Well, here goes, the long version…
I am a nurse. I worked for 14 years in critical care, then worked in nursing administration for many years. I “retired” from nursing in 1994 and transitioned into graphic design. I have three boys, who are now grown, two are married, and I am a grandmother of three! I am a wife, mother, grandmother, activist, friend, and volunteer. This blog is my attempt to bring meaning to my struggles, in the hope that someone else might be helped by my journey, and it’s ensuing discoveries.
My current journey began in 2005 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, it was caught early, I had a lumpectomy and it was followed with chemo and radiation. It was the type of tumor that responded to estrogen, so I went on the standard estrogen blocking therapy in February 2006. I had battled my weight for much of my adult life, gaining with each pregnancy, and never quite losing it all. I was NEVER one of those people who shed a lot and gained it back. I was more like a steady reliable gainer. Each year brought a bit more, and I sunk into depression a bit more with each pound. It is no exaggeration that not a day went by without me thinking, fretting and dwelling on my weight. It affected my self image, my sexuality, my activity and what I chose to expose myself too. I found myself isolating myself more, less afraid to jump in and have fun. When I gained 10 lbs. after going on the estrogen blocker, I had a tolerance break.
My first step was buying Dr. Mark Hyman’s book “Ultrametabolism” in 2006. As I read it I not only realized I had thyroid problems, but I started feeling hope for the first time in a LONG time. I started changing my diet. I stopped eating processed food. I started reading labels. I went to my internist and asked to be put on thyroid, despite my TSH being “high normal” (that’s another entire blog post…) He was willing to work with me, and even ordered the book to read himself. A year went by, and I lost about 20 lbs. not a lot, but progress! Late in 2007 I started searching more proactively to see if Dr. Hyman taught anywhere. I found a week-long Ultrametabolism Workshop at Kripalu Yoga Center in his hometown of Lenox, MA that was scheduled for January 2008. I jumped at the chance to go. My family was supportive. Off I went. It changed my life. It gave me back my sanity.
Halfway through the week, when Mark discussed auto-immune diseases, I realized his talk was applicable to me. In June of 2007, about a year after my cancer treatments finished, I developed a clotting disorder called ITP (for those who are curious, it stands for Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura. Aren’t you glad you asked?). My platelets were being “eaten” by my own immune system, which recognized them as foreign. My oncologist, who is also a hematologist, tried everything. Nothing worked. They got my platelet count high enough that the bruising stopped (unless I banged myself, then look out), but they said “you’ll have to live with it”. In other words, if you need surgery, you might need a transfusion of platelets beforehand. And don’t hit your head, get in an accident, etc. Gee, thanks, I think I’ll just bubble wrap myself!
Dr. Hyman looked at all this and announced “You have a toxin in you, and we need to figure out what it is.” Ok, let’s do it. The next day, at his office, we ran labs (unusual, and uncommon ones), I gave a detailed history of every symptom I had, and we discussed my weight, my rosacea, my ITP and my cancer history. He said he was optimistic about figuring it all out. I finished the week newly committed to eating even healthier (half the week was spent with RD Kathie Madonna Swift, who is the smartest dietician ever). So, I went home full of hope, and waited for my results to come back.
Three weeks later, I called Dr. Hyman for an appointment (he can do lots of work via the phone, which is quite unlike most physicians). Guess what? He had nailed it. I had mercury toxicity, and elevated levels of lead. So, he was convinced this had:
- destroyed my thyroid — called Hashimotos thyroiditis — no one had ever run thyroid antibodies on me, they were sky high!
- caused my ITP
- caused my rosacea
- quite possibly disrupted my immune system enough that my body created an environment for breast cancer cells to grow (high sugars, immune disruption, just the weather tumor cells love)
- disrupted my insulin metabolism, causing metabolic syndrome, pre-diabetes, weight gain and depression.
I told Mark I would do whatever it took to get healthy. I started on vitamins, detox supplements, vitamin D, fish oil, and 5HTP. I started weaning my anti-depressant a month later. I worked with my internist, and Dr. Hyman, and increased my Armour Thyroid medication from 30 to 60 to 90 to 120 to 150 mg. (over 12 mos.) I finally felt normal! I had energy again! No more naps! Is this what I should have felt like all the years I had small kids? How long had I been running on empty?
Since 2008, I continue to see Mark twice/year. Sometimes in person, but mostly on the phone. His 2012 book, The Blood Sugar Solution, (with a companion cookbook), contains my story in the front of the hardcover book! At that point, I had lost 60 lbs from my heaviest weight. I still have more to go, but as my mercury comes down, and I eat more “cleanly”, I continue to be healthier and feel better. Food really did help heal me. And never giving up on myself was key to finding the answers to my struggle.
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Update: October 2014: My Mercury levels are almost normal. I actually had to LOWER my thyroid dose in half because… my thyroid has started functioning again! I had some chest pain in October, and we ran a lot of tests (rule out cardiac, gallbladder, etc.) Guess what? Coronary arteries? Wide open (my Dad had an MI at 49, so this concerned me as a nagging worry — no need to worry!), Gallbladder? No stones. Kidneys? Normal! The culprit? The NSAID (non-steroidal anti inflammatory) I was taking for my knee tendonitis. That and too much thyroid had given me gastritis (fast heart rate, anxiety, gastritis). All gone once I lowered my thyroid dose and stopped the NSAID. Once again, I am convinced drugs can do more harm than good. I went off it, the gastric pain stopped and PT helped my pain. The gift is knowing that my diet and exercise has resulted in a clean bill of health!
October 2015: I am down 75 lbs. from my heaviest weight. We checked my thyroid antibodies, now that I am done with chellation. They had been over 3,300 (normal is around 0-5) in 2008, and now, are only 5! My fasting insulin has gone from 29 to 12, and I want to get it below 10! (A fasting insulin of 29 makes you want to eat anything in site…). Stay tuned!
September 2017: I’ve spent the last year in school and I’m now a Functional Medicine Certified Health and Wellness Coach (FMCHWC). I graduated Sept. 10, 2017 in Dallas. Personally, I now see both Dr. Hyman and a local Functional Medicine physician who did further hormone testing on me, and genetic testing which revealed I had an inability to get energy into my cells, causing my insulin to keep cranking out (= hungry all the time). My insulin has gone down to 10.5!! I’m sleeping better and taking some new hormones for lowering my cortisol levels. My weight is stable, but I’d still like it lower. But last week on vacation, I walked 58 miles on two knee replacements. I am healthy and will hopefully continue to thrive despite getting older!!
If you read through my website and think “I can never do this/give this up/change all this” — remember, I didn’t do it in one week. It’s been a decade! Take baby steps. Make one goal at a time. And remember, putting yourself first IS putting your family first. If you aren’t well, their lives are affected FOREVER…