The Short List for Staying Sane and Well in the face of Real Trouble

(This is the third in a series of posts about my own experience with cancer. The photos used in this series have no direct connection with the text. They are just random pictures taken during this time of my life. I claim no expertise. This is just about my own personal experience, and what it was like for me.)

After my previous post, When It Hits the Fan, I have had questions about what the alternative therapies were that I used in addition to chemo and radiation. I plan to write in more depth about most of this, but I am going to go ahead and answer that question for those who are curious, and possibly don’t have time to wait around for me to write about each specific thing.

I did many things, and I am not sure how it all worked. I do think that all the things I did worked together. I did 6 rounds of chemo that were three weeks apart. I started most of the alternative things in the four weeks between the surgery and the beginning of chemo. I can’t explain why I chose these specific things. I simply did what made sense to me. After the chemo, I had a scan that showed no cancer and my liver restored to health. I then had 25 rounds of radiation over a five week period and a two night stay in hospital for one last blast. I did the radiation as a preventative measure.
Here are the alternative things I did during chemo and radiation. Most of these things I will continue to do to maintain health. I will write more detail later, in future posts.
–I did a diet that is designed to starve cancer cells. I highly recommend the book that was written by Mike Herbert, Stay Healthy During Chemo. It is available through Amazon.com. Mike is a nutritional doctor who lives here in San Miguel, and his advise is extremely helpful. The diet was very strict and I followed it with no exceptions. Basically, I gave up all sugars (including alcohol and high glycemic foods) all dairy, and the only meat I ate was fish. I eliminated soy from my diet. The only fats allowed are healthy ones. No processed foods. No coffee. I will continue this diet permanently. I have added some more fruit since finishing all the treatments. Also, I eat a white potato now and then, if I want it. But no breads that aren’t whole grains. Brown rice instead of white. And, still, no processed foods. One side effect of this diet is that I have lost weight. I am presently trying to gain a bit of weight…never thought I’d be saying that in my adult lifetime.
–Acupuncture. I did this at least once a week. It really helped with any side effects I was having. I will continue to do this every other week for maintanence.
–I found massages to be very helpful for dealing with stress.
–Supplements. I take a very good supplement program, also put together by a nutritional doctor. Your healthy cells need all the support they can get. I will continue to work with this program, with whatever changes are recommended to maintain health.
–Craniosacral Therapy. This was extremely important to help me cope emotionally.
I have found this therapy so beneficial that I plan to continue with it.
–There is some herbal medication that I am sure you are aware of. It has been a mainstay for me and approved of by the all the traditional medicine doctors  I had, as well as alternative specialists. I have used it medicinally in the form of oil and also brewed as a tea.
–Blue scorpion venom. There has been a lot of work done with this in Cuba. It might be possible to buy it online if you live in the States. I get it from Mexico City. I take it 4 times a day. I will continue to take it indefinitely, as a preventative. It does not interfere with traditional treatments, and has no side effects.
–Soaking baths. These came from Mike Herbert’s book. It involves sitting in a hot bath for 45 minutes. I added  1 cup salt and 1 cup baking soda to the hot bath water. Sometimes I added a bottle of apple cider vinegar. The whole point is to sweat in order to detox. It always helped. I wasn’t allowed to do this during radiation, and I really missed it. The doctor was concerned about the hot water causing burns.
–Coffee enemas. There are videos about this. Make your own decision. I resisted this one, but I think it was very valuable. These work to detox the liver. I did this twice a week during chemo. I wasn’t allowed to do it during radiation, because of the location in my body of the radiation.
–Fasting. I fasted for 24 hours before and 24 hours after each chemo treatment. There is research that convinced me to do this. The point is that the chemo will work more effectively if your body isn’t processing food, and you will have fewer side effects. I did this for the first 5 treatments. I ate just a little with the 6th one, because I was concerned about losing more weight.
–Dealing with myself, also known as meditation, visualization, and prayer.  Lots of that. I also avoided (like the plague) any person or information that I found negative. This is a great time in your life to be very selfish. You don’t have to worry about hurting someone’s “feelings.” This is not about them. It is about you, staying alive.
I researched all the things I did and they made sense to me. I believed that they were what I needed to do, and that made it easy to do them. Once I “set my course” I stayed on it. I got through the chemo without any terrible side effects. I had a few days when I didn’t feel well but I was never incapacitated. I managed to maintain a reasonable social life, and was involved in getting settled in to a new home, not to mention a new country. The radiation was harder in some ways, because the food restrictions during radiation that affects the digestive system are rigid. No fats whatsoever. I did well for the first three weeks, but then for the last two I did experience being very tired. But, I bounced back pretty quickly. It has now been three weeks since my final radiation. I have a very healthy appetite and I feel very good. In fact, I feel like a brand new me.
Again, I am no expert. This is only my own experience and the things I did. I hope some of this is helpful to someone who reads it. It is a troubling experience, but not as bad, at least for me, as I had feared.

When It Hits the Fan

(This is the second in a new series of blog posts, the focus of which is keeping yourself sane and healthy in the face of Real Trouble. The photos for this series may, or may not, have anything to do with the subject matter. Just some nice photos from Mexico taken during this time.The one here is of three San Miguel policewomen.)

As we drove across the border, I felt that the biggest dream of my life was coming true. Fred and Pinky and I were crossing the Rio Grande in Laredo, but this time was a one-way trip. We were moving to San Miguel de Allende, and Mexico would now be our home. I was very happy and a bit amazed that we were actually pulling this one off. My last post talks more about this move.

We had a rental house in Colonia San Antonio when we first arrived. Shortly after we got settled in the rental house, I started having a disturbing symptom, very slight at first, and I kept telling myself it would go away. I think that many people have this same experience. You feel perfectly fine, but you know something is not right. You think it will go away, but it doesn’t. That was a fearful time for me. While I was in the “this will go away” stage I didn’t tell anyone about the problem. Not even Fred.

We had the very good fortune of finding a house we loved very easily. In fact, we bought the second house we looked at on the first day we looked. We made the offer on the spot. That was in November (I was still in the “this will go away” stage). We moved into the house in December. We zoomed on getting settled in, so by Christmas we were feeling at home. By then I was moving from “this will go away” to “I have to deal with this.”

In early January, I told Fred. Then it started getting real. I knew I had to see a doctor. I started out by thinking it would be something minor. But, I was seriously aware that it might be very major. The next few weeks were a rollercoaster ride of tests, scans, scopes, and pokes. I have always been a very healthy person and all this was a very new experience for me. It somehow felt that I had completely detached from myself and I was watching all this happening to someone else. Part of what I felt was that my body had somehow betrayed me. I felt at physical and psychological odds with myself. I felt a huge gulf between my body and my spirit. These feelings manifested in some strange behavior. I reached a point where I couldn’t even get it together to put on makeup, and if you know me, you know that is a very serious situation.

At the end of all the testing, prodding, and probing…the results were not good at all. The bottom line was that I definitely had tumors in my uterus, and there was a disturbing spot on my liver. I would have to have a complete hysterectomy, done by an oncology surgeon. I got the definite message that there was no time to waste. Nobody was smiling. None of the doctors seemed to get my jokes.

It was pretty hard to even believe all this. I had been truly living the dream of my life and then found myself in the middle of one of life’s biggest nightmares. In the moment that you start to deal with a health crisis you realize that most all other things that you think are a crisis are a blip. At least, that was how it seemed to me. All that I had ever heard, seen, or read, about cancer and cancer treatments had always been terrifying to me. And, no one had given me any reason to believe otherwise. If only someone, back in February of this year, could have sat down with me, looked me in the eye, and just said, “Hey, I’ve been where you are right now. You can get through this. You will make it, and here is a plan.”

That wasn’t what happened with me, but something pretty amazing did happen. I, who knew nothing about any of this, was guided by my own inner guide to put together a team of people to get me through the past many months of my life. The one thing I knew for sure, and Fred agreed, was that I didn’t want to leave Mexico for treatment. While we could have used Medicare in the US, I just didn’t want to go there. It would have seemed like such a personal defeat to me, that I am not sure I would have made it. No, I knew I would stay in Mexico, and I knew I would find the right people to care for me. In future blog posts I will talk more about the care I have had, and the alternative things I have done to keep myself as healthy as possible, resulting in less severe side effects from traditional treatments, and a great deal more sanity.

And, I made it through chemo and radiation. I am now cancer-free and getting on with my life. Am I changed? Both inside and out. But, the majority of these changes are for the better. I will talk more in these posts about my own walk down this strange road. But, I am only talking about my own, very personal, experience. Each person is different. I certainly am no expert about anything. The only thing I know is my own experience. My purpose in this writing is selfish. I want to have the joy of being that person that says to another person, at the highest point of their fear, “You can do this. You can take care of yourself. You can make it. It won’t be as bad as you think.”

I am an Immigrant.

Lots of things to process lately. I had promised to stay off FaceBook and all US tv news. Have done extremely well with the news. I’m not even reading many articles in the New York Times to do with the election. But, I have spent time on FaceBook, and I have found some comfort in seeing how so many like-minded people are feeling. And, I see people  on FaceBook who are feeling the same things I’m feeling. But, the thing I see that I am not feeling is physical fear. From my friends who are not straight, white men, I sense a great deal of fear, all the way from a general uneasiness, which we are all feeling, to a serious fear for their physical safety. I think the fears are very real, and not without cause. I see reports also on FaceBook and NY Times, of protests all over the country. I see large groups of white people trying to communicate to the world, “Hey, we aren’t all assholes.”

I don’t know what I would do if I were there. We did not leave the USA for any political reason. We simply did it because we both realized, at just about the same time, that we wanted to live in Mexico…that we desperately needed a change (and, boy! did we get one!), and that while the “New Nashville” was coming on groovy, it really wasn’t the place where we wanted to spend our “golden years.” I am very thankful that Mexico has welcomed us. I do not really see myself as an expat…that seems to imply that i am no longer something that I used to be. I don’t think that is the case. I haven’t changed as much as I have simply moved on. I’m an ex lots of things, but patriot is not one of them.

We started coming to Mexico about 25 years ago, and I was never ready to leave. It finally reached a point, towards the end of my work career, that I realized I was basically waiting all year for 3 weeks in this country. I can’t say what it is that I love so much about this place. What ever it is, that feeling hasn’t changed after living here for a year.  I was seriously wanting to spend more time in Mexico, and had inserted a two week summer trip into our work calendar, along with the 3 weeks in the winters on the beach. The summer trips were to take us to the interior of Mexico, and we saw a style of life there that felt very manageable.

Retirement was not easy for me. I knew without doubt that I had done enough, but it was still the thing that I was identified by in Nashville. I felt that once I stopped doing what I did, people just didn’t know what to do with me. It was a very uncomfortable time for me. I was ambivalent about so many things. One of the beautiful things about just hauling off to another country is that nobody really cares what you “used to do.” Your identity is totally based on how they perceive you. Anyone who is looking for a location for the next act of their life should really consider a move.

We continued to travel to Latin America after we retired. We had a 6 week twirl in Costa Rica and Panama; not for us. We felt we needed to check out a little something other than Mexico, but after that trip we developed an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. So, our next big adventure was a 6 month drive, the entire length of the country. We spent 3 1/2 of those months in San Miguel, because we were already very attracted to it.We could see ourselves living in San Miguel.The underlying purpose of this trip was to decide for sure where we wanted to spend 6 months a year. We wanted to check out Oaxaca City and San Cristobal de las Casas, too.

Our plan at that time was to spend 6 month a year in Nashville and 6 month a year in Mexico. By the time we drove the length of Texas, heading back to Nashville, we were both realizing that would be kind of a hard job. Plus, finding rentals that take dogs is a bit harder than a regular rental. And, not to mention, the bright idea we had about renting out our house while we traveled turned really dismal. We both agreed it was a  “never again” on that plan. We were very fortunate to have our Nashville house sell, and sell fast. (Thanks Keith and Jonny). And, of course, it was a much more valuable place than it had been in 1977, when Fred bought it.

We could see from all angles that the 6 month here, 6 months there thing was not going to work. We could sell our Nashville house and budget enough to get a nice house in San Miguel, or we could split the money from the sale and buy a place in Nashville that we wouldn’t like and a house in San Miguel that wouldn’t suit us either. Or, we could go for the whole enchilada and just move to Mexico and live here year round. We were totally unified in our decision, and that made it all much easier. So, we sold our house, much of our belongings, gave many things away, and by some feat of magic cleaned out the attic and basement. Then all the work of packing what we intended to take, and setting up all the details of the move was combined with getting the house ready to go on the market. This was a huge deal, and a real Murphy’s Law situation. By the time we actually got out of the house and handed over the keys my brain was fried. Things were getting extremely real.

Again, we didn’t come here because of trump. Or, because we don’t like the USA, or any of those reasons. We came because we simply love the simple life in Mexico. It feels good here to us. I love walking out the door and being in another country. I love walking down the street and not having everyone I see look just like me. I love hearing a new language, and I even love trying to speak it. I know Mexico has problems. I have no interest in Mexican politics, which is good since I am not a citizen of Mexico. For my own well-being I am very glad to have already moved to Mexico. I support all of you who are tin the US right now and feeling this election on a deep, personal level. Each one of us will have to deal with this chapter however we deal. I trust all my friends in USA to know what is right for them to do. Follow your own inner guidance.  Stay alert, and walk towards the light.

[Note: the photos I use with this series of posts may or may not actually relate to the post.]

 

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Divine Decadence

I have always enjoyed a bit of badness. While I am really a very good girl, sometimes I just like to misbehave. It is true, as the years progress one definitely needs to rein it in a bit in the interest of self-preservation.
One of my favorite forms of decadence is to sit in a dark bar on a sunny afternoon and drink mescal. It is very important to be able to see outside while this is going on.
My all-time favorite bar is La Sirena Gorda in San Miguel. It is very small, the bartender is very nice, and they serve a killer artichoke, too. The music was great and the mood was perfect. And the whole thing felt kind of divinely decadent. It was still bright outside when we left, and as we were walking back home we passed a tree full of beautiful white birds. It was a late afternoon in the mountains of Mexico. The sky was blue, the air was clear, and I was holding hands with Fred. I had a little buzz, nothing to cause a problem. I sometimes think life is really about these divine little gems of time.