Book Review of Anti Cancer A New Way of Life
I have written about this in other blogs and posts so if you have been reading, you know that I considered myself "blissfully" ignorant of cancer, in general. I knew people who had the disease but they were older and their cancers were different locations and until it was me, I did not really quite get how it would have helped if I knew anything about the disease.
My whole life, I was in a bubble - one of being healthy. I did not have a clue what it was like to be "sick" though I had various normal childhood illnesses and ailments growing up. I always gave to St Jude though at any store where they were raising money - even if giving meant I was spending my dwindling supply of dollars in my accounts. I understood that having cancer was a terrible tragedy and since no one I knew was diagnosed under 60, it just did not seem to be something I had to think about.
All of that changed when I was diagnosed at 39 years old in November 2016 with breast cancer but what did not change is my complete indifference to knowing or understanding the disease. I was just not ready to learn anything - and for me to say that is just so unlike me. I am a learner, a nerd who loves to read and be able to discuss things with knowledge and understanding and instead I spent the bulk of my diagnosis and treatment just deciding I would trust my doctors and let it end at that. The only thing I did ask for, from my limited knowledge of cancer, was a PetScan and I regretted even asking for it due to the wait and the potential of not being able to have my surgery if something had been found. (Thankfully, my scan - done on my 40th birthday- was clear you can read more about that here: managing-diagnosis-from-super-woman-to-cancer-patient-in-two-seconds-flat.html).
I often thought that cancer was something you GOT from outside of you and that if it could be removed, I would be automatically cured. Ha ha, so naive.
When I was ready (which was recently), I researched and found this book by David Servan-Scheiber - he is both a scientist and someone who had been diagnosed with cancer. For some reason, that was important to me that the person who wrote the book had experience with the disease on a first hand basis.
I had to read the book slowly - I generally must finish books as quickly as possible because I love to read but this book had to be stopped and mulled over for me. I could not breeze through it, this is my life I have in my hands, in a way, with this book.
At no point does the author ask you to eschew practical western medical procedures and treatments to help with cancer. However, he does ask us to incorporate and include the caring for the "terrain". The "terrain" is basically your body.
This book gives you actual scientific evidence backed studies and one on one stories of people who have made these changes to diet (e.g., what we eat), mind (e.g., meditation) and body (e.g., exercise). This book is a big part of the reason why I decided to give up dairy, sugar, processed foods and also get back to my long neglected exercise and meditation practices (see more here taking-back-control.html).
When you are in the middle of chemotherapy and radiation, working full time and trying to still be a mom, wife, sister, daughter, friend you really cannot do anything about your "terrain" - you are lucky you are just doing the basics. Once I finished radiation, and healed from the burns this book was the perfect reading material to jump kick my way back into trying to be "healthy".
This is the crux of it though- although post treatment we "feel" healthy, that does not mean we are healthy. Hell, the best I have ever felt in my life was when I was just about to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Our bodies are mysteries but something I cannot let go of from this book is the information included about the excessive increase in cancer diagnoses and the also increased use of chemicals, processed foods, and more since the 1940's-1950's. One big thing I took away from this book was that I am no longer surprised that I did get cancer but I am surprised everyone does not have it.
This might be an inaccurate lesson to learn as a big part of my diagnosis could in fact be the years I spent working in the red zone post 9/11, the journey I walked from midtown to downtown on that fateful day and all of the particles and chemicals I inhaled during my daily commute and office time from September 2001 - May 2004.
One thing I did learn with this book is that focusing on being well and keeping active, eating well and staying stress free (as much as possible) might help to cure me of cancer but even if it does not, isn't it a better way to live anyway?
Have you read this book? What did you think of it?
Anyone who knows me knows that I live to write. I have kept a diary since I am 9 years old and I still have them upstairs in my draw - book after book after book filled with nonsense, writings that probably should have been burned before my then 9 year old daughter found them. As she sat at the eve of her 10th birthday, we spent a few hours looking at my diary from that exact same age - her thoughts -that I was really weird and strange as a child. Cannot say that I blame her for those thoughts.
As I got older, I moved away from writing all the time to only recording when I was mad, upset, sad or some other negative emotion. Then, I got to a point where I did want to be "positive" so I started a private LiveJournal to document living with two children - it took me time and grief to have that second child so once I got over it, I wanted to document all of the things that made me smile instead of focusing on the things that made me cry.
When I was 38, I decided to get out there and launch a small business called The Next Step focusing on helping people figure out how to be college and career ready. I started a blog www.thenextstep1234.com/blog and was so inspired that I wrote and self-published 4 books. (I have mentioned before but I love to write and once I wrote the first one, the other 3 just wrote themselves.) I have my own Amazon author page, which has been a dream of mine since i ordered my first book on Amazon in 1999 - check it out here--> www.amazon.com/Lisa-Vento-Nielsen/e/B01BYRZ8W2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1503847844&sr=8-1.
I have not sold a lot of books at all - the truth is that I have been the number 1 buyer of my books and have given more away for free than I care to count. My idea behind the books was never to make money but to promote my business and my skills to clients and for that, it did work well.
Now, though, I am working on a very different kind of book. The kind of book that makes you (me) cringe more than I want to and that I am kind of afraid to write -the book about ME and my life and my experiences as just "me" pre-cancer and post-cancer. I was always a type A person - driven, driven, driven always able to juggle multiple things and focused on the big picture, which actually caused me more anxiety I think than being myopic and only focused on part of the picture.
When I was running my business, I was so invested that when I saw someone else getting press or some similar business getting work when I was not, it would bother me so much but I just focused on making myself think I was just "driven". Then, I was hired to be a full time teacher and walked away from running my business full time against my husband's wishes - he thought I should stick with my business. Three months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I wish I could say that I was superwoman and able to survive and thrive during cancer treatment but the truth is, I could not even recognize myself in the mirror or in my soul. I was not me (so I thought) I was broken and I struggled so damn much. But I was ME - just a "me" I never knew before - someone who could not care for her children, who could not "wow" my employers or myself - someone who really had some big lessons to learn about how to live.
During that time, I carved out time to do what I love to do - write and linked below is the prologue to my story - the story of going from Type A to Type C.
It is the most raw writing I have done to date - I would love to know what you think of it and if it is something I should keep working on - my idea is to self publish this book and have it included alongside my "professional" books when I tried to be "superwoman" not to diminish me or my story but to show me forever and ever that who I truly am inside is someone who is human and who just wants to survive.
When I was first diagnosed in November 2016, I entered the world of non-control. I have always been at one with me - my body and my ability to fight infections. I had been relatively healthy my whole life. When I was 31 after 2 miscarriages I was diagnosed with a funky blood clotting disorder which made my final pregnancy very high risk but still doable. Little did I know that the cancer I would eventually get is driven by hormones and maybe having 4 pregnancies was the first line of leading to the cancer - (note: 4 pregnancies including the 2 miscarriages). But, in reality I will never know what caused the cancer.
I worked downtown in NYC during 9/11 and the months and months afterwards and that has been something in the back of my mind as being a possible cause. I was not a first responder (though my soon-to-be husband was), just a worked in financial services who was asked to open up the office the Monday after 9/11 as I lived within travelling distance via the Staten Island Ferry and I, "had no kids to worry about". I went gladly as a way to keep myself busy and I could not help but take some lunch hour walks by the smoldering heap to just further recognize how our world had changed.
Upon diagnosis, I spent my first few weeks wishing and hoping it was anyone other than me. I would see other moms around and be so jealous that they did not have this potential death sentence over their heads. I forced myself out of that funk by funnily enough reading the newspapers and seeing random deaths all over the world that made me really force myself to get comfortable with mortality. I think it was something I never ever thought of despite the fact that I have gone to wakes and know that people die - I just did not think I ever would.
I still do not think I will die from this but I am focused on being positively focused on controlling what I can. I can control what I eat and I can control what I do with my body on a daily basis. Now that I am through "active treatment" (8 rounds of chemo and 34 rounds of radiation), I have this thing called energy back and I am using it to help keep myself active.
Before I got cancer (and before I went back to work full time three months before I was diagnosed), I would run about an hour and forty five minutes a day each morning in my kitchen (don't judge) and even got to a time of 35 minutes for a 5k, which for me, was fast. I began running about the same time I was told I was allergic to corn, which turned out to be an incorrect diagnosis but led me to basically eat "clean" - as a kid who was born in the 70's my major food groups were home cooked meals without veggies (why bother trying to force 3 children to eat vegetables as that was like telling us we had to kill ourselves in dramatic fashion). So my diet was never good or "healthy" but I always was tall and "skinny" (I put skinny in quotes because I was really fake skinny - I was within the normal weight category for my height but I was not fit and never exercised - ah the metabolism of youth).
So this new way of eating because of the corn allergy (because corn is in everything processed) meant that I was eating more and more fruits and vegetables and this eating style of mine cascaded down to the children. Even when I was told the corn allergy was incorrect, I still incorporated the healthier foods but I did not continue avoiding processed foods for a few reasons. One reason is the cost - it is tremendously expensive to cook without processed foods and the second reason was the convenience of using a taco kit and making dinner quick instead of making something from "scratch".
I was going to wait to make changes in my diet and lifestyle until I was a year out from initial diagnosis to give myself some time to relax and just do nothing but I decided (and my waistline growing and growing helped with this as now that I am in medically induced menopause, it is a whole new ballgame in terms of metabolism) to kickstart this new way of eating and living now.
I started slowly by incorporating exercise back into my life and I am now at 45 minutes of running in the early morning. Then I began looking at my diet and started to read some research on keeping cancer out of your body after having had it. I am currently in the midst of researching and currently reading Radical Remission and AntiCancer. I will write more about these books when I am done with them but for now, I am recognizing some common threads about diet in these books and other cancer resources that talk about sugar being the fuel that feeds cancer cells. I have already decided to cut out processed foods, my dark chocolate I love so much and to avoid dairy and meat. I am not sure if this will help me to never have cancer again but I am pretty sure it will help me to look and feel better and keep me as healthy as possible to be able to handle whatever happens next.
None of us know what the future holds but by kick-starting my exercising and helping my body and mind feel healthy and happy I am hoping I can keep cancer the f-out of my body for the rest of my life.
It is something for me to focus on in the time between.
One of my favorite things to do of all time is to read. I am a nerd. I love books - all books. Reading is something I escape into - the way most people watch television is the way I read. I mean I can see what is described in the book in my brain while I read. You do NOT want to know my Kindle bill...I am the only person I know of that during labor, I was reading a book.
That being said, since diagnosis, reading is a minefield for me. You do not know the amount of authors who throw in a dead someone, usually dead from cancer, all willy-nilly like. It is ubiquitous and in the beginning of my diagnosis, I would automatically stop reading said book even though for me leaving a book unread is a sin - I finished that above mentioned book in labor, between pushes...
Now, I find it does not make me want to throw my Kindle but it is something that I still find annoying. I was so happy a book I was reading the other day had two dead people and did not ascribe either of them dead from cancer. It was joyous.
I do not mean to be weird but when you are dealing with this disease, it can become bigger than you. Meaning, if you look around you will see more instances of people losing their battle than you want to see - which is even just one. I turned off my social media for this reason - I could not handle scrolling through a Facebook feed of "normal" people problems (like, I do not know, a bad hair day) when I am bald and boobless. That might make me shallow or something but it is what it is and it is how I dealt with my new reality.
Through it all, I am learning and I do love to learn (hence my love of reading). I am learning that you have to let go, that people will surprise you both in good ways and bad ways and that social media is a curse.
I am also realizing that my love of reading is an escape and that I can finally read a book with someone losing their battle with breast cancer without throwing my Kindle means that I am getting a grip on myself and telling myself that will not be me. However, no one knows this for sure - not even someone without cancer knows when their time will come.
This allows me to enjoy reading a bit more again but one thing I cannot manage to deal with is the romance novels all focusing on women with two breasts; where are the stories about bodies like Amazons with only one breast like me or those who went flat on both sides? That would be something I would love to read - maybe I have to write it myself!
It would be something for me to do in the time between.
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