Hiking with Heart

This past weekend, my husband and I went on a hike. We live in the mountains, so we try to do this often.

But this hike was different. This hike was with hundreds of our friends.

JEEZ, does this girl REALLY have hundreds of friends?? Well, in a way, yes! We hiked with an amazing organization called Jen’s Friends and it was an all-out community effort.

One of the many inspiring signs along the hike

I was first introduced to Jen’s Friends when I was going through cancer treatment. I had heard of the group, but I had never really taken notice until I was going into the local hospital for hydration therapy during treatment. The nurses practically shoved the paperwork into my bag to sign up as a patient.

Of course I didn’t really want to be labeled as a cancer patient (although I certainly looked the part after losing 20 pounds). I reluctantly signed up thinking I might need the support in the future.

I quickly found out that this group does it all! They help local people with ALL things related to cancer treatment. Groceries, gas, transportation, bills, EVERYTHING! They ought to be a part of the “Miracle Network”, because they are truly a life saver for many people in the area with cancer.

The organization was first started to help a girl named Jen with her cancer treatment. It grew to be a completely non-profit volunteer organization with 100% of the proceeds going to help people with cancer throughout all stages of treatment and healing. They provide monetary and emotional support in ways I wish ALL communities would provide.

So last weekend, my husband and I climbed a mountain. It was a tough climb, but the few hours we spent huffing and puffing were nothing compared to the climb we had through cancer treatment. If we could hike this mountain last weekend, we could hike any mountain, big or small.

And we did it with hundreds of our friends.

To find out more about Jen’s Friends, please visit their web page at http://jensfriends.org/wordpress/

How we Forgot the Psychology of Medicine

While reading “mind as Healer, Mind as Slayer” I really began to understand the idea of Psychoneuroimmunology (or PNI). There are so many connections between our brain, the nervous system, and our immune response that we truly can’t connect all the dots.

Even the forward of this book gets into dirty detail about PNI, stating “the influence of psychological and psychosocial factors may well determine the immunological consequences of exposure to a variety of invading stressors” which may progress into heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease.

We know FOR A FACT that there is an intricate connection between thought processes, the nervous system, and the immune system. People who present as “nervous nellies” who break down with stress have more chronic diseases. Stress revs your nervous system and your fight-or-flight response. If your nervous system is always on high alert, your body releases neurotransmitters such as Epinephrine as well as corticosteroids, which put a lid on the immune system.

And over time, chronic stress = inflammation + lowered immune system = disease

This is a straight up fact. I can’t even put a citation because every medical book states this very thing.

Yet, to this day, we cannot concede the fact that this connection exists. No neurologist or oncologist or family medicine practitioner will EVER explain this to you. No oncologist has mentioned this connection to me, and neither has any oncology NP, PA, nurse, or surgeon.

And quite frankly, this is totally bogus. The fields of nutrition, PNI, stress reduction and visualization have been around for decades. Yet, we as a healthcare field completely ignore them.

“Cancer is just a random mutation of your cells” they say. At the most basic level that is part of the problem, but not the cause. So WHAT IS THE REAL CAUSE?

NOT the random mutation. With million of cells and cells replicating every second, this cannot be the true cause. Our bodies effectively attack anything that’s not supposed to be there on a daily basis.

It’s the fact that your body doesn’t have the proper immune function.

Based on my care, which I have to say was top notch, there was nothing I could do besides immunotherapy. Only a dangerous drug to improve my very own immune system could improve my well being. There were no alternative or supplemental treatments or preventative measures available to help me fight or cope with my cancer diagnosis.

So why do we deny all this proven science? Why do we deny the fact that our nervous system (and our mindset) control so much more than we give it credit for? How did the Psychoneuroimmunology connection get ditched as a real science?

WHY you ask? Well, it was the advent of the “double blind study”.

Science has to be proven by science. Once pharmacology became a science with money to back it, studies became bigger and better. We had to have “double blind” studies of thousands of patients, where one group was given a placebo and the other a dud. This, scientifically, PROVED that the drug was working.

But how do you prove a soft science such as meditation? There’s no way to give a ‘sugar pill’ of meditation to a patient without their knowledge. That’s the beauty of a sugar pill – patients believe that it may be a real drug, and so they begin to improve.

(Side note – the Placebo effect is a real thing! This Harvard study found that people with “placebo” acupuncture and a caring acupuncturist had a 62% improvement of IBS symptoms!! That’s more improvement than the majority of cancer treatments today.

PNI treatments take time to improve health. Just like any REAL life changes, there is NO overnight cure. If we change our mindset, we can change our lives one day at a time. Meditation and managing stress, for example, take months or years before the person begins to feel less stressed.

We’ve forgotten that there’s a brain attached to our bodies. We’ve forgotten that a person’s perception effects how they feel and how they respond. We look at numbers and figures and studies every day in the medical sciences.

But how often do we realize that the person in front of us isn’t a just number?

Two Doctor-Written Cancer Books that I LOVE

I get comments all the time that my lifestyle is a little frou-frou and that the squishy stuff that I write about has no proof. Many people who are actually going through immunotherapy themselves try and dispel the fact that cancer, for the most part, is preventable with a healthy immune system.

Au contraire, my friends. There is lots of science to prove this fact. Hell, the fact that boosting the body’s immune system kills cancer cells proves this fact!!

But, since I’m NOT a doctor, and I don’t have thousands of hours of proof in this realm, I’ll let these two wonderful MD authors speak for themselves.

You can find this book at https://www.amazon.com/Anticancer-New-Life-David-Servan-Schreiber/dp/0670021644

The book that really reached me first when I was going through my treatment options was a book by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber named “Anticancer: A New Way of Life”.

This book goes through EVERYTHING that you need to know to change your life and prevent cancer. He really focuses on diet, which I agree has a huge impact on cancer treatment. Food has been medicine for centuries – only recently did we begin to depend on pharmaceuticals.

He also touches on the fact that cancer MAY be preventable. This is a tough idea to swallow, because many cancer patients don’t want to think that their lifestyle may be to blame. I know I didn’t want to admit it, either. But he really digs in to the root causes of cancer (with facts and figures) and lifestyle is a biggie.

You can find this book at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mind-as-healer-mind-as-slayer-kenneth-r-pelletier/1012445280

The second book that I love is “Mind As Healer, Mind As Slayer” by Dr. Kenneth R. Pelletier. This book really opened my eyes to the mind-body connection. I always knew that there was so much more to health than just the body, and this book nails it.

Not only that, but it has a HUGE amount of info on studies that show how this connection works. He goes in-depth on stress and its contribution to disease. I’ve always had a sneaky suspicion that the amount of stress I was enduring around the time of my diagnosis contributed to my immune system’s default. Dr. Pelletier explains this in detail and then describes stress reduction techniques. EXACTLY what I need!!

These two books are must-reads for anyone who wants to delve into the science behind cancer. Not the pharmacology-based science that wants you to be a zombie and endure poison to be cancer free. The kind of science that says “YOU can control your destiny”.

So do it, all you cancer fighters!! Control your destiny!!

How 5 Minutes a Day will Change Your Life

Do you ever have a day where you thought to yourself “where did the day go?” That’s me. Everyday. I’m the QUEEN of the day that got away. Every evening around 6 o’clock, my husband laughs when I act so surprised that dinnertime has magically arrived without my knowledge.

And it does! After I suddenly realize that dinner snuck up behind me, I scramble to first THINK of something to cook, and then frantically fix something (somewhat) healthy.

After the chaos of dinner, I’m done. Tapped out. I’ve forgotten whatever I was in the middle of doing before cooking dinner. I feel as though my whole day was flung together and I have nothing to show for it. It’s as though that little bit of chaos threw off my whole day.

So what did I do? I set a new goal in my journal. And it worked.

I’ve been journaling for some time now. In the mornings, I do my own version of the ‘5 minute journal’ approach. I call it “Gratitude and Goals”. Gratitude for the things I have currently and goals for the things I want in the future – and every morning, I write these things down so that my day is a bridge between the two.

And it’s changed my life.

It takes about 5 minutes most mornings. A quick 2 pages of writing, and my mind is clear. This approach to journaling helps me to take on the day without all the clutter usually rattling around in my brain. My day starts and ends more clearly and with a purpose – plus it helps me to remember dinner!

So how do YOU do this? Grab a journal, a pen, and a cup of coffee.

You ready?

OK start with page one. Write down 2 things you are grateful for – and why. They can be something simple, like your family or your home or the fact that you could sleep in that day (I’ve written that one a few times!) Whatever you are truly grateful for in your life and why you’re grateful.

Now close your eyes and see those things in your mind for 2 deep breaths. Seriously. Picture your family/home/sleeping in. Now breath in…out…in…out while holding that image.

Ready for step 2?

Write down 2 goals you have. They can be anything – to accomplish more at work, to be more mindful, to beat cancer (that was my written goal for forever!!) Even just being less nauseous from chemo treatment. Whatever you REALLY want to do.

It can be something you want to accomplish that day (like putting dinner on the table by 7) or that year (like finishing that ‘honey-do list’). Small or large, whatever it is, write it down.

Now, again, close your eyes. Picture yourself reaching that goal. Hold that image and take 2 more deep breaths.

At this point, I usually turn the page and write my thoughts. Whatever has come to mind, I write it down. If it’s a big appointment day, I write down my fears and anxieties. Or sometimes I write about activities from the night before such as a fun dinner party or seeing family. Whatever is rattling around in my brain first thing in the morning is written on the next page.

FIVE minutes. And its changed my life.

How did I come to this? Well, I’ve always found that writing is a great outlet for me. I’ve also been practicing mindfulness since my diagnosis, and I found that this 5 minute journal method combines the best of journaling, visualization, and mindfulness.  Over time, I’ve found it keeps me ‘present’ and less stressed all day. I now direct my day rather than my day directing me.

It’s also helped tremendously with my cancer fears. As Tony Robbins likes to say, you can’t be grateful and fearful at the same time. I am proof that changing your mindset really DOES change your life. This five minutes has helped me to quiet the fears and find a greater meaning in everyday life BEYOND cancer.

Using a journal to focus my morning thoughts has retrained my brain to see the bright side. Throughout the day, my mind thinks back to the things I’m grateful for rather than the things I’m fearful might happen. My gratitude has replaced my fear.

And some days, having a calm dinner with family shows me the happiest and greatest meaning of life. Set aside 5 minutes to try something that may change YOUR life – like this 5 minute journal – and take control of your fears.

Year One After Treatment

Year One After Treatment

Last week, I got the results from my latest PET/CT scan. According to my calendar, it was my 4th scan since the final round of immunotherapy last May.

It turned out to be lucky #4 because I heard the sweetest 3 letters anyone with cancer will ever hear:

N…E…D

No Evidence of Disease

No evidence that the stupid f*cking melanoma was ever there. None. My insides are “squeaky clean” according to my oncologist.

Holy hell, people! I can’t help but curse, I’m so f*cking happy!!

Me and my favorite person at the Miles for Melanoma event in Boston last year

A lot has happened in the past year since my treatment. I mean…like…a lot. Life keeps moving forward, with or without us, so it’s interesting to look back at the path I’ve chosen.

In the past year, these events top the list as the most important: stopped treatment early due to gastritis and borderline colitis, lost 20 pounds, went on steroids, had a nervous system reaction, lost my mother-in-law to a heart attack, interviewed like crazy and got 2 job offers, started a job as a traveler, and now my husband and I have decided to retire early so we’re in the process of buying a rental property.

Man – the last year of my life really makes my head spin. I’m only 33 and I feel like I’ve experienced enough to be twice that age.

OK, maybe not TWICE that age. I take it back 😉

But the last year was definitely tough. Going through treatment and then losing my mother-in-law so suddenly broke my heart. Here I was, really trying to keep my head above water with all the side effects of treatment, and then out of NOWHERE we lose a very dear family member. Losing her so suddenly made me realize EVERY day here on this earth is a blessing, side effects and all.

Life is short. Make the most of every day. Make the most of every year.

And that’s my plan. I’m working on kicking cancer’s ass – one year NED at a time.