The things that helped – apart from my bestie coming from Australia to hold my hand.
In my last blog I spoke of the shock of diagnosis and my headspace being full of fear. I had to take control whilst also needing and valuing the information being given to me by the medical professionals.
I honestly wished I were one of those people who had complete faith in western medicine. That way I could hand over all responsibility and just do as I was told. Whilst believing it has a place, for me it is only one of the tools I want to use to win this battle.
That is what it feels like, a battle, a war, it is all consuming with extraordinary outcomes. You are switched On.
As a child I had suffered with daily migraines from about the age of 14. Every drug I tried made me vomit, so not only did I have a migraine; I then had a vomiting migraine. I soon gave up trying different drugs and accepted my daily migraines until I was 21, when I first discovered acupuncture. Maybe my fear of medication comes from the fact that most of what I took in these early years made me worse.
Equally, I have told nutritionists to show me how to eat what I need, not wanting to supplement with tablets and tinctures. I’m not scared of supplements; it’s more a trust thing. How do I know the quality and how do I know if I need whatever it is they are suggesting? I much prefer to eat whole foods, broccoli is broccoli and a steak is a steak. Well at least it should be. Without being an expert in this field, I have always thought the complexity of food is better than an isolated supplement.
But right now is different, I need action fast and I need to trust it is the right action. As equally as surgically removing the cancer seems quite logical (if also horrific), so does supporting my body nutritionally and holistically as best as I can.
Obviously I start at Shine, but without hesitation the recommendation my own practitioners give me on nutrition is: “I could help you but this person is a cancer specialist”. So trusting their honesty I start to speak with the people they recommend. The person who wins my attention is Carolina Brooks, a straight talking practitioner who is passionate and accessible, just my type of woman. When I opened Shine 14 years ago, I wanted to bring complementary health care into a modern environment, away from half dead plants and dodgy décor. Should it matter? NO. Does it matter? YES. I wanted someone who was up to date. Carolina works out of a shared office space in Old Street. How current can one get?
We discuss some tests that she would like to do; this makes me happy, as I know her prescriptions will be tailored exactly to my needs. I am able to talk to her about the cancer from a very practical point of view. She is very pro western medicine and challenges my decision to reject chemotherapy. We discuss my numbers, percentages and scores from the hospital, and while she respects my decision, I suspect she would prefer I had accepted the chemo. But then months later, she is happy to be working with a cancer patient who does not have a massively weakened immune system. Bringing my body into balance is what we are trying to do together. Being healthy may not win this battle but I feel so much better both physically and mentally and that has to be positive.
As one of the owners of Shine, I am one spoiled pooch. I have tried and tested almost every practitioner that works for us. OK a few have snuck in over the last 6 months that I have not vetted but that will change! I know how each practitioner works, which is essential for being able to recommend them, but now of course I could also hand pick who I needed right NOW. My choice was easy and she was the first person I told outside my immediate circle, as the tears flowed.
Amanda Berlyn has spent many years working alongside cancer patients and was exactly what I needed. She sat non-judgmental as I told her I was going to take a week off for a lumpectomy but would be able to work from home. She was also the one who a week later, suggested I might need a little more time for ME.
24 hours later, I had fallen apart, she had given me permission to do so and off the cliff I fell. I saw Amanda every week.
Each week she would listen to the latest diagnosis details and then hold me physically and emotionally. Each time, guiding me gently, to what may come next and putting me back into my body. She made me cry, she held the space, she made me laugh, she even made me lunch. I cannot thank her enough for those first 10 weeks. Everybody needs an Amanda.
She connected me with my body which I could not have known was going to be so very important, at a time when my body was about to become a foreign object. (I am going to write a blog about the importance of massage post operatively as there is too much to put into this one.)
I obviously also spent many, many hours scouring the Internet for believable sources of knowledge. I am open minded to most things, but I do require proof that something is going to work. So as I said in my last blog, I searched until I found what I felt was credible information.
All of the supplements I take have been prescribed to get my body working optimally; they do not claim to be cancer cures. It makes sense to me that when my body is not functioning well, something like cancer may have the perfect conditions to thrive. My first round of tests showed that my oestrogen levels were off the scale high. As my cancer is oestrogen receptive, I doubted this could be a good thing, though my western medicine oncologists were not interested in my levels at all. Go figure! I am also happy to report that after 6 months of changes in my diet and lifestyle, my oestrogen levels are now sitting just below normal.
Some things I have changed and added out of my own research, most of which now seem so obvious and I would suggest them to anybody who is fighting cancer or trying to avoid it. They are listed below in no particular order.
Move that body every day, swing those arms, raise your heart rate, basically do what we all know we should be doing. I have been pretty active most of my life but like all of us I am also prone to the odd lazy year. Well, no more. Exercise has been shown to reduce recurrence in breast cancer patients and I figure if it does that then it may possibly also help prevent it starting in the first place.
Time restricted eating
A study looking at 500 breast cancer patients and what they ate, showed that no particular diet necessarily improved recurrence rates. This may seem wrong but that was the conclusion. What they next noticed was that of these 500 women, the ones who naturally had a 12 to 13 hour fasting period between dinner and breakfast had a 40% reduction in recurrence and 20% reduction in mortality. Thus if you eat dinner at 7pm, you have breakfast at 8am with nothing but water in between. I have attached a link so you can listen to a podcast about the study here.
Something I didn’t have to use was the 5day fast pre chemo as I decided I was not going to have chemo. If things had been different, I would have signed up for Dr Longo’s 5 day fast. The basic theory being that after a period of fasting, our bodies literally put our cells into a protective mode, thus helping to protect our healthy cells from chemotherapy, whilst allowing it to do it’s work on the less intelligent cancer cells. You can listen here to him talking about this study.
I have added freshly ground flaxseed to my diet daily. We do this by grinding it and then adding it to our morning smoothie. There are a number of studies and much talk about the benefits of flaxseed; it is the richest dietary source of lignans, a type of phytoestrogen. My head is still a little foggy about the various roles of phytoestrogens, xenoestrogens and oestrogen but basically if it comes from a plant I am fairly happy to have it. Here is a useful piece about flaxseed and breast cancer.
The old rule of 5 a day is actually more like 10 a day now and most of it should be vegetables. This seems to be the new advice from many cancer specialists and a number of cancer survivors that I have spoken to. Get your cruciferous veg in every day.
Carolina asked me to try and eat veg with every meal and to mix it up as much as possible. Spinach and poached eggs on my homemade sourdough, a weekly regular, as is home made baked beans made with slow roasted tomatoes. There is nearly always something in my oven and thankfully I love to cook, it nurtures me both physically and mentally.
Obviously I started to juice as a way of getting a high number of healthy phytoestrogens into me. I have always had a morning smoothie so was getting lots of fibre that way. This was just about nutrients. One change Carolina suggested, that now makes complete sense, was to only juice vegetables that grew above the ground. No root veg as these tend to be high in sugar and thus if you remove the fiber, you are left getting a massive sugar hit. Eat or blend root veg by all means just don’t juice them.
I now juice most days, some goes into my morning smoothie and I try to have an afternoon hit of it as well.
My basic juice recipe is something like:
Celery, cucumber, courgette, fennel, spinach, kale, fresh ginger, fresh turmeric and a lime or lemon. Add a lime or two to any juice and it will taste great.
There is so much out there, I hope you enjoyed what I have found and remember to get off the Internet and take that walk in the park. Most days I would be obsessively researching food choices and then I realized that getting into the kitchen was actually going to help, more than reading again and again.