Do you recognize this sculpture? Have you been here before? Even if you have no idea where this was taken, I’m sure you will instantly recognize the letters subtly peeking through. Coffee anyone?
Can a pill really prevent a breast cancer recurrence? Some people actually scoff at the notion that supplements really do much good at all in disease prevention. Lest we forget, many of the most popular pharmaceutical drugs in history come from natural substances. For example, digoxin, a drug commonly used to treat heart conditions, comes from the foxglove shrub. And that lovely Taxol you’ve enjoyed at your oncologist’s office? Yep, it comes from the Pacific Yew Tree. So, is it really a stretch that we can harness the power of nature in a kinder, gentler way to help us win the war on cancer?
I’m not naive enough to think that I can take a few vitamins to keep the beast at bay. No, this will require a multi-pronged approach to change the internal terrain that allowed the cancer to flourish in the first place. Think about it. Your immune system is designed to do two things very well, seek and destroy foreign invaders, whether they be bacteria, viruses, or cancer cells. The fact that you developed cancer means that something went terribly wrong with that system. What was it? Nobody really knows…it could have been a genetic error, an environmental insult, stress, poor diet, or all of the above.
So, when I think about my strategy to win this war, I think globally. And a large part of that strategy is the supplement protocol that I have come up with through hours of research and conversation with doctors and other survivors. Since taking a butt-load of pills is no fun, I have tried to select only those that come up repeatedly as beneficial for cancer prevention. Sorry, it’s still at least half a butt-load. But I consider this a life insurance policy, and it’s worth a little inconvenience in my book.
**Vitamin D: the superstar of cancer prevention; a building block and co-factor for countless reactions in the body. If you’re actively fighting cancer, shoot for a level around 80-85 ng/mL. For prevention, an ideal range is 60-80. Please check your levels at baseline and monitor regularly. Vitamin D can be toxic in excess, but this is rare. I’m pleased to say my level is now 62 ng/mL after taking 6,000 IU per day for months. Your dosage will vary based on your starting level and how much sun exposure you get.
**Green Tea Extract: one of the most studied substances for cancer prevention; works at the metabolic level; may be involved in programmed cancer cell death, preventing cancer blood vessel formation, protecting DNA from damage leading to uncontrolled proliferation, and more. Super anti-oxidant. I take 1,000 mg twice per day.
**Curcumin: see above; better absorbed in a formula containing black pepper; I take 500 mg twice per day. Take this with food, and watch for stomach upset/heartburn. I have developed some unexplained mild burning in my stomach, so I’m going to take a break from this for a week or so and see if it is the culprit.
**DIM: I’m going to be honest here; I’m still working with this one. I think it’s very important, as it funnels estrogen metabolism down benign pathways instead of cancer-causing ones. However, since my estrogen is very low already, it seems to drive it too low. Give it a shot. Nature’s Way DIM Plus has great reviews.
**Iodine: Iodine has proven to be a great thing for the breasts; it prevents and reverses fibrocystic changes that lead to breast cancer. As a bonus, it helps with hot flashes. I use 2 mg per day as Prolamine Iodine by Standard Process. If you’re leery of taking this, you can have an urinary iodine loading test done to see where your levels are, but many experts (look up David Brownstein) feel that most people are deficient.
**Echinacea Premium: I use this brand by Mediherb because it is of such high quality. Not all Echinacea is created equal, and since this is the foundation of my immune support, I want only the best. 2-4 per day, depending on how depleted you are.
**Mushroom Complex: Be sure it contains at least Turkey tail mushrooms, which are the most researched, but Reishi, Maitake, and Ganoderma are also great. Host Defense is the brand used in clinical research, but it is pricey, so get it on sale.
Food-Based B-Complex: I use Emerald Labs brand because it is all natural (many synthetic B’s are made from coal tar and other really nasty substances) and contains the methyl forms of folate and B12. Methyl groups are crucial for detoxification pathways (think liver health and estrogen metabolism). One per day.
Buffered Vitamin C with bioflavonoids: I use Ester C. Anti-oxidant and immune support. 1,000 mg twice per day.
Fish Oil: Buy a quality brand and keep it refrigerated, as fish oil will go rancid quickly and can cause more harm than good. 2-3 grams/day. This supplies Omega 3 fatty acids, which are generally in very short supply in the American diet.
Wild Yam Complex: Forget cancer for a minute, this is all about me.This has been a God-send to control hot flashes. It is from Mediherb and contains a blend of herbs, including a little St. John’s Wort for mood. Please check any drugs you are taking for interactions, as St. John’s Wort will affect many. Between this and Iodine, I have zero hot flashes.
Everyone is different, and this approach may not be possible or desirable for some, but I feel that in an age where people regularly pay $4.00 for a cup of coffee and think nothing of it, I’m willing to suck it up and make my health a priority.
No, you can’t swill liquor while smoking and eating chocolate cake because you take these supplements. But that’s a post for another day:)
When I first saw the subject for this week’s challenge, I was a little disappointed. “Letters”? Huh? I couldn’t imagine what sort of image would capture this idea. But as I was going through some shots of my recent trip, I found several that fit the bill perfectly. So here is my sneaky way of sharing my vacation photos with you:) The last photo of the week will reveal the location in the “letters”. No cheating!
This photo was taken at the top of Looking Glass Mountain near Asheville. Annoyed with being the one to always plan family outings, I left it up to my husband to figure out the day’s activity. At the time, we were both overweight and out of shape. So what did he come up with? A six mile hike, straight up a mountainside. Sweating profusely and out of breath, we finally reached the summit to find this outstanding panoramic view.
Terrified of heights and “edges”, I stood in the background and captured the moment. My daughter, who was 8 at the time, ventured fearlessly onward and sat atop this precarious perch (it’s not as bad as it looks).
I was pregnant with my youngest daughter on this day, but wouldn’t find out until the next week. She must have been wondering what kind of crazy family she had gotten herself into!
Here I am again, feeling like life has thrown a fork in the road, like someone is trying desperately to send me a sign. This has become a very familiar spot, yet I’ve always been too scared to go down the path less traveled. So I forge ahead with the familiar, a sense of dread engulfing me like a giant wave.
For the past few weeks I’ve been on medical leave from my job as I recover from my tissue expander surgery. I haven’t done anything particularly productive or exciting. Far from it. I’ve enjoyed a kind of peaceful solitude, spending hours in the comfort of my home, no children, no television, no stress. I’ve played in the dirt in my garden and spent long, self-indulgent afternoons having lunch or coffee with friends.
So why the sense of dread? At the end of the month, I return to my job, which I have honestly been trying to find a way out of for the past six years. At times like these, where I’ve gained the clarity only distance can bring, I swear that this is it. I will finally turn in my notice and set myself free. But I always go back and get sucked into the vortex, going through the motions, living for long weekends.
I know why this happens. I remind myself that I’m not independently wealthy…it would be too hard to cut back…I’m afraid we couldn’t make it without my income…and boy do I love those Disney trips! I am a prisoner of the lifestyle we’ve built. And a slave to an employer’s job market.
I wrote a lot early on in my breast cancer adventure about how I believe emotions can make us sick. Especially those of us who tend to bite our lip and suck it up. The anger that gets turned inward, the resentment that builds over years, the longing to find our authentic selves, all of that energy has the power to destroy us if it is never given a voice, if we never have the courage to face our fears.
I know I sound somewhat like a spoiled child complaining about having a well-paying job when so many are struggling, but I feel that a life without meaningful work can never be truly fulfilling. I want to find a calling, a passion, a career that stimulates me and feeds my mind. I just wish I knew what that was. I so envy my blogging friends who talk about their work with glowing enthusiasm.
One day I may find my niche, but for now, I think I just need a break to assimilate all that has happened, to “reboot” my system. I need space to play in the sunshine, to plant roses, to wander with my thoughts and find new adventures. I just need to be alive.
As my son would say, “First-world problems, Mom”.
That’s when she took her last gasp, never to be seen by this world again. Now she sits on a dusty, forgotten shelf in the back of a lab somewhere, among a countless sea of others. “Unremarkable,” that’s how they labeled her. I know she had never been a star or even particularly fabulous in her own right, but “unremarkable”? Such an undignified ending.
I’m talking about my non-cancerous right breast, of course. I had a doctor’s appointment today to have the stitches removed from my tissue expander incisions. Before I left, the doctor asked if I could provide a copy of my surgical pathology report from my double mastectomy one year ago this month. He wanted to get an idea of the size of my pre-cancer breasts to better gague how big my new implants should be.
“They were about a B-. I can tell you right now that we’re going bigger than that”, I offered with a grin. Although my 6 year-old insists that she wants my chest to look “just like it did before”, I explained delicately that after everything Mommy has been through, she was definitely going for better than “before”. There has to be a great prize at the bottom of this shitty cracker jack box. Worst cracker jacks I ever ate!
When I got home, I dug through my now “War and Peace” tome of medical records and located the “Surgical Pathology Report”. Of course I had to read it in detail before I faxed it. There it was, right in the second paragraph, “Right breast ischemic time 0820”, the beginning of the two and a half hour surgery. It made me kind of sad to look at it. They took her off of life support, and something in both of us died that day.
The report went on to include all kinds of ugly words, “tumor mass”, “multifocal invasive carcinoma”, “extensive ductal carcinoma in situ”, METASTATIC carcinoma to eight of sixteen lymph nodes”. I had put all of this away so neatly in my denial box over the past year, it was unsettling to dig it up and revisit it. I’m sure I was protecting myself. Had I really let the weight of these words hit me last year, I might have crumbled. Instead, I put on my armor and geared up for the fight of my life.
Now that there is a lull in the battle, I’m allowing myself to come to terms with the seriousness of my diagnosis. It feels a little surreal, like I’m reading someone else’s medical records and shuddering at the words on the page. That can’t be me. But it is. So I stop for just a moment, feeling the tears in my eyes and the lump in my throat, and I honor what was lost. It was so much more than just a mane of blonde hair or a pair of breasts. It was a kind of innocence, a certainty that each morning I will wake up and my world will be ok. That’s what breast cancer steals from us.