Pins and Needles

acupuncture-common-questions

In my quest to quell my anxiety and improve my overall well-being, I’ve been trying a lot of new things.

I’ve been going to therapy (that’s not really new to me), I’ve been meditating, and last week, I tried acupuncture.

I’ve always been curious about the ancient Chinese practice of inserting tiny needles into pressure points around the body to treat various ailments. I have a coworker who’s been swearing by her acupuncturist for years, so I decided to give him a try.

Right away, I liked that he works out of a traditional doctor’s office (he rents space there). I’m a little hippy-dippy, but I also believe in the power of Western medicine. Our session began with talking. I told him about all I’d been through in the past year, we talked about my diet and exercise habits, and discussed what I hoped to get out of this treatment.

I told him about my fear and the anxiety it causes. Like my therapist, he said I’m still in fight or flight mode (I am), and I’ll have to work to get out of that and back to feeling more normal mentally and emotionally. I really liked what he had to say and how he approached things–he definitely has a sense of humor about what he does, but he also takes it very seriously and truly wants to help people.

After our chat, we got down to the business of treatment. He showed me the tiny needles–not much thicker than a strand of hair–and explained that I might feel a slight bit of pain when they were inserted. He only used five needles–one on my forehead between my eyes, one on each of my hands just above the bend between my thumb and forefinger, and one on the top of each of my feet. I felt the teensiest sensation when he inserted them–honestly, I can’t even call it pain.

The needles were just the beginning, though. The other part of the treatment was cranial sacral therapy. This basically entailed him holding my head in his hands with his fingers placed around the base of my skull. He told me to just let gravity do its thing and let my head rest in his hands.

For 45 minutes I laid there like that, needles poking out and my head in his hands. As he held my skull, his fingers moved very slightly against pressure points in my head.

At first, I honestly didn’t feel much of anything. I was relaxed, but no more so than during a massage. But after a bit, something strange happened. This is going to sound totally bonkers, but I almost felt like I was floating–I could barely feel the table beneath me. That’s how relaxed I was.

Holy hell, I haven’t been that chill in a loooong time!

At the end of the session, I felt sort of like I’d just awoken from a really good nap–relaxed, refreshed and slightly dazed. It was a good feeling, and I tried to carry it with me throughout the rest of that day.

Did acupuncture totally change my life? No. But did it give me some peace and calm, even for a few minutes? Absolutely.

As I continue my all fronts war on cancer and the fear and anxiety left in its wake, I’m excited to add this new weapon to my arsenal. I know it’s not some magical cure for my woes, but if I can add even a minute of anxiety-free time to my day with it, it’s worth the time and money.

Why am I Still Crying?

 

crying

I don’t know what’s right and what’s real anymore
I don’t know how I’m meant to feel anymore
When do you think it will all become clear
And I’ll be taken over by the fear
-Lily Allen, “The Fear”

Today I had a followup appointment with my surgeon. The meeting went well–he said everything was healing up nicely and he went over my pathology report again, reiterating what great news it contained. All in all, pretty darn good.

So, why did I spend half the drive home crying?

I should be really happy right now. Yes, I’m still in some pretty wicked pain, and my chest is a hot mess, but that will all eventually change. I’m “cancer-free;” I should be ecstatic, right? I certainly shouldn’t be boo-hooing in the car.

And yet, here I am. My emotions are all over the place. I don’t know how I’m supposed to go from being the cancer patient back to a regular person. I’m too afraid of recurrence to let my guard down. And every time I catch a glimpse of my reflection in a mirror, I’m taken aback–the mind’s eye vision of myself doesn’t fit how I actually look with my barely-there growing-in hair, pale skin and flat chest.

And even nuttier, I’m actually kind of sad that my time with my doctors is starting to wind down. I’ve grown kind of attached to these people, having seen them so much the past few months. Not to mention the fact that they literally saved my life.

I’ve heard people say that the treatment of cancer is hard, but figuring out life after treatment can be just as difficult. I always used to think that sounded kind of weird, but now I’m starting to understand what they were saying.

I don’t know how to proceed. I’m not sure how to process all of this. I don’t know how to be me anymore.

There’s a flyer in my oncologist’s office called “Finding Your New Normal.” I guess that’s what I have to do now. I won’t ever be able to go back to the old me.

 

 

What Not to Say to a Cancer Patient

I’ve had a lot of time to sit around and think since my surgery. And one of the things that I ponder is all the stupid things I used to say and think about cancer.

Like most people lucky enough not to have personally dealt with the disease, I didn’t really understand how it worked. I’m still no expert, but I know a great deal more now than I once did. That knowledge makes me cringe at some of the things I used to think and say.

Outside my own transgressions, I’ve had a lot of well-meaning people say some pretty ridiculous things to me. I know it comes from a good place, and I also know that most people struggle with finding the right thing to say to someone with cancer. They want to help. But some of the things they say are pretty unhelpful. And some are downright rude and/or hurtful.

Here are some of the worst/most common things people have said to me that I would advise people to avoid when interacting with people battling cancer:

66265592

“You know eating/drinking meat/sugar/alcohol/etc., causes cancer.”
During my first appointment following my diagnosis, I met with a nutritionist who gave me a list of food-related cancer myths. What she told me was this: Yes, eating a plant-based diet with lean protein is best for cancer patients. But, it’s best for everyone, and it has nothing to do with cancer. There is just not enough research definitively linking any food/drink to cancer. Yes, there have been studies that have mentioned certain foods could cause an increased risk, but these findings are not widespread enough to officially draw a direct causal link to cancer.

23919848

“You know your deodorant/lotion/makeup/soap causes cancer.”
No. Just no. This is even worse than the food one. There is no solid medical evidence linking any personal grooming products such as deodorant to cancer. Most of the time, you’ll hear these claims made by people/companies peddling “natural” body products, which, to me, is disgusting. To use the fear of cancer as a marketing ploy is really beyond the pale. My deodorant did not cause my cancer. My genetics did.

funes-meme

“There’s a cure for cancer, but the government/pharmaceutical companies won’t ever allow it to be discovered/used because they would lose too much money.”
I must admit, I’m guilty of saying this one in the past. And of all the wrong things people say, this one sticks in my craw the most now. The truth is, there is no one cure for cancer. There aren’t five cures for cancer. Because cancer is an incredibly complex disease. Even within one type–breast cancer, for instance–there are so many different variations that change the way it’s treated, the way it grows and whether or not the patient survives. For example, breast cancer patients can have one of two different types of gene mutation that can cause their disease (BRCA1 and BRCA2), or they might not have the mutation at all. Their cancer could be estrogen receptive, progesterone receptive or HER2 positive. Or it could be a triple negative or any combination of the three. There are so many variables that finding a “cure” that address all of them all is damn-near impossible.
On top of all that, this kind of statement spits in the face of all the intelligent, dedicated people out there in the medical industry fighting cancer every day. People like my wonderful oncologist, who not only has a professional stake in this battle with his years of medical training and experience, but also a personal stake since his own wife is a breast cancer survivor. If there was a cure, he would be the first one doling it out.

There are so many things you can say to a cancer patient. “I’m here for you.” “I hope you’re feeling good.” “I love you.” If you want to be helpful, offer to make food or do chores. But unless your friend or loved one asks, don’t offer your medical advice. Because trust me, they probably don’t want to hear it.

And if you’d like to learn more about the disease from a factual, research-based source, I highly recommend visiting the American Cancer Society website.