What They Don’t Tell You About Cancer
by Audrey Iredale
What they don’t tell you about cancer is that some healthcare establishments may not have your best interests at heart. The solutions with the most opportunity for success in your personal situation may not be the most profitable for the medical community.
Many questions arise after discovery of a life-threatening illness. If you were diagnosed with cancer today, what would be your reaction? Who would you tell first? Would you keep it from your loved ones in an effort to shield them? If you believed your days were numbered, how would you decide to spend them?
Would you panic or approach the issue with a scientific focus and begin educating yourself about the options? Would you blindly trust doctors to select treatment for you, or would you research different methods and their statistics of success and make your own decisions? Would you look for support from your closest friends and ask for advice, or keep it quietly to yourself? You may think you know how you would react, but a life threatening diagnosis can scare you into doing things you would never contemplate otherwise. What they don’t tell you about cancer is that knowing the answers to these questions before receiving a diagnosis is critical.
I have experienced this emotional journey from the perspective of being a close relative of the patient. I have watched several people from my family succumb to cancer after conventional treatments failed to save them. Poisoning the body with toxic substances, in an attempt to eradicate cancer cells, does not appear to have a good long term success rate.
My father suffered a horrible death after receiving chemotherapy and radiation, when I was in my early twenties. I watched him disintegrate from a healthy rock of a man into a frail thin bald apparition of his former self, isolating himself and withdrawing from everything and everyone he loved. I listened to him take his last ragged breath, as I sat with him for hours that turned into days, in the V.A. hospital room on the 5th floor.
Due to the severe emotional trauma induced by the carnage I had witnessed in close proximity, I decided then and there that I would not submit to extremely invasive and damaging medical procedures if a future cancer was discovered in my body. Throughout subsequent years, I kept a constant vigil of cancer prevention measures and it remained one of my darkest fears.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in the summer of 2014, I was only three years older than my father’s age, when his monster was discovered. It is a gut-wrenching feeling, when you hear the words. The finality of it crashes down like a boulder. I sat in the hallway outside the imaging suite, still in my hospital gown and cried, feeling more alone than I ever had in my life.
The truth of your own mortality is overwhelming. What they don’t tell you about cancer is how many extreme states of emotion you will experience, in a very short time span, and how many times you will change your mind about how to handle the situation.
I found myself faced with many difficult decisions about treatment. Medical advice sounded frighteningly familiar and ultimately unsuccessful. Traditional cancer treatments have evolved into a one-size-fits-all scenario created by a for-profit pharmaceutical industry.
“Cancer happens to other people,” you lament, “this wasn’t supposed to happen to me.” This wasn’t part of the script in the epic adventure of your life. All plans must change, all dreams are forfeited. Your world will never be the same again.
The primary concerns, flooding your mind, will be of your children and who will look after them and champion them after you are gone. Even if they are grown up, with children of their own, they were not supposed to be obliged to continue without your guidance and assistance, at least not at this early stage of the game. The sadness is suffocating.
You firmly instruct your spouse, (through your hiccups and tears) of his vital responsibility to watch over them and support them in your absence. Then you begin to cry uncontrollably, when you think of him, your best friend, who will be left buried in so much debt after you are gone that recovery will be near impossible, and you feel ridiculously helpless. You have already seen what happens to people as they endure mainstream cancer treatment procedures. You fear that soon, you will no longer be capable of doing physically demanding work. You wonder if, in the near future, you will be able to maintain employment at all.
Suddenly the realization hits that all future financial projects and expenditures must be of the sort he can pay for and maintain by himself. You begin to initiate estate planning procedures. You explain that now, he must be organized and begin doing more things for himself.
“Yes dear,” he chirps, rolling his eyes. He drops his shirt and socks on the floor beside the chair and leaving his dirty dishes on the table, shuffles off to watch Family Guy on Netflix.
You show him where your journal files are kept, in the computer. You tell him that your oldest daughter is to take possession of your data archives and millions of digital photos.
Then you begin to look at your single friends and imagine planning for your own replacement. Laughing, you tell him, he will be “given to Cindy, or Debbie, or Kathy,” whomever you have deemed worthy to step into your shoes and complement his life.
“But don’t I get to try her out first?” he laughs, with a playful jab.
“Not ‘till I am gone,” you frown, wondering if it is such a good idea after all.
There is a critical need to shed light on some of the events that transpire in the lives of real people who are living with cancer. Many of my own questions went unanswered due to the lack of explicit information available to the general public. I demanded graphic details from medical providers, regarding what would or could happen, in every imaginable scenario. I insisted on being provided with a photograph of the monster upon removal. A full color, life sized print of the primary tumor was produced and contributed by the surgeon.
However, some of the treatment details were not explained, such as how it really feels when lymph nodes have been removed and your arm fills up with painful fluid, all the way to your wrist, or to lose underarm sensation due to intercostobrachial nerve damage, making it difficult or even dangerous to shave.
Drawing on the statistics I have seen in my own personal life, I made the extremely difficult decision to reject recommended cancer therapies. It became my primary focus to survive despite the overwhelming odds. I decided if my time on this earth was greatly reduced, I did not want to spend it in my bed, or crawling to the toilet bowl to puke. Cleaning up great chunks of my hair from the shower floor, did not sound attractive. I did not want the elation of six months of remission, followed by the heartbreak of an aggressive onslaught of secondary cancer, brought on by the very radiation used to destroy the remnants of the primary tumor. As a singer and photographer, I could not afford cataracts and vocal cord damage to plague my final hours no matter how brief they may prove to be.
Already possessing halfway decent research skills, and an impressive arsenal of mental data, regarding nutrition, gained by years of chasing recovery from an emotional eating disorder, I was armed with the necessary tools. Medical personnel spewing frightening statistics from a tunnel-vision perspective, failed to persuade me to submit to their latest forms of torture and permanent mutilation. The surgeon righteously insisted that she must administer some tough-love regarding her recommendation of endocrine therapy and post-surgical radiation. Ultimately, against medical advice, I refused all of the above in favor of less-invasive holistic medicine.
Futile negotiations commenced with the insurance company to allow coverage for guidance from a naturopathic physician, but I stood my ground and paid out of pocket for the support and validation that told me I was indeed on the right path. Google and I burned the midnight oil for many hours, scouring experimental alternative-healing and specifically targeted nutrition solutions.
I reflected upon the despised biology course from the past college semester, for knowledge of cell function, mutations and relationships between protein and enzymes. Because cancer cells are a mutation, they do not have the capability of adapting to using fat for fuel. Therefore they can be forced to commit programmed cell-death, by replacing all or most carbohydrates with high quality fats and moderate proteins.
What they don’t tell you about cancer is that it doesn’t just happen to one person, it happens to whole families. Your significant other, or persons close to you, may disagree with your treatment choices.
“You should not rule out western medicine,” advises a good friend, and senior histologist of 30 years.
“I’ll support whatever choice you make,” promises your husband, but when he hears your decision, the fear in his eyes is unmistakable.
“So you’re just going to DIE!” your daughter shrieks, “Is that it? Then WHAT are the rest of us supposed to do? YOU are the mastermind! YOU are supposed to live ’till you are eighty-something, like HER!” pointing to her grandmother.
“Well, considering that no one listens to me most of the time anyway, I think you will all be fine,” you accuse.
“Well, you’re going to need chemotherapy and radiation and your hair will fall out, but maybe it won’t be so bad,” warns your Aunt, matter of factly.
We’ll see about that.
Self pity and reclusive tendencies beckon. Some days after work, it is unclear if you are capable of climbing the stairs to your bedroom. You are unable sleep for more than a few hours before awakening with emotional dread or some new physical symptom, whether imagined or legitimate. The mood swings are vicious and agonizing.
“I can’t do this anymore!” you whimper to your girlfriend, in full melt-down mode after work one afternoon, “Nobody cares if I am dying! And you better not tell anyone at work I am sick, because I could lose my job, if they think I will be a flake and not show up!”
“I care,” she corrects, “you are just hungry and too afraid to eat.”
“You’re right, I want to eat an entire extra cheese pizza, WITH crust, but I can’t,” you admit, “so I am going to bed.”
She stands by you, no matter how rude you have been to her.
“If we can have solar panels installed at no cost to us, we should do it for the green impact,” admonishes the husband.
“What do I care about the planet? I’m dying and nobody cares about helping me! I cannot deal with any more stress. I will not tolerate construction crews crawling all over this house!” you snap.
“I hear ya,” he agrees.
“I don’t even want to go to work anymore,” you blurt, “what’s the point anyway?”
“Then don’t go,” he soothes, shrugging.
You get a little bit of rest and things look different in the morning. You continue working, but the accelerated fatigue at the end of the day is frightening.
“Let’s buy new furniture!” you squeal, abruptly opening the garage door to startle your husband into dropping a wrench. “We could max out the rest of the credit cards, because you will have to file bankruptcy anyway, after I’m dead!”
“Ok, whatever you want dear,” he grins.
Five minutes later you are more interested in figuring out how to pay the latest stack of hospital bills and deciding whose feet are small enough to fit into your outrageously extravagant shoe collection, in case the monster ultimately returns in triumph.
What they don’t tell you about cancer is that the rest of your life continues, regardless of your physical illness or your mental state, and you must find a way to compartmentalize the emotions and move forward. No matter how healthy you feel right now, or how encouraging your latest test results, evil could be stalking you around the next corner. You will never be free from the shadow.
Every twinge of pain, every headache, every symptom of any kind strikes a note of terror in anticipation of the monster’s return. The horror of your own mortality is a powerful incentive for change. Efficiency of familiar crutches and comfort mechanisms fade in the face of your predicament. The fact that it is “five o’ clock somewhere” loses its delicious meaning. You can no longer have a Margarita at the end of a stressful day because your body will metabolize the alcohol as sugar and may feed stray cancer cells. You are obliged to eat cold meals at work because using the microwave would compromise the nutritional value of the food, by changing the shape of the proteins.
Removing as many carbohydrates from your diet, as is possible in a first world setting, eliminates the majority of food cravings. Eventually you begin to lose interest in meals, because most seem to contain one luxury or another that you can no longer afford. You find yourself unable to consume enough calories to support your daily activities. Eating for survival rather than entertainment dominates reality.
Supplements of raw plant-based protein shakes and concentrated whole-food capsules replace many meals and snacks. Your habits have undergone a drastic makeover. Blood work reveals astounding results. Your cholesterol is down 30 points and tests show no evidence of disease. You may be healthier than you have been in your entire life, as long as you can stay one step ahead of the monster’s encore.
The distractions of time-consuming guilt-induced activities disperse as survival takes priority. The weight melts off you by the hour and when you can find energy, you jubilantly dig into the cavernous depths of your closet, finding long lost treasures of clothing you haven’t been able to wear in decades. People remark how good you look.
At what cost?
The relief is exhilarating; the renewed hope intoxicating. You decide to document your journey in a blog, utilizing that abandoned domain you bought last year. The posts will contain all the graphic details you had been denied about this most terrifying disease. You will provide others with answers to some of the questions about physical symptoms, making difficult decisions, dealing with family and friends and all the emotional issues that happen along the way.
If you survive five years or more, the alternative treatments you have selected will be immortalized for those who choose to follow. If you do not live to tell the tale, at least you will have illuminated critical aspects for those behind you on the path.
What they don’t tell you about cancer is that nothing has really changed. We are all dying from the day we are born and none of us know how long we may dance on this planet. Everyone must seize the opportunity to live in the present and not waste a minute feeling sorry for ourselves. Maybe this year could be the best yet?
NOTE: Inspiration for this article is credited to Philip Gerard for his essay, “What They Don’t Tell You About Hurricanes.” (from Moore, Dinty W. The Truth of the Matter. NY: Pearson Longman, 2007. pp 151-156.
Campbell, N. Simon, E. Reece, J. Dickey, J. Campbell Biology Concepts & Connections, Seventh Edition. Boston MA: Pearson Education, 2007.
Mercola, Joseph. Mercola.com Take Control of your Health. 16 June 2013. 06 11 2014 <http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2013/06/16/ketogenic-diet-benefits.aspx>.
Moore, Dinty. The Truth of the Matter. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007.
Audrey Iredale lives in the beautiful Sonoran Desert city of Phoenix, Arizona, with her husband and three precious rescued kitties. They have three daughters and two grandchildren. She studied Language Arts at community colleges in California and Arizona and graduated Phi Theta Kappa with a 4.0 GPA. She has been writing and singing since childhood and works in technology manufacturing.