April 2012

Stem cells. Little promises of something more. I must confess I’ve always sat on the fence when it comes to the controversy of stem cell research. With 3 potentially life threatening conditions in the family, it’s a door we’ve left open. But now I find they are touching my life directly and I’m filled with great excitement. Next week I get on a plane to see the only doctor in Australia who is doing stem cell breast reconstruction. And the best bit about it is they are my own stem cells. It’s cutting edge stuff. I always love what’s happening at the edge. It speaks to the scientist in me, the part of me that dreams of possibilities. It’s an exciting place.

In a nutshell, this type of reconstruction holds promise for anyone who has had breast surgery. Basically, they lypo-suction out your own fat tissue from a donor site and wash half of it to get the stem cells, before mixing it back together and augmenting a breast after lumpectomy or reconstructing it in its entirety. And the stem cells can be used to repair skin after radiation too. The best bit is it’s only an overnight stay in hospital. So much more appealing than the other forms of reconstruction I was offered that involved cutting me up even more, topped off with stints in intensive care – no thanks! And I was fascinated to find out that our fat tissue is absolutely laden with stem cells that can differentiate to provide all the blood supply that the fat needs to keep living once it has been ‘farmed’. Thank you tummy after children I say. I have a new respect for my womanly features and now look at my curves even more lovingly.

In trawling the net, I discovered this type of reconstruction has been ramping up in Europe, Japan and America, but wasn’t discussed as an option with me until I uncovered it for myself. Once again it has brought home to me the truth of the need to go looking for alternatives, when the ones we are presented with simply do not feel right. Because gut instinct is a powerful survival mechanism, isn’t it?. A gift from within that has saved me time and time again when I stop to listen to its wisdom. And even if the answers are not immediately there, with a little persistence and patience, I find they always come. Because there are a lot of things we discover when we take the time to look and listen, aren’t there?. When we won’t take ‘no’ for an answer…


“In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength, but through persistence.” — Buddha


It only takes one person doesn’t it, to help us see what’s possible…

Henry Ford once said ‘If you believe you can, or you can’t, you are right.’ Thomas Edison did not give up until he gave us the electric light bulb, Henry Ford persisted until he found a way to produce affordable cars and the Wright Brothers (okay, there were two of them) gave us flight when some people said it couldn’t be done. And what did they have in common? They were ordinary human beings who all believed something was possible and took action to make it happen. It pays to be optimistic, doesn’t it?! There’s always a first time for everything.

When I was initially diagnosed with cancer, I went through the feelings that most people do, facing my mortality as my life flashed before me. And then I remembered something I was taught 20 years ago, that if one person can do something, others can too. And so I began to look for women who had experienced a breast cancer similar to mine and were alive and well 20-30 years later. I read their stories, I listened to their wisdom and I took action. I built a collage in my mind of the possibility for healing, so I knew where to aim. I even popped a picture of myself up in the kitchen with a heart around it and 100% healed written in big red letters across it to remind myself at a subconscious level of where I was headed. I set my course, and every day as I looked at that photo I gave myself hope. I knew, because others had done it before me, that all things were possible. It was as if they were lighting the way.

And it’s the same with other types of cancer and illnesses too, isn’t it?. Where one person can do it, there must be a way that others can too. Recently I read a story about Carol in Connections, The Quest for Life newsletter (Summer 2012). Five years ago Carol was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by asbestos. And despite a prognosis of 6-9 months, here she is today alive and in good health, despite the cancer, and most importantly, enjoying her life. And she too has used a complement of healing approaches. Not just the chemo, but her mindset, nutrition and emotional healing have all been involved.  It makes you wonder, doesn’t it?. I remembered Carol’s story when the Mesothelioma Centre contacted me to ask if I would include some information in my blog about the benefits of complementary approaches for people with mesothelioma.

May it shine a light for you…

Complementary Treatment for Mesothelioma Patients

Chemotherapy is a very powerful mesothelioma treatment. It can help kill cancerous cells and relieve symptoms caused by the pressure mesothelioma tumors place on the lungs.

However, chemotherapy is not always effective when used alone to treat mesothelioma. Many patients turn to complementary treatment methods to enhance their body’s response to chemotherapy.

Common Complementary Mesothelioma Therapies

A number of alternative therapies have been developed that treat mesothelioma outside of traditional medicine. These therapies may also be used in addition to conventional treatments, in which case they are referred to as complementary therapies.

This approach can also be termed “integrative medicine.”  

Some of the most popular complementary cancer treatment options include:

  • Supplements (i.e. vitamin C, cat’s claw and astragalus)
  • Acupuncture
  • Dietary changes (i.e. vegetarianism or veganism)
  • Homeopathic medicine
  • Massage
  • Meditation and yoga

Some of these therapies are used as a gentler way to reduce symptoms associated with the cancer, thereby eliminating a patient’s need for pharmaceuticals. Massage may help relieve mesothelioma pain that would otherwise be treated with a painkiller, while yoga and meditation can help reduce the need for an anti-anxiety medication.

Other mind-body approaches to mesothelioma treatment can include Tai Chi, hypnotherapy, deep breathing and guided imagery.

Other complementary therapies are used more specifically to enhance the body’s ability to fight off the cancer. Nutritional changes, which focus primarily on a mineral- and vitamin-rich diet, can support the body’s own cancer-fighting abilities, and supplements can be used to boost the immune system or strengthen the body as a whole. Natural products and homeopathic remedies may also be recommended to mesothelioma patients looking for an alternative approach to cancer treatment.

Precautions for Complementary Therapy

Patients who are interested in adding complementary therapies to their treatment regimen should first discuss their options with their doctor.

While alternative therapies used alongside chemotherapy are generally safe, some activities may not be safe for all people. Additionally, certain supplements may interfere with the efficacy of chemotherapy drugs (such as vitamin C). To prevent any potentially negative interactions from occurring, be sure to discuss any dietary or lifestyle changes with your oncologist.

Author bio: Faith Franz is a writer for the Mesothelioma Center. She combines her interests in whole-body health and medical research to educate the mesothelioma community about the newest developments in cancer care.

For further information about mesothelioma visit www.asbestos.com

Have you ever wondered how we can become so disempowered as patients?

I guess it all depends on how we view our role in the healing relationship, doesn’t it?. Are we doing the healing and engaging others to help us? Or do we want someone else to fix us, abdicating our responsibility in the whole process?

When I was in the throws of cancer I went looking for an oncologist that was open to an integrative approach. Traditional, alternate, complementary, trial or cutting edge, I needed a doctor who was willing to explore them all, without bias. And I kept looking until I found one. Persistence has its rewards doesn’t it?! When I questioned him about using vitamins during chemo he responded by saying he felt they were a necessity. When I asked about radical approaches, he listened with an open mind. ‘We can only learn when we explore new ideas’ he said. And yet I’ve heard other horror stories of doctors who refuse to let their patients combine therapies despite research showing better outcomes. But surely it’s our decision. After all, whose body is this anyway?

Isn’t it interesting how we learn to label things right and wrong, black and white, good and bad. And yet we could always find someone to sit on either side of the fence. When something is right for one person, it may be wrong for someone else. It’s really all a matter of perspective isn’t it?! I remember the advice Petrea King (Quest for Life) gave me. In her wisdom she suggested I put every healing option on the table, make nothing wrong, and choose the ones that gave me the greatest peace. Her words carried me well and stopped the war and uncertainty within me. And I sense this could only have aided my healing.

And so I used copious quantities of vitamins, herbs, biofeedback, chiropractic care, physiotherapy, subconscious-mind therapy and kinesiology in conjunction with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I can’t deny it was full on, but, all in all, I had a great year. I studied, I worked, I mothered, I travelled and I smiled. Sure there were darker days, but I built a buffer around me and it seemed to make my path that much easier to travel.

And I delighted in listening to psychiatrist, Professor Graham Martin’s interview on ABC radio national: Taking charge: mind, body and recovery. After sudden paralysis in 2009, the doctor became the patient and discovered how we must all take charge of our own recovery, doing whatever we need to do to heal. It’s empowering stuff!

United we stand, divided we fall – surely the experience of cancer is not the time for a war between healing modalities…


She entranced us all today. This beautiful young woman with a smile that lit up the chemo suite. As I sat having my port flushed she captivated all of us. Her laugh, her joy just radiated out and we were all transfixed. Perhaps she was mid 30s or thereabouts. A man, maybe 10 years her senior, tended to her needs while the chemo drugs dripped in. And when he asked her what he could bring her for lunch, she said oysters and her smile lit up her face. She sat there with a soft grey beanie on, pom-pom on the top. You know the type with the dangly bits down the sides. She was beautiful. And then a handsome younger man arrived, and she smiled for him too. And as they chatted she lifted off her hat for all to see. Her head was shaved, but still she was beautiful. Strikingly beautiful. It came from within. Strangely I found myself missing the freedom of my bald head as I gazed at her. Not something I expected. And she laughed as she introduced her ‘husbands’ to all of us. The younger, ex-husband, who was literally signing the divorce papers, and the older, gentle, soon to be new husband. In fact, she introduced her ex as ‘the one John West rejected’. And the laughter was audible throughout the suite. She brought us together – staff and patients. She flooded my heart with joy just to be there in her presence. Her humour was infectious and though she acknowledged there had been some tears, her joy just spilled over into us all. And as she sat there with the chemo going in, I felt blessed to have shared these few moments with her. The human spirit is truly a thing of beauty isn’t it?. And in these few moments today she reminded me that nothing can take our spirit unless we let it…

The woman on the end of the phone was so surprised when I asked for a referral to two different plastic surgeons. ‘Taking a bet each way?’ she asked. But why the surprise? After all, don’t we shop around in every other aspect of our lives. If I had a plumbing job I’d be sure to ask a couple of plumbers to have a look. I’d check out the way they were going to go about things, the cost, and of course their attitude. If I didn’t like one, why would I give him the job? Well as far as I’m concerned the same goes for doctors. My body is the only house I live in. So how much more important is it than bricks and mortar? Some doctors have left me feeling scared and deflated, while others have given me such confidence. So I selected the ones that suited me best whether public or private. It’s so important who we have around us, isn’t it?!

Dr Herbert Benson writes about the importance of the doctor / patient relationship in his book Timeless Healing. It’s a fabulous read, I can’t recommend it enough! And he gives example after example of how much the bedside manner matters in our healing. You may be interested to know he devotes a whole section on how to choose your doctor. Because it is our choice, isn’t it?! And one of the most important we will ever make.

 ‘Never give up!’ Marylou Crabill writes in Stronger than Cancer. ‘Sixteen years ago I was given six months to live. My husband and I fired that doctor and sought a second opinion’. Whoa, I love her power. And I remember my daughter reading me a story from Chicken Soup for the Survivors Soul. By the way, I don’t like to use the term ‘survivor’ but that’s a different blog!  Anyway, this book recounts a conversation between two oncologists that goes something like this. One oncologist asked the other oncologist why his results were so much better despite the fact that they were both using the same drugs. And his reply: Where you give out the drugs E.O.H.P., I give out H.O.P.E…

 It’s all in the attitude isn’t it…

I wonder if you’ve ever realised how other people can affect us without us even noticing? And it can be in such simple ways. Sooner or later, everyone’s had the experience of seeing someone yawn and voila! – you’re suddenly yawning too. I even yawned as I was looking at pictures of people yawning to put with this blog. It just seems to plant a seed doesn’t it.

Isn’t it interesting how people can affect us at a deep subconscious level. The truth of this came home to me after Steve and I spent 14 months ‘trying’ to fall pregnant with our first child. A bit over the cycle of disappointment, we eventually decided to have a holiday overseas and look into fertility treatment on our return. So it was we booked 3 weeks away. I was 30 and had never been overseas before. I was very excited! And I guess you won’t be surprised when I tell you that a month after we got back I was pregnant.

Perhaps it was because we relaxed and stopped ‘trying’. But looking back, I now remember my father’s words – ‘make sure you go overseas before you have kids’. And I think the impact of his words are closer to the truth for me. At the time, I didn’t really give them much thought. But a part of me must have. It was as if a deeper subconscious part of me was listening and took it to heart. How easy it was then to give myself permission to fall pregnant once I’d done what Dad had suggested. No doubt the other factors probably helped too.

I noticed the same thing happen as I was going through chemo. The first cycle was easy. A bit emotional, but nonetheless, okay. My beautiful oncologist congratulated me on a job well done. ‘No side effects are compulsory’ he said. He always makes me feel so good. Whenever I visit, I’ve noticed that he waits for me to tell him if I have any concerns, rather than make suggestions as to what concerns I might have. He’s a wise man, and I am grateful for his care. But then it seems I came undone when I went for a check up with other medical staff. Have you ever noticed how some medical staff have no idea about the impact of their words? And it doesn’t help when chemo staff tell you what each drug is going to do to you as they administer it! And so despite my protests, I was asked the usual questions – did you have any side-effects? Did you feel nauseas, did you have diarrhoea? Again it seems a seed was planted. My second cycle was by far the worst I ever experienced. Nausea almost to the point of vomitting, diarrhoea. A complete wipe out. Chemo Monday I called it, the third day after chemo, and it was my lowest point throughout the whole 5 months. This time it hit me pretty hard.

But it didn’t last long. I was fortunate to have therapist friends who worked out what had happened and helped me to get the suggestion of these side effects out of my head once and for all. And I never experienced nausea or diarrhoea again. Each chemo cycle just got easier and easier. By the last cycle I was euphoric! I’d got there and I’d found resources within myself to make it easier.

So now I don’t read the side-effect lists. I pop them away, and if I have a problem I can look into them. I see no point in even entertaining the possibility. After all, how often do we imagine things to be one way, only to find out the reality is something quite different, in every other area of our lives? Each time I have a check up now the medical staff continue to be surprised by my lack of side-effects. But I’m not! And neither is my oncologist. Sure chemo is a physical thing, there’s no getting away from that. But I often wonder how many side-effects occur because a seed has been planted…

Sherry’s blog is spot on. I couldn’t agree with her more! Many people don’t realise stress is like the clothes we wear. We get so use to it we don’t feel it anymore. It seems that many women suffer a massive emotional stress before the onset of breast cancer, I know I did and so did many women I know of. Divorce, the loss of a child, the loss of a home are huge emotional losses. And then the stress of life just seems to bring on the inevitable.

The latest science is showing us that when we are chronically stressed our immune system gets shut down, which seems to actually allow the cancer to develop. My husband always says ‘cancer is something we’ve lost’, not something we’ve gained, because in cancer we lose our ability to get rid of cancer cells as they develop. This for most people, and at different times in our own lives, is a normal body process. Isn’t it empowering to view cancer from this perspective. That we can actually play a part in protecting our ability to deal with rogue cells. I was so lucky to have Steve involved in my recovery because he was able to measure the stress in my body and then help me to reduce it using biofeedback and adjustment techniques. There’s a bunch of about 50 neurologically based chiros like him in the US, Canada, Britain, Europe, South Africa and Australia who help people to recover from cancer in the same way. There’s also a great book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky that’s an easy read for those who like the science. The 2008 National Geographic documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer focuses on Robert Sapolsky’s work – it’s eye opening.

Thanks for your blog Sherry and for going out on a limb. I love the poem.