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

Battling Breast Cancer – From Fear to Courage: The Diagnosis

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on February 13, 2008, the day before Valentine’s Day. I cried for four days. It was my wake-up call.  After hiding out in my office, I got myself together. I  started to deal with my new reality, methodically, like an athlete in training.  Armed with a high school-level knowledge of anatomy and a lot of common sense, I started my research.

I found an unnerving amount of information on cancer and glucose. I immediately cut my sugar intake, starting with my daily hot chocolate (with extra pumps of chocolate in skimmed milk with whipped cream); a pastry; and a Big Grab bag of M&Ms. (Humans are wired to have a sweet tooth, and mine is ridiculous.  My brother, David, called me “Cookie Bear.”)

So began a lifelong struggle to give up the sugar.

My chiropractor, Dr. Melanie Six of Six Chiropractic in Alexandria, Virginia, gave me two books to read:  It’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong and Eat 4 Your Type:  Four Battle Plans for Cancer by Peter D’Adamo. The first book inspired me.  (I know Lance is now a disgraced doper, but he is also a cancer survivor and founder of Livestrong Foundation. His book helped me have hope and courage.)

I didn’t want to be a passive participant in this medical drama. I didn’t want to simply show up at the doctors’ offices and the labs, and take the drugs. My question to Dr. Six was: “What can I do for myself?”  She gave me another book called Eat Right 4 Your Type, which outlines the blood type diet.

The author of Eat Right 4 Your Type is a naturopath physician. He described the immune system of my rare blood type AB+, as “not even having a lock on the door.”  My reaction was, “Whoa.”  In contrast, the common type O has a “high-tech security system.”  Based on that assessment, I accepted that my immune system is probably challenged. If diet mattered, I didn’t want my body to work any harder than it had to in dealing with the treatment.

I adopted the diet the next month.

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