2016 was a hellish year for me — no doubt about it, the worst health year of my life — jam-packed with high-octane events beginning in early January, when I experienced a stroke affecting my left and dominant arm from which I mercifully made a full recovery. In the spring, a retinal exam revealed a worsening of the sight in my left eye, due to dry Macular Degeneration. During the summer I discovered a gum infection that threatened to jeopardize the future of my four lower front teeth. This necessitated a root canal in September, which didn’t help the situation and a flap surgery in November, which actually worked.
After almost an entire year of struggling with health maladies , I couldn’t help but wonder what might go wrong next — obviously a big mistake.
The final medical test on my agenda for 2016 was a mammogram, prompted by a tender spot in my armpit . Imagining it a benign breast cyst which had troubled me in my premenopausal days, I underwent a mammogram and an ultrasound in mid-December. I received the diagnosis on December 23rd, my husband’s seventy-fifth birthday — happy birthday, dear Sir — when the radiologist called to inform me that I had a modest sized, malignant tumor in my right breast.
Breast cancer? Me? Surely there must be some mistake? I was a near vegetarian who’d even banned cheese from my post-stroke diet. I was a light drinker and had quit smoking cigarettes three decades ago. I’d never moved beyond a little pot in the drug-taking department . I’d never taken hormones as a means of birth control or to ease menopausal symptoms . I used cruelty-free, environmentally friendly cleaning products in my home. I was a writer who loved my work and enjoyed a low-stress lifestyle.
But my husband, who’d held my hand during the Ultrasound, saw the dark mass within my breast, himself — and no, there was no mistake, the mass turned out to be a malignant tumor. The newest of my ongoing list of maladies was breast cancer.
Isn’t life just crammed full of surprises?
During the consequently somber holiday weekend, my nineteen-year-old grandson told his dad how deeply impressed he was by my show of strength. Poor kid, his other grandma, also in her early seventies, died of cancer the week before my diagnosis. He must have been terrified that his grandmas were dropping like flies. The least I could do was exhibit courage under fire — although truth, if I thought falling apart might positively impact my health, I’d have given it a go.
What a blessing to be surrounded by family during the holidays . Our older son’s employment in Portland Oregon ended when the building he managed was sold , and opted to seek work in a drier climate for the sake of his own health. His plan was to stay with us temporarily, while he sought work in the Palm Springs area. But given my health situation and my husband’s increasing lack of mobility, he decided to remain with us for the foreseeable future . He couldn’t have come at a better time to brighten our spirits and would make much-needed repairs on our home during his stay.
We occupied ourselves with family activities during the holiday season, until our grandson’s return to college, and our younger son and his partner’s return to their home in Brooklyn in early January. A stand-out entertainment for me was treating us all to an evening at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. I hadn’t been there since my sons were young.
What fun that was! I enjoyed myself so much , I actually spent the entire evening, and was in the car, on my way home before remembering I had cancer — and when I did, I cried. Since then, my emotions have run the gamut from unbending intention to regain my health, to sobbing like a child.
Being an optimist by nature, I tend to stay strong and do what I must to not only survive, but thrive. In spite of my incredible run of negative health luck, I visualize myself strong and healthy.
On January 5th, my husband and I met with a surgeon at St Mary’s hospital in San Francisco, to review my options. She confirmed that I had stage 1 breast cancer, and offered the choice of a lumpectomy or a radical mastectomy. The thought of having my entire breast removed was so terrifying; I couldn’t wrap my mind around it. Instead, I opted for a lumpectomy, and the removal of the Sentinel node and one other node. If neither proved to be cancerous, the recommended follow-up treatment was a course of radiation, and the estrogen-blocking pill, Tamoxifen, to be taken for five years — after which I’d be considered cured.
And although my surgeon informed me that each cancer was uniquely individual, she advised, as well, against Internet searches on the subject of cancer, and seeking out the medical experience of other women.
But that’s not my nature. I was raised by a gutsy woman who’d protested the spraying of alleged “wonder chemical” DDT on food crops in the early 1950s, and was an outspoken critic of the fluoridation of the public water supply as a means of preventing dental cavities. She purchased organically grown flour and other products from Walnut Acres Farm, one of the first organic farms in the country, when I was a small child.My mom read environmentalist, Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring in1962, the year it was published. She and her two closest friends who joined her in protest all lived to be over ninety, while enjoying healthy bodies nourished by organic food.
I am my mother’s daughter, after all…
I had the first surgery on January 25th, and a second on the same breast to widen the margin for error, a month later. Neither node was cancerous.
Ding Dong, the Wicked Cancer’s dead!
Now, I’m two months past my second surgery. After considerable perusal of books such as Knockout, by Suzanne Somers, recounting her successful recovery from cancer without conventional treatments, and a series of in-depth interviews of alternative medical practitioners, as well as Heal Breast Cancer Naturally: 7 Essential Steps to Beating Breast Cancer, by Dr. Veronique Desaulniers . I also gleaned information from medical websites ranging from the conventional, such as Susan B. Komen .org, and Cancer.org, to a variety of alternative sources such as the lengthy Mother Jones article, The Business of Cancer — and in particular, a nine part documentary titled The Truth About Cancer, featuring alternative medical practitioners from around the globe.
This plethora of medical information raised pertinent questions that made me seriously question the wisdom of attempting to heal my weakened immune system by poisoning my body. Radiation for stage 1 breast cancer, with its potential side effects of nausea, vomiting, appetite loss, and damages to breast, lung, and heart tissue, seemed like a less than idea healing modality to me. And Tamoxifen, chemical treatment, has its own set of of side effects: common ones listed are hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms , and a reduce sex drive which I didn’t experience when in menopause nearly two decades ago. Why then, would I wish to experience them now?
Two pertinent facts about cancer have resonated in my brain. Cancer loves sugar and loathes oxygen. With this in mind, I made my gut level decision to heal my body via an organic food diet consisting of lots of cruciferous vegetables, moderate protein rich in Omega 3 oils, such as wild-caught salmon or sardines, low carbohydrates, good fats, such as avocados, coconut and olive oil, and immune boosting supplements, such as mushroom extracts, plus a shit-load of vitamins. In the interest of oxygenating my body, I’ve added twice a week Pilates classes to my once a week Yoga class, with a Zumba class a week , in addition to my daily walk with my dogs,
I was lucky enough to find an MD who supports my decision. A bold choice, perhaps, to flout accepted medical treatment — but there’s no lack of boldness in my makeup.
I’m still uncertain about how to monitor my cancer-free state. I’m unwilling to submit to frequent mammograms, which deliver significant radiation to my recovering breast. The tumor I had removed was malignant, but slow-growing. The pathologist said it had probably been inside me for several years before my doctor felt it with a manual exam, and the mammogram and ultrasound revealed it . I’ve since learned about Thermograms, a modality based on signaling heat from inflammation that are over eighty percent accurate. There are as well, certain blood tests that indicate cancer markers. Perhaps a combination of all, along with regular manual exams…
I plan to resume writing and have with the completion of this new blog post. A dear friend, an editor of erotica, offered to set up my Amazon Author Page, which I eagerly accepted. So far this year I’ve been accepted into three anthologies, and taken second prize in a prestigious literary competition under my legal name.
My sex drive is returning. My husband and I enjoy an open marriage. My breast — although a bit less perky than it once was — is still pretty in spite of two, inch-and-a half long scars that are healing rapidly. I intend to come through this hair-raising experience with my sense of humor and adventure intact.
My father died of stomach cancer in 1960, when he was forty-nine and I was sixteen. The surgeons cut him open and sewed him back up, saying there was nothing more they could do. Back then cancer was a death sentence, although it wasn’t customary to inform patients of their impending demise. But my father, an editor and translator of technical books, including medical dictionaries , must have realized he was dying.
After his death a poem was discovered among his personal papers, attesting to his deep regret in departing this world, in which he’d found so much to live for. The poem, titled Sunsets, was lengthy. Each stanza dealt with another aspect of the life he was loath to part with — and each concluded with the haunting refrain, There Will Be So Many Sunsets Left Unseen.
Our home faces west. I observe many sunsets. Each time I do I remind myself , there’s another one seen — and wasn’t it lovely to behold.
Welcome back Dorothy Freed! You have been missed by all your readers. Sending best wishes for good health into the future.
Thanks for the good wishes. Good to be missed. Even better to be back in the game.
That’s the spirit I’ve come to know and appreciate. You may be a slave, but you are no push over, be it a human or health issue. I send some positive Reiki energy to assist in your recovery.
I think your words are right on.
Wonderful story of courage and persistence…keep up the good work and you’ll stay sexy just because!
You’re very kind to say so.
Dorothy, I had no idea you were having such a horrible year! I’m so glad that things have come out as well as they have, and I have nothing but admiration for the way you’ve faced it. I look forward to reading your new stories. …And will you be working on that ’80’s sequel to Perfect Strangers? 😉
LN Bey, Thanks for your support. I intend to complete final edits to Perfect Strangers, publish and then continue on.
Kudos to you for your courage, as well as my deep respect for your decision to avoid “conventional” (Big Pharma) medications in dealing with your issues. Too many people, enamored of magical thinking, labor under the notion that the human body is a kind of mechanical device–if you give it the same sort of fuel and keep it properly lubricated, you can always expect the same results. But the individual human body is not a machine, and sometimes it’s possible to do everything “right” and still fail to achieve the expected outcome. (Magical thinking is confusing a metaphor for the thing it’s supposed to signify.) This is to say, don’t let anybody tell you you’re doing it “wrong.” Keep writing and keep enjoying those sunsets for a long time to come.
Terrance, Thank you so much for your kindness and support. I intend to keep writing.
So very happy to hear that you are finally on the mend, Dorothy. I’m so grateful that we’ve met and become friends. What a tremendous relief to hear that you are back on your feet! And taking so many exercise classes! Holy mowly, woman! #Unstoppable!
Rose, I’m also grateful that we’ve met and become friends. And yes, I do believe I’m on the mend. As for all the exercise classes,
Sir swears I’m on my way to becoming a jock!
Dorothy~ it’s taken me forever to reply to your honest and determined blog post. Your such a fighter and I admire that in you. Rather then let something difficult sway you, instead you move forward. Instead of spending time feeling bad about yourself you have asked yourself how can I get better and retain my health. I also completely agree with your notions to educate yourself and make decisions based on what feels right for you. Rather then to accept the status quo on cancer you have dug deeper.
Absolutely it sounds like you are doing great things with your diet and exercise. Some people find success by going vegan and limiting all oils, even the healthy ones. This is would be a la T Colin Campbell. I couldn’t tell you the exact science on it but from my point of view you are giving the cancer nothing extra to live on. It generally does not grow from eating nutritious free radical promoting vegetables and other vegan foods.
For four years in Bay Area I did demos for Host Defense mushroom products and the story of the founder’s mother (Paul Stamets) must always be told in terms of cancer healing realities. She was in her 80’s and diagnosed with stage 4 metastasized breast cancer. Her doctor told her there was not much he could do for her as she was too old for chemo or surgery. She got on Tamoxifen but the side effects were too much. He said, you know there is this mushroom trial over at Bastyr University. She said that’s funny, my son is supplying the mushrooms for that trial. She got on the protocol from the trial which was using Turkey Tail mushrooms in a significant amount, much, much more then would be directed on the label of a product. She also added Mycommunity, Host Defense’s 17 mushroom comprehensive immune support formula. (Paul has also done research showing that a mushroom formula is more effective then a single species.) His Mom went into remission when previously the doctor had given her a few months to live. That was years ago. I stopped working for them so I haven’t heard the latest. I assume she is still alive. I met others while demoing that were using mushrooms for immune support including a child that had a brain tumor. I met an oncologist at UCSF that recommends Host Defense mushroom products.
Breast Cancer can be Sexy..so says Kris Carr. You’ve probably come across her story and books of the same name. Another lady who has chosen diet and lifestyle to treat her un-treatable tumors.
And it sounds like you are too.
Erin, Bless you for your thoughtful and informative reply. I appreciate it more than I can say — and your friendship as well.