It’s lifestyle factors. That’s what I was told had caused the lymphoma when I first got the diagnosis. They don’t really know. I’m about to participate in a study on the causes but for now, all the oncologist could tell me was “It’s lifestyle factors”. Of course, I started to try to isolate which lifestyle factors.
Was it all the sugar I used to eat?
Was it working around the clock?
Was it all the partying I had done in my late teens and early twenties?
I drove myself and the doctor mad with the questions. Was it too much coffee? Was it adrenal fatigue? Which lifestyle factors? I wanted to punish myself with all the bad things I had done to myself over the last 44 years, to blame myself for not having looked after the body. The doctor looked piteously at me and said “I can’t be more specific. It won’t be just one thing. Try not to worry about it.”
Okay. So I can’t change all the things I’ve done in the past. But if lifestyle factors have brought me to this point, surely this begs the question: can’t lifestyle factors turn the situation around?
I now firmly believe the answer to the question is yes. And that is what enables me to take some responsibility for my recovery and healing, rather than leaving it entirely in the hands of the doctors. Ian Gawler calls it Lifestyle Medicine.
It began with my stepmother suggesting I do some reading on alkaline diets and in particular, to have a look at the website of a Dr Sircus who advocates the use of bicarbonate of soda to alkalise the body. I resisted at first, overwhelmed by the number of tests I was having, and thinking this sounded like real crackpot stuff. However, one thing drove me to start reading. The fact that I had done a deal with myself that I was never going to have chemotherapy if I got cancer. I was going to miraculously cure myself. (Of course, I had also rather arrogantly told myself that I was never going to get cancer, but that’s another story).
Loved ones are rightly frightened when someone diagnosed with cancer looks like they will reject the conventional treatments available, so I dutifully went along with the doctors. The success rates with the form of treatment they proposed are extremely high and the risks low so it seemed like a good idea given the size of the tumours. But deep down, my resistance to chemo was building and I was becoming increasingly scared about what it might do to me. So I started reading in the hope that in the week before chemo started I might find that miraculous cure.
Dr Sircus describes cancer as a fungus that thrives in a body that is acidic and lacking in oxygen. I have since found out he is not the only one who believes that an acidic environment is necessary for cancer to thrive. The immediate solution is to eradicate all foods that are acid forming in the body, the most obvious ones being red meat, processed foods, sugar, wheat, caffeine, dairy and carbonated drinks and replace them with lots of leafy green vegetables and lemon juice (which when processed by the body is alkalising rather than acid forming).
But it was the bicarbonate of soda that held out the potential of a miracle. Apparently taking it orally while rubbing magnesium oil into the body, particularly around any tumours, will make the body so inhospitable to the cancer that after only a few short months it will leave. So I started taking it.
I rushed off and bought magnesium oil. I think the idea is that magnesium assists in delivering oxygen to our bodies’ cells. And I mixed bicarb of soda with water and swallowed it down 4 or 5 times a day. No specific dose was articulated. I started to feel incredibly sick. To make it more palatable, I mixed it with black strap molasses (another recommendation). It fizzed and bubbled and tasted like powdery liquorice. As the chemo date approached, I built myself up into a desperate frenzy for this stuff to work. And I frantically read Dr Sircus’s books, searching for the one line that would explain precisely what I needed to do.
Exhausted I stopped. I found that every time he was close to providing concise instructions, he would say that they could be found in another book he’d written. And then he wrote the most frightening things about chemo and I couldn’t take it any more. I needed something more gentle.
And then I found it (well actually a girlfriend found it and lent it to me, for which I will be eternally grateful). Ian Gawler’s book You Can Conquer Cancer. One book that talks about every aspect of life (and dying) and the way that each can be changed to encourage healing, whether you have been diagnosed with cancer or not. It summarises everything I have ever instinctively believed but lacked the courage or the impetus to implement. It also does not strike the fear of God into people about chemotherapy. It provides sensible questions to ask when deciding whether to accept it or not, and then if you do decide to accept it, it recommends embracing it to give it the best chance of working.
What I really loved, the essence of his message, is that given the right conditions, the body has the remarkable capacity to heal itself.
So the main points I have taken from Gawler and am trying to implement are these:
- Meditate. Meditation reduces stress and provides clarity of mind. It can also be used to put the body into a deeply relaxed state, necessary to foster healing. Visualisations can also help with healing. I imagine light filling my body and dissolving my tumours.
- Eat a plant-based, wholefood diet (and NO sugar or caffeine). He doesn’t talk about an alkaline diet but what he advocates is pretty close to that. Organic and homegrown veggies are the best because they have been grown with genuine care and without the use of chemicals that provide additional load for the body. Lots of juices. I love my new juicer! (And to hear that recent research has shown that a plant-based diet can reduce tumour size in women with breast cancer in just 2 weeks, watch this video by Dr Greger).
- Exercise and get oxygen through the body – yoga and walking are my favourites at the moment.
- Foster positive thinking. Not just an attitude of “it will be all right” but by developing deep compassion for and forgiveness of yourself and others. It involves emotional work and is the hardest part of the journey but I can feel long held anger and resentment leaving every day.
- Develop a spiritual life. Meditation might be all that is necessary but others might turn to religion. General buddhist theory has been my path for the last 8 years and I love the fact that I am encouraged to have my own experiences and to come to my own realisations. There is much more to be revealed on this journey.
- Energy work. This doesn’t take up much of Gawler’s book because it can be too confronting for people. But it’s there. I became a Reiki practitioner 20 years ago and turned my back on it. I am now reawakening that part of myself and I use Reiki as part of my afternoon relaxation meditation.
So through lifestyle factors I am endeavouring to create the right conditions for healing to take place, gently. The chemo has its place. I struggle with embracing it but I think I that now at least I am closer to accepting it. But I believe that the lifestyle factors hold the key to my lasting wellbeing and happiness. My life will never look the same again. If I am to be and stay well, it can’t. So everything has to change. It’s the lifestyle factors.