Knowledge is key to a Healthy Life

This entry is part 12 in the series Improve Your Life, Improve Your Mind

Originally published as part of the A to Z challenge on 12 April 2018

The A to Z  challenge is over:

But the value of the posts is not. My theme for the challenge was “Improve your life, Improve your mind.” Nowhere is this topic more relevant than when you’re facing a huge challenge in your life like retirement, marital problems, health problems in your family, and especially cancer!

For that reason, it’s my intention to revisit each of the posts and invite folk who didn’t read them at the time to visit them now. And if you did read them before, if you were reading at the speed I did during the month, chances are you will find new thoughts to encourage you.

Please add your comments and share the posts on social media.

The purpose of Rise and Soar with its associated blog is to inspire and encourage those in the cancer valley, whether as patients, survivors, caregivers, family or friends. Please note that it is not a health site. It is meant to encourage folk. When I tackled the A to Z challenge I reasoned that these posts should apply to everyone who cares about what is happening to their bodies, be it through age or through cancer.

I plan to post one “letter” a week only, and will commence with those who saw the least amount of attention during April. Once the official Road Trip commences I will link to that.

So for this week, let’s look at 

Knowledge, the key to a healthy life.

Here are three easy ways to gain knowledge on most topics:

read more

What Cancer Cannot Do

This entry is part 24 in the series Victory in the Valley

 

Start at the beginning of the story

 

Now read on . . .

Disclosure: This post contains some affiliate links for your convenience. Click here to read my full disclosure policy

Last chapter I listed some (and only some) of the suggestions people showered at me. Ways to fight cancer. Ways to improve my health. I became so overwhelmed by all the free advice and not-so-free treatment suggestions I didn’t know where to start.

Then, at my next visit to Dr. Meiring, I discovered he had his own ideas. Actually, they weren’t just ideas. He expected me to follow his recommendations. In view of all the information and misinformation floating around my head I was only too relieved to have someone with authority dictating what I should do.

“You are to take a shark-liver oil capsule three times a day,” he said. “Also this multivitamin, mineral and anti-oxidant combination. I believe this will give you a good balance of all you need nutritionally. My staff will show you where to get them.”

Barley Green

Later, a good friend from Durban, a distance away, wrote and sent me two jars of an expensive dark green powder called Barley Green. She explained how this powder, which she sold, would help my immune system cope with the treatment I was about to embark on. Included in the package was the name and phone number of the representative in my area. 

The jars sat unopened for a number of days. It looked so revolting! Eventually I felt guilty. My friend had paid out a lot of money for me. I reluctantly started taking it, following the instructions. It tasted every bit as repulsive as it looked. I determined to just take it long enough to prove it didn’t help.

I started to mixing it with some strong fruit juice and found as long as I gulped it down without stopping to taste or smell it, I could tolerate the ghastly drink. What we do to honor our friendships!

It was with relief that I came to the end of the jars, and decided I didn’t need to take any more as my friend wouldn’t know. A few days later, I reached for the telephone to order more. I realized it had really helped to build up my energy, and I needed to take it for the rest of my treatment. Praise the Lord for generous friends.

The result of all this advice was that I stopped reading about diet and nutrition. Each time a book started to tell me what I should or should not be eating, I turned pages until I reached another section. It was only much later that I would realize I was ignoring a major part of the healing process, and giving my poor overworked immune system even more tasks to cope with.

Spiritual advice

“Take up yoga,” came more advice.

“Channeling is much better.”

“Reflexology will work wonders for you.”

“Have you thought of trying PNI (Psycho Neuro Immunology)?”

There just didn’t seem to be an end to the things I could or should be doing to rid my body of this cancer, even where it went against my beliefs as a Christian..

Eventually I found myself suspicious of so many things.

Is it safe to use this deodorant? 

How wise is it to use perfume?

If we went in the car on the freeway, I would put the window down. The air conditioner was bad for me. 

“Oops,” I closed them again to avoid the car fumes and smell of petrol. I’d switch on the air conditioner.

Well meaning though all the advice no doubt was, I found the total confusion and misinformation I received from people, including an unsure medical world, made things so much worse.

Perhaps the cruelest advice I received, at intervals throughout that terrible year, was the best intended.

“Shirley, put your trust in the Lord!”

The words TRUST THE LORD can cause hurt in the person who IS trusting the Lord. We need to watch our words. Click To Tweet

I am a committed Christian, so why do I say this was cruel?

It implied to my over-sensitive mind that people thought I wasn’t trusting Him. It made me feel that perhaps, if I really had faith, I would not subject my body to all this treatment. Is my faith at fault? I often wondered.

Temptations

All the advice tempted me to do the very thing I longed to do. Stop the treatment and “trust the Lord.”

During my treatment period, two other people in our congregation, both Christians, did this very thing. They declared that God had healed them and stopped their treatment against medical advice. I played the organ at both funerals. 

“Shirley, what are you saying?” a friend asked me in horror when I said this. “Surely you’re not suggesting it’s wrong to trust the Lord?” 

“No, of course not. I know the Lord is with me. I also know He can reach down and heal me in an instant. But until He personally shows me beyond any shadow of doubt, that He has done so, I am going ahead with the treatment as planned.”

I stared at her wide concerned eyes.

“I can’t pretend I’m not scared of what I am letting myself in for. But I trust Him to guide me, to steer my treatment, to over-rule where necessary. Even if there are dark days ahead, I know He will always be there to show me the way.”

Trusting the Lord

One day when I was reading my Bible, I came to the well-known twenty-third Psalm.

Next time someone asked me about why I didn’t stop treatment and trust the Lord, I opened to that passage.

“David says ‘Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil,'” I read. “‘For thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.1‘” I pointed to the verse so my friend could read with me. “Lynne, where will I find the rod and the staff?”

“In the valley of the shadow of death?” she read the words slowly, doubt creeping into her voice.

Thy rod and staff they comfort me. And where are they found? In the valley. Click To Tweet

I nodded. “I have no idea why the Lord wants me to go through this valley,” I said. “Nor do I understand why He needs me to pick up a rod and a staff. But, Lynne, I trusted Him with my life many years ago, and there is no going back. He wants me to go through the valley and collect the rod and staff. Then He will comfort me. He will go with me.”

I hoped I appeared more confident than I felt, yet I knew that what I said was true. I had to keep my eyes open, looking out for the rod and staff He had promised to leave for me in the valley.

When I started to feel afraid, I often went to my brown paper wall hanging of cards, and read the beautiful words and encouraging messages. One which really encouraged me was a computer message by an unknown author, beautifully printed and posted to me by my daughter’s mother-in-law.

I remembered those weak, confused cells my doctor had described to me. They were indeed so limited.

Yes, the war against cancer was beginning to hot up, but I had a wonderful family, many dear friends, and a countless army of prayer warriors throughout, not only South Africa, but overseas as well. Most important, I had the Lord on my side. The enemy might appear threatening, but “Greater is he that is in (me) than he that is in the world.”I drew a deep breath, and prepared to move into the unknown.

Would you like a gift for a friend or loved one?

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Primitives By Kathy Box Sign

Cross Stitch Chart and Free Embellishment Pamphlet – 1956 by Stoney Creek Collection

 

What saying or quote helps you when you look at the topic of cancer? Please share below.

NOTE:
These events occurred between 19 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

[1] Psalm 23 verse 4
[2]  1 John 4 verse 4

What Is Cancer?

This entry is part 23 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

So what exactly is cancer?

I now found myself desperate to know more. I started to consume every book I could find on the subject: the Cancer Association articles, the books about breast cancer from Beulah, some which Rob found for me in the library and others brought to me by visitors. As soon as I was strong enough, Rob took me to the local bookshop and to the nearest Christian bookstore.

“This is so frustrating,” I grumbled. “Most of these books do not refer to the spiritual side at all. Those that do, almost always lean toward a belief system I can’t accept.” 

Books about breast cancer

I sensed that there was more to this disease than the physical. Surely there were things I could do on an emotional level, which would not offend my Christian faith.

Almost all the books about breast cancer I read encouraged practices which I knew to be wrong, allowing outside forces to take over my mind and body. They encouraged me to make my mind a blank, to go into a trance, to allow myself to be hypnotized. I didn’t believe I should allow any of these practices. Yet I knew I should be able to involve my mind in the healing process.

We continued to hunt for Christian books about breast cancer, especially real-life stories. I soon learned the importance—for me anyway—of checking the back page before bringing the book home. If the last page contained an obituary I put the book right back on the shelf. I needed to be positive. There were people out there who had survived, and those were the people whose books I needed to read.

So few books met my requirements. I resolved that when I was well again, I would write the book that I needed right then. Meantime I had to find ways to use my mind and emotions. But how?

I put this to one side temporarily, and returned to more pressing issues. What had caused my cancer?

I already knew that cancer was caused by the reproduction of deformed cells. It encouraged me to think of them as weak and confused. This was the opposite to the usual picture of cancer as the “Almighty Destroyer.” But what had caused these cells to become deformed in the first place?

Why had I developed cancer?

I learned that Breast Cancer is one of the few cancers which can occur in families. I was the first one in my family, and I prayed that I would be the last. My siblings were at high risk. Seeing I only had one brother and no sisters, I thought we were in the clear.

Wrong.

I discovered that what is generally thought of as a women’s problem is actually on the increase in men. An American survey states that for every 100 women, one man is diagnosed with breast cancer.

A man in America tried to enter a promotional race for survivors of Breast Cancer, but was turned away, as it was only for women. He contested this, but I can’t remember if he won his case. I hope he did.

As far as I knew, none of my ancestors had suffered from breast cancer. But my children all have to be diligent in checking their breasts regularly, my sons as well as my daughter, and my grandchildren as they grow up.

Speed of Growth

Once cancer cells start to multiply, they do so at an alarming rate. Some of them, if not arrested in time, spread to adjacent tissue, or they may even travel via the blood-stream or lymph vessels to distant organs. There they set up camp and form a secondary tumor,known as metastases.

However the incredible speed with which they reproduce is also part of their downfall.

The incredible speed with which cancer cells reproduce is also part of their downfall. See more . . . Click To Tweet

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy both rely upon this accelerated growth for their effectiveness. In each of these treatments, the machines or chemicals target rapidly growing cells. So the fast proliferation of the cancer cells actually blows their cover.

“Just as well!” I remarked to Rob as I shared these facts with him. “Symptoms only start to show up when the tumor has grown large enough to cause problems. How important it is to check our health regularly.”

I hadn’t realized, until then, that there are different types of breast cancer, as well as several stages. My tumor was Stage Two and had already started to spread from the breast. The oncologist explained that it was very fast growing, and the pathology report described it as “poorly defined.” This meant it was difficult to remove.

“According to statistics,” I read to Rob, “One out of every eleven women have breast cancer. And here I thought I was one of the elite few.” 

The statistics also said that three out of every four “Stage Two” breast cancer patients will live to be grandparents! That fact is not widely publicized.

Three out of every four Stage Two breast cancer patients will live to be grandparents! Read more here. Click To Tweet

I deliberately started to cultivate a scornful disregard for statistics. After all, there are no statistics for how long Shirleys live after contracting cancer. I am not a statistic. There is only one me.

What of the future?

Some years ago, if I survived five years after my operation, doctors would regard me as being cured. Medical experts today know this is false. Today, if there is no sign of a recurrence, medical experts will say it is “in remission.” The breast cancer cell can regenerate, so it can always come back.

Having said that, every day that passed after the surgery my chances of survival increased.

I didn’t want to know how long medical science thought I had to live. How could a mere doctor tell me that?

In the Bible I read All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139 verse 16). God knew how long my life would be before I was even born. My diagnosis hadn’t blown His plans! I certainly didn’t want to live according to a man-made measure, watching as my earthly time got shorter each day. What would I do if I ran out of days?

 

Over to you

How do you think you would react if you were told by medical professionals that you had 7 months to live? What would you do with that information? How would it affect your decision-making?

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you.

NOTE:
These events occurred over 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

World War III Weapons

This entry is part 20 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

Surgeon taking notes

Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

World War III entrance exam

Toward the end of our session together, Dr. Meiring took me through to his examination room, and for the first time examined my breasts. He prodded and poked with big warm hands on my extremely tender breasts. I think he probably tried to be gentle, but my right breast was extremely painful. The scarred tissue at the site of the tumor bed was still raw and my breast felt bruised.

Each time he probed with his fingers I wanted to cry out. Then came the moment I was dreading. He asked me to put my left arm over my head.

“I can’t do it completely yet.” I searched his eyes anxiously. “Every day I get a bit further. I am really working hard at it.”

Dr. Meiring stepped back from the bed with an expression of annoyance on his face.

“That’s no good!” he exclaimed in disgust. “We can’t start yet. Make an appointment for next week, and get that arm up by then.”

Failed exam

Before chemotherapy commenced, I had to deal with radiotherapy. And I had to get my arm up over my head. I saw why the physiotherapist hated me having my arm in a sling. 

Why do some surgeons make their patients wear an arm sling after breast surgery? Click To Tweet

One step at a time! I can do this,” I chanted to myself aswhen I got dressed.

He told us to go home via his rooms at home and collect a supply of Tamoxifen so I could at least start that part of my treatment. “Remember,” he told me again. We’re fighting World War III here. I have no time for World War II weapons. So get that arm up!”

Rob phoned a friend, Flip, who worked in central Johannesburg, and asked him if he would please go via Dr. Meiring’s rooms and pick up the tablets, so he could take me straight back to our house.

I battled tears all the way home. I had failed. Now I would probably die because I couldn’t start treatment yet. I had let Dr. Meiring down before we’d even started. I knew I could do no more. I felt discouraged and incompetent.

“I’m never going to be able to do this in one week,” I moaned tearfully at Rob, returning to my position in front of the wooden door.

That evening Flip arrived with his wife Karen and brought the tablets for me. There were other visitors there too, and a buzz of conversation filled the lounge. 

Meeting God?

I was still somewhat subdued from the disappointment of the afternoon when I overheard Flip saying enthusiastically, “I just walked into the room and it felt as if I’d come face to face with God!”

My eyebrows shot up in astonishment. I hadn’t been following his conversation.

“Oh? Who was this?”  I had never known Flip to gush about anyone before.

“Your doctor that’s who!” he exclaimed. “You can just see God’s love shining through his eyes!”

“You can?”

“Yes you can. Shirl, this has to be the right man for you. I am quite sure of this.”

So everyone was sure. Except me. I felt as if I was facing World War III with only a sling shot in my hands. 

I remembered a joke I had just read in Sue Buchanan’s book, Love, Laughter & a High Disregard for Statistics.

There was a lawyer standing in the queue outside the gates of heaven. He noticed a certain doctor walking right past everyone, nodding at Saint Peter as he entered heaven. The lawyer felt this was wrong, so he complained to Saint Peter.

“Who does that doctor think he is, going to the front of the line and walking right in?”

“That’s not a doctor,” Saint Peter replied. “That’s God. Sometimes He likes to play doctor.”

A week later we phoned to confirm the time of appointment for my first radiotherapy session at the Oncology Unit of the Rand Clinic in central Johannesburg. I could get my arm over my head . . . just. The war was about to begin in earnest.

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you.

NOTE:
These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Decisions about Chemotherapy and Radiotherapy

This entry is part 19 in the series Victory in the Valley

Start at the beginning of the story

Now read on . . .

When my youngest, David, came home, he came straight to the point, with the impulsiveness of youth.

“He’s a Christian. You like him. Dad thinks he’s the right guy. This is the right man!”

His elder brother Stephen responded gently. “Mum it’s your decision. We only want what is best for you. But he sounds good to me.”

Why am I not convinced? I was still uneasy. His practice is so small – why? I like the man. Lord, he’s one of your children; and yet …?”

Eventually after much agonizing, I concluded that I would probably not be happy with any other Oncologist either. I was launching into a totally unknown area. I didn’t know enough about the subject to make an informed decision. My husband was sure. I decided to be guided by my family, and nervously agreed to return to Dr. Meiring the next day.

Drive to Johannesburg

The following morning, we made the one-hour trip through heavy city traffic, to the smart new private hospital in the center of Johannesburg. As we walked into Dr. Meiring’s other consulting rooms on the third floor of the impressive new hospital, I felt much more at ease. In some strange way, this felt more like a “proper doctor.” Little did I know that within two months he would close these rooms, and move exclusively to working from home.

“I have spoken to three colleagues,” he eventually said, having spent the past half hour talking “Church” with my husband. Why do I resent this? I wanted to get on with the matter at hand. After all—I was the patient. The sooner he dealt with me, the sooner we could get out of this room. 

He meticulously wrote out for me, in a beautiful script, the three options of chemotherapy that the other oncologists had suggested. As I was to learn, no two oncologists ever seem to see things quite the same way. Dr. Meiring presented me with three possible chemotherapy regimes. Well really, it was four. He took some things from each suggestion, altered one of the drugs completely, and then doubled the recommended period of chemotherapy.

“This is not the traditional treatment.” I can see that! “But I believe it is the best possible treatment for you.” He explained that he believed I needed an entire year’s chemotherapy, divided into two full courses of six months each.

More than I wanted to know

The one course of chemotherapy comprised of the drugs Carboplatin and Navelbine, both drugs not normally given for primary breast cancer. The second  would be made up of CMF – a combination of Cycloblastin, Methotrexate. and 5 Fluorouracil.  He elected to give me Methotrexate in place of the more usual because of my history of Rheumatic Fever, as he said it could aggravate my heart damage.

When I indignantly told him my heart was just fine, he retorted, “No it’s not. You take medication for arrhythmia. There is something there. The medical profession just hasn’t found it. But I don’t want us to find it during chemotherapy.”

I couldn’t think of a suitable answer so wisely kept quiet.

“The Carboplatin regime will definitely cause your hair to fall out,” he continued cheerfully. “But not to worry—it will grow back better than ever. Sometimes it even comes back another color.” 

The choice I didn’t want

All my life I had complained about my deep auburn hair. I had never appreciated being a ‘red-head’. Suddenly I liked my hair very much, and I really didn’t want to lose it.

“The CMF might not take your hair out,” he continued, “but it will make you very nauseous. We will obviously give you something to counteract this, but you could still have some unpleasant effects to cope with.”

He leaned back in his chair. “First we need to get the radiotherapy behind us, then we will decide which formula we will use first. You can think about this.”

Whoopee! What a choice. Do you want to lose your hair first, then get sick? Or would you prefer to get sick first—then lose your hair? It didn’t seem like much of an option to me.

Tamoxifen

In addition to the radiotherapy and chemotherapy he also prescribed Tamoxifen tablets daily. Initially he said this would be for twenty years. Later he changed it to “at least five.”

Tamoxifen is an anti-estrogen, which is normally prescribed to people whose tumor have a positive estrogen receptor. In other words, starve the cancer cells of estrogen and they will die.

Goliath however had been estrogen and progesterone negative, meaning that removing estrogen would not have any effect on it. However this was the one thing which all the consulted Oncologists agreed upon. I should take Tamoxifen, as a prophylactic measure, to discourage the growth of an estrogen positive tumor in the other breast.

I found it unnerving, to say the least, to read in the tablet’s insert that under no circumstances should this be used in the case of an estrogen negative tumor. Many times during my treatment I queried this with the ever-patient Dr. Meiring. Each time, he would reach for his big blue Oncology text book and make me read for myself what the latest research said.

Next on the agenda was radiotherapy which absolutely terrified me. As a student nurse I had cared for patients with horrific burns from this practice. Even though Dr. Meiring assured me this should not happen in my case, I remained unconvinced. Meantime, I faced an impossible decision. Really, which chemotherapy regime did I want first? Did I want to lose my hair first? Or did I want to get sick? How about I didn’t have it at all?

Have you ever faced an Impossible Choice?

Which of the two would you choose to have first?

Please leave a comment, and if you leave a live URL in your comment, I’ll get back to you.

NOTE:
These events occurred between 17 and 20 years ago. I have tried to recreate events and locations as accurately as possible, but in order to maintain their anonymity, in some instances I have changed the names and identifying characteristics of individuals and places.

Time is Running Out

diaryJOURNAL ENTRY: 2nd November, 1997 Today, I learned I have cancer. How can this be? Cancer happens to other people. 

“You have cancer, and I don’t think they’ll be able to get it all out.” That’s what the radiologist told me after the mammogram and before the sonar. He seemed mad with me. Why? 

read more

There’s a Gorilla in My Phone Booth

GorillaThe fog was closing in. Marsha dashed across the road to the phone booth to call her husband to come and fetch her. With relief, she pulled open the stiff door and slipped inside. She peered towards the phone dial, and instead her eyes focused on a gigantic dark hairy chest.

Fearfully she looked up, and up . . . until she made out the terrifying features of an adult gorilla.There was a gorilla in the phone booth! His immense mouth opened and she gazed in horror at his vicious-looking teeth.  She was about to be devoured by a raging primate.   read more

Two Things Cancer Doesn’t Change

Originally written in 2014. Updated March, 2018.

How old are you?

I recently read an excellent blog post about a little girl who, when she’s asked how old she is, replies, “I’m me.” 

Unfortunately I don’t know the author. (If you do, please let me know so I can credit her accordingly.) But I do know this little doll on the left. She’s my first grandchild! Twenty something years ago!

Isn’t she adorable? read more

Victim or Victor

contemplative Victim or Victor? That is the question.

The Victim is overcome – The Victor overcomes.
The Victim has a diseased body -The Victor has a healthy attitude.
The Victim longs to stop crying – The Victor stocks up on tissues.
The Victim says, “Why me God?” – The Victor says, “Why not?”
The Victim dreads the trip down the Emotional Rollercoaster – The Victor knows that what goes down will soon go up again.
The Victim accepts everything the doctor says as accurate – The Victor asks questions about everything the doctor says.
The Victim blames the doctor when things go wrong – The Victor understands he’s only a doctor, not God.
The Victim cries out to God and pleads for help – The Victor has a two-way conversation with God.
The Victim knows people die of cancer – The Victor knows that many don’t.
The Victim tries to stay positive – The Victor refuses to be negative.
The Victim knows her prognosis – The Victor knows that is God’s department.
The Victim doesn’t understand – The Victor buys a book to learn.
The Victim is confused by the big words – The Victor finds out what they mean.
The Victim knows it’s getting worse – The Victor anticipates improvement.
The Victim dreads hair loss – The Victor buys a stylish wig.
The Victim anticipates side effects – The Victor looks for ways to beat them.
The Victim will one day go to Heaven with relief – The Victor will one day go to Heaven rejoicing.
When I received the diagnosis of cancer, I became a “Cancer Victim” – I chose to become a “Cancer Victor.”

©Shirley Corder