Blog Entries, Fundamentals of Wellness

Cancer saved me… really.

One of my fellow health coaches posted a TED video today called “What Almost Dying Taught Me About Living” and it got me thinking about the road between perfectly healthy and gravely ill. If you think about it, ALL of us are on that continuum, and some days are much closer to the ill end than others. For me it wasn’t days, it was decades.

In 2005 I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. (I’m not sure why I capitalized that, but for me it was a pivotal event in my life). It was a game changer. It stopped me and my family in our tracks. We rallied, but my view of life as I knew it was over. You look at everything differently from that moment forward, and sometimes that is a good thing. And you are never that same Pre-Diagnosis person again. You simply cannot be. Your view on mortality shifts.

I was lucky, it had not spread to my lymph nodes, but I still opted to go through both chemo and radiation treatments. I talked with a surgical oncologist who was knowledgeable about all the trials. I talked with my own oncologist. I basically “hedged my bets” and opted in. I wanted to live. I was 49, my kids were in high school and college. I desperately wanted to see them graduate HS and college, marry, and have grandchildren. I am lucky. I’ve been able to do most of that!

The woman in the TED video (watch it below) said something that resonated strongly with me:

Being cured is not where the healing work ends. It is where it begins.

Suleika Jaouad, TED April 2019

She is so right, especially in my case. In the spring of 2006, I was pronounced “free of disease”, but I felt like sh*t. I KNEW I wasn’t better. I KNEW something was still off, and if I was honest with myself, it had been off for a long, long time. So, I did what I do when faced with incredibly hard situations. I dove into literature, I tried to learn about what was off — and I got curious. The “thing” I was most concerned with was my weight, my energy and my feeling of never being “well”. My ability to question that, to explore that, saved my life. And it turned out I was RIGHT, something was wrong, something was slowly destroying me. And it would take me almost two years of persistence to figure it out.

It began by finding Mark Hyman’s Ultrametabolism book. I read it and it described me. He discussed the concept of Functional Medicine, which was foreign to me. I won’t get into medical specifics, you can read that in My Story, but I will say that I NEVER gave up on my intuition something was wrong.

Prior to my diagnosis, I had good doctors, but over the years none of them questioned the multitude of symptoms I had, and no one tried to put the puzzle together. Not because they didn’t care, but because they are too busy, and in all honesty, they were never trained to look “upstream” at causative factors. Mark’s book at least had me curious about these various “issues”:

  • The rash I had that came and went on my arm was not just “ectopic dermatitis”, (just put steroid cream on it …that didn’t work — ever)
  • my thyroid (your levels are normal …except no one checked my thyroid antibodies which were over 3,300! ummm..normal is <9)
  • my rosacea (a lot of women have that, just use makeup to hide it, but it isn’t that bad, plus we can laser your entire face… no thank you)
  • my dangerously low platelet count that did not respond to conventional therapy? (you have chronic ITPjust take it easy and if you need surgery, you’ll need a transfusion of platelets first…whaaa?)
  • my exhaustion (you probably could lose some weight and then you’ll have more energy — you don’t think I’ve tried? I’ve spent 25+ years trying desperately to lose weight, this is not my willpower!)

To say I was despondent was an understatement. I needed to know more from the guy who wrote this book that resonated with me. I didn’t know it, but Mark Hyman was about to save my life. In desperation I went to MA to attend an Ultrametabolism Workshop with Mark Hyman, M.D. and Kathie Swift, R.D. about 18 months after reading his book. Hyman heard my story and said “I can figure this out. You have a toxin in you and we have to solve it“. To hear that made me literally want to cry and hug him simultaneously. That week, he saw me as a patient. Someone heard me. Someone wanted to work on the puzzle. Enter Functional Medicine.

So, what happened? Did Hyman live up to his promise? You bet.

Within three weeks, my labs were back. The rash? The scary low platelets? The energy? The rosacea? The un-diagnosed thyroiditis? ALL MERCURY. ALL RELATED, AND ALL GONE AS WE TREATED MY HEAVY METAL TOXICITY. (Which took about two years, but my platelets were normal within 6 months, my thyroid was helped with thyroid medication, my energy improved, my rosacea and rashes disappeared, I lost weight).

Functional medicine truly saved my life. My body went from one creating cancer, destroying my own platelets, breaking out in rashes to slowly but surely becoming more calm. More healthy, stronger. It took a lot of work, paying attention and changing my lifestyle. There is no magic bullet to wellness, and our food supply, our medical care and insurance reimbursement works against our journey towards wellness every step of the way.

It is far more radical to have hope than to live hemmed in by fear.

Unique, a friend of Suleika and young cancer survivor from Florida

If you question, if you can be your own advocate, if you aren’t paralyzed by fear, your pendulum can swing towards the side of wellness, to feeling great. Like Suleika said in the talk, “Stop seeing health as binary. It is not wellness or illness“. It’s a continuum, and you just need to head the right direction.

Don’t give up. EVER.

Watch the TED Video

1 Comment

  1. Jill Grunewald says

    I never tire of hearing your story, although I wish you never had to go through any of this. 💚

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