Not Down Or Out

It could be worse. I might not be laughing.

Tag: alternative medicine

I Can Hear You Now

One of the several lingering effects of chemotherapy appears to be tinnitus. Tinnitus is that ringing or buzzing in the ears that some suffer for various reasons. My tinnitus began back when I was in treatment for uterine cancer at the end of 2011 or beginning of 2012.

I did not have the benefit of a huge medical team as I went through treatment. I did not have medical insurance and relied on the county’s medical services. I remain so very grateful for the county’s care that I will state up front that tinnitus has seemed a small matter by comparison with cancer.

No one has ever explained to me what causes my tinnitus or how I might treat it. Ever since the enactment of what people call Obamacare, I have had insurance I pay for without receipt of subsidies. I pay for a gold plan because I know how expensive life-saving care is. But I seldom have used my bought-and-paid-for insurance because, after I pay the high premiums and the deductibles and co-pays, medical care remains very expensive. I have had a more expensive safety net, not an affordable source of ongoing healthcare.

So I have worked on acquiring my substitute for qualified healthcare. I read online sites and try to reason my way through conflicting, incomplete, sometimes advertiser-generated, and often anecdotal information. It has suggested that chemotherapy may have damaged the hairs in my ears that assist with hearing. That damage may have caused or contributed to causing my tinnitus. Do not take my word for it. It is a theory.

I take a Biotin supplement that includes Silica and Collagen. I know. Some will say supplements are unnecessary if your diet is nutritionally adequate. Overweight people often have nutritional excesses. There is no way to judge the purity and efficacy of supplements across the marketplace. What I know is that the hair on my head, my eyebrows, my eyelashes, even the unwelcome hairs on my chin, are all thriving. Just this week someone who has not seen me in years was asking what was with the hair. It is brown, shows very little silver for one who is 58, is thicker than ever, and it is wavy. Once again, I am relying on “sign reasoning” instead of double blind tests conducted by scientists.

Still my ears ring. Sometimes it is a din. Sometimes it is a buzz. I never work or relax in a silent place. Because the “sound” is distracting, I often play a radio, turn on the TV, or run a fan to mask it in part. Nevertheless, it is never absent.

A couple of weeks ago my mom and I traveled east by car from Chicago to visit family. We picked a day in which each of the states through which we passed experienced rain. I’m not talking about wet road conditions. I was thinking Ghostbusters (1984) rain. From its script:

Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together… mass hysteria!

For most of the four to five hours it took to cross Ohio we had trouble seeing the taillights of the cars and trucks ahead of us. It goes without saying that there was road work. The big rigs traveling on the other side of the road were in what turned into a channel formed by cement walls on either side. The water collected. As they drove past our car they sent up waves of water that slapped the windshield. Mom and I flinched each time that happened.

Road conditions improved in Pennsylvania, but the weather did not. I kept going. We did not stop for lunch because neither one of us could handle the mad dash from the car to the service stop buildings.

I turned on the car’s radio from time to time, but we never did find a station with weather reports. I would let the radio roam through the few available stations and then shut the radio off. My mom was silent except for the occasional breath caught in fear and released with a sigh when the rain eased a bit in its ferocity or a truck moved a safe distance or the windshield wipers cleared our view for a moment. I was very conscious of my tinnitus during that long drive.

While we pressed on through Pennsylvania, I located a station that was broadcasting the daily rosary. Sponsored by the Knights of Columbus Bellevue Council #1400, someone led us through a rosary addressing the Sorrowful Mysteries. I left it on and we prayed along with the priest and the others present at the recording of the event.

Shortly after the rosary ended I shut the radio off. The rain slowed down. And the tinnitus stopped.

I started to cry because it was so quiet. I cannot explain how peaceful it felt to have the noise stop. I seldom complain about it. It’s not cancer, is it? I have handled many more scary situations. It is not painful. It is not employment discrimination. It is not isolating. It is part of the soundtrack of a busy life. There are a million other things that occupy my mind on most days. I cope with it. It bothers me most at the end of the day. I lie in bed and try to clear my mind. That is when it seems most loud. Sometimes I turn on a “sound machine” that plays crashing waves or a babbling brook or rain. But that is not silence. Most nights I turn on a fan and an air cleaner. But that is not silence.

I say my prayers of gratefulness for family and friends, health and hope, talents and opportunities. I fall asleep focusing on what I have and not what I need. I am blessed, not burdened in my earthly life. I still have the little scraps of paper on which I listed my blessings and my angels on October 6, 2011, when I could not sleep on the night before my hysterectomy. I know what they say.

I pray for the people I know and some I don’t. I pray every night for the souls of the departed. I spend a lot of nights focused on the special intentions of my mom, sister, brother, and their families. I pray for friends and students who face challenges, whether large or small. I pray every night for Mike Terrill and his family and so many other brave and kind people I have met here on WordPress during my cancer treatment and recovery. Somehow those prayers make my mind quiet even if I can still hear that ringing in my ears. But let’s be honest about my prayers–I’ve been doing most of the talking.

That’s why the trip through Pennsylvania was different. This was silence. I kept wiping my eyes because it was so wonder-full.

I did some more reading online and found some reports of tinnitus reduced or abated following fast descents. Maybe the mountainous roads of Pennsylvania helped. But, in the same way I put stock in my supplements, I am putting some stock in the possibility that prayer has found for me another way to silence the din.

The tinnitus has come back. In the week after it stopped, it faded in and out. It did not stop completely during the trip home, even though we passed through Pennsylvania’s mountains on a cloudy and dry day. It continues without change today.

My mom gave me a rosary recently. This past week the old friend who commented on my changed hairdo gave me a rosary she bought for me long ago in Medjugorje, the site of many unconfirmed miracles.

I pray, but I am not one who often says the rosary. I think that might be changing.

I am sending a check today to the Knights of Columbus of Bellevue, Pa. so that they can continue broadcasting the daily rosary. And, Lord, I am listening. Whether or not prayer will stop tinnitus, I cannot say. I can still hear the tinnitus, but I think I can hear something that will help me cope with it now, too. Lord, I think I can hear You now.

Signs

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When I was a young adult I read Cheiro’s Language of the Hand, a detailed examination of how to read a palm. http://archive.org/details/cheiroslanguageo00hamo. Once I read it, I read numerous books on the subject. I still recall many of the details of the subject after at least forty years. I never viewed palmistry as sorcery or witchcraft. It is not a tool I use to predict the future any more than I rely upon my doctor’s diagnosis to predict how well I will live or how long I will live. As a result, I see no conflict between religion and reading a palm.

I read my own palm first, and I still have the photocopy of my palm that I used to map out the signs that portended fortune and misfortune. It demonstrates today the truth of one of the lessons of palmistry: you make your own fortune. The dominant hand (in my case, my right hand), has changed numerous times over the past four decades. My left palm has more lines that reflect stress or worry, but the main lines remain remarkably unchanged.

They say that the non-dominant palm reflects the future you are born with while the right hand reflects where you are headed; provided that you remain on your current course.

Left Palm

Left Palm

My left palm is marked by strong, long, and deeply etched lines. What has changed since I was a teen is my marriage line. When I was young, neither palm showed an unhappy marriage in the offing. Today, both palms show a deep line that starts parallel to the base of my little finger and then dips to run down toward my Love Line. There is what is called an “island” at the point where the line dips down–a sign that the one who caused the divorce had problems of his or her own that led to the marriage to its end. While there are some minor breaks in each of those lines on my palms, they carry all the way across to the base of my thumb–the part of the palm that governs passion and lubricity (passion’s lewder sibling). My left palm also shows a very long and strongly marked Life Line.

Right Palm

My right palm shows that I am sometimes plagued by doubt and insecurity. There are more lines that reveal stress. There are grilles and many of the lines are fainter than in the left palm. This is normal. The lines change in part because of the way the dominant hand holds a tool or bears the weight of exertion.

What interests me most is that my Life Line on my right hand has changed in the past two years. When I was a child, it ran long and ended down at the base of my palm. Several years ago I noticed that a branch had formed at what some readers claim is the midpoint of my life. One tine of the fork touched my Fortune Line. The other ended abruptly.

At the current time, the tine of the fork that used to dissipate abruptly has extended deep into my palm, almost to my wrist. It is faint, but it is there.

According to my copy of Cheiro’s book (revised as of 1970), “the germ of disease or weak point in the system must be known to the brain in all its stages of advance and attack, and will, therefore, be registered by the brain on the hand through the nerve-connection between the two . . . .” Cheiro believed the palm predicted the cause and nature of certain diseases, sometimes on the Life Line, sometimes on other parts of the palm.

My right palm shows weakness, but now renewed longevity. Crossing the Life Line are numerous lines that suggest there is stress and challenge, but parallel to the Life Line and closer to the thumb is a faint line some call the “sister line.” The presence of a sister line is regarded by some as favorable. It can represent the power of others to help the subject through dark times, sometimes recovering great vitality.

My point in writing about my palm is not to predict or confirm my future or fortune. I raise the subject because of what others have to say about the subject of palms and because, following treatment for uterine cancer I find myself watching for signs more vigilantly than ever.

I keep countless journals in which I make notes about peculiarities and coincidences. I collect natural wisdom in a file that I study sometimes at night before I go to sleep. I have read countless books and articles and blogs that talk about vitamins, minerals, and herbs.

I have not gotten to the point where I change my behavior without careful consideration. I am not given to act without doing my research and testing my theories against those of others. I am not the type who wears tinfoil atop her head to prevent alien beings from reading her thoughts. But I am paying attention to things I never monitored before.

www.danheller.com (Culkin, Gibson and Breslin from the movie Signs)

http://www.danheller.com (Culkin, Gibson and Breslin from the movie Signs)

In the end, I keep coming back to the notion that we make our own futures. Whether I am responsible for all that befalls me or merely able to take precautions when alerted to matters beyond my control that might threaten me, I am watching the signs now. In the words of Tiffany (played by Jennifer Lawrence) in Silver Linings Playbook, if I’m the one “reading the signs,” things keep looking better all of the time.

Liebster Award–Thanks to Lisa

liebster-award

I have been nominated for the Liebster Award by Lisa Higgins, a practitioner of massage and other alternative and complementary treatments. For those cancer survivors who struggle with lymphedema, Lisa’s services can mean relief from pain and suffering that conventional treatments often prove unable to address (and may have caused). Having met breast cancer survivors suffering from lymphedema, I appreciate the value these services offer to people seeking to find balance in bodies that are disrupted by disease, illness, toxicity, and stress. When I finished chemotherapy and radiation, I visited with a local naturapath and pursued several approaches to detoxifying my body. Lisa’s blog discusses natural means of addressing many of the conditions that sometimes stump conventional practitioners. She also discusses treatments that complement conventional treatment. You can check out her blog– Lisa Higgins – massage across the table at ozhigginswordpress.com.

It is one of those interesting coincidences that such a practitioner has nominated me. In about 2003 or 2004, seven or eight years before I was diagnosed with uterine cancer, I was feeling sick and could not identify a cause for it. I actually worried that I might be dying. I say “worried” but will admit that I was not worrying terribly. I told my friend Dominique that I sometimes felt like a dying creature and that I had no strong desire to reverse the trend.

Dominique introduced me to Dr. Kevin Pearson, a naturapath. Kevin became my doctor and then a friend. He helped me rediscover my desire to live. I think some of that treatment (including craniosacral therapy, the taking of tinctures of essential oils and flower essences, and process work) I received from Kevin and other practitioners to whom he introduced me seemed very “woo-woo” to me at the time. I was conventional at the time and yet very underserved from a health standpoint.

Kevin died of rectal cancer. I observed his non-conventional treatment of his disease with respect but also great discomfort. He never wavered in his commitment to treatment consistent with his views that some of modern medicine was out of step with the ordinary rules for the preservation of life. He succeeded in reducing the size of his tumors. He sustained his life a long time. I think his body succumbed not to the cancer but to his weakened state resulting from cancer treatment. He was not a peaceful patient. He fought hard for life.

Had I never met Kevin, what might my cancer treatment experience been like? First, I would have received my diagnosis while in a state conducive to shutdown. Instead, I felt ready for treatment and hopeful that it would succeed. Second, I had made some changes in my life. I worked out with a trainer for some time after I met Kevin. I may have had cancer, but I was physically strong. I needed eight packs of blood when I was admitted to the hospital. My doctor could not believe I was walking when I showed up at his office for an appointment to discuss “heavy periods.” In the words of Caitlyn, my trainer, I had a freakishly strong upper body. I ended up needing that after my hysterectomy. I was eating better. When my surgeons questioned my fitness for surgery they put me through a battery of tests and found none of the expected diseases present. Third, I was open to advice about alternative and complementary treatment. I had positive experiences with Kevin and his colleagues’ care. I had undergone about a year of hypnosis and had learned to hypnotize myself, a skill that helped me cope. I was treated at a county hospital and received the standard care. There was no multidisciplinary team advising me on diet, use of supplements, stress reduction, or how to recover from conventional treatment’s side effects. When Dominique showed up at the hospital with a biofeedback tool that she thought might help me deal with pain from a thoroughly toasted bladder, I accepted her help and it did help.

I understand from reading Lisa’s nomination posting and the link that she provided to another blog that explains some of the award’s history (http://sopphey.onimpression.com/2012/05/liebster-blog-award-origins.html) that this is a sweetheart award. I need to do some nominating to pass it forward. I will do that after I have a chance to reflect on this experience.

For today, I want to appreciate the people like Lisa Higgins, who care for and treat people to help them find health and happiness in balance. If my blog helps lead someone to feeling better, then it is a way to repay the practitioners who have helped me feel so much better.

Thanks, Lisa, for this nomination!

Alternative and Other Remedies

Ever since my sister-in-law Lisa told me that selenium might help me keep my hair through chemotherapy, I have been exploring some alternatives to conventional medicine for dealing with the side-effects of cancer treatment.

I took the selenium before chemotherapy started and for several months after stopping chemotherapy. Then I switched from selenium supplements to biotin. I still take the biotin daily. I never lost enough hair to warrant shaving my head. Moreover, I did not lose all that much hair until after chemotherapy had been over for several months. My hair came back pretty well, too. I have been getting it cut every month for about a year. I still don’t have much hair on my arms and legs and what is there is baby fine and snowy white, but the hair on my head is thicker, wavy (rather than as straight as it was before treatment), darker, and less gray than it was before. I have more and darker eyebrows and longer eyelashes.

My doctor advised me not to take probiotics during chemotherapy because they are bacteria and chemotherapy lowers immunity to infection. She felt that the probiotics could cause problems but had no problems with yogurt. About a month after I finished chemotherapy, I started drinking kefir. Then I added probiotics. I stopped that after a month.

I drank two gallon jugs of aloe vera juice mixed with other juices during chemotherapy and radiation. The taste? Blah. But I have read this is good for easing bowel problems and is anti-inflammatory. It did not hurt and my doctor had no objection to it.

It took quite a few months before my bowel, which was treated with radiation, was up to the challenge of meat, vegetables, and nuts. I still go easy on nuts, but I can tell that there has been healing. Dominique brought me aloe vera juice to drink during chemotherapy. I mixed it with apple juice and spearmint tea. I don’t know if it helped, but it did not hurt. I never threw up once during chemotherapy.

I drank ginger ale during chemotherapy if I longed for something fizzy. I also overcame my distaste for it and drank Gatorade and Pedialyte when going through chemotherapy. I tried a ginger tea, but could not tolerate the taste of it. I found spearmint tea much better than that. I drank it hot and cold every day.

My tongue looked terrible for nearly a year. It had yellow marks on the sides and was very sensitive to the touch. The probiotics seemed to help, but I finally tried acidophilus and at last saw those marks disappear.

During chemotherapy the backs of my hands developed calluses as if I worked hard with my hands. I scrubbed them with a nail brush in an effort to wear away the thickened skin, but it was unrelenting. I tried several types of lotion in an effort to fight the calluses. Eventually, I tried Cackleberry Apiary Facial Night Crème applied several times daily. My friend Dominique got it for me from a farm in Wisconsin. The website is cackleberryapiary.com. My calluses are gone. I now use the crème on my neck. It smells a little like honey. I have switched to using a hand cream that my former student Joelle brought me from Israel. It’s called Sea of Spa. I know, it seems like the words are out of order, but the lotion feels fantastic.

My fingernails have been a nightmare to look at it when bare. There were ridges and white marks. For many months there were yellow bubbles that looked like orange juice stains deep in the nail bed. On several occasions the markings grew out only to return. In addition, my nails peeled sometimes until they seemed ready to peel off. I soaked them in water. I scrubbed them with a paste of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda. When they were thick enough to withstand it, I lightly buffed the surface off of them in an effort to get past the markings. Every month the markings came back. There were divots, too, unexplainable really. I have kept them sealed under nail polish all of the time. I was starting to think that there might be an infection in my nails when I read about someone treating infections with 100% tea tree oil. I started brushing it onto clean nails before using nail polish. It did not seem to be helping until this month. I am down to one nail that still shows signs of white marks and one nail with a single divot left in it. Those marks appear to be very close to growing out.

I had open, red burns on my hips, flanks, and stomach from radiation burns. Ugh. They were raw and painful. When I was in the hospital in December of 2011, one of the nurses covered them with Coloplast Citric-Aid Skin Paste. It is used to form a thick paste barrier over severe skin irritation from incontinence. It was wonderful. One of my sister’s friends sent me a topical cream by Align Pharmaceutical called Xclair cream. It is for radiation dermatitis symptom relief. I think it helped the burns to heal. I can no longer see the marks.

I take supplements now: a multivitamin for women over 50 years of age now that my iron level seems back to normal, fish oil, cranberry, Reservatrol, green tea, biotin, tumeric, and lots of cinnamon. Every couple of months I switch things up a bit, reduce some of the supplements to three times a week and introduce something new.

I have been taking Oxybutynin for incontinence brought on by radiation cystitis. It has been about three months since I developed red spots all over. One theory is that the medicine caused the spots. They are no longer forming big, strawberry-colored splotches, but they are still there. Nevertheless, I have no intention of stopping the medicine at this time. It has made a tremendous difference to the quality of my life. I may have to deal with radiation cystitis for the rest of my life, but I no longer live in fear of that loss of self-control that had me running to the bathroom every few minutes for almost three months.

I have tinnitus now. I never had it before. I have read that it can be a side-effect of chemotherapy, too. If anyone has had any luck in treating it, I would appreciate knowing what worked for you.

There are plenty of cookbooks for people who have had cancer. I have bought a few and have realized kind of late in the game just how bad it might be that I have eaten so much yogurt, cottage cheese, and hard cheese this past year. It seems like it spurs hormones that have been associated with breast cancer and ovarian cancer. My cancer was uterine, but research indicates that uterine cancer also may be stimulated by hormones. It is not a stretch, I think, to be concerned about the hormones in dairy products for my form of the disease, too. I plan to reduce my consumption of dairy foods. I try to eat some apples, cauliflower, broccoli, or cabbage every day.

I am steering clear of sugar except for the occasional celebration. It seems as if all cancers feed on sugar.

The veins in my hands were used every time I received chemotherapy. Some of them look sort of gnarly even after fifteen months. I am not sure what, if anything, can be done to help them heal.

If you have benefited from any type of alternative or other treatment for the side-effects of chemotherapy or radiation treatment I would appreciate hearing about it. My oncologist is excellent, but I do not get any type of advice or support for going forward at my county hospital. I am very interested in hearing what things other people are trying.

%d bloggers like this: