When I first found out I had lymphoma, back in December, when my GP gave the correct diagnosis that would soon after be reversed by an oncologist (not my current one) and send me on a wild quest for answers that indeed turned out to be lymphoma in the end — 2 months later — I was confused. How could this happen to me? I’m young, and I’m healthy. I had no known family history of cancer. We were a family more afraid of heart disease since my maternal grandmother had passed away young from a heart attack. So, I was born into a food conscious family and had been eating a heart healthy diet my entire life.
I was pretty boring at the doctors office when they rattle off the list of previous surgeries, allergies, diseases, medications… the answer is always no, no, no, nothing… until now. Aside from a round of antibiotics here or there, some ibuprofen and pseudoefedrin when sick from time to time, I’ve only really ever been on a food based pre-natal vitamin and wild caught fish oil… and only those in the past 5 years to prepare for, during, and after my pregnancies. I’m thin; I weigh 122lbs at 5'6 and I exercise (admittedly a bit less since having kids…since they seem like exercise enough some days).
In the past seven or so years, I had become a holistic, new-aged hippie in the way I approached food and toxins that I could control in my environment. After New York State adopted the module curriculum, I had to teach from “Omnivore’s Dilemma” to my eighth graders, and it completely revolutionized the way my husband and I ate food. Well, really, it uprooted my entire life. We joined an amazing CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), and every week partook in the bounty of local, organic harvest — fruits, vegetables, herbs, flowers — anything that grew in the northeast, this farm supplied to us. Since our first CSA experience, we have joined three different CSAs as we have moved. We get as much local food as possible, and I’ve come to really prefer it. Our maple syrup guy, makes the best maple syrup I’ve ever tasted; I use it in my smoothies or when we have waffles on the weekends. He’s a school teacher and doesn’t make a whole lot; he actually ran out last winter, and I was eagerly waiting for spring when the sap would start running again. You can see the tubes tapped into the trees as you drive up his driveway. It’s amazing. What nature provides is amazing. All summer and fall, we pick strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and apples from the local farms. We get fresh eggs from my in-laws and friends who raise chickens when possible. For everything else, we shop exclusively in the organic, wild caught, grass-fed sections, and I avoided the middle isles as much as possible. We are normal people, who make this a priority in our life and budget.
We do some of our own growing too. We have an amazing back yard garden, where we grow eggplant, cucumbers, peppers, potatoes, tomatoes, watermelon, pumpkins, wild blackberries and herbs… I have to say my husband does most of the work in the garden as he has the greenest thumb in the house! He also made kombucha for our family using a starter from a company, Buddhas Brew, out of Austin. They make the best kombucha I’ve ever had. Side note: they told me at Sloan that I can’t drink kombucha during my treatment since it boosts the immune system and since I’m fighting an immune system cancer, I have to quit it until I’m in remission… bummer… but makes me feel good to know that it actually does what it’s touted to do!
Everything is given meticulous thought in my household — toilet paper, diapers and wipes for the babies, soaps for body and hands, shampoo, conditioner, my makeup that I rarely use these days…all of that touches areas I don’t want toxins to linger or touch at all really, so it’s as organic with as few ingredients as possible. We were deliberate in our mattress purchases for the kids, buying mattresses that didn’t have chemical flame retardants, but instead used things like wool and were nontoxic. I make my own household cleaners with rubbing alcohol, vinegar, water and essential oils. I can’t even stomach the smell of standard cleaners or perfumes anymore.
… and then there are my essential oils… my medicine cabinet. I’ve been rubbing “Medieval” and “Immunity” on myself and the kids all winter long for the past couple of years trying to fend off cold and flu… I relax with scents like lavender and elevation. I’m energized by my citrus oils. I can breathe easy with a cold when I rub some eucalyptus on my chest. The chest rub I bought from Poofy Organics for the kids uses essential oils. I use them in Epsom salt baths; my new favorite, my friend Betsy gave me, uses sweet birch oil. My birth doula used wild orange, in-tune, balance, and lavender to bring me through transition when I had my youngest son. And she gave me my favorite roll-on blend, “Say I’m Beautiful”… I wear it like a perfume, and I love it.
Anyway… that’s my past. I feel like I did everything right. When I found out I had cancer at 35, I was relieved it was super treatable, but I was also freaking pissed. I kept hearing things like, “You’re going to fight this and win,”and I knew I would… but, I felt like I had done everything in my power to fight to prevent this from happening in the first place, so I didn’t know how to FIGHT it. If that makes any sense at all. My husband and I used to google the benefits of the foods we received from our CSA while we ate dinner and how many amazing cancer fighting elements were in the foods, how good they are for heart health, etc. I felt, and still do feel like I was giving my body it’s best chance. And somehow, somewhere in a strange part of my immune cell DNA something failed me.
One thing that has helped me move passed this state of ironic impossibility and anger over my situation was something my dad said. He said, “You have to start looking at it like you have prepared your body for this.” This really helped change my focus; this will help me beat the disease since the rest of my body is perfect, and it will hopefully keep me in a longer remission.
Some of the only known causes of lymphoma are environmental toxins like Agent Orange and pesticide/herbicide exposure. There are lymphoma lawsuits against Bayer, who bought Monsanto, the company to which we can credit Round-Up. Some part of me wonders if all the lawns that are sprayed in the suburbia where I live (the whole air smells like chemicals after the yards are sprayed), working in a school that sprayed its lawns and fields for a decade and attending school and university, living in an apartment complex that sprayed its grass and then my dogs would roll in it … if that contributed. Things… I, personally, really had no control over. But, still upsets me.
Presently, I have stopped drinking kombucha and using my immune boosting essential oils (only until I’m in remission), because I don’t want to interfere with my therapies. I’m on more drugs than I’ve been in my lifetime… combined. The ones pictured are only the prescription ones, not even the over the counters they recommend that you really do have to take… I learned that the hard way during the first round. I’m on an anti-viral, which the nurse thought was overkill, but I’m SO glad Sloan put me on it as my sons have already been oozing out of every facial orifice for the past two weeks, and I caught some variant of the cold. Thankfully, it was minor given my compromised state, and I’m pretty sure I can thank the anti-viral for that. I’m on an anti-fungal, anti-gout, anti-nausea, anti-histamine, acid blocker, Tylenol, melatonin and prednisone and a laxative during treatment week, but the rest I take daily until my treatment ends in June to protect my body from the side effects of the therapies. For the holistic gal in me, this whole process of managing the pharma has been counterintuitive. I never take drugs unless I absolutely have to. At first, I tried not to take some of the over the counter medicines, because I was fearful of all of these meds going into my body, and I was concerned I’d get used to the melatonin. But, then I couldn’t sleep because the steroid had me up all night, and I had a headache and needed the Tylenol. My present state is to get through the next three months and heal myself on the flip side. And don’t get me wrong, I am so very grateful — indebted really — to modern medicine for healing this wicked disease in me. So. Very. Appreciative. Because without it, this would be a completely different story… even like one generation ago. But, I can’t wait to go back to my crunchy ways.
What does the future hold? I’ve thought a lot about how I can do better when I’m in remission. It seemed impossible to fix anything, because I thought I had done everything right. While we bought nontoxic mattress for the kids, hubby and I purchased ours before I became a new aged hippie, so we are due for a new mattress, I’m afraid…as the nontoxic ones do not come cheap. My sister, who was talking to this old time food renegade in her neighborhood about my situation, how healthy I am, etc. The woman asked, “Well is she a vegan?” as though that completely negated all of the “healthy” in my food choices. Well I’m not. “Nothing feeds cancer like animal products,” she said. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this, and so, my sister, mother and I are about to embark on a new adventure with the loving support of our (in my case, meat loving) husbands. We are reading the book “How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease.” It has incredible reviews, even the Dalai Lama weighed in on it. I’ve reserved a library copy and had to wait on hold for it, but I’ve already read the sample on amazon. I can tell that it won’t take much convincing to say bye-bye to animal products, and hello to another food revolution.
Peace Out ✌🏻
P.S. I had my second full treatment yesterday. Aside from waves of dizziness and a headache last night, I’m feeling ok. The steroids aren’t bothering me as much this time. On some disturbing but relieving level, my body must be acclimating to them. I hope this continues in the days to come. 2 down, 4 to go!