Whatever Works

Fun adventure with Auntie N to the Newport Aquarium!

Fun adventure with Auntie N to the Newport Aquarium!

Everyone is talking about Angeline Jolie & her decision to have a preventive double mastectomy.  And everyone’s asking me what I think…

So what do I think?  I think preventive surgery is a very individual decision.  A decision that is best left to the individual to make.  Would I have done the same thing?  Who knows.  My doctors continue to push me to do surgery to remove my ovaries to shut down estrogen production and help “prevent” a recurrence but I have decided (for now) to refuse that surgery.  That’s what works for me.  Undergoing a preventive double mastectomy is what works for Angeline Jolie.

Whatever works.

In general, I feel the medical establishment relies too heavily on surgery and pharmaceuticals to cure all of life’s modern ailments.  I firmly believe everyone would benefit from a more holistic approach to medicine and healing – One that looks at your history, stress levels, outside influences, and mental space just as much as the physical details of our individual body parts. We are so much more than just our individual body parts.  And I can’t get behind any treatment that espouses a narrow-minded, exclusive approach.  Us human beings are complex folks!

The reality is that everyone has an opinion.  A preference.  A different path.  What works for some, may not work for others.  I know I am constantly searching for my path, trying to figure out what works best for me.  Aren’t we all?

My diet is one thing I’m still trying to figure out…  After 8 days with the fabulous Antie N in town my body is still reeling from all the fun we had…  Way more booze than I’ve had in a long time (what I would normally consume over the course of 2 or 3 months I consumed in the span of a week)…  Less sleep…  Lots of indulging (in sweet treats, extra helpings, nibbles of cheese, and empty carbs)…  But it was so worth it!!!   We had a week of fun adventures, play time, girl talk, and truly memorable moments.  So I don’t beat myself up for the indulgences.  It was one kick-ass week with one of my bestest friends.  That’s what life is all about.  My body will re-balance itself.  I’m getting back up on the saddle again. 😉

I actually have Part I of my much anticipated nutrition consult with  Andrea Nakayama scheduled for next week.  I’ve been following her since I read about her in Whole Living Magazine way back in October 2011 – A month before I was diagnosed.  She is a functional nutritionist with a holistic, whole-foods based approach.  I’ve listened to many of her online talks about balancing hormones and restoring the health of our bodies through diet and natural remedies.  I’m so excited to consult with her team about fine tuning my diet and figuring out what works best for me & my body.  If her detailed intake process is any indication of what lies ahead I’m sure our time together will be totally holistic, and very thorough & comprehensive.  I’m psyched.

The other thing I’m still trying to figure out is what’s up for the next chapter of my life.

Auntie N and I are both at a crossroads in our lives.  Having her here this last week, and being able to process that and compare notes was so helpful & therapeutic (for both of us!).  Many people have encouraged me to write.  So I did.  I started writing stuff (other than this blog – which it seems I haven’t gotten around to writing much lately either)…  But I can’t quite seem to get into it.  I don’t feel compelled to write the other stuff yet.  I can’t find my voice.  There’s always something else that takes priority.  Maybe I’m supposed to be writing something different?  Or maybe just doing something different.

One thing I keep feeling compelled to do is use my experience with cancer, the lessons I’ve learned, the insights I’ve gained, and my training as a social worker, to help others through their own difficult periods.  Try to help them figure out what works.

Honestly, I’m just so damn thrilled to even be able to have concerns like this – about my career or fine tuning my diet – instead of living in a haze of treatment side effects and obsessively thinking about my own mortality.  It’s been 5 weeks since my breast reconstruction and reduction surgery.  I’m back to driving again, squeezing in some light exercise here & there, and doing most of my normal every day activities.  The pain is pretty much gone.  I almost feel “normal”.  I guess this IS my new normal…  Normal concerns about what to eat, what job to take, how to stay healthy…  But yet always with this underlying current of questioning, worry, and unknowns.  But I guess we all have that to some degree or another, right?

For now, I will keep searching for answers while still trying to remain open to life’s mysteries.  I will enjoy life and continue making memories.  I will respect other people’s decisions while continuing to honor my own.

And in the end I’ll go with whatever works best.

Peace.  – T

Outdoor painting with Grandpa

Outdoor painting with Grandpa

Nature walk through Wegerzyn Gardens with Auntie N

Nature walk through Wegerzyn Gardens with Auntie N

Making memories at the aquarium!

Making memories at the aquarium!

Terri Got Her Groove Back

photo 3

Spring is officially here (well at least in Ohio it is).  My surgery is done.  I have no more treatments scheduled or drugs to take.  I’m feeling good.  Ready to leap forward & embrace life.  Got myself a new pixie haircut and am starting to feel like I’m getting my groove back again.  Hallelujah!

Saw my oncologist Dr. K this week.  He agreed that my NY surgical team did a great job on my breasts.  Said everything else looked fine.  We did some blood work that my naturopath requested to monitor the nattokinase i’m taking (in lieu of the coumadin to prevent more blood clots).  Still don’t have the results on that yet but i’m assuming all is good.  I’m not feeling any of the blood clot signs…  No pain or swelling in my legs.  No shortness of breath.  No headaches.  Knock on wood…

Dr. K asked if I had gotten my period again and I was thrilled to tell him “Yes!” (I’ve only had 3 visits from ‘aunt flo’ since i was diagnosed in November 2011).  To me, getting my period again is a signal that my body is finally starting to re-balance itself.  Detoxing the chemo and other meds.  Getting back to normal.

But of course in the estrogen positive breast cancer world getting your period is something you don’t want.  And Dr. K said as much, encouraging me to consider options like surgery & more meds to permanently put my ovaries out of commission and end my periods once & for all.  I nodded politely, murmured a few “I knows” under my breath, but thought secretly in my head, “No way!”

No way am I going back to menopause land at age 38!  No way am I going back to a world where sex is painful and devoid of pleasure!  No way am I giving up this recent upsurge in my sex drive that actually has me wanting sex with my husband for the first time in almost 2 years!  No way am I going back to hot-flashes, brain fog, night sweats, and sleep problems!  Screw that!  Nobody talks about the sexual side effects of cancer.  But we so need to.

Luckily Dr. K is open to the work I’m doing with my naturopath to naturally lower and re-balance my estrogen levels.  Although western medicine takes the approach that estrogen is bad and we need to remove it all from the body to prevent cancer from happening, the reality is much more complex.  In fact, there are 3 different types of estrogen in our bodies (Estrone, Estradiol, and Estriol).  The first two are more aggressive and associated with increased breast cancer risk when tested at high levels.  But the final type is very healthy and has anti-cancer properties.  So the goal is to lower the first two & boost the healthy one.  This can be done with diet (cruciferous vegetables, fiber, flax, fermented soy products), supplements (calcium d-glucarate, indole-3 carbinol, DIM), and avoiding unhealthy xeno-hormones which damage cells & lead to mutations & cancerous tumors (ie. pesticides, herbicides, & other chemicals in our food, household & beauty products).   Estrogen is produced primarily in the ovaries but also in the adrenals and fat cells.  And those nasty xeno-hormones love fat cells!  So it’s really important to keep body fat to a minimum (one of the main reasons I’m looking to lose another 10 lbs).

The full story on hormones is of course way more complex than this.  Which is probably why most conventional doctors don’t address the issue in a more in depth manner.  It’s a lot of information.   Instead most offer the standard response: take Tamoxifen and suppress activity in your ovaries (either through surgery or more meds).  Period.

The last time I had my estrogen levels checked (through urine & saliva tests ordered by my naturopath) was almost 6 months ago.  At the time my Estradiol and Estrone levels were both at the very lowest end of the normal range (2.9 pg/mL and <0.3 pg/mL respectively) .  And my 2:16 hydroxyestrogen level was strong at 8.9 (ratios less than 2.0 indicate increased long-term risk for estrogen sensitive cancers).

So as long as my estrogen levels remain at healthy levels and my body continues to have no evidence of disease I will continue to say no to “preventative” surgery and medication.  And I’ll keep taking action the natural way instead.

Besides, I am loving the fact that I’ve got my groove back again after going for such a long time wondering if it would ever return (and I think hubby is loving it too 😉

Life is pretty good these days…  Having my dad here has been great for both me and Miss M.  She follows grandpa around all day.  Can’t wait to wake him up in the morning.  Requests that he be the one to read her bedtime stories.  Sits as close as possible to him at the dinner table, in the car, and everywhere else.  The two of them are a great pair…  Chatting away with each other.  Listening to each other’s goofy theories and stories.  And just being silly.  It’s adorable.  And it’s giving me a much needed break to write, rest, and have a few moments to myself.

On Monday the party gets even better with the arrival of our beloved Auntie ‘Cole who’s coming for a week-long visit.  Hooray!  Miss M is overjoyed to have one of her favorite “aunties” coming to town (as am I to have my best friend around for some good ol’ girlfriend bonding time).

So far, the recovery from this surgery has been a hell of a lot easier than the last one (for everyone involved).  And I am determined to make this surgery my last.  Although I am not in denial about the realities of metastatic disease, I am confident that I can beat the odds.  That I will continue to heal, grow, and thrive.  I have a strong belief that anything is possible.  And I refuse to live through a lens of fear.

Life is tough.  Shit happens.  Challenges are inevitable.  But I for one, am determined to let go of suffering & fear and stay in the groove instead.

Peace.  – T

photo 2

Having Cancer Does Not Feel Good

breast-cancer-ribbon-2A few days ago the NY Times ran an article in their magazine entitled “Our Feel-Good War on Breast Cancer” by Peggy Orenstein. Everywhere I looked people were re-posting it, adding links to facebook, emailing it to me.  Yesterday, I finally got the chance to read it.

Orenstein takes on a few important topics…   The risk/benefit conundrum of yearly mammograms…  The over-selling of “early detection” as the answer to breast cancer…  Questionable over-treatment and fear tactics…  The unchanged death rates…  And the beyond ridiculousness of the pink ribbon campaign to raise awareness –  I’m pretty sure we’re all aware now.  Breast cancer is big.  It’s wrecking havoc.  We know.  Now let’s use that money for a real purpose, like funding research to find a cure, figure out the causes of cancer, or help metastatic patients live longer.  The messages in Orenstein’s article aren’t necessary new.  But it is nice to see the NY Times giving it press and especially nice to see Orenstein acknowledging the small and often overlooked percentage of us with metastatic disease.

I personally am very leery of frequent mammograms (and other scans for that matter).  I keep reading that the cumulative effect of radiation from regular mammograms actually increases the chances of getting breast cancer.  Kind of ironic, eh?  Just like Tamoxifen increases your risk for uterine cancer.  And breast radiation may cause lung cancer.  And Herceptin may cause heart failure.  Gotta love it.  It’s a constant battle of weighing the odds.  The benefits vs. the risks.

Since being diagnosed in November 2011, I’ve gone through more scans than I care to count and my body’s been subjected to endless amounts of radiation.  In my new approach to this disease I am now saying no to scans every 3 months (as well as to radiation treatment, Tamoxifen, and Herceptin).  When my oncology surgeon recently suggested I get a mammogram & ultrasound prior to my second reconstructive surgery I opted to skip the mammogram and just get the ultrasound.  I mean, when they do find something suspicious on a mammogram they send you for an ultrasound to further confirm anyway…  So why not just skip the questionable mammogram and go straight for the ultrasound?

It wasn’t news to me that death rates from breast cancer haven’t changed in the last 20 years.  While early detection may be finding more cancer, we’re still dying at the same rate.  How can that be good?  Seems like an obvious red flag that the current approach is not working.  While many people realize this, it really sucks that the medical establishment hasn’t caught on yet.   And while I truly appreciate the efforts of researchers who continue to understand more & more about the inner-workings of cancer and how it forms and grows, I hate that what comes from their brilliant research is just more drugs and toxic treatments.

I love Orenstein for giving a shout out to us metastatic folks.  Acknowledging the paltry sums of research dollars we receive.  The terror we often strike in our non-metastatic breast cancer sisters.  Our absence from “feel-good” breast cancer events.  It is important for all those diagnosed with breast cancer to know that no one is immune from getting metastatic disease.  Denial is not going to help you live longer.  Awareness, prevention, and action will.  I know you don’t want to think about it.  But cancer can come back.

Which brings me to the point we should all be thinking about.  Why did we get cancer in the first place?  Illness is our body’s way of telling us something is not right in our lives.  When I was diagnosed with Melanoma-in-situ (basically stage 0 skin cancer) in 2008 I woke up for a few minutes, changed a few things in my diet, started to eliminate chemicals…  But never went beyond that.   Never did the deeper soul searching.  Never figured out healthy ways to deal with stress.  Never took a serious look at what wasn’t right in my life.  My body was trying to tell me something but I wasn’t ready to listen.

So now, with metastatic breast cancer I am asking the big questions…  Where did this come from?  Why is it here?  What do I need to learn?  What do I need to change?  How can I use this as an opportunity to turn my life around, love myself more, and give back to the world?

Cancer is a very complex disease.  It requires a complex treatment plan.  Simply getting a mammogram or changing once piece of the picture doesn’t guarantee healing.  I can eat 100% healthy organic food and exercise every day but if I’m not dealing with my underlying subconscious fears, childhood wounds, dysfunctional relationships, financial problems, or my stressful & unfulfilling career then true healing may not ever happen.

I’m on an endless quest to figure out what’s broken in my life and find ways to fix it or make peace with it.

The battle is multi-dimensional.  Cancer is tireless and all encompassing.  We have to be too.

Peace.  – T

The Elasticity of Time

Outside the Neptune Diner on our wedding day - March 25, 2003

Outside the Neptune Diner on our wedding day – March 25, 2003

What a weird & emotional week it’s been.  Full of travel, sickness, milestones, pure joy, memories, and anniversaries…  To name a few.

Plus, I have now officially entered the “surgery prep” zone.

This morning I had my pre-surgery breast ultrasound…  In the exact same room that I found out I had breast cancer back in November 2011.  With the same technician.  She said she remembered me and asked how I was doing.   I still experienced the same nervous energy when she exited the room to consult with the doctor after the scan.  But today, unlike in 2011, the doctor did not come in the room when she returned.  Always a good sign.  This time the news is good.  My ultrasound does not show anything of concern.  Phewww…

Early last week I took a quick 24 hour trip to NY to meet with my plastic surgeon & my naturopath to discuss surgery prep and recovery.  My plastic surgeon assured me the procedure should be less severe than the last.   The surgery will be outpatient.  I will receive a “lighter” form of anesthesia   And I should be able to resume my normal activities much quicker.  My naturopath tweaked my diet and supplements.  Talked about my energy and stress levels.  And outlined her natural blood thinning strategy for post-surgery and beyond.

And now for the big news…  Drum roll please…  I finally get to stop taking Coumadin!!!!  Woohoo!

Friday I see my oncologist Dr. K to complete pre-surgery blood work and discuss my transition off blood thinners.  It’s been 6 months since they found the blood clot in my lung.  Of course going off Coumadin is both amazing and terrifying.  Every time I have problems breathing, a tickle in my throat, a cough that won’t let up, or a pain in my leg I wonder, “Is it that damn blood clot again?!?!”  But after surgery I will receive Heparin injections (another blood thinner).  And then start implementing my naturopath’s plan that I will stay on long-term.  So I’ll still be doing something to keep my blood levels in check.

The past week also brought with it two very joyful days…  Both revolving around anniversaries.

On Sunday Miss M and I went to the Dayton Ballet’s 75th Anniversary performance.  Miss M was transfixed (well, at least for the first 45 mins).  It was her first time at the ballet.  I watched her follow the dancers around the stage with her eyes.  And felt tears welling up in my own eyes as I thought of my mom and felt her presence around us.

I felt my mom’s energy strongly again yesterday – On my anniversary – When Hubby and I celebrated 10 years of marriage.  Wow!  A decade together already!

It was back in March 2003 that hubby and I sealed the deal in a two-minute civil ceremony at City Hall in Manhattan.  My mom & dad were the only guests.  Afterwards we dined at the Neptune Diner in Astoria – right under what was then the Astoria Blvd stop of the W & N trains.  I was 28.  Just back from teaching in Taiwan.  Working in advertising.  Submitting applications for grad school.  Hubby was a 26 year old illegal immigrant from Brazil with a sexy accent.  Driving a delivery truck during the day while attending college at night.

I’m pretty sure my family had its doubts about us.  But here we are.  Ten years later.

Our marriage has definitely had its ups & downs.  Hubby drives me crazy.  He pushes my buttons.  He calls me out on my shit.  And yet I love him.  When the chips are down he is there for me.  When I gain 30 lbs he still tells me I’m beautiful.  He accepts me for who I am & doesn’t try to change me.  When I’m diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer he assures me he isn’t going anywhere.

Time is such an elastic concept.  Expanding and contracting.  Abundant one day & scarce the next.  It can seem like forever and yet go by in a flash.  I can hardly believe I’ve been married for a whole decade…  That it’s been 16 months since I was diagnosed…  Almost 4 years since Miss M was born…  And almost 3 years since my mom died…

Where does the time go?

It is yet another reminder to enjoy the present moment.  Live fully.  Waste no time.  Dive in.  Don’t hold back.  Because time waits for no one.

Peace.  – T

At the alter

At the alter.

Waiting our turn at city hall.

Waiting our turn at city hall.

Eliminating Environmental Toxins

What a week!!!

Thanks to everyone for your calls, emails, comments, and messages of congratulations.  I had no idea how many people there are out there cheering for me.  I hope you all realize there is NO WAY I could achieve such amazing results without your support and love.  I get teary eyed just thinking about it.

Tomorrow hubby, Miss M, and I are off to Mexico for our week long celebration.  Hooray!  But I thought I’d post one more piece of my healing puzzle before we go…

Today’s puzzle piece is about eliminating toxins.

Unfortunately, harmful chemicals and toxins are everywhere.  It is impossible to get rid of them all but we can get rid of many.

I firmly believe that the growing use of toxic chemicals plays a significant role in cancer.  There are specific chemicals that are known endocrine disruptors, hormonal imbalancers  and carcinogenic compounds that are in our every day products.  While one chemical alone may not produce cancer, together, the synergistic properties are definitely toxic.

For a complete list of what is in your products go to the Environmental Working Group‘s website.  It is amazing.  Check out the book What’s In This Stuff: The Hidden Toxins in Everyday Products & What You Can Do About Them.  As well as Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams.

MOST COMMON CHEMICALS TO AVOID:

  • parabens (personal care & baby products)
  • phthalates  (personal care products and plastics)
  • BPA  (plastics & tin can linings)
  • formaldehyde (cleaning products – can appear under a number of different names)
  • sodium laurel sulfates

**  Many chemicals are listed under different names.  For example, “fragrance” is often code-word for a combination of chemicals including phthalates.  So avoid things with fragrance.  **

Here is a rundown of the products I’ve changed & some great all natural ones I’ve found:

HAIR:   I stopped coloring my hair…  I switched my shampoo & conditioner as well as my hair styling products (most contain parabens).  I found a great pomade:  John Masters Organics.  It’s a bit pricey but I bought it almost 6 months ago and still have over half left.  A little goes a long way!

SKIN:  Look at the ingredients in your soap, cleansers, moisturizer, and antiperspirant.  I stopped wearing antiperspirant all together (because of the aluminium & fragrances).  I switched to all natural ingredient soap (ie. no ingredients i can’t pronounce) – Dr. Bonner’s is a great brand to try…  As well as all natural facial moisturizer – I adore Loving Naturals Anti-Aging Cream…   And I wash my face with Eminence Organic Coconut Milk Cleanser (which smells heavenly!)…  For sunscreens try to avoid commercial brands with oxybenzone, avobenzone, & octinoxate.  I just ordered some new natural ones to bring to Mexico if they turn out good I’ll let ya know!

MAKEUP:  I rarely wear makeup these days.  Right now I just use Physicians Formula Organic Wear Tinted Moisturizer.  Which you can get at any pharmacy or grocery store.   I also stopped getting manicures & pedicures :-(  But recently found some non-toxic water based nail polishes that I’m excited to try (Acquarella, Sante Nail Polish, Suncoat, & Piggy Paint for kids).

TEETH:  I’ve read that it’s best to avoid too much flouride so I switched to all natural, flouride free toothpaste (for both me & Miss M).  There’s already enough flouride in the water.  Also, many big name brand toothpastes contain sugar & sugar substitutes (xylitol, sorbitol, saccharin).  And one brand (I won’t name names but read your ingredient list) contains the toxic chemical triclosan.   Plus, I keep hearing mercury amalgam fillings are toxic.  So i need to get mine switched.  Anyone know of a good dentist who does that???

CLEANING:  Toxic chemicals are in our clothing detergents, dryer sheets, dish soaps and most household cleaning products.  I use Planet dishwashing liquid…  Seventh Generation dishwasher and clothing detergents…  I’m trying to wean myself off dryer sheets…  And I just started making my own household cleaning products that I SWEAR work even better than commercial ones.  (The recipe involves water, white distilled vinegar, tea tree oil, lemon, + peppermint oil or lavender oil for fragrance).

KITCHEN:   We switched to stainless steal pots & pans (no more Teflon!)…   Although we do have one Green Pan which is non-stick but less toxic at higher heats with less chemicals…  We got rid of our plastic Tupperware and switched to Pyrex glass…  Plastics are the big worry here.  Especially avoid putting plastic in the microwave or dishwasher or placing hot food in plastic containers as this leaches the harmful chemicals out & into your food.

FOOD:   Stop drinking bottled water (the chemicals leach out of the plastic into your water) – Plus, it’s just BAD for the environment!…  Watch out for pesticides (especially in fruits & veggies), and avoid food in cans.  Can linings are riddled with BPA.  Be especially careful with tomato products – the acid from the tomatoes leaches even more chemicals from the can lining.  The only brand of canned beans that does NOT have BPA in the lining is Eden Foods.  And if you’re gonna eat dairy please make it organic.  They pump cows full of hormones to keep them lactating after their babies are taken away and those hormones end up in the milk & then in us.  I partially blame hormonal dairy for the rise in early puberty in girls and estrogen positive breast cancers.

Phhewww….   That’s a lot.  And I’m sure I missed out on a whole bunch of other stuff as well.

One thing I’ve learned on this journey is that you must take baby steps or else it is totally overwhelming.  So don’t try to tackle this whole list.  Just pick a few things & start there.

Every little thing makes a difference!

See ya’ll in a week!  Hugs,  – T

Hormonal Heaven

Bye Bye vovó and vovô...  We'll miss you!

Bye Bye vovó and vovô… We’ll miss you!

Changes…  Changes…  Changes…  That’s what life is all about.

Yesterday, my fabulous in-laws from Brazil finally returned back home to Rio de Janeiro after staying with us for 2 glorious months.  We truly loved having them in our home and in our lives.  I adore my in-laws.

Today, the house feels empty and silent.

It’s always a bit rough in the days immediately after our visitors go home.  A bit lonely.  A bit sad.  People often assume that it’s stressful or taxing for us to have visitors all the time, but the reality is that hubby, Miss M, and I love it.  (Although I’m sure that has something to do with the caliber of family and friends we have visiting us too).  We are so lucky to have such loving and caring people in our lives and we cherish the time we get to spend with them.

Now, for the first time in over a year, we have no guests scheduled to stay with us.  How weird.

Of course, I can never stay put (or alone) for too long…  I have another trip planned for next week :-).  This time Miss M and I are heading to Toronto (with a quick jaunt to NY thrown into the mix for my LAST appointment with the plastic surgeon until the spring).  It’s been way too long since I’ve been to T.O.  Miss M and I are psyched to see all our friends there.

When I return from Toronto it’ll be time for my next set of scans…  PET scan…  Echocardiogram…  Possible CT scan…  The results of which will determine my next steps.

At this point, my goal is still to get off all pharmaceuticals.  For however long I can swing it.  Because they make me feel like crap.  And at this point I believe natural methods can do just as good of a job at preventing a reoccurrence as the meds can.  Without all the added crap and side effects.

I want to reset my body.  Have some time to rebalance myself without interference.  Start from scratch.  Really feel what’s going on inside of me.

If my scans come back clean (which I expect them to – a girl’s gotta stay positive right?) then I plan to wean myself off the meds and use natural ways to keep my body in balance and the cancer at bay.

I feel especially empowered to do this after meeting with my naturopath today in Columbus.  We reviewed results of the urine and saliva tests I did last month to measure hormone and adrenal levels and the results are good.  I was most excited to hear that my estrogen levels are at a very low and healthy level.  They are also in balance with my progesterone and testosterone levels.  And my 2/16 OH estrogen ratio was above average (which is a predictor of decreased cancer risk for estrogen sensitive tissue).

This is fantastic news!!  This means my levels are where they need to be.  My estrogen positive cancer does not have any extra estrogen to feed off of.  My estrogen has been suppressed without having to take the hormonal meds like tamoxifen or arimidex that everyone keeps trying to push on me.  Seems you can balance hormones naturally!  Ha!  Ha!

My naturopath will continue to monitor my hormone levels in the months to come and together we will pursue all possible pathways of creating balance – body/mind/spirit – to keep cancer from coming back.

Choosing to chart my own path is challenging but necessary.  Necessary for my health.  Necessary for my growth.  Necessary to support my new desire to speak my mind instead of doing things based on what other people think.  Necessary to stay true to myself.

Sometimes you gotta do what’s necessary.

Peace.  -T

IMG_2457

???????????????????????????????

Going Against The Grain

Treating myself to a glass of wine to celebrate the holidays with family & friends in Massachusetts!

Treating myself to a glass of wine to celebrate the holidays with family & friends in Massachusetts!

A big thank you to everyone who commented on my last post.

I am continually questioning my decision to go against the grain.  But the more stories I hear and encouragement I receive, the more I am committed to doing what feels right to me and not just blindly following ‘standard protocol’.

I recently started taking Herceptin again after a 3 month hiatus and the side effects are settling in…  Constant headaches.  Back pain.  Mood changes.  Hot flashes.  Exhaustion.  Cracking skin around my fingertips that renders them utterly useless and painful to the touch (there were a few days recently when I couldn’t even type).  Nose bleeds.  Dry eyes (no more contact lens wearing).  Forgetfulness and mental blocks.  And this horrible sensation of not feeling satisfied by the amount of air I inhale (otherwise known as “air hunger”).

And it’s not even these minor side effects that concern me.  Rather, it is the long term damage to my heart that really concerns me.

So now I am questioning my willingness to continue with the Herceptin.

The standard treatment for early stage HER2 positive breast cancer is 52 weeks of Herceptin (which I have almost completed).   However, those of us with metastatic disease are often told to stay on Herceptin indefinitely – Or for as long as our hearts can handle it.  But I’m not so sure that’s something I’m willing to do.

I just finished watching a disturbing documentary – Cut Poison Burn – about the war on cancer and how it’s not working.  As well as an intriguing book by Shannon Brownlee called Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer.

Both question America’s current medical system and treatment methods for common ailments such as cancer.  They ask us to consider why death rates from cancer haven’t really changed all that much.  Why more and more people are being diagnosed.  Why so many people end up dying from the treatment they receive and not the cancer itself.  They look at how the pharmaceutical companies, FDA, and politicians are caught up in an incestuous relationship that revolves around money instead of truly helping people.  Because lets be honest here, cancer is a multi-billion dollar industry.  If cancer patients get better, jobs will be lost, and a lot of companies will loose a lot of money.  It’s like the war on drugs.  We’ve been fighting the war on drugs for decades now but still don’t seem to be any closer to achieving a drug free society.  Instead, we’ve been funneling revenue to government agencies and creating a booming prison industrial complex.

It’s all about the benjamins baby.

This is another reason why I believe “alternative” non-toxic ways of treating cancer are not embraced or encouraged.  Do the doctors and pharmaceutical companies make money by me eating healthier and exercising and meditating?  Do they make money when I boost my immune system naturally?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying my doctors don’t want me to get better.  I’m just saying the system is really really messed up.

In January I go for my next set of scans.  I believe they will show NED (no evidence of disease) – knock on wood…   If that is the case, then in my mind the battle becomes one of prevention rather than active treatment.  Regardless, most doctors want me to continue taking medications for the rest of my life.  However, I truly believe that if it’s all about prevention, all the actions I am taking to fortify and heal my body, mind, and spirit can work just as well as medications – without all the horrible side effects.

It all makes so much sense to me.  It feels right to me.  The difficult part is convincing everyone else that I’m not crazy for going against the grain and making such “radical” choices.  But, I’m learning to get over that.  I am listening to my gut.  I am honouring my feelings.  I am seeking information from all sources.  And ultimately, these are my decisions to make.

This is my life.  I plan on living it to the fullest.

Peace.  -T

Enjoying a beautiful day at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark in Dayton with Miss M.

Enjoying a beautiful day at Wegerzyn Gardens MetroPark in Dayton with Miss M.

photo 4photo 5

Don’t Discount The Hard Work

Me & Miss M at Rockefeller Center

Me & Miss M at Rockefeller Center

I know, I know…  I’ve been MIA lately.  I haven’t been writing nearly as many blog posts as I used to.

There are a number of reasons for this (none of them bad).  And most of it comes down to the fact that I’ve just been busy.  Busy with life.  Busy doing other writing (I entered a piece into the Glamour Magazine writing contest last week).  Busy traveling (another trip out east – which I’m still on).  Busy planning for the holidays.  Busy taking care of myself.  Busy having fun with Miss M.

This week Miss M and I took off for a week long journey to NY and Massachusetts.

I had three doctors appointments in NY.  Fortunately, Auntie L was gracious enough to drive down from Massachusetts to keep Miss M busy and happy while I was at the doctor.  Although I have to say, keeping Miss M happy in NYC is fairly easy task.  Just take a ride on the subway.  Of course, Miss M has her favourite lines:  the 7 train, the N & Q, and most recently the F train.  She would be in heaven just riding the trains all day long.  And we may just do that the next time we’re in town.

People often ask why I chose to have my surgeons in NYC even though I live in Ohio.  The answer is multifaceted.   Primarily, I chose NY because it is home.  Because it is familiar.  Because I am most comfortable here.  I chose the NY surgical team because they were recommended by a fellow breast cancer warrior and friend.  Honestly, I trust the NY doctors more.  They have more experience, impressive backgrounds, and amazing skills.  Plus, I have a soft spot for my team because they used to work at St. Vincent’s Hospital in the Village – where Miss M was born.

And of course I chose NY because it provides me with the perfect excuse to come back to my beloved Big Apple on a regular basis.  Being “forced” to return to NY every few weeks has been an amazing gift.  Spending time in NY gives me such a boost.  It allows me to reconnect with myself.  Brings me back to reality.  Re-energizes me.  Reminds me that there is life outside of suburban Ohio.

This week I received my usual check-in and saline injection from the plastic surgeon, as well as, my two-month follow up with the oncological surgeon who performed my mastectomy.  Both surgeons said all looks good.  I will return to NY two more times (later this month and once in January).  Then we will schedule the final surgery for April (where they remove the expander, put in my implant, and reduce & lift the other breast).

My third appointment this week was a consult with a new oncologist that a friend referred me to.  I was looking to get another opinion on what is next for me.  The oncologist is a young, charming, smartly dressed Park Avenue doctor.  One of the country’s top oncologists and one of New York’s best doctors, he is charismatic and dedicated to his patients.  He said I was a “complex” case.  He wanted more time to review my stack of medical papers before making further recommendations.  But he did seem to support the traditional stance that I should be taking meds for the rest of my life.  However, when I challenged this, by pointing out that my next set of scans will likely reveal no evidence of disease, and questioning if it is still necessary to take all these meds when there are no tumors evident, he admitted that is something to consider.

What I took away from the meeting was his recommendation that I stay on Herceptin for the rest of my life (or until my heart can’t take it anymore), and that I have my ovaries removed at some point in the near future.  He was impressed with the aggressive actions I’ve been taking thus far and encouraged me to stay on an aggressive path.

What I also took from this meeting was the feeling that I am being treated like all other stage four breast cancer patients.  Which I guess is to be expected.  Every doctor I see makes similar recommendations.  Seems to have similar expectations.  I get the sense that they don’t think I will live too long…  That they feel it is necessary to endlessly blast my body with pharmaceuticals (with minimal regard to long term side effects) assuming I won’t be around long enough to have those side effects.

This is where the difficulty lies for me.

I don’t see myself the same way.  Maybe I’m naive, or deluded with wishful thinking, but I honestly feel like I’m gonna be around for a long, long time.  And I don’t want to go through all this only to have a heart attack in 7 years as a result of some med I took.  Or die from another form of cancer or organ failure caused by the meds I am taking.

I still believe I can be the 1 percent that is cured.  The small percentage that keeps cancer at bay for the rest of my life.  And why not?  With all that I am doing, and committed to continuing, why can’t it be me?

I consistently feel like all the efforts I am making to live the healthiest life possible are not recognized by any of the doctors I see.  That anything outside of surgery or medication is discounted or ‘pooh-poohed’.

But I honestly believe that everything I am doing – from the vegan, plant based diet, to the daily exercise, vitamins & supplements, ongoing psychotherapy and mental/emotional work, removing toxins from my environment, and devotion to living my best possible life – makes a big difference.  I have flipped my life upside down and committed myself to a whole new way of living.  If my body/soul/and mind are healthy and balanced how can disease possibly take root?  I am not just doing one thing here…  One thing there…  I am doing EVERYTHING I possibly can.  And I will do this for the rest of my life if that is what I need to do to keep living.  And the beautiful thing is that the side effects of my new healthy lifestyle have me feeling and looking better than ever.  I have the energy to enjoy life.  I am more centered.  I am in a better place – despite having stage four cancer.

I am not done here on this planet, in this body, with this life.  I have so much more to give.  To teach.  To enjoy.  The doctors and their “standard treatment” options can take their death sentences and endless pharmaceuticals and shove ’em.  Do not discount my hard work!

I continue to embrace all possibilities.  And live with hope and faith rather than fear.

Love to all…  And I’ll try to start posting a little more often :-)

– T

Family dinner at Candle Cafe - one of many amazing NY vegan restaurants.

Family dinner at Candle Cafe – one of the many amazing NY vegan restaurants – with Miss M, Cousin J, and Auntie L

Times Square fun!!

Times Square fun!!

Healthy Livin’ Ain’t Easy

I am embarking on my new healthy livin’ plan to beat cancer and it ain’t easy.

Those of you who know me may think, “But she was already pretty healthy.”  Apparently, I can get even healthier.

Last week I finally met with a naturopath doctor in Columbus.  I found her online and oddly enough, when I called, she told me she was closing her practice here in Ohio because she was moving to – are you ready? – NYC.  But she did manage to squeeze me in.  And fortunately, I’m in NY a lot these days so we can continue to see each other there.

One of the main reasons i chose this naturopath is because she specializes in women’s health issues and seeks to balance hormones naturally rather than with pharmaceuticals.  This is big on my list because my breast cancer feeds on excessive estrogen.  But I’d rather not take Tamoxifen or Arimedex, or any of the other long-term hormone drugs.  So balancing my hormone levels has become a serious priority for me.

She is also an expert in botanical medicine, whole foods based supplementation, homeopathy, and hydrotherapy, and has advanced training in two European systems of medicine: gemmotherapy, which utilizes plant stem cells for their potent healing compounds and biotherapeutic drainage, which facilitates the body’s ability to eliminate toxins.

A few days ago I received her long list of recommendations based on our 2 hour long consult, and have to admit I was initially a wee bit overwhelmed.  But piece by piece I’m putting it all together.

First we need to do a bunch of testing to look at any estrogen metabolism issues and evaluate other female and adrenal hormones… Then she recommended dietary and supplement changes to stabilize blood sugar, insulin, and reduce my INSANE sugar cravings…  Along with, biotherapeutic drainage with UNDAs to restore homeostasis in the liver and breast tissue…  And finally she offered a homeopathic remedy to help me with stress, anxiety and as she put it, “letting go…”

One of her dietary pieces of the puzzle involves changing my breakfast routine (which up until now consisted of a piece of sprouted grain toast with vegan spread and a cup of organic coffee or chai tea).  Now I’m to consume a big glass of lemon water upon waking and hold off on eating until I’m actually hungry (even if that means I don’t eat breakfast till 11am).  For breakfast (and all meals actually) the focus is on protein, fiber, and healthy fats.  This is the combination that’ll keep ya going.  So now I’m scouring the web for healthy, protein rich, vegan breakfast recipes.  Yesterday I made the chia breakfast porridge pictured above.  I found on The Alkeline Sisters blog and it was actually pretty good.

Another person I’ve learned an amazing amount of information from is Andrea Nakayama.  She is a functional whole-foods nutritionist and certified holistic health counselor based out of Portland, Oregon.  I first found out about her in an article from Whole Living magazine.  Her husband was diagnosed with cancer when she was 7-weeks pregnant with their first child.  He was given 6 months to live.  Through her commitment to studying and implementing natural ways to boost his immunity they were able to extend his life for 2 years.

Her online course on sugar (Sweet Tooth, Bitter Truth) and her recent online class about naturally balancing hormones (EstroZen) taught me so much about how food and environment impacts every cell in our body.  And it also gave me hope that numerous ways exist to restore my health and hormone balance naturally.

In addition to all these changes, I am back on my regular exercise routine (albeit a modified version).  Doing my cardio for 20-30 mins every day on the elliptical.  And it’s got me feeling so much better!  For me, exercise is the starting point for everything else.  If i’m not exercising everything else always goes to shit.  So this is big for me.

Plus, I’m still juicing and blending.  Still trying to fit in meditation and visualization as often as possible.  Still going to my monthly support group and weekly psychotherapy.  Still reading and researching.  Still doing regular reiki sessions.  Still taking time in nature (despite the cold temps).  Still trying to love and live life to the fullest.

I understand now why so many people choose to just take a pill.  Going the natural route is extremely time consuming, sometimes complicated, costly, and a lot of hard work.  But for me, it’s worth it.  I’m healthier and more energetic than a lot of folks I know – Despite having stage 4 breast cancer.  And I truly believe this is the answer to keep my cancer from coming back.

Every day I’m also conscious of, and grateful for, the fact that I’m even able to follow this path.  That I have the support, the finances, the education, the organization skills, the time, and the ability to go the natural route.  As I said, healthy livin’ ain’t easy.  And I understand why taking the natural path may feel totally overwhelming or confusing for many folks.  Which is why I plan on doing what I can to help others in their journey.  To share the information that I’ve gathered.  To make suggestions and offer up resources.  To support others in their own cancer battles.

The other day, I was watching Oprah’s interview with  Joel Olsteen and he proffered the following statement:

What follows the two simple words, “I Am”, will come looking for you and determines what type of life you will have.

The words hit home with me.  How often do we think negative “I AM” statements…  “I am never going to succeed…  I am sick…  I am a failure…  I am all fucked up” (that’s a personal favorite of mine).  But how is that gonna help??  I believe one of the reasons i’m doing as well as I am is because I continue to believe anything is possible.

So today I choose to say something different.  I AM going to beat this cancer.  I AM strong.  I AM healthy.  I AM a fighter.  I AM an inspiration.

What are you saying to yourself?  Maybe it’s time to change your “I AM” statement too.

Peace.  – T

You Gotta Follow Your Heart

Having ice cream on the Long Beach boardwalk this summer while visiting my cousin Megan.

Megan & Miss M frolicking in the surf at Long Beach, in front of my cousin’s apartment building.

Today I was supposed to fly to NY for another visit with my plastic surgeon.  But Sandy threw a wrench into those plans.  Instead I’m here in Ohio for another week or so.

As I perused through the images of Sandy’s destruction I was blown away.  The devastation.  The chaos.  The lives upended.  The sadness and grief.  Seeing my beloved city in shambles is tough to swallow.  But us New Yorkers are a resilient bunch.  The city and its people will persevere.  They always do.

If you’re looking to help out, ABC News has a great link with info about how to donate money, blood, time.  Check it out.

Fortunately my family and friends in NY are all ok.  Some are without power (still), some had to walk long distances over bridges from the outer boroughs to get to work, while others rode in cars or trains for 3-4 hours to get into the city.  My cousin on Long Beach had to relocate (with hubby & newborn baby) to her parents’ house in a relatively undamaged section of Long Island.  She recently returned to her apartment building and found crews shoveling piles of sand from the first floor.  Her own apartment is still without power, running water, or sewage.  The boardwalk out front is completely ruined.

And while the Northeast struggles to regain some normalcy, the rest of the country goes on with their lives.  Myself included.  Life goes on.

And after a difficult internal struggle, I have made the decision to chart a new path on my cancer journey.  A more natural, holistic approach.  One that focuses on the power of nature, food, plants, vitamins and herbs, as well as energy work, ancient Chinese medicine, and mental/emotional healing.  The goal being to nurture the body at its core, restore balance, and treat the underlying conditions that led to the cancer in the first place.

It has taken me a while to find the strength to claim this path as my own.  To say no to long-term use of pharmaceuticals and band-aid solutions.  To go against the grain.  To go against the wishes of my oncologist.  But I need to follow my heart.  My instincts.  My gut.  And make decisions that feel right for me.  Because in the end, it is my life.  And although others may be impacted by the decisions I make, I hope everyone can trust that I am making these decisions after much thought and research.  And that ultimately, we all want the same thing – to keep me alive and healthy for as long as possible.

All week long, as I debated what to do, the Universe kept putting helpful people and events in my path…

First, my reiki practitioner Renee, shared her story.  Over a decade ago she was told to have a liver transplant or face an inevitable death.  She chose to follow her heart and not have the liver transplant and is alive and thriving to this day.

Then the owner of Harmony Farm (my spiritual healing oasis) agreed to meet with me to share her story.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly 10 years ago.  After undergoing a lumpectomy she refused chemo & chose instead to go the natural route – specifically with doctors specializing in anthroposophic medicine (a from of holistic complementary medicine applied by conventionally trained medical doctors).  Today she is more than just alive, she is radiant.  Her energy is pure health and love.  She is an inspiration.

Then two separate people sent me links to movies highlighting the ability of holistic medicine (and specifically a whole foods, plant based diet) to balance the body and promote natural healing abilities.  Thanks go out to my cousin Jessie and my good friend Lisa Marie on Bowen for sending the information my way.  The movies Food Matters and Hungry For Change are available on the same site and can be viewed online.

Then in yesterday’s mail I got another movie (Forks Over Knives) that speaks again to the power of a whole foods, plant based diet to heal the body and cure disease.  Even Dr. Oz chimed in on this movie saying, “I loved it and I need all of you to see it.”  Thanks go out to our family friend Jim in Ontario for sending the movie my way!

I feel like the Universe is trying to tell me something.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying no to ALL pharmaceuticals and western medicine.  If I get a blood clot I’m taking meds.  If the cancer comes back & I need to do more chemo I will.  If my body needs surgery, I’m getting it.  I’ve already done these things once with great success and will do them again if I need to.

But for now, I’d really like to give my body a rest.  Nurture it.  Restore it’s natural healing powers.  Give it love.  Let it heal.  And I truly believe that by doing this, the cancer will be unable to breed and grow.

This whole thing is also teaching me how important it is to follow your heart.  Too many of us make choices based on other people’s wishes, and not our own, which inevitably leads us down a road of discontent and misery.

Why not chart a new path based on what feels right to you?  Why not live the life you want to live?  Sure, you may ruffle a few feathers in the process.  But who cares?   Just follow your heart and things will fall into place.

Life is valuable.  Don’t waste it.

Peace.  -T