Friday, 30 January 2009

Useful to know before breast surgery

In my research I came upon the book 'A Healing From Breast Cancer ' by Barbara Joseph M.D. In it she refers to a study published in The Lancet in May 1991 authored by Dr. Ian Fentiman, the deputy director of the Imperial Research Fund's Breast Unit at Guy's Hospital in London. Studies showed that premenopausal women could benefit from having their mastectomies performed in the last two weeks of their menstrual cycle. They developed significantly fewer late recurrences or metasteses than women who underwent surgery in the first two weeks. The reference is

Fentiman I.S. et al. My 25 1991 Timing of Surgery During Menstrual Cycle and Survival
of Premenopausal Women with Operable Breast Cancer Lancet 33 : 1261 - 64.

Barbara Joseph states that " if a drug produced the survival benefit of 84% vs 54% at 10 years, which the timing of surgery did in the quoted study, it would be headline news, the pharmaceutical companies would be marketing it and doctors would be utilizing it. " ( A Healing From Breast Cancer. Barbara Joseph M.D. page 100 ) I have never heard of this, and I would have certainly wanted to act on this information. The results are explained as being related to the production of hormones in the ovaries and their effects on the body. Only oestrogen is produced by the ovaries in the the first two weeks of a womans cycle. Progesterone is the dominant gonadal hormone produced in the latter two weeks. Perhaps my surgeon did bear this in mind when he scheduled me in. They certainly knew the date of my last period, but to my recollection the only thing that governed when my surgery took place was the availability of my surgeon, a bed, and an operating theatre slot.

Thursday, 29 January 2009


I have found over time a number of breathing and visualisation exercises to calm the mind and body. Some time ago I read Betty Shine's Mind Workbook. In it she gives a number of visualisations. In one she gives instructions for constructing a pharmacy in your mind. This pharmacy is clearly described to make visualising easier and it is stocked with whatever medication you need. Whilst undergoing chemotherapy I would often journey to this pharmacy and treat myself. Over time the area developed. I built rooms off it to rest. Magically, I found I could fall back asleep quickly when I woke in the night if I visited this place. I visualised medicines - magic bullets (one for each ovary )that I would take from a box ( think Peter Cushing and vampires !!), the elixir of life ( in a chalice - think Indiana Jones and the Holy Grail or the sequel ), sleeping pills, and the hormone melatonin which your body makes in your sleep and is crucial for your immune system. As my sleep is interupted I now visualise and taste ( sometimes) the hormone in drug form boosting my own broken production. ( It comes in a glass ampule I break and it tastes like cats wee. Why, I don't know. I should have made it taste good. I don't even really know what cat's wee tastes like, but you get my drift.) Whilst having chemotherapy I would visit this place every night and it would give me comfort. These days I don't visit it quite so regularly. I have found other exercises which take my time.

The exercise I do each night now involves breathing and monitoring the breath. This one I found in the book "Living Proof : A Medical Mutiny" by Michael Gearin-Tosh, and he quotes from Jan De Vrie's and his book 'Cancer and Leukaemia : An Alternative Approach' . What you do is you feel your breath moving throughout your body. You start at your feet. Begin with your left foot and breathe up from the soles of your feet to the hip, and then exhale down to your foot again.. Do this seven times. The number 7 is an auspicious number in China and that is where I believe this exercise originated.. So I say lets believe in its magic! Move your attention over to the right foot and do the same again - 7 times. Follow this with breathing again from the left foot up to the hip, but now breathe across your hips and down the right leg to the right foot.. Swap sides and do it again another 7 times. Move on to the left arm starting in the hand and breathe up to the shoulder and back down again - 7 times. Do the same on the right side. Follow this by breathing up the left arm and across the shoulders, breathing up through the hand, across the shoulders and down the other arm. and repeat starting on the right and finishing on the left.Now move to your spine. breathe up and down your back bone 7 times. The penultimate part, and the one I find hardest is breathing through the skull. This takes concentration and is the hardest for me. Finally breathe through the whole body, starting at your feet and working up your arms and spine and skull, and breathe out going in the opposite direction, ending at your toes and fingertips. This exercise takes me about half an hour. And it does get easier to visualise and feel, though my experience is that some days are easier and more fluid than others.

There are benefits to doing this, though it does take discipline and I wouldn't do it if I didn't feel it did me good. It firstly calms the body. Deep breathing affects your nervous system. It is a physical fact. Just take three slow deep breaths and you will feel different. This exercise gives you 77 deep breaths. It oxygenates your body, and very importantly deep breathing makes your body more alkaline. Cancer thrives in an acidic environment, and creates it's own little pond of acidity from its waste products. Anything that moves your body towards an alkaline state is very important and should be actively pursued. Breathing is free. There are substances, which I'll mention another time, that will make your body more alkaline, but breathing is free !! This breathing through your feet or through the bones as it is known also stimulates the immune system, or that is my theory. Blood cells are made in the bone marrow. When breathing through the bones I visualise the oxygen moving the bone marrow up and down and stimulating new cells to grow. I do feel a change (A tightening of the muscles perhaps - I don't know exactly, and it doesn't matter to me because it is said that where the mind goes the body follows. ) The brain doesn't differentiate between imaginings and reality. If you imagine a really scary scenario you live it for the time you are thinking about it. Your body pumps out hormones and feels the stress you would feel if it were something happening right now, right this second. I take the view that if I'm having positive thoughts that my immune system is being massaged, then it can only have positive results. It will certainly do no harm. So I have these positive thoughts at least once a day. The last benefit is that it does relax me. I do it religiously each night when I get into bed and have no trouble falling asleep. When I first started doing it I would fall asleep during the process, and when I awoke would be able to carry on from where I left off !! It gives the mind something concrete to concentrate on and stops the incessant chunterings , fears and irritations of the day.

A very simple technique is to simply watch your breath going in and out as you would watch the sea waves. Count up to four breaths and then start again at one. Counting isn't necessary, but gives the mind something to focus on. It is also nice to listen to calm music as you do this. Classical music is perfect where there are no distracting words. My spiritual healer made a cd for her patients that has music carefully chosen to enhance this healing effect. She has also suggested to me visualising a golden healing and protecting light that arises at the crown of the head and encircles the body.

One other suggestion that my healer made and which I have found useful is to pack your thoughts , worries and doubts into a balloon, breathe it into a balloon and then let it go and off away it floats , or leave these pesky thoughts (for that is all they are ) in a rubbish bag outside the door.

This reminds me of one other process that I find very useful for relaxing when other things fail. I don't know the source or where I got it from. Imagine sitting in a chair or lying on a couch. Imagine that you are wearing a suit of armour. Now imagine the armour being removed piece by piece. I start at the toes' taking off toe guards, shoes, shin coverings, etc. Once I've come to the top I look down and often find there are additional protections which must also be removed. Obviously these coincide with where I hold tension. For me it is my abdomen ( isn't that where my ovaries are !!) It may be additional or alternative places for you. We evidently also hold a lot of tension in our jaws, so pay some attention to removing armour and masks from this area. This has an immediate de-stressing effect on me, but it's not something I would practice out in public ! We all need our armour on out in the real world.

One last technique which is widely practised is to create tension in muscles and then release it to gain greater relaxation in the muscles. For example, you tense your hand and forearm, hold it for a count, and then release it. In this way you feel the difference between tension and relaxation. You once again work your way along the body. You can start in the head or the feet, or wherever you want I suppose. I have used this technique in the past and found it very effective, but I use the other techniques more often. I don't feel a need to create more tension these days.

Saturday, 24 January 2009


Prior to going to the GP's I had started an excercise regime and had cut out dairy products. I think this stood me in good stead. However, there's giving up dairy and giving up dairy !! It is amazing where dairy can be included in processed foods. It is found in the unlikeliest of places . I have come to the conclusion that dairy products - anything derived from cows milk is a vey cheap filler product. I was astonished to learn many years ago that Canadian Cheddar cheese had chicken bones in it. (It's calcium isn't it ?!!) I now know that there was dairy in so many things that I had been eating whilst thinking myself dairy free. Lactose, Whey, Cassein, milk, butter, cream, creme fraiche, yoghurt, these are all names which are applied to dairy products. Following surgery I became a detective on the trail of dairy, and a very wide trail it is.

Following surgery I tightened up on excluding dairy products. This meant that I radically changed my diet. Processed food was out. It seemed to be in everything and as I was too weak to check every label it just seemed easier to exclude most of it. This policy had an unexpected bonus. My consumption of sugar and fat and additives also fell. It sounds strange, but I detoxed whilst on chemotherapy. My diet was very restricted. I had humous, wholemeal pitta bread, salad, baked potatoes and pineapple. I dare say I found a few other things to eat, but it certainly felt like a cavemans diet. I didn't have the strength to stand let alone cook so the diet truly was simple. There were times I could have cried with frustration because I couldn't think what I could eat, couldn't shop for it, and couldn't make it. But, as the saying goes, that's just history now.

I barely functioned whilst undergoing chemotherapy. I slept a lot of the time thinking that I was helping my body heal. I didn't read, didn't watch television, didn't go out. I hibernated my way through it. I did a lot of deep breathing. When my daughter was younger I had found that she would fall asleep more easily if she heard deep breathing beside her. I took this approach to coax myself to sleep and to combat the stress of the cancer diagnosis. I foolishly asked how long I had so that I could get my affairs in order and was told four to six months. My oncologist didn't deliver this as a certainty, but it certainly frightened me. The effects of the chemotherapy confirmed his dire estimate to me. But I was lucky, and the tumours did shrink in size.

The game begins

My story starts in September 2006 when I first visited my GP's surgery. I had noticed a firmness in my breast, and despite telling myself that it was muscle from my recent exercise regime, I decided I should just reassure myself. I found myself in hospital the next month being told it was a lump, of course it was a lump, and that I had to have a radical mastectomy. I sought a second opinion, and although this second consultant had a much kinder bedside manner, the diagnosis of cancer remained the same and a mastectomy was recommended. By November the deed had been done. I was now a fully paid up Amazon. One of the fabled huntresses who chop off a breast to improve their aim and accuracy with a bow. Despite being in and out of hospital within days, and despite the number of such surgeries performed weekly in hospitals throughout the country this is no small operation. There is pain involved. There is disfigurement. And there is fear. And... there is worse to come. After giving the body a few weeks to heal, the chemotherapy starts. I was told that the cancer had already spread and there were tumours over each ovary. Fortunately, the tumours did decrease in size as a result of the chemotherapy, though they still remain. I had six cycles which took me from just before Christmas to Easter the following year. That's when the real game began.


Today I'm frightened.I've been distracting myself on the Internet,, and I've been reminded of my need to find my life's purpose - my calling.

I read the story of Jonah and the Whale as told by Thomas Moore in his book 'Dark Nights of the Soul' and I feel I must stand up to the challenge.

The story goes that Jonah is called by God to deliver the message to his people that they are sinning. ( Sin, incidentally, is another name for error. I was raised a Catholic, and remember the dire threats associated with 'Mortal' sins - and 'venial ' sins for that matter. Threats of a hellish place, or a purgatory, again not a good place to be, and for a long, long time! I thought these places were real. To have a geographical location. I could visualise them ! I was too young to understand metaphor, and the nuns were very graphic and passionate about their teachings. The word sin consequently had very strong negative emotions attached to it for me. The notion that sinning was simply an error, a mistake, an old fashioned word for an everyday experience was a revelation to me. I now see the Universe and God in a much kinder light. ) Jonah, understandably, doesn't want to stand up and deliver this popularity raising message and flees aboard a ship.Mid sea his fellow sailors discover Jonah's motives for being there,and fearing God's reaction to finding him with them, they throw him overboard. A large fish appears and swallows him, and he spends the next 3 days in the belly of the whale. Jonah is ultimately spat out on the shore. At this point Jonah capitulates and passes on God's message. He doesn't want to go through that again ! It's a metaphor I know. The dark night of the soul. The spiritual journeying, trying to avoid the difficulties, and then standing up as the individual that he is - for his beliefs - his knowledge of truth.

Like Jonah, I don't want another visit to the briny depths of chemotherapy and despair. I have capitulated to the Universe. If my calling is to pass on the hope of a way of living with cancer, then I must find a way of putting that into action. My first thoughts some time ago were that I could write a book! But there are some excellent books out there already. And a book implies to me a journey and conclusion. Or at least the conclusion of part of the journey. A stopping place. I have not reached such a place yet. So perhaps something for the here and now - in this moment. A blog is the natural conclusion. So I have agreed to write a blog.

There may be plenty of other blogs out there. And I feel arrogant at the thought of making my thoughts and views so public. How on earth can I have anything valuable to say ? But - give the Universe a conduit and you never know! I don't want to commit myself - to put myself out there - but at the same time I want to pass on what's taken quite a bit of research to find. And I do feel as if I've been led to the reading and information I have found. If that's the case, then repayment is due, and now is the time to step up to the plate and accept the heavenly request. If I'm deluding myself then no one will read it and no harm will be done. I will have simply encouraged myself through this writing process.

So now comes the planning and preparation. An entry once a week or once a fortnight should be sufficient - enough to keep me busy, but not so onerous that I can't also live my life.What I plan to include is all the information that seems to make sense to me about cancer. There are some very strange hypothesis and 'remedies' out there. I don't think of myself as a crackpot and will just include what I have personally found useful. Should anyone read this blog, they must make up their own minds. We are all different and it is everyone's own responsibility to pull out what is useful to themselves and ignore, dismiss, or postpone that which is not applicable, appropriate, or possible for themselves - I have taken things on gradually, and things which I dismissed out of hand 18 months ago, I now consider, move towards, and embrace. We are our own custodians and carers for our bodies and spirits. We do our best and hope. It is not my intention to frighten anyone. I am not a doctor and have no medical background. The information contained in this blog was garnered from many sources. My researching started in the summer of 2007 , and continues today. I have stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer - lobular and hormone positive if that information is of use to you. It certainly coloured some of my research.I currently have tumours over my ovaries. They are stable. It is my mission to move to a state of remission, and the purpose of my research is to achieve that end. " Where there's a will, there's a way "!!!!!!

It is my fear that anyone reading this blog will come away fearful and overwhelmed. There is much to frighten us. I have found that there is also cause for optimism and hope. Please don't take on too much change at once My advice would be to pace yourself. I have overwhelmed myself many times, and each time must retreat backwards to summon my strength, energy and reserves, before moving onward and upward again. I have found that being overwhelmed and tired can each lead to feelings of despair and depression. This I try to avoid at all costs. It's easier to maintain optimism and hope, and harder to rebuild it from a place of fear. Look after yourself.

And for all who read my blog I wish you well. I wish you health and happiness and joyful life.