Joyce, who requested that her last name not be revealed, is currently forgoing conventional cancer treatment in favor of alternative therapies. This is her story.
It was December, and I was visiting my sister in Scottsdale, Ariz. Walking out of the cafe with a cup of the most amazing organic coffee, I received a call from my recently referred to oncologist, and he told me I have something -- perhaps lymphoma, possibly leukemia.
He said not to worry, and that he needs to do more tests. “Where are you now, Joyce?” he asked.
I was grateful to be with my sister. Within a minute of the call I told her the news.
It wasn’t the first step in my journey of cancer diagnosis and treatment; it all actually began back in October, when I received a call after routine blood tests from a physical.
“You have elevated lymphocytes,” the voice on the other end informed me. “You are being referred to a hematologist/oncologist.”
Surprisingly, the call was not from the doctor, but an assistant in the medical center. This was the beginning of diagnosing my disease, and I had no idea what it all meant at the time and what it would lead to, either.
I was struck by how routine it was for the assistant to convey the news to me -- more routine than I would have imagined. That, plus the fact that I was not dealing directly with the doctor.
Being a complete health "nut," as people would refer to me (I have garnered the nickname "organic," and I teach health and physical education to children under 14), this was a bit difficult for me to swallow. Oh yes, and then there were a few other "issues" -- like how I'm a single mom, with five children, who relies on my ex-husband's insurance. I was now going to have to make the call and beg that it would not be cancelled.
Next step, formal diagnosis.
After returning home from Arizona, grateful for the visit, I was scheduled within the week for a bone marrow biopsy. To many, this would be a very painful procedure, but five children and a strong spirit made it very bearable. Next was a CAT scan and a PET scan, and additional blood work, all of which took a month to complete due to scheduling. Then came the visit to the oncologist for the results.
Arriving at the office from work, I was quite anxious but spent time praying that the results would be favorable. After about 30 minutes in the room, a different doctor came in who works with my oncologist. At first look, she said, "You are going to be fine, I don't really see anything to be concerned about." I asked her, "what about the PET scan results?" Well, after the second review, she reported lymphoma. Actually, marginal zone lymphoma. Marginal sounded pretty good, like not the whole thing! She explained a bit about the type of cancer I had, a "waxing and waning" cancer, not curable and not necessarily needing treatment. Didn't sound horrible … prayers answered? Not sure and not sure who to ask.
Fast forward two months, and I went back for a new PET scan. I met with the oncologist the following week, and my parents decided to join me at my appointment.
As we all sat in the consult, the oncologist told us the cancer was progressing. If it continued, he said, the recommended treatment would be six rounds of chemo.
"What does that entail?" I asked. He told me treatment would require four drugs. Three forms of the treatment would be taken orally, and last would be the chemotherapy.
I walked out of the office with Mom and Dad and although I felt like crying, I chose to be quiet. Mom hugged me and said, “You are so brave.”
“Not so much!” I thought.
Over the next days, I prayed and asked for wisdom as I faced the likelihood of this path of treatment. Being one who hasn't taken even a Motrin for many, many years, how could I possibly undergo something like this? Based on everything I knew from my self-study of nutrition and wellness, this was not an option.
Instead, I chose to research the alternative route first. I remembered a conversation I had had with a man I met while flying home from Arizona after I first received the news. He had been a nutritionist in Boston for 30 years, and it was his opinion, too, that chemo is like a poison in a number of ways. He had given me the name of a clinic in Texas, and I had already requested information for a new patient. Unfortunately, this doctor turned out to be financially out of my league.
But soon thereafter, I got a call from my sister's friend -- a cancer survivor who started with traditional treatment but ended up using an alternative method for her second bout with cancer. She had had breast and uterine cancer, and told me about a wonderful doctor in Scottsdale who was a board-certified naturopathic oncologist -- one of the few in the United States.
My meeting with this doctor began with an hour consultation where he questioned me on everything: symptoms, personal and family history, places where I lived, toxin exposure, stressful events, et cetera. He recorded every bit of information. I was absolutely fascinated with his approach -- his questions, the way he was taking in the information and then immediately creating a beginning protocol for healing. Wow, quite different from “we don't know how people get lymphoma, waxing and waning type of cancer, no real cure, we'll wait and see.”
I boldly asked, “Do you think I will need to undergo chemo?” He said that, while the treatment he provides offers a clear path to slowing or stopping the cancer, he can't guarantee that I won't need conventional treatment. I told him that I want to do everything possible, first, to let the alternative treatment work on healing my body. And he agreed.
So, this is where I'm at now. I've told my three older children but not the two younger ones. I've shared this with a lot of my friends ... those whom I know will pray and support me.
I've been receiving treatment since mid-June. My latest report shows improvement in my numbers, the numbers that measure the level of cancer in my body. The treatments are continuing weekly and my next overall test is in October. My ex-husband's medical insurance does not cover the alternative treatments, so I am saving everything I can to pay for them.
The only pain I really feel is in my hips, due to the cancer in my bone marrow. Visits to the chiropractor help, but still, the pain doesn't completely go away. I continue to do everything I need to do on a daily basis to make sure the treatments are as effective as possible, such as avoiding alcohol and eating an organic diet with minimal meat.
There's a lot more to this journey -- including details about my diet; my vitamins and supplements; my daily life; how this is affecting my work and home life, my finances, my dating (or not), and any number of other issues -- that I will write about across the next few months.
I'm a big believer in the possibility that alternative medicine provides for treating any type of illness and for prevention. And that is what I'll focus on in this blog, going forward. I hope it helps any of you who are reading it.