I Saw You Stretched Out, in Room Ten-Oh-Nine

In addition to using any and all proven oncology to fight this cancer, I’m also drawing on some 25 years experience in the field of alternative and complementary medicine to help myself rebuild my immune system, keep my blood healthy, and otherwise improve my circumstances. Everything is open here, and on the table, including probiotics and whey supplements to rebuild part and parcel of my immune system. What chemo giveth, cancer stem cells taketh away, and believe me, it only takes ONE cancer stem cell to riptide…even clearing what’s there takes a back seat to cancer stem cells, and it’s the wise patient and doctor team who keeps a very close eye on any and all symptomology. With that said, there are a variety of Alternative and Complementary Medical (ACM) techniques that you can use to help yourself, at least to feel calmer, even if there isn’t really anything material happening in your body. Some of them are aromatherapy, art therapy, biofeedback, hypnosis, imagery and visualization, massage, meditation, music therapy, prayer, spiritual practices, and some good old fashioned Chi practice – here’s where oriental medicine and things like Tai Chi can really add to the energy store. These techniques are easy to review online, there are many internet sites that tell you what they are and what they do.

Keep in mind, that organizations like the AMA and the ACS don’t necessarily like CAM. For years, their arguments have been that these practices were unscientific and grounded in a fraudulent view of the body. No practitioner could be regarded as pure and true to their calling as a doctor or scientist if they recognized CAM practices. Evidence for this can be found as far back as 1847 examining the history of the AMA for example. The first alternative subject on which war waged was Homeopathy, and next thereafter, by the turn of the 20th century, was Chiropractic. I would suggest that current medical ethics is still the sworn enemy of CAM, and that doctors who have power don’t want to give it up. For most doctors, selling treatments is still practiced, and it’s all about the business of treatment, really. Tai Chi, and Yoga, and other practices, can help. Most doctors and people who are AMA oriented don’t have much use for alternative or complementary techniques but there are some clinics around the country where they are being actively integrated. Whether you believe in placebo or not, or whether these effects are real to you or not is almost immaterial. The important point is that you think they are helping you. Otherwise they are not worth pursuing. Outfits like the American Cancer Society take a pretty conservative view on treatments and treatment options. They would have you ask questions like “What are the pros and cons of each treatment or procedure?” Or, considering all the advantages and disadvantages, Which option seems to make the most sense to you for your particular breast cancer? Does your medical team agree? The concept of advocate seems to be missing here overall, in my view, because your support team has to consist not only of your oncological team, but also other people who might be able to help you out. The day to day effects on your life of Advanced Cancer cannot be underestimated. If you are a thinking person, you might be spared some of the overarching emotions that come with this kind of diagnosis, but if you are a feeling individual you will soon be overwhelmed, swamped in fact, with reservations and fears. You cannot begin to actively fight your cancer until you decide on what treatment plan is right for you. Ostensibly your doctors will be able to advise you on this issue, but not if they regard you as a hopeless case. It is the truth that in the case of advanced cancer you must become not only your own advocate but your own check on your medical team, otherwise you may get left in the wash, stranded in your kayak, unable to paddle your way out. Participating in your own medical care is essential towards staying alive with an advanced cancer. Sometimes, we can’t, the cancer just overwhelms what body defenses we have, no chemo works, no radiation is effective, and we die. However, sometimes we get lucky. A treatment works, marker numbers go in the right direction, while no cure is possible, the whisper factor kicks in and suddenly it’s a chronic disease, not a death sentence. At this point, in addition to killing the cancer, its all about managing side effects. If anyone asked me, the single most important thing I can do for myself is pain management. It is here that alternative and complementary techniques can assist the best. Coping strategies after cancer diagnosis are all important. Most women, I daresay, would feel emotional upheaval after a diagnosis like mine, and I’m no exception. What is different about me is how I handle it. When the pain is under control, I handle things well. When my pain levels are elevated, I don’t do so well. I’ve never been much of a journaler, either. When I have pain, I don’t like to write. When I don’t have pain, I try to write objectively. Not always possible, but that is the direction I tend to go in. For those who do journal, or find discussion helpful, the ACS posed some questions: Jotting down your feelings can be cathartic. How did you feel when you first found out that you had cancer? The bad kind? Can you complete the statement “I wish that I … “? What is it that you worry about the most? What would make you feel better? When things get to be too much, what do you do? What are your best times? Your worst times? Do you still like yourself? And, amidst all the confusion, there is always the matter of paying the bills. So much of bill pay is involved with insurance. If you don’t have insurance, and I don’t, you can appeal to your hospital as a charity case. I did, and was not disappointed. They chose to give my husband and myself a deep discount, and it has enabled us to get on a payment plan with the hospital, and begin to pay off what we owe. Additional stress generated by “how are we going to pay for this?” is never welcome when the goal is basically staying alive – at least until something in the research forums change and problems in treatment can be solved. No matter which way you turn the events in your life since your diagnosis, you’ll find that it’s all about finding the right things you need to work on your cancer. I was lucky in that chemotherapy was very effective overall. It didn’t have to be that way. I was unlucky in that my body did not spring back and I got induced anemia, I was unlucky in that I got a small brain tumor to deal with, but lucky in the fact that there is a radiation oncologist here who can deal with it, hopefully. Keeping cancer out of my brain is a very good idea. Eventually I may run out of options, but more than likely, hopefully, I won’t.

.. By Princess Joule Watt c. 2009

(Leane Roffey Line, PhD, DO)

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