Wednesday, December 7, 2011

the c-word or ten pieces of advice

once, at memorial sloan kettering, as a scottish chemo nurse was sticking an iv into my arm - ugh, i still feel nauseated just thinking about it - she murmured to me, "it does seem that people often develop cancer after an emotional crisis."

in my case, i can almost pinpoint when it happened. it was the beginning of march 2009. somehow, i always feel optimistic in the spring. the light changes and there's the smell of the thawing earth. in my old apartment, we woke to the sound of birds in the park.

in the fall of 2008, my freelance career seemed to run dry and by the spring, my savings and perfect credit rating were decimated. we were on the verge of being evicted from our apartment in the building we'd lived in for 17 years.

i was reduced to one goal, to keep my kids fed, clothed and in one place until the end of the school year, especially because it was a crucial year for sasha.

my now-extremely successful exhusbands combined forces to respond to my request for regular child support based on their incomes: "we are unwilling to support your unsustainable lifestyle..." one suggested i go on food stamps.

we downscaled, sold our clothes and furniture, moved into a tiny basement apartment around the corner using shopping carts, strollers and helpful college students. i made the place habitable myself with endless trips to ikea. my old landlord sued me. my other exhusband used this opportunity to sue me for all the money he didn't give us. they set up an emotional lynching and left all of us reeling. the wiring on my car was eaten by rats.

i fell behind on the mortgage payments.

then the place started flooding every time it rained. i complained to the building management and they ignored me. (i'm laughing because i sound like job)

last week, a friend of mine got mad at me for swimming every day because chlorine increases cancer risks, some say by 93% but here's the thing i believe

cancer is caused by stress.

stress, tension, anxiety, emotional distress - whatever combination of all of those things.

you know how when you tell a friend not to do something unhealthy and they say, "my grandmother smoked a pack a day and lived on lard until she was 105 and never got cancer..."

that's because you can be exposed to all kinds of horrid things and nothing can get to you until your emotions let your body down. it's a way of checking out.

i have more than one friend who never smoked a day in his life and got lung cancer. serious enough for surgery. i have a very young friend who got cancer in his spine and was gone before he was 27.

it's not to say that they consciously wished to die. but sometimes, the pressure is just too much.

when i started chemo at memorial sloan kettering and discovered that dying of cancer was not nearly as romantic as consumption - in fact, it was painful and slow and awful no matter how quick and aggressive your cancer was - i decided i was going to get well. and fast.

i was lucky on one side. my particular cancer had a 70% success with chemotherapy (30% death rate is still high, isn't it?) i had no metases (rather, when i was diagnosed, i had black spots in my brain and my lungs, that showed the cancer had spread. they receded. i put that down to giving up sugar, caffeine and animal products as soon as i was diagnosed, though at first the cancer seemed to be in my brain, it either receded or it wasn't there to begin with) and the tumor shrank by half two weeks after i changed my diet.

so i told my doctor that i was well.

she said, "you're in denial."

i said, "cancer is the most psychosomatic disease there is. so i am going to believe that i am well and then i will be well."

she said, "we don't subscribe to that sort of thing at memorial sloan kettering. we don't believe cancer is some sort of punishment or there's some reason. we believe cancer just happens."

i laughed, "i don't think it's a punishment either."

in some ways, cancer can feel like a reward. a get-out-of-jail-free card. like in tom sawyer, where they go their funerals and hear everyone saying regretful things about them. people are so scared of cancer, it seems so incredibly bad, that they almost HAVE to feel sorry. you get to experience the i'll-bet-they'll-be-sorry-now in real life. when you're emaciated and bald with bloodshot eyes, people feel uncomfortable being mean to you (however, often the people you hope to spite manage to go right on).

sadly, the cutting-off-your-nose-to-spite-your-face pleasure is pretty short-lived.

even nice people get tired of being nice to you.

so here's what else i believe:

there is a cure for cancer.

actually, curing cancer is sort of like curing a cold. not to make too light of it, because a cold can turn into pneumonia or bronchitis and then it's a lot harder to cure, and sometimes, there's a part of you that just gets tired and gives up.

like colds, there is only so much the medical profession can do. if you want to get well, you have to commit to it yourself. and you have to be willing to trade all those people being nice to you for a big fight, both with yourself and your friends and family and doctors. it is not easy.

but if you want to stay around for little while longer, it is worth it.

so here, again, are my first pieces of advice if you even suspect the c-word.

this is what you for yourself do while all the doctors and relatives are running you around like an animal trying to figure out what is actually wrong and how to pinpoint and treat it.

i am not a doctor so i can't propose treatments, but i promise this will make you feel better.

1. stop eating simple sugars (including fruit, honey, potatoes, wheat, rice), soy, caffeine and ALL animal products.

every chance you get, eat organic. if you can be choosy, eat cruciferous vegetables like they are going out of fashion. kale, swiss chard, broccoli, cabbage, brussell sprouts, cauliflower. you will just have to live with the gas.

even better, juice that kale and swiss chard and mustard greens, too. if you can get yourself a juicer and you have someone to work it, or you can afford to buy freshly-made organic juice outside, drink 16 to 20 oz of green juice at least once a day. skip the fruit. fruit is good for you, but right now you can't take the sugar.

2. start drinking water (chlorine filtered out, if you can) like crazy.

at the very least, 3 liters a day to flush all the junk (and what the cruciferous vegetables might be killing) out of your system. if you can, add alkaline drops or some natural/organic baking soda to your water. the more alkaline your system, the more your own immune system can fight.

3. rest.

it's like a cold, remember? give your body a break so it can fight it. exercise is good for preventing cancer but when you're in an outbreak - just like the flu - you need to rest up. if you're a mom, this is a chance to skip the ballet recitals and teacher conferences. do not drag yourself around. listen to your body. turn off your phone. close the door. don't fight with your husband(s) - ex and present.

4. get some heat.

one little known fact about cancer is that it lowers your body temperature. you feel cold all the time. it's sort of like the way you get cold after eating a really big meal. all your blood rushes to your stomach to help it digest and the rest of you gets no love. when you have cancer, all your blood seems to rush to the area of the cancer and heat it up and the rest of you gets cold. what seems to work is hypothermia. if you have no access to a sauna, get a bio-mat. they are expensive (like $700 for a small one and $1700 for a large). there are a lot of places to buy them online, but they last forever and lying on one really makes you feel better. there is a theory that you lie on it for 40 minutes on its highest setting and get all sweaty (twice or three times a day) and you will supercharge your immune system to fight back.

they are now finding that high fevers kill cancer cells. in japan, studies showed that the far infrared heat from the mat simulated a fever and activated an immune cell, a lymphocyte called CD8+ cytotoxic T-cell, to destroy infected cells. using it twice a day at the highest setting killed ALL the cancer cells in the majority of patients.

if you do decide to get chemo, the mat is a good way to recover when you come home wrecked at the end of a session.

5. breathe

try pranayama breathing. breathe slowly and expansively, be generous with your body. fill your ribcage, fill your stomach with your breath. and release it slowly. enjoy it. the oxygen will help alkalize your body and strengthen your immune system. it will help the platelets in your blood swim freely.

6. get some energy.

i recommend a strange and expensive supplement called polymva. it's a combination of palladium (like what the ironman used) and b-vitamins. i've been told it works by increasing oxygen to your cancer fighting cells. it tastes like marmite with no salt and you have to put a teaspoon or two of the blackish liquid in your water and drink it three times a day. it gives you a surprising amount of energy while the cancer is depleting you. unfortunately, i used to go through 4 bottles a month which gets very expensive. however, i had shockingly good results and it made the chemo hyper-effective.

the combination of polymva and people praying for me and over me before every session had my doctors running into my room saying, "it's a miracle!" after every new blood test result came in. i have no medical training, but this is what worked for me.

think about supplementing your own spiritual energy reserves with energy healing. i went to a healer called penney leyshon who seemed to help me gather my strength and resist the paralyzing fear and confusion. again, the idea is to truly believe and know you are well.

7. if you can do the other stuff - especially the first two - remember that you DO have time. really.

there are a few health issues where you must get immediate and urgent medical attention, like when you've been in a serious accident, or had a stroke or a heart attack, you are bleeding or have a broken leg. but for the most part, with cancer (and lots of other illnesses), if you are well enough to be out walking around, you have time to do some research and understand your options. take a deep breath. if you can't think straight, ask your friends to help you. right at the beginning, lots of people will have the energy to help. use them while you can because they will burn out.

8. know that you're scared.

and so is your doctor. and all of your family members and your friends. that's why they try and rush you into instant steps to deal with the cancer. cancer is one of those weird diseases that no one understands well and it behaves differently in almost every body it enters. also, different cancers behave differently, so no one can give you a one-size-fits-all answer.

fear is best handled with faith. and every faith tradition will tell you the same thing. it doesn't matter which one you choose, just put your faith in a higher power.

my suggestion would be, after you get your diagnosis, to avoid your doctors and immediate family members for a little bit because they will be acting out of panic. find a close friend who has a bit of time and can give you some help with an overview. find a couple of friends who can help you do research into your kind of cancer.

when i was diagnosed, i was so scared, i couldn't do much research because my anxiety made it impossible for me to understand what i was reading. i was exhausted from losing so much blood and the words jumped around the screen or the page and my thoughts all jumbled together.

i just wanted someone to tell me what to do. but, like everything else in the world, when you stop making decisions for yourself, other people make them for you.

9. look after your soul.

remember that this is YOUR body and YOUR life. while you are resting and/or lying on your mat, think about what you really want. sometimes, checking out is ok. sometimes, chemotherapy and surgery are what you feel most comfortable with. but remember that they all have long-term side effects. think about the kind of life you want afterwards. maybe you want to reduce your participation. maybe you want to play even harder.

pray, meditate, visualize.

oh also- whatever you do, don't feel sorry for yourself. i mean, everyone has their moments where they stamp around the house and say, "it's just not fair! why does this happen to ME?" and sob into their pillows and say, "oh my god, sharon married a great guy and her kids and her marriage is perfect and they have such a nice house and why i am in this situation?"

but after that, get over it and put your problems in perspective. the nature of the world is that there is always someone who has things much worse than you (or i) do. especially if you are middleclass and living in the first world.

if you blame other people for your situation or feel like a victim, then you're in someone or something else's control - and how can you possibly get well?

actually, this piece of advice works for just about everything. so get up, get going and laugh at the absurdity. you got yourself into this situation and you will get yourself out. if you really, really want to.

10. laugh.

watch idiotic funny movies. ask people to tell you jokes. if you're a mum, tell your kids to come and cuddle up with you in bed and ask you riddles. laughing is known to ramp up your immune system, too. the more you can laugh, the better. stay away from people who make you sad or worried. it might seem hard but remember, you are saving your life here.

10 and a half. keep the germs away.

wash your hands every time you're near a sink.


  1. Laviza (eclecticgourmet)December 7, 2011 at 8:26 AM

    thank you for sharing Ameena....Peace and love,

  2. Ameena,

    I had no idea you were going through this, but I know one thing, it appears you've walked out of it.
    Thank you for this, I will remember the next time I complain about the color of my toenail polish.


  3. Wow Ameena !
    This is inspiring to say the least. My mom lost her battle to cancer this past June. Wish she was here to read this. Stay well!!

    Your favorite travel agent :)

  4. Thanks Ameena, someone very dear to me has been diagnosed just a month ago. She's very young & very brave. I still cannot share this with her. Not yet. But some day soon.I wish you healthy joyous times all along. Thank you.