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Monday, 12 September 2011

How can I heal?

This was the question that I was left with.  Surely there is hope?

One of the early books that I read in an effort to find a way of dealing with my diagnosis was Bernie Siegal's "Love, Medicine and Miracles".  Quite early on in the book he wrote something that really stuck a chord with me.  Basically he was saying that with cancer it is about the only illness where you are given no hope.  If I had a heart attack there would be advice about diet, exercise and how to do this.  If I had a stroke there would be rehab to help things improve.  With incurable cancer?  NOTHING.  No advice, encouragement, no guidelines of how you can help yourself.  Excuse me?  Why not?

Why is cancer a disease that, once it spreads, is just considered incurable and nothing can be done except refer you to palliative care?  The 'experts' like to claim that a large proportion of cancer is caused by diet and life style choices, but if this is the case then why can't diet and life style choices make a big difference in countering and reversing cancer?

Bernie Siegal is a, now retired, surgeon who started up ECAP groups of Exceptional Cancer Patients.  These are the patients who don't let their oncologists dictate their treatment, who go out and find a way for themself, who are 'difficult' in that they just don't blindly follow the course of treatment that they are given.  They empower themselves.

Hilary was my best friend; someone who shared a similar background, who also had depression and was looking for a path in life.  We met 10 years ago doing an Access course to enable us to go to University.  I went to Bournemouth Uni and got a First Class degree reading Archaeology.  Hilary went to Bath Uni to study Pharmacy.  Hilary was very anxious and lacked confidence and had to re-do her first year.  At the end of that year, the end of my second year, she contacted me to say that she was having tests.  At first for stomach ulcers, but then they found that she had stomach cancer with liver secondaries.  I went up to support her and took her back into the Royal United Hospital to have further tests and they had put a leaflet about palliative care on her bed.  No one to talk to, just a leaflet 'saying' there way no hope.  Hilary's brother had died of bowel cancer a few years before and this whole experience crushed her confidence.  I went to stay with her while she had some palliative chemo and ended up pretty much staying to the end.   She had a bad reaction to this chemo and it nearly killed her, and she never really recovered from this, or had a good quality of life.  Was this inevitable?  Was this the only outcome possible?  Personally I think not, and I wish I had encouraged her to come to terms with her diagnosis and find a way of still enjoying life.  Other friends tried to get information to her about alternative treatments, but she could never really attempt to make use of this information; and being a Pharmacy student she was convinced that only conventional Western medicine had the answers.

I really knew that I was unwell 10 years ago.  I had to have a hysterectomy and tests showed I might have cancer.  The Registrar just casually said this as she walked out the door to speak to the consultant before the operation.  I went back to the chemistry class on the Access course, and Hilary noticed I looked a bit blitzed and asked me what was wrong.  'The doctor says I might have cancer'.  After the op I was told that there was no cancer in that area and everything was fine.  Everyone said how much better I would feel, but after an initial boost I didn't feel full of energy, I just continued to feel worse.  I told the gynae and my GP that my mother had breast cancer when she was in her early 50's.  It turns out that the cancer markers that indicated that I might have cancer were also breast cancer markers.  The attitude was not that we will investigate this, but that I was fat and depressed, and technically too 'young' to have breast cancer and I should go away.  I tried to argue how bad my back was, now bad my right hip was getting.  Just go away.  Something was only done when I finally realised that I had a large lump in my left breast.

For many years I had begged God to let me die, especially after Hilary died.  She had such plans for the future and I had none.  I still don't.  Maybe that was one influence, my desire to be dead.  But then why couldn't I also have an influence in my survival?  Seigal's book is basically talking of the power of the individual to heal.  It is not just Western medicine that heals, but empowerment of the individual can really make a difference.  The empowerment has to be of the whole person, and not just the tissue around the tumour; the treatment has to be of the whole body.  It has to be Holistic, integrating all the treatments that you feel are right for you.  Western medicine, Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine, acupuncture, reflexology. meditation, supplements, nutrition and exercise.  All of these are part of my chosen path as they deal with the whole of my body and not just my disease.

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