Career vs Cancer

Before cancer, I was a self-described work-a-holic. I moved from Georgia to Boston for work opportunities and then back down to Florida 3 years later for anesthesia school. I took on everything and anything that would advance my career, with a 60 hour work week becoming the norm.

Late nights, TONS of unmanaged stress, a poor diet and lack of sleep all began to creep into my daily life. My weekends and relax time became shorter and shorter. I found myself wishing for a different job, a different life that I could enjoy.

But I trudged on, thinking that this was what people did to get ahead in life.

My career was my life. It was my personality. It involved everything I stood for and everything I wanted (or THOUGHT I wanted) in my life.

In Santiago, Chile for a neurosurgery conference

But when I was diagnosed with cancer, I really had to rethink what I wanted in life. Do I want a career? Or do I want a life? I knew that it was a decision that would change the direction of my whole being. I had the chance to rewrite my future chapters before they got away from me.

And the most important question boiled down to this: Did I want to make a life or make a living?

I knew that if I dedicated the same amount of time and energy to fighting my disease as I did to my career, I’d win the fight. I’d been a work-a-holic, and that took time and dedication. If I switched that time and dedication over to fighting cancer, how could I NOT win?

It became a clear decision for me – I quit my career to fight my disease full-time.

This decision wasn’t easy. But for me, it was the best decision I could make for my health. I dedicated my time to a healthy diet, yoga, meditation, and researching everything I could on the immune system, cancer, and holistic health.

I’ve never looked back.

Once I was through treatment and had a clean set of scans, I began to think about work again. What did I want in a career? This diagnosis had changed my life, my mindset and my future. I wanted a career that was rewarding, but I needed it to work with my new way of life and my new normal.

On a mission trip in 2007

I didn’t want to go back to the life I had before cancer. My “career before self” mentality had passed. I chose to make a life rather than a living when going back to work.

Perhaps this is what people mean when they say they want a “work life balance”. Balance is a choice – you have to mentally decide what you want in life. Cancer forced me to make a lot of tough choices, and my choice in career was one of them.

After cancer, you have the ability to rewrite your future. There’s something about looking at death that makes you reevaluate life.

Do what you love, make life worth living, and create your own happiness.

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?