I am sitting in bed writing this, drinking my morning matcha-mocha with cacao and ginger (coffee- but making it healthy!), and preparing for my day. Today is the day of my annual cancer screening. Nothing I do today will affect those results. Today is the culmination of every little thing I’ve done to support my health over the last year. Today is basically like submitting my project, but I won’t know the score until sometime next week.
But first, let’s go back to what got me here!
When I was almost 16, I started exhibiting what some would call abnormal symptoms. Other people just called it “being a teeneager”. I was sick or on the verge of sickness constantly, but it was chalked up to just the germs in school. I was sleeping as soon as I would get home from school, waking up for dinner, and then going back to sleep, waking up again just to go to school, but that called just a growth phase. I was breaking out in hives and rashes and prescribed topical creams instead of looking at the why behind the what. I had swollen lymph nodes and pain in my joints, obviously growing pains and germs. I was in the doctor’s office every week with some new symptom that was eventually explained away as ‘normal’.
After going to the doctor every day in one week, my family physician made the connection and referred me to an oncologist. At 16 years old. My oncologist had worked his entire career helping those with cancer and had prescribed THOUSANDS of people the exact same drugs and protocols as he was about to prescribe me. I was sent for labs, x rays, CT scans, to meet with surgeons and anesthesiologists and I was scheduled for an immediate biopsy of the tumor growing in my neck.
My first encounter with all of the tests was indicative of my experience. I felt unheard. While in pre-op the nurse blew the vein on my hand and didn’t listen when I said it hurt. With my hand filling with saline, I kept calling for someone with tears streaming down my face. The pain was unreal. Finally, the anesthesiologist came in and looked at my hand. After being given sedatives, I don’t remember much else.
The biopsy confirmed the oncologist’s suspicion. I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. After a day or two of recovery, I was scheduled for another surgery to place a portacath in my chest. The chemo they were going to use was so strong that they couldn’t administer it through a vein as it would destroy it. It had to go straight into my heart. The day after that I had a bone marrow biopsy, and let me just tell you, it's not very fun. I still have scars on my hips from the needles. Life became one medical procedure after another.
12 doses of chemotherapy, a month of radiation, too many shots and needles and blood draws to count, and a gazillionty x rays and CT scans later, I was pronounced “in remission”. Yay! But, what exactly does that actually mean? It means that I’m alive, Hodgkin's Lymphoma didn’t kill me but I have an increased risk of secondary cancer. I was supposed to start getting mammograms done at age 25 (hello, more radiation). I have lung damage from one of the chemo treatments that is known to be a pulmonary toxin. I have damage to my lungs from the radiation. I have an increased red blood cell count because my body isn’t getting enough oxygen, so it started making more red blood cells to carry more oxygen to my tissues (which is pretty cool when you think about it). I have damage to my chest and breast tissues from the mantle field radiation. I have an increased risk of cardiac problems such as heart disease, heart failure, and pericarditis (inflammation of the pericardial tissues). I have permanent cognitive and memory issues due to what is lovingly referred to as “chemo brain”. I have PTSD from the oxygen masks and nasal cannulas used in the hospital. I developed a latex allergy. And, I get to go in annually to have labs drawn to see where my numbers are at.
There is absolutely nothing I can do to go back and change anything that’s happened to me in the past. I do not blame my parents for the amount of drugs pumped into my body. This was the only way presented to us to save my life. My parents aren’t doctors and they didn’t know how the side effects from the “treatments that saved me” would have an effect 20 years down the line.
You might have guessed that I’m in the immunocompromised camp at higher risk for complications and death from COVID-19. But, contracting COVID-19 isn’t what scares me. I’m not scared of getting sick, because my health is my responsibility and I take it very seriously. I know that nobody else can make me sick, not even those people who are unmasked. I take vitamins D & C daily, upping my doses when I feel a little run down or get a tickle in my throat. My diet consists of organic vegetables and locally raised meat. I limit the amount of toxins I am exposed to. I spend time outside in nature. I move my body. I get adjusted weekly, more than once if I need extra support.
It’s the standardized one size fits all treatments that mainstream medicine is handing out. It’s that medicine is a big business and bonuses are handed out to doctors depending on their chosen treatment plan. It’s that we aren’t given true informed consent about the statistics and side effects of medications and treatment options. It’s that medical malpractice is the third leading cause of death in the U.S with 251,000 deaths reported in 2018. It’s that people don’t stop to consider why somebody is making choices for their own health, but instead judge and shame them for not towing the line.
2020 has shown us how unhealthy we, as a collective society, really are. Each person will struggle with their own health challenges, and it will be an individual response to those challenges that will get them well again. A rising tide lifts all boats, and this is no different to your individual health and the health of the community. Don’t wait until the health screen to start taking responsibility for your health, by then it’s too late.