free 1-877-540-HOPE

    If you lived in MA I would say call Dana Farber.

    I hear all of what you're saying about your life and love and friends and nutrition. I still think a second opinion is warranted. That's great that "Conner" (see above comment) found your blog!!! I think I may contact him too.

    I meant to tell you that seeing you on Monday and talking about diet has really inspired me to drop sugar, although I did have an almond croissant this morning. I'm so glad we can learn from each other as we traverse this strange and surreal landscape.

    Let me know if there is anything I can do.

    Love you loads. See you Saturday.

    Sue

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  5. i wish i had any advice. this is a great illustration of how confusing it can be to try to combine western and alternative medical info and advice. i trust the people who have done the scientific studies. but they don't know everything. but who can say what the effects of what they haven't studied might be? how are WE stupposed to know how blind the official doctors may be? we know so little. and everybody is only human.

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