I am one of those people who should never get cancer – except for what must be a genetic predisposition to it. I don’t have any of the other risk factors: I don’t smoke, chew, etc., and never have; I don’t drink and only drank socially years ago; I don’t drink soft drinks – except for the rare Coke in a 6 ounce glass bottle like my grandmother used to serve . . . there are just some vices in which one must indulge on rare occasion! However, in 2010, six months after my mother died with cancer at 82, I had a cancerous lesion on my tongue. Then, 6 months later, I had a cancerous lump in my throat. I had a very small chance of contracting cancer in the first place and about a 2-3% chance of recurrence.
What really is befuddling is that I am one of those health nuts. I’m a vegetarian, try to eat organic as much as possible, watch toxins in my home and environment, go to the doctor regularly for the obvious checkups and blood work, etc., etc. Yet, I am here to tell you that you can do everything you know to do, that the medical community knows to do, that the alternative health community knows to do and still get an imbalance leading to some condition that you are genetically programmed to contract.
There are ways to mitigate those risks. We now know some genetic markers in DNA that cause genetic predispositions to certain diseases. We have genetic testing to determine if we have these risk factors so that we can target nutrition. When I took this test, for example, I found that I had (drum roll….) THE COFFEE GENE! In some people, coffee inhibits the body’s ability to absorb calcium. My mother had severe osteoporosis and I grew up with her sipping coffee all day. Fluoride is also implicated in leaching calcium from the bones, and my mother also grew up drinking “city water” containing fluoride. My father, conversely, grew up on a farm with spring water, plenty of weight bearing exercise, and didn’t drink coffee. At age 88 shortly before his death, he had no bone loss. I already had bone loss in my 40s, according to bone density tests, even though I had been taking mainstream forms of calcium most of my life. This prediction of where I could be headed genetically really made sense to me because of what I saw in my parents and, thus, this looks like something that I can prevent. Now, I am careful to take isotonic calcium that is readily absorbed and I severely restrict my coffee intake. This has led to increased bone density back into the normal range.
So, why did I get cancer??? I have had many well meaning people give me suggestions – some sound and some not so much. The type of cancer I had was a squamous cell carcinoma, generally found in the mucus membranes, such as the mouth or colon, and often caused by an irritation. In my case, I had an old crown, probably over 30 years old, that had a sharp ledge no longer covered by my gum line. My symptoms were innocuous to my doctors and dentist for years: the left side of my mouth burned when I ate spicy food. I am not one to get what one would call really spicy food. At a Thai or Mexican restaurant, I go for 0-1 on the spice meter. And, nothing looked out of the ordinary. I had a very stressful job, I had family stresses, but, I was healthy. Then, in 2010, a round white spot developed on my tongue. We tried pastes, balancing hormones, watching what I ate, to no avail. My dentist consulted with an oral surgeon who said that it was probably nothing – but maybe we should take it off as a precaution. Everyone was completely surprised when the diagnosis came back that it was a carcinoma. I was just not in a group of people with lifestyle risk factors for it and I didn’t look ill nor was I rundown, sick, etc.
For those of you who do smoke, chew, etc., and have a choice to lower your risk factors, I am going to be honest with you that recovering from an operation on your tongue is about the most painful thing I have ever experienced. I had 3 babies, 2 who were born naturally with no drug intervention, and I have a high pain threshold. Regarding using your tongue – notice how often you move it . . . You breathe and swallow multiple times a minute, your tongue is a muscle that moves food, drink and saliva around all the time, and every time it moves, it hurts – and it hurts continually. Loritab didn’t help that much and just took the edge off, Percocet did help more; and, the side effects of both drugs were not pleasant.
Six months later, I found a lump in my neck. Could I have prevented this by getting a diagnosis on my tongue earlier? Maybe. Maybe not. However, I was not able to diagnose the root cause of the problem until I had a bite plate made to help my tongue heal. My tongue had been so inflamed that I could not feel it catching on the old crown. When I wore the bite plate, I could feel my tongue catching on the crown when I removed the plate. A bite plate is a soft, plastic mold that a dentist makes from an impression of your teeth. It is comfortable to wear and costs around $100 even if your insurance does not cover it – mine did. If you have some strange irritation on one side of your mouth and cannot determine what is causing it, it is well worth your time and money to invest in a bite plate to help you determine if it is one of your teeth that has so inflamed the area.
In August, 2011, because of where the cancerous growth was, I had a radical neck dissection to remove 19 lymph nodes, part of the muscle going to my arm, my left salivary gland, and the internal jugular. Testing after the surgery revealed that my body contained the cancer in ONE lymph node, it was on my left side, and I’m right handed. I elected to forego chemotherapy but did opt for radiation. I lost my voice for a while and was able to get through it without the burning and the severe reactions many have. All treatments have now been completed and I have a very good prognosis. Still, I will have to watch for side effects down the road, such as a low thyroid. There is a small risk of secondary cancers from radiation.
Because of my nutrition and, thus, general health status, I would go in for checkups and the receptionists would ask me if I was a patient! That really made me feel good. I was often told, “You don’t look sick!” Well, I’m not and I wasn’t – I just had a tiff with cancer.
My supplement regimen:
I used Isotonix supplements exclusively during radiation because I could not swallow pills. Isotonix are powders mixed with liquid to form a solution that is the right pH and pressure that does not require breaking down by the body. This means that the body receives close to 95% of what is in the bottle. I used lots of Beauty Blend (2 caps 3 times per day), which is a potent antioxidant combination of pycnogenol, calcium, vitamin C and hyaluronic acid which are all good for the skin and tissues. I took multivitamins/minerals, CoQ10 (2 caps), lots of extra C (1-3 grams daily), D with K2 (15,000 units – 3 caps), Bs, calcium, resveratrol and acai for energy. I sipped Ultimate Aloe all day mixed about half with water – it comes in natural as well as nice flavors that are quite pleasant. My favorite is strawberry kiwi flavor. It coated my throat so that it wasn’t as dry and sore. I still had to use the “magic mouthwash” that the doctor prescribed, however, because of my body’s reaction to radiation. Now, because my mouth is dryer due to the loss of one salivary gland, I drink more water, run a humidifier at night (the Crane Drop Shape Cool Mist Humidifier is very quiet and works well), and I still use aloe daily to coat my throat. I have learned that it helps to use more aloe and glutamine the day before I will be talking more than usual, as well. Aloe comes in dry packets that I keep in my purse, too, so that I can put it in water when we go out to eat. Because of my experiences, in my business, I carry Isotonix supplements brokered by Market America. Because of how much Holographic Health helped me during my recovery, I have become a practitioner to help balance the body and use some of those supplements containing glutamine. I also use RBCs Microhydrin.
My skincare regimen:
I used and still use Pentaxyl on my face and neck twice daily. Pentaxyl contains botanical ingredients to help to calm the skin and to soften scar tissue. While I was going through radiation, I used a Cellular Laboratories mask every evening on the radiation area. This helped to calm and hydrate the skin, and removed burning. I followed the mask with aloe and then Pentaxyl. Pentaxyl is great support for people with rosacea and psoriasis, too! I have had people tell me that it works better than prescription medications and is cheaper. I have added a Holographic Health remedy, CamphoRub, to my regimen on my scar that helps tremendously with the discomfort.
Everyone is different and may have different nutritional and skincare needs. I provide complimentary consultations to folks with challenging disorders. I know how hard it can be to find the right products that are gentle on the skin and body and so I work with folks to find what works for them.
Because I work for myself, I am so fortunate that I don’t have a job that I have to go to every day. My friends who have recovered from cancer and other life threatening conditions have had it so hard trying to keep up with jobs, careers, and families. I have my office in my home to keep my costs low for my clients. Of course, my income depends on how much work I do . . . During my recovery, I could plan and take days off if I needed rest – and still have to do this 6 months later. My husband says that when you work at home you’re always at work – and so, I have had to learn to balance that better, too. My neck is somewhat of a “You’ve overdone it!” barometer.
The important things start going through your mind when you get a life-threatening diagnosis. Will I be here to spend Christmas with my family? Will I be able to watch my children have children of their own? Will I be there for my children when only a mother’s love and help are enough? Will I be there to take care of my husband the next time he is sick as he is taking care of me now? Will we ever be able to go on that vacation we have had to put off because of my illness? We all know that we are going to die one day. But, when you face cancer or some other life threatening illness, you come face to face with your mortality today.
At first, you’re just numb. It’s like living in a dream where things just happen and nothing seems real . . . Then, you find out your diagnosis, decide what you are going to do, and you start working with it. This is the point where you really start living.
Every day becomes the most important day of your life, every moment the most important moment. The things that you really want to say to your family and friends, you say them today. The things that you really want to do and accomplish in your life change. You assess and reassess your goals and really think of what you most want to accomplish while you are here. You start living in the present and living each day to the fullest because tomorrow really is a dream out there in the future that may never become a reality.
You learn to accept help and you learn to trust. I had never been good at accepting help, and help came to me from my family, from my friends, and sometimes in the smallest but most important ways – a phone call or kind words in a card that kept my spirits up, some warm soup that was easy to swallow. I have some dear friends for whom I shall always be grateful who covered for me at my BNI business meetings and took care of my clients during my recovery. A mutual friend called to offer help and recommended Holographic Health – for this, I shall always be grateful. I always trusted in God; however, this time, I really had to totally let go and trust completely. And I did. In the hospital before my surgery, I was at peace. They told me that I looked calm and asked me if I needed a sedative – I didn’t. My husband did! But, I was fine. Most important of all, I learned how much I matter, how much others care, and how much my life touches others.
There will be things that you cannot do, have trouble doing, or should not do for a while – even ever! – such as, carrying heavy bags of groceries, lifting heavy objects, etc. There may even be other things that you have always done that are now very hard or impossible. For me, it was driving, anything requiring reaching up with my left arm: fixing my hair, fixing dinner – things that I had taken for granted and had always been able to do. So, you find other ways to do these things, you learn to be patient with yourself, and you learn to ask for help when you need it. You exercise, stretch, rest, and work at it a little more each day. You must understand that this is a healing process and you work on the most important therapy – your attitude. Then, one day, you find that you can drive home from town, and then from Knoxville, then from Charlotte, you have fixed your hair and it wasn’t painful or difficult, you have talked for a couple of hours without your voice breaking up, and you’re not even quite so tired. These are days to celebrate just being normal again!
And, most of all, I learned that I had choices. The worst part was waiting and not knowing. When I finally had the diagnosis, I had something to work with. I could learn about the condition, the treatments, and the side effects. I have a wonderful doctor who helped me to understand what all of the choices meant, and that – most of all – I had those choices. Some things, such as the surgery, had to be done post haste. Other things, such as radiation and chemotherapy, I had decisions to make. Once I understood the consequences and made my choices, I was at peace with my decisions. Some people prefer to put their lives in the hands of doctors – I have always felt that my life was in God’s hands, my hands, and the doctors’ hands, and we should decide how to proceed together. I had to feel good about saying “no” to chemotherapy and to ask the right questions of my surgeon, radiation oncologist and hematologist. My hope is that others will do what feels right to them – whether that is just doing what their doctors say or seeking their own alternatives. Ultimately, for me, it is my life and I need to be the one deciding how to proceed.
As long as we’re breathing, there is hope. Each of us matters. Whether we live one day, one month or a decade, what we do with our life and our time matters. Live each day as if it’s your last but plan each day for a lifetime of tomorrows. Do first what is most important and the rest falls into place. Love yourself, love God, and love humanity – we need all the love we can get. We can’t control everything that happens to us; but, we can control our attitude.
After the waiting, the tests, the surgery and all of the treatments that Eugene my wonderful husband took me to, my wonderful daughter Rachelle took me to a scrapbooking weekend. All of the love, cards, and cartoons I received are now captured in this book. I wrote the following poem as a reminder for the book to put cancer in its proper place. This poem doesn’t mean that we will always recover from an illness or to minimize its impact – we all have a date with our Maker and cancer is a difficult, life-threatening condition to go through. It means that we define an illness or it defines us. We are so much more powerful and there is so much more to us than any illness. The human spirit overcomes all – and even on our deathbed, we must keep life and death in the proper perspective. Trust, keep a good attitude, and let God take care of the rest.
Cancer & I had a tiff.
Like our cats,
Who duke it out
Each trying to get the upper hand
Rolling on the floor
One emerges victorious.
I am victorious –
Sometimes, they stalk
Wary now, like our cats,
I know what to watch for
I know how
To stay on top
Ann Marie Byars
October 7, 2011