A Misty Thanksgiving – Part I

I was looking forward to the Thanksgiving of 2010. My sister, Kim, had invited me to her house, in Maryland, for the gathering.  This was to be the first time, as I recall, Kim was to host a Thanksgiving. I was looking forward to kicking back with a beer; helping with a dish or two, if asked; and enjoying a low stress event, the way she likes it. It would also be an opportunity to try the new dishes she was bound to present, that were aligned with her new and irritating diet.

Sister Kim, with her ongoing campaign to combat the rebellious cell lines that had mutated in her breast, had chosen a diet she felt would reduce the untoward effects certain foods had on her body. She had identified inflammation as the enemy, and was hell-bent on eliminating anything and everything that tipped her body towards an inappropriate immune response.  Her guide in this quest was something she identified as “the blood type diet.”

From what I gathered from her interminable treatises on the subject, this diet consisted of lists of foods that one could eat based on a given blood type. The lists were very specific. The diet would not merely say you could eat nuts. Instead, for example, it would list for type AB, that almonds and walnuts were beneficial, but cashews and Brazil nuts were to be avoided.

I am used to relying upon scientific principles in most things. These statements loudly (to me, at least) beg the question, “How do you know that?” Each list should represent conclusions of scientific studies with measurable quantities, corroborating the claims. I couldn’t imagine anyone quietly applying that rigor to the subject and then printing it all up neatly in a book available on Amazon for fifteen bucks.

With Kim, every offered or suggested food was vetted by her list. She would respond,“No, it’s not on my list,” or, if her answer was “Yes,” then it would be accompanied by the verbal footnote: “It’s on my list” or “It’s my powerhouse food.”  This would be followed by a brief lecture regarding the diet, the lists and the ramifications of it all.

All.Quite.Tedious.

To me, it was pseudoscience. To her, it was the religion of her new lifestyle and the firm foundation in the belief system that allowed her to survive her ordeal with breast cancer. She emerged to thrive in the state of health, post-cancer therapy, that had long eluded her. In essence, the diet worked. Science or no science, the diet worked for her and the food she cooks is delicious; and I was looking forward to it.

As luck would have it, I was scheduled to work the day after Thanksgiving, and therefore, unable to go to Maryland after all. I was disheartened, but resigned to work my assigned shift.

Luck intervened again and I found myself suddenly free of my work obligations and the trip east was back on line. I made that journey, but during my brief absence from the plans, the plans had changed. The dinner, originally slated to be at Kim’s house, was now at Cheryl’s. This was not a downgrade and it opened up the menu considerably.

The short Thanksgiving holiday makes travel a pain, though many folks try to make it back to family, anyway. That is what this holiday is about after all. It’s not really about a meal. It’s about the opportunity to share a meal, once again, with family. As crowded as the airways and highways may be, they come.  The common ties are once again connected.

It can be messy, too.

-Author, David

Next: A Misty Thanksgiving – Part II

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Battling Breast Cancer – From Fear to Courage: Radiation

I was so tired of being in treatment, but radiation was next. I had been slashed and poisoned, and now it was time to burn.

I received two key recommendations. The first was from my friend, Linda, who suggested I work with Dr. Yi Ping Hu, a licensed acupuncturist in Bethesda, Maryland. She has many cancer patients and treats the immune system. The second came from my chiropractor, Dr. Six, who recommended I take holy basil supplements during radiation.

Before starting the next phase, I took a mini-break. I celebrated the end of chemo with my sister, Cheryl, and our niece, Emily, from New York. We hiked Sugarloaf Mountain in Dickerson, Maryland. I had no doubt that I could hang on the hike, and my anemia didn’t pose a problem. We had fun!

Dr. Hu examined me the following week and said I had some weakness, but was remarkably strong for having just finished chemo. She wanted me to have acupuncture twice a week before starting radiation. She also gave me Chinese herbs to drink twice a day. I held my nose when I drank the nasty-tasting mushroom brew. Dr. Hu’s treatment was supposed to strengthen my immune system —  the body’s natural defense to disease.

My radiation oncologist proposed the radiation treatment field and explained I’d have a higher risk of lymphedema from radiation in certain areas of my chest.  Because of that risk, I told her I didn’t want radiation in those areas.  I didn’t want to risk my tennis game, you know. The doctor outlined the areas I consented to with tattoos.

Radiation was the treatment with the least apparent side effects. I was zapped five times a week for eight weeks. Each treatment took about 10 minutes. The doctor prescribed a cream to soothe my skin in case of burns. The health care provider’s literature on radiation warned about fatigue.

Here’s what happened (and didn’t happen):  I was never fatigued and, in fact, started playing league tennis again. My skin was deeply tanned in the radiation field, but didn’t burn, so I never filled the skin cream prescription. Over time, though, I realized the pain and tightness I felt somewhere between my right armpit and back ribs was caused by scar tissue from radiation. I massaged the area to break down the scar tissue; and I used yoga and other exercises to keep my right arm flexible. To this day, the area can feel tight and painful.

After radiation ended, Dr. Hu scaled back my acupuncture treatments to once a week for six months. After that, I went to acupuncture every other week. I also continued to take the Chinese herbs twice a day.

My surgeon made an awesome observation. When she examined me, she said my breast didn’t feel like it had been treated with radiation. I asked, “What should it have felt like?” She told me a radiated breast would would usually feel kind of hard and tough. To the contrary, mine is quite soft and pliable.

Could it be that acupuncture, yoga, and the supplements helped?

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Next:  Battling Breast Cancer – From Fear to Courage: How I Am Today