Saturday, September 29, 2012

The C-Word: Energy, Acupuncture & Mona Chopra

here's the point: acupuncture works.

even the national institutes of health, memorial sloan kettering and the american cancer society recognize it in the fight against cancer.

people are always asking me about combining alternative and natural healing with chemotherapy, surgery, radiation and other allopathic (or western) healing methods.

i believe it can - and should be done - but with this caveat:

most other modalities - i.e., more natural healing methods - are about dealing with the bigger picture. they are about looking at each person's personality, habits, character traits, life choices. so when they help you heal, they are less focused on the symptoms of your body's imbalance - it's often called "dis-ease" - and more on helping you return to a state of balance.

i apologize for being simplistic here. please skip over all these explanations if you've read them a thousand times.

in western medicine, one takes a pill or has a treatment, and one sees immediate results. a simple example - you take an advil and within an hour or so, your headache is gone. it is symptomatic problem-solving. the symptom is gone, but often we don't address what the underlying issue, i.e., the stress, lack of sleep, allergies or whatever, that caused the headache in the first place. however, even mainstream (western, allopathic) medicine has begun to realize that with more serious symptoms, one needs to make a commitment to healing them.

this means a lifestyle change - managing your tension or anxiety, changing your diet, re-thinking the way you exercise, taking supplements and making sure you get sufficient sleep and rest to recharge the system.*

alternative healing works by activating your body's own immune system. the goal is to stimulate all your organs and defenses to get your body back to normal. it's based on the idea that your body is designed to heal and regenerate itself.

the self-restoring ability is obvious for minor things - you cut your nails or hair and they grow back, you cut your skin and it forms a scab and then heals itself. you get the flu or a cold or pimples or an upset stomach. more often then not - you rest, wash, hydrate, eat well and give your body the tools it needs to resolve the issues on its own - and you restore yourself.

the reason many alternative healers struggle with traditional chemotherapy and/or radiation is that they work on the opposite principle. they rush in and kill the cancer cells, but they also weaken or suppress your body's innate healing systems. with too much outside force, your body gives up the effort.

the processes in your body that are designed to fight become too weak to do anything. it's sort of like wearing spanx instead of strengthening your core muscles. it's an instant fix, but as soon as you pop yourself out of it, you're even more lumpy than before. if you wear it everyday, your stomach muscles just give up the ghost and flab all over the place. (this is why i do pilates).

there is also some concern that while chemotherapy and radiation may stop the cancer outbreak, it leaves the cancer stem cells which may regenerate and cause a proliferation of new tumors. (they are supposedly working on a vaccine for this, but in the meantime, women need to think of alternatives).

i see this often in people who had chemotherapy and/or radiation for breast cancer. within a few years develop, my friends have developed metastasis in their bones or more virulent cancers in their lymph nodes.

mona chopra is an amazing acupuncturist and intuitive healer. she was one of the first people who thought i might have something more serious than early menopause (which was what my tribeca ob-gyn, austin chen, insisted) and also helped me through meningitis, stress and a rare liver virus. in every case, i recovered almost "miraculously" - fast and completely.

if i had anything at all wrong with me, mona chopra would be one of the first people i would call, not least because she appears to be the calmest person i know. just being around her calm aura has a soothing effect.

mona explains what happens in an acupuncture treatment.

ideally, you come into the acupuncturist's office, after you've had something to eat or drink because it is key that you are hydrated. mona looks at your tongue. she writes down what she notices about the surface of your tongue. apparently, your tongue has a lot of information about the way your body is processing things.

next, she takes your pulse. in chinese medicine, they take one's pulse from several different places. again, these pulse rates give her information on the strength of the energy meridiens.

as in the intake process of many natural health practitioners, while you wait, you fill out a long, detailed questionnaire.  the answers show, amongst other things, how you deal with stress. not surprisingly, stress and tension cause a lot of imbalance. you are also asked about your diet, your exercise routine, your sleep patterns, allergies, your temper and a lot of other things that could affect your health.

then you lie down on a massage table-type of thing. if the energy points to be stimulated are on your torso or higher up your arms and legs, you might undress - the same way you would for a massage.

if your points are only on your hands and feet, you might just roll up your cuffs and sleeves. personally, since one lies on the table for 40 minutes, i find it is more comfortable to undress and lie under a blanket. i always get so relaxed i fall asleep during acupuncture.

next, come the much-dreaded needles. as gigantic and scary as the acupuncture needles appear on the tray, they are so incredibly thin that most people can't even feel them as they are inserted.

my own experience has been one of a minute electrical shock as my nerves register the needle. then i feel sensation of tingling warmth as the needle stimulates my energy and circulation. in my case, i have never felt any pain from an acupuncture needle.

once the needles are in place, mona covers the patient with a weightless space blanket or a sheet. then the patient lies quietly on the table for 30 to 40 minutes while the needles do their work.

another acupuncturist i went to see, ming jin, is also extremely talented and subtle and has helped a number of my friends successfully. she has her patients given a 30-minute massage before the acupuncture. in that way, one is melted into pliable bliss even before the treatment.

gynecological cancers, especially in their early stages, seem to be effectively helped by acupuncture and chinese medicine. even if you have not been diagnosed with cancer, acupuncture - along with lifestyle and diet changes - can prevent the energy blocks that lower your resistence. releasing these blocks can help your body stay balanced even in times of crisis or stress.

the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, including nausea, fatigue and neuropathy can often be alleviated with regular acupuncture. an acupuncturist might also prescribe chinese herbs or supplements to energize and protect the immune system or "good" cells. the acupuncture can also help strengthen the immune system so that it is not as depleted by the chemotherapy or radiation. in my case, regular acupuncture post-chemotherapy was extremely effective in ending the chemo hot flashes, as well as returning sensation to my hands and feet.

if you can find the funds, and a good referral, acupuncture is a solid investment in your ongoing health and recovery. many acupuncture schools offer low-cost treatment options. if you and your acupuncturist decide you should see each once a week or more, quite often he or she may help you come to a more affordable rate.

as you put together your team of healers, an acupuncturist is powerful presence.

*my mother is always arguing that we have been eating and living the same way for centuries and that's what her mother did so why flit around with every new trend?

my answer is multifold. one, our lives are so more stressful and we all know what stress does to one's body so we need to be gentler.

two, the world has changed. we grow and process food differently and that has affected the chemicals in the food which affects our bodies differently. (we've all seen what happened to the rats fed GMO corn for two years).

three, we are now subjected to magnetic fields as never before: cell phones, wireless devices, computer screens all give off rays that we have yet to understand, but we do know they are speeding up the ageing process.

and four, as we get older, our machinery becomes less efficient. what we could process easily at the age of 8, we can't always at 16 and by the time we get to be 35 or 45, we need to work harder to operate at optimum levels. it's like a great vintage car. it might look and run like new, but we need to put the work in to keep it like that.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The C-Word: The Power of the Mind, Trudy Beers

today, i interviewed a well-known hypnotist called trudy beers. (i apologize, i will edit it, i swear - but i was excited to share it, i thought i'd go back and edit it later. )

trudy beers is in her mid-50s and lives an old school sun-filled loft in tribeca. there are no crystal balls or taxidermed alligators, just lots of certificates that prove she's the real thing. she's been practicing hypnosis, reiki and the power of suggestion for about 40 years. when i was in the midst of my chemotherapy, another friend of mine who had recovered from breast cancer recommended i go to her.

my friend, who had radiation for her cancer, gave me these words of wisdom:

"you have to stay positive and you MUST believe in your complete recovery."

hypnosis operates on the theory that your mind controls your body. if you commit yourself, mind-body-soul, to your recovery and wellbeing, you will get there. it's similar to the way athletes prepare themselves for strenuous events, sort of like psyching yourself up.

everyone - including allopathic doctors and nurses - has experienced the way in which an emotional crisis of some kind precipitates an illness. so why can't the opposite - meaning, a resolution of that crisis - start one's body on the process of healing.

one drawback with mind healing, like most kinds of faith, is that if you get lazy or tired or let doubts creep in, you begin to slide. you need to convince yourself that you are well and then your subconscious mind will convince your body. hypnosis works on your subconscious to help you stay focused (and stubbornly attached) to your goal of returning to a balanced state. hypnotists should give you a tape or cd or mp3 to listen to as you fall asleep at night so that you can program your subconscious to keep you on track.

keep in mind is that every kind of healing process requires a multi-pronged approach. as trudy says, "it takes a village..." the more serious and more entrenched the illness, the more ways in which one needs to support one's body and mind in the process. so you still need to be conscious about eating clean, organic, healthy foods, you need to find ways in which to exercise - or maybe get regular massages - to stimulate your circulation and your organs. you still need to drink fresh vegetable juices.

honestly, it seems there is no easy way out. if you want to recover from cancer or any other serious illness - if you really want to - you can, but you will have to work like crazy.

like any other practitioner, she will tell you what i keep saying (not that i am always successful at this myself), you have to give up sugar. this means ALL sugar. cane sugar, white flour, white potatoes, alcohol... depending on how bad your cancer is, you might have to give up fructose as well, which means fruit and potatoes, all types of grains, and absolutely anything your body could turn into sugar to feed those hungry cancer cells. personally, i felt that while my cancer was active, i should give up caffeine as well, because there was no need to speed anything up.

hypnosis does work in tandem with standard western treatment for cancer. the idea is that your mind can help you steel your body against the destructive nature of the therapies.

i've tried various mind-body games myself. like, while getting my blood pressure taken at the doctor's office, i imagine i am on the beach. i zone out and feel the sun on my forehead, turn the office noise into the sound of the waves. i can bring my blood pressure and my pulse down really fast.

i've also gotten my blood pressure taken when i am still fuming over some argument or frustration and watched it shoot up, so i know it's possible.

try it yourself. walk on to the subway platform on a really hot day and keep thinking about being cold. imagine icy places. keep telling yourself you are chilled and - if you focus - you can really keep yourself cool for ten minutes or so. i haven't been able to do it for longer than that, but maybe with practice.

the goal of hypnosis or suggestion is to help you release psychological blocks - the emotional remains of unhappy incidents in your life - and return calmer to your day-to-day life. according to chinese medicine - and a lot of spiritual healers - breast cancer is connected to women's romantic relationships and lung cancer to grief and sadness - so these cancers might be an especially receptive to emotional unblocking.

in a lot of ways, it's similar to prayer. the idea is to separate, to forgive and to lift your spirit to a higher level.

the way trudy works is this: you contact her and do a phone consultation. then she sends potential patients a 12-page questionnaire she calls her "intake form."

the questionnaire goes into great detail about your personality, your tastes, your styles, your character traits. are you patient? are you easily distracted? you list what disappoints you, what irritates you and what pleases you. i found it very similar to what acupuncturists, homeopaths and naturopaths ask you to fill out. the idea being that your personality or habits tend to affect the way your body gets ill and also the way it gets well.

a good hypnotist reads your intake form and spends some time processing the information so that, by the time you get to your appointment, she feels like she knows your starting point.

in trudy's case, an appointment takes about three hours. after going through your challenges and your intake form together, you eventually end up on a cozy chaise longue with your eyes closed. a trance state is like a deep meditation. you feel like you are almost asleep - you know that feeling - you are just drifting off, the world is starting to recede. you can hear the voices in the background, but you are not quite listening because you float in and out of dream states.

for me, i feel like this at the end of the yoga class, when i am lying on the mat in shavasena, totally relaxed and listening to the teacher. (personally, i often fall completely asleep here as well, but i am a tired, stressed-out single mum.)

trudy leads your subconscious mind to release what she identifies as the four negative or blocking emotions - fear, shame, guilt and anger. in the relaxed trance-state, apparently, one is happy to give them up. one leaves feeling lighter and freer.

then she gives you a recording of the session to listen to every night as you go to sleep. eventually, your subconscious starts to act on the suggestion that is programmed into your mind.

according to trudy, you will just need a single session to get the process started. then your own mind and body takes over.

is it worth the $400-500 fee? as trudy says, "it's worth ALL your money to stay well. you won't need the money if you go." i haven't tried it myself but, as i said, i know that trudy has had a lot of success, especially with breast cancer.

on the other hand, if you, like me, had children to feed and shelter no matter what your physical state, you can't think only of your immediate needs.

clearly, there are a lot of scam artists out there - pseudo psychics and tarot card readers - so make sure you do your research. there is an organization called the national guild of hypnotists that certifies practitioners and seems to have a database. ideally, ask friends and people you trust for real life references. if you ,or a friend you delegate the responsibility to, is looking online, make sure you can cross-reference their testimonials (because there are lots of people who write them for themselves).

if you really can't afford it, sometimes it's worth it to talk to the practitioner and see if you can trade or barter. or try a payment plan.

and if all that still doesn't work, maybe hypnosis isn't the thing for you. maybe there's a way to do a D.I.Y version? if you do some research into the french dr. coue, perhaps you could have a friend with a voice you really trust, record some affirmations for you. then listen to them as you fall asleep. just to reassure you, the power of suggestion or reprogramming the subconscious is a scientifically-proven method that many doctors use with their patients today.

the advantage of going to trudy - and she does practice on skype as well, so distance needn't be an issue - is that you get a personalized set of affirmations that integrate your larger issues.

just remember there are lots of alternatives out there. but nothing works alone. it took a lot of people and events (think back, you'll remember) to get you sick. it takes a team of people to get you well.

focus. believe. you will get there.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The C-Word: Exploring the Alternatives

people are always asking me about alternative or complementary healing methods and how to figure out what works and what's a scam.

so i decided to put together a list of alternative - or non-traditional - practitioners who i know and who have helped friends and interview them on this blog.

watch this space.

in the meantime, my first piece of advice when you are looking at any kind of non-traditional healing or "miracle cure," always cross-reference!

for instance, if someone says he cured his cancer using blackstrap molasses and baking soda, don't drop everything and rush out for those products.

remember that while he may be telling the truth, it may only have worked for him because of his body type, his genetic make-up and his personality - i.e., the way he handles stress or tension.

next, spend some time online and see what those particular products can do to one's body. many alternative practitioners recommend "alkalizing" one's body - and as such, baking soda in small quantities can do that. but look around, what kind of baking soda? how much and how often? could this be dangerous? and what other changes will you need to make?

be cautious of websites that make you enter your email address before they give you any information. there are thousands of ways to make money online and one way is to make someone pay to get information that is available elsewhere for nothing.

personally, i recommend an immediate cross reference on

also, nothing - whether it's chemo, radiation, surgery or alternatives - works very well in isolation. you will need to combine and you will need to make changes in your lifestyle (that's how you got here, remember?) so that you can give your body the energy it needs to get well.

so my second piece of advice - before you try anything - is be skeptical. no matter what your doctor or a practitioner tells you, look it up. ask around. ask questions.

when i started at memorial sloan kettering, the doctors told me i was so lucky because my cancer had a 70% cure rate. "isn't that great?" said the chemo nurse.

i said, "well, what about the other 30%?" i mean, if something had a 30% chance of killing you, that was still pretty high.

my doctor said, "those are mostly women without health insurance..."

more to come.

Saturday, September 1, 2012


ever look into a broken mirror?

when you stand one way, you see the image one way. then take a half-step to the right or the left and everything breaks apart. you see different aspects of the same thing. the side of your nose that you've never seen before. the bottom of your chin, let's say.

i've been working on a novel about the past five years - the journey, the there and back again - it seems like forever. maybe it's lucky because things keep unfolding and i haven't yet reached a conclusion.

every time i start writing, i find myself entering the story a different way. or seeing the details differently. the pivotal moments change. the points that led me there are not what they were the last time.

and, of course, when you stand at the end and look back, what you see changes depending on where you are standing.

if you wonder what i am trying to make sense of - the financial, physical and emotional rollercoaster of the past few years, cancer and recovery, destructive and vindictive relationships and their effects on the angst of my teenagers, the constant difficulty of keeping a home  - even now i look around, surprised that i am still standing.

surprised even more that i am still smiling.

sometimes, i blame the devastation on the economy. it's surprising how fear and uncertainity makes people behave. money, like alcohol, brings out the worst in some people.

sometimes, i blame it on my bad judgement. i haven't made the best choices. i can be impulsive. i don't think things through. i am a terrible judge of character.

other times, i blame fate and the series of events that led me to where i am.

but then again, i find myself back at the beginning again. where am i? and which series of events were the unfortunate ones?

and which ones were fortunate?