Tuesday, November 09, 2010
Friday, November 05, 2010
Health is a gift; it is not a given.
A year ago I was diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma, the most common and most deadly of kidney cancers.
The journey to that horrifying diagnosis had taken 15 months. . I had assumed that the intermittent vaginal bleeding, joint and soft tissue pain, slight nausea in the mornings and tiredness were all symptoms of a late menopause. It was not until the end of July 2008 that I was finally made to take notice that something was seriously wrong with my body. The thought that it might be cancer had never entered into my mind until that night.
My mother had just suffered a stroke and was home beginning what was to be a full recovery. I was spending the night at her house to keep an eye on her when I woke in the middle of the night soaked to the skin with sweat. My body ached all over and worst of all was the relentless pain in my lower back, as though someone was trying to drill a hole in the base of my spine. When I went to the toilet, I discovered that I was bleeding.
I used a combination of breathing techniques, Reiki and EFT (emotional freedom therapy) to bring the pain and the fear under control, changed my bedding and night dress, and slipped back into sleep. The following morning I made an appointment with my doctor.
A cervical smear showed that there was nothing wrong with my cervix; blood tests indicated anaemia and raised inflammatory markers; tests for ovarian cancer were also negative. I was referred to a gynaecologist and endured two biopsies of the lining of my womb; the first did not have enough tissue and they lost the results of my second for almost six weeks before they finally showed up again. I was referred for ultrasound to check for any gynaecological abnormalities and other than a slight thickening in the womb lining, nothing was wrong.
Had I known then what I now know about kidney cancer, I would have asked for them to scan my kidneys too. That would have shown the problem immediately. However, once more assumptions created delay in dealing with the real cause of my symptoms. Not once was it suggested that my kidney might have been responsible for the bleed. They had ruled out menopausal periods as the source as blood tests showed my hormonal levels to be that of a post-menopausal woman. I had been through the change of life without even noticing it. The bleeding was considered to be the effects of a hormonal imbalance, nothing to be worried about.
The gynaecologist was very kind but having ruled out all of the problems under her specialisation, sent me away with her contact details and the promise to see me if I continued to bleed. I was so relieved to know that I did not have any of the gynaecological cancers that I did not even ask if there might be any other cause. It had taken from August to late January to reach this point in the journey.
I will continue with the next stage tomorrow but I want to raise the following red flags which might just save your life or the life of someone you love.
Never ignore bleeding however slight.
Never assume that anaemia is benign. Too many woman accept it as part of being female and due to losing blood every month.
If you start to bleed again after cessation of periods, even if it has been less than the usual year we use as a sign that menopause is over, do not assume that it is gynaecological.
Insist that all possible causes are ruled out.
If your inflammatory markers are high (CRP and ESR), do not allow any delay in investigation of the causes, particularly if you have other symptoms. If they rule out one set of causes such as gynaecological, ask what needs to be looked at next.
Do not expect your general practitioner to refer you on automatically to another specialist.
Do not expect your general practitioner to call you back in to discuss what else might be explored to explain your symptoms. You need to be the one who makes sure this happens.
Ask for your kidney function to be tested.
If you have high blood pressure, also ask for your kidney function to be tested. The three medications I required for high blood pressure prior to my operation are now no longer required.
Be prepared to be a persistent but polite pest if there is a delay in getting consultant appointment, tests etc. If your records go missing, create merry hell until they are found.
Without being paranoid, we must all be our own experts about our bodies. There is an abundance of helpful information on the internet. Use it.
Do not rest until you have your answer. Your life depends on it.
Thursday, November 04, 2010
Out of the Chrysalis - A Change In Mind: 28 days of sugar free life - WHY?: "I have been heavily overweight since childhood, the only member of my family to become obese at an early age. As the years went by there wer..."
Posted by doherty maria at 12:58 am
I have been heavily overweight since childhood, the only member of my family to become obese at an early age. As the years went by there were the usual succession of diets, some healthy and some decidedly not. I was the champion diet queen. I tried them all and some worked, some did not. Like so many before me it was the realisation that yo yo dieting inevitably makes you heavier that brought me to the decision that a healthy weight was not about dieting but about diet. Activity is also a component but if you keep eating unhealthily no amount of exercise is going to keep you in good shape.
I became what is often termed as a "mindful eater". I placed all my attention on what I was eating, slowed down my rate of eating and listened to what my body was telling me. I allowed myself to eat whatever I wanted to but found that in giving myself this permission, combined with the acute awareness of the flavours and textures of what I ate, I ate less and I ate healthier foods. Over a period of seven years my weight fell from almost 24stones, the highest I had ever been, to a still horrifically obese 18.
Then two years ago, in July 2008, my body served notice that something was seriously wrong. The story of my 18 months nightmare journey to diagnosis with stage 3 kidney cancer will be told another day. In the latter stages of the illness, I could hardly eat at all. Everything tasted too sweet or too salty. My weight plummeted a further twenty eight pounds in the two months prior to the removal of my kidney and the attached thrombus which stretched into my heart. I could not hold down food at all for a week after the operation and I dropped a further 13 lbs. I do not recommend cancer as a way of shedding weight. There are other less painful ways.
I recovered astonishingly quickly from my operation and was soon back eating normally again but not mindfully. After three months of near starvation, my metabolic rate had taken a dive and weight pile on again. I am not back at the weight I was before the cancer started to take its toll.
Obesity is linked to several cancers and kidney cancer is one of them. I will never know if this is what triggered my cancer but there will always be the thought that it might have. I was eating very healthily, lots of vegetables and fruit, pulses and whole meal bread and rice, adding cinnamon, turmeric and garlic to everything that would still taste palatable with it. I was also eating sweets, cakes and biscuits, not every day and in small quantities, but I was eating them. I knew that they were empty calories and what was worse that there was a theory that they might provide direct nourishment for cancer cells. That might or might not be true but I have studied enough about insulin resistance and the toxic effect that overloads of sugars have on the body to take a guess that this might be true. Yet I still drifted mindlessly until a month ago.
I was in London for a meeting with a group of Kidney Cancer Advocates and some of the top doctors in the field. Something happened at that meeting. I watched all of these dedicated people giving time from their busy lives; I heard how passionately they care about helping people like me. They were devoting their lives to us and the least I could do in return was to create as healthy a body as I can, to make my body an inhospitable place for cancer. Anything less is an act of gross ingratitude.
As they served the pastries with morning coffee, I made a decision. I would give up sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolates until December 25th when I would review the situation. It was as though a light had switched on in my head, a no-brainer. From that moment on, I have said no to every offer of such foods. I made the promise public on Facebook and to all of my family and friends.
I have not wavered once. I have not been tempted once. A client gave me a gift of Thornton chocolates last week and I handed them over to my husband and son and told them to enjoy. I have a box of chocolates from the extraordinarily wonderful Hotel Chocolat which has now been sitting unopened for over three weeks. Normally it would have been devoured within 24 hours. It will not be opened until Christmas Day.
I owe my life to the dedicated surgeons who operated on me on November 20th 2009. I owe my life to the staff of the Golden Jubilee Hospital who nursed me back to health. I owe my life to my family, especially my mother, and to my friends who were my guardian angels and protectors throughout this ordeal.
I will do all I can to protect that life. Should the cancer return, it will not be because I did not do all I could to prevent it.
Life is a precious gift. I also owe my life to me. There is still much to be done.
Posted by doherty maria at 12:50 am
Wednesday, November 03, 2010
I wrote this for another blog some time ago. As I have now completed almost four weeks of sweets, cakes, biscuits and chocolate free life, I thought I should share why I have not opted for sugar substitutes, especially the artificial ones. There are many more studies on the effects of such sweeteners but the Purdue one is written in easily understandable language. If you think that this might be helpful to others, please share.
Artificial sweeteners are one of my blue light topics and have been for many years. I fought battles with my husband because he thought that "low sugar" diluting juice was better for our son than natural fruit juice. He has now come round to my way of thinking after reading some of the studies.
It has long been known that so called "low cal" diet drinks, laced with aspartame, are linked to weight gain. When I work with clients who wish to lose weight, one of the first things we address is their carbonated drinks consumption. Many are clearly addicted and consume vast quantities throughout the day. Then they wonder why they have acid reflux and a constantly uncomfortable digestive system.
One of the things that astonish them is when I tell them that if they have to drink it at all, they should chose the real thing over the diet version because at least then they would not be endangering their health to the same degree. I give them a copy of an article on research showing that those who drank the low cal version put on substantially more weight than those who drank the real thing. There is clear evidence that the consumption of diet drinks leads to weight gain in many people. The "real thing" is also damaging, just not nearly as much!
So it hardly comes as a surprise to me that the same is true of artificially sweetened foods. You can't fool the body. It knows that it has been cheated. You deliver the taste of sweetness without the download of the corresponding calories and there is confusion. The body responds by demanding more calories - real ones this time, please.
The other aspect of artificial sweeteners is my own personal observations of behavioural change in small children. One of the things that first disturbed me about them was watching the impact they had on our son when he was a toddler. He was normally a very calm little boy who played peacefully with his toys and never had a tantrum. After an artificially sweetened drink, he would become hyper. Definitely to be avoided.
What do you drink instead? Water! You don't like it? Get to like it. It is so good for you. Most adults wander around in a semi-dehydrated state because they do not drink enough water. We pour copious amounts of caffeine laden drinks down our throats and wonder why we spend so much time pouring it back out again. Caffeine is a diuretic - it encourages your bladder to make more urine. The end result is dehydration. The solution is .... water.
The occasional carbonated drink is fun and refreshing - if it is a daily part of your life and more than one can a day, you are courting trouble. If it is the diet version, you are playing Russian Roulette with your health and none of the barrels of the gun are blanks.
Out of the Chrysalis - A Change In Mind: Out of the Darkness: "I am writing this tonight for all the souls crying out in the darkness of their own minds. I want them to know that there is always a way th..."
Posted by doherty maria at 12:14 am
Tuesday, November 02, 2010
I am writing this tonight for all the souls crying out in the darkness of their own minds. I want them to know that there is always a way through. It is not an easy way but there is a way. There is always a way.
Last year when I hovered so close to death, the worst part was the not knowing. It took so long to come to a diagnosis and the waiting between tests was so painful, there were times when I felt that I could not go on for one moment more.
For eighteen months, I knew that something was seriously wrong with my body, the body I had always been so sure of. Suddenly I could no longer trust it. I had always taken my health for granted, so sure of it because I came from a very healthy, long lived and largely cancer free family. Now my instincts told me that death was lurking inside me but I did not know where, nor did the numerous doctors I consulted. For the last six months, I knew through a combination of symptoms and blood test results that there was some form of cancer eating away at me and I grew more and more desperate and afraid, desperate to know what it was so I could be treated and afraid that it would be too late by the time it was found.
I don't think I have the words to convey the anguish of waiting, waiting for appointments for consultations, waiting for appointments for tests, waiting for results, waiting and more waiting and then more waiting. Every morning there was the daily ritual of checking the mail box for appointment cards which never seemed to arrive when expected, at least twice because the information had been lost or not conveyed correctly.
Eventually it became too hard for me to even go to the box and my mother did it for me. She came to dread it a much as I did. The hope was so much more cruel. It raised me up for fleeting moments to crush me with such deadening disappointment.
I remember one morning in particular when I was once again waiting for an appointment with the next consultant in the next speciality which might or might not reveal what was wrong. I had been waiting for three weeks for what had been an urgent request and yet again there was nothing. I knelt on the floor in our sitting room and I opened my mouth and screamed and screamed and screamed. All the anger, all the pain, all the frustration and the fear poured out of me in each shriek. Then I yelled at God. I won't repeat what I called him but I sobbed out that I could not go on any more, to get it over with and take me. Torrential tears triggered the dreaded spasms of coughing which rendered me almost without breath. I just wanted it to be over.
So many time like this, my mind turned to the thought that it would be so much easier just to slip away, to die and be free from both the physical and mental suffering. Yet, once the tears had fallen and the screaming was over, somewhere inside me the instinct for survival was fighting back. I unleashed the ferocity of my anger and frustration and slowly the beginnings of peace came to an exhausted mind and body. It was like being wrapped around in a healing balm. For ever increasing periods of time, I knew what it was to be held in an invisible yet palpable force of love and light. The shadows would return, then the venting and then that blissful sensation of something sacred encompassing me.
It would suddenly sweep over me and I would be filled with such a sweetness of gratitude, the still centre in the eye of the storm. It took me into a place of healing and a quiet joy. In those last months before my diagnosis and operation, those moments when I rested in that oasis of powerful calm saved my life and my sanity.
It is now a whole year since my diagnosis with kidney cancer and three weeks away from the anniversary of the operation which saved my life. Today I am healthier than I have been in years. Today I am grateful beyond all measure for the gift of the peace that saved me. I was in such agony of spirit and I found my way through. You will find your way too.
There is nothing that cannot be overcome. We may not win the battle for our lives but we can win the battle for the way we live them. Each day, in common with many others who have experienced the darkness of cancer, I live with the knowledge that it can back and that statistically in my own case, that is far more likely than not. Living with fear is a challenge but one which does not overwhelm me. Each day is a gift to be treasured.
I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death and I am here to tell the tale. You can keep putting one foot in front of you on your path and you will come out into the light. Place your hand in mine and walk with me, Just close your eyes and sense the flow of love and light. Feel my hand in yours. Together we walk our paths and together we find our way.
Posted by doherty maria at 11:50 pm
Monday, November 01, 2010
Many years ago ,as a teenager, I read all of the works of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of Russia's most brilliant writers. One which impacted upon me very powerfully was "Cancer Ward". I have never forgotten the old Russian proverb that summed up the book for me:
"It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness"
It is my hope that when I leave this earth that those who remember me will see a candle whose flame chased away a little of the darkness. Life is filled with beauty and love but sometimes we need a friend to light that candle so we can see it. In telling my story and showing the positive aspects I have chosen to take out of it, I hope that I can be that friend.
When I read Cancer Ward, I never dreamed that one day that curse would reach out and strike me. There was little history of cancer in my family and what there was seemed to be the cancers of old age. I watched my beloved grandmother die of bladder cancer at the age of 79. I was just turning 16 and it was a pivotal event in my life. I was so determined that no one should suffer as she did that I switched from studying arts to focusing on science. I had always wanted to be a writer but now I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to save lives.
That was not to be. I had left the change too late and with little aptitude for mathematics, the stretch into A Level Physics proved to be too far for me. Troubled people had always turned to me for help and I began to wonder if there was something I could do to heal the mind if I could not heal the body. I studied Psychology at University but when I graduated I realised that I was too young and inexperienced to make this my profession. I was also unable to detach myself sufficiently from the empathic connection to those in need and I recognised that I needed to be able to do that or I would find myself in the deep waters of the mind without the strength to reach the shore.
My father offered me a position in our family company and somehow the years drifted by in the companionship and challenge of working with my siblings. I learned so much in those twenty five years. I like to think that I also gave much. I worked my way through various management positions until I created our People Development Department, where we used leading edge training in personal development.This was the most fulfilling, exciting and stimulating period of my career but that is a story, or perhaps several stories, for other days.
At the age of 50, I finally began my work as a therapist. It had only taken 25 years to finally judge myself worldly wise and emotionally resilient enough to help others through the mine fields of the mind. It is my joy and it is my calling. It has been a long time coming but each year has brought me the experience and the emotional maturity essential to this work.
So here I am today doing the work I love and yet I sense there is a further purpose to this life. It lies in the alliance of those two callings from long ago, the calling to heal and the calling to write. When I work with individuals, I reach into that one mind. The work we do helps that person and those close to them. When I write, I can reach many minds. I can be a candle that lights the darkness not for one alone but for many.
I have always been an inconsistent writer. Like the butterfly, I have been easily distracted by the next beautiful flower. In this journey through cancer and its aftermath, I have learned a new inner discipline. It has been a long time coming. The prospect of death, of dying with the music still trapped inside me, is a spur to action.
Someone asked me recently if coming close to death had changed me. I told him that in some ways it had but in others it had not. Near death experiences do not suddenly transform you. You still have all the same weaknesses and flaws but what you do have is the knowledge of just how strong and courageous you truly are. You have come to the edge and you have flown.
This is the change. I no longer find it acceptable to drift in the same comfortably seductive sea of what I know and what I have always done. In opening myself to change, I hope to be a little light in a naughty world and be of some encouragement to others to change what needs to be changed.
Do not wait for the call of death to bring you to this realisation. Wake up and live. What music stirs inside you fighting to be heard? Let the world hear it. Sing your song.
On these pages you will hear my voice singing my music out into the world. It will sometimes be discordant, sometimes painful to the ear, but occasionally it may strike a chord, When it does... let the magic begin.
Posted by doherty maria at 9:45 pm