And She Blushed, Beet Red

April 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

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anti-cancer elixir garnished with fresh mint

The most compelling item on my lunch menu was by far a glass of anti-cancer juice. No one’s marketed this, and I’d be suspicious if anyone did. Most packaged and pasteurized juices – Tropicana, Ribena, and Ocean Spray – provide little more than dead vitamins and minerals. Even if all of the right ingredients were thrown into a bottle, labeled and sold at the grocery, the length of time between creation and consumption guarantees that the enzymes once alive in the vegetables would no longer be active. To make matters worse, juice companies more often than not add artificial sweeteners and other chemicals to marketed juices, turning what was once life giving into a substance that contributes to disease.

I’ve been meaning to get a “real” juicer for years.  Back in the days before cancer, I used to chop up fruits and vegetables in a blender, and then strain the juice from the pulp into a bowl from a nut mylk bag – all with my bare hands.  It’s not a bad way to start, and it’s a sure way to develop biceps. But a sturdy juicer like the Oscar Vital Max will save you some mess, vegetable-stained hands, and the tiresome process of juicing-out your blenders until they bust.  I hate clichés, but health is wealth, and investing in good juicer is way help boost your body with all the nutrients singing life derived from the rainbow colours of the earth.

So, what are some of the benefits of getting your vegetables through fresh, raw juice? Juices give the body an instant boost of nutrients, enzymes, vitamins and minerals in a form that can be easily assimilated, absorbed and digested. Freshly made and consumed within thirty minutes, raw juices cleanse the cells and clears the liver, which detoxifies the blood. Raw fresh juices provide a magnificent source of vitamins and minerals, trace elements and nutrients needed for the body’s healing process and cell regeneration. They proved natural medicines such as natural antibiotics and organic minerals that help restore the tissues to prevent aging of the cells and disease.

There are countless websites and books attesting to the benefits of juicing. I’ll leave it up to you to research and experiment.  In the meantime, I’ll share the ingredients of my juice today – The Secret Crimson Potion, The C-Killer Parade, The Love-Your-Life Elixir – ripe with vitality straight from the mother. I call it a recipe, but when it comes to juicing, (and I’m the same with cooking), my view is: recipes schmecipes. They’re a good starter to learn the ropes, but throwing anything natural and organic and green into your mix and you can’t go wrong.  Experiment.

The Ingredients, (With just some of their healing benefits)

Beetroot:  Sweet; strengthens the heart; sedates the spirit; improves circulation; purifies the blood; benefits the liver and moistens the intestines.

Celery: Cooling; calms an aggravated liver; improves digestion; dries damp excesses; purifies the blood.

Carrot: sweet; strengthens the pancreas; improves liver functions; stimulates the elimination of wastes; dissolves accumulations such s stones and tumours; alkaline forming and clear acidic blood conditions; rich with anti-oxidants and beta-carotene, (vitamin A), which protects against cancer; good for the skin.

Cucumber: Cooling; sweet; diuretic; counteracts toxins and lifts depression; cleanses the blood; purifies the skin.

Broccoli: Brightens the eyes; from the cruciferous family, known for fighting cancer, abundant in vitamin A and more vitamin C than citrus; a natural source of iron and B vitamins

Parsley: Improves digestion; uber-high in vitamin C; high in vitamin A, chlorophyll, calcium, sodium; good for all kidney difficulties; strengthens the adrenal glands and benefits optic and brain nerves, (Caution: should not be used by nursing mothers_

Raw Turmeric: Anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities; protects the liver from toxins

Raw Ginger: Feeds the properties of herbs to the lower extremities; used for nausea, cramps, aches and spasms.

Radish: Removes stagnation and detoxifies; used regularly,

Lime: Cooling antiseptic; therapeutic for people who have eaten high fat diets; anti-microbial; mucous-resolving; improves liver functioning; improves absorption of minerals; cleanses the blood; calms the nerves

Before drinking, I added 25 ml of aloe vera juice, which is good for detoxifying, boosting the immune, regenerating cells, reducing inflammation and strengthening the joints.

So there’s some food for thought.  Digest, and I’ll see you at dinner!

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Going Green

April 24, 2012 § 4 Comments

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self potrait: blue in green

One of the most amusing things people ask me when I say I’m a vegetarian, (or more accurately nowadays, a non-dairy eating pescetarian) is: “What in the world do you eat?” or “Don’t you feel deprived of everything delicious?” Even though I’m technically much more restricted in what I able to eat post-diagnosis, I find the idea of vegetarians as deprived as ludicrous. When I turned to a vegetarian diet at the age of sixteen, I found the more I learnt about whole vegetarian foods, I more I grew into a diet more abundant with nutrients than I had been exposed to when I ate meat. The more I read about nutrition and all the healthy, vitamin-rich things I could eat as part of my diet, the healthier, more alive, and more creative I felt with my meals. Even with my now anti-cancer dietary “restrictions”, I try to focus on all the things I can eat and rarely feel deprived. Looking at what so many people of the West have been accustomed to piling on their plates – cheese, white potatoes, processed meat and breads, all washed down with milk and followed by ice-cream and cake – I can only think to myself ironically: “what deprivation!”

But it begs the question still,  “Nancy, really, what in the world do you eat?”  In yesterday’s post I exposed all the crimes that white foods commit to our bodies and alluded to the power of the “Rainbow Warriors” or that spectrum of foods to include in a healthy, cancer preventative diet. Since it would take a book, or several posts, to go into all the good foods out there, I’ll do this chronologically starting with the first meal of the day complemented with the most powerful colour on the spectrum of disease preventing foods – green.  Keep in mind that what I’m eating now is specifically for me – a cancer-active patient – and not necessarily tailored for those who want to prevent cancer. Nonetheless, some of the same green goodness contained in this morning ritual applies to all constitutions.

Appertifs

I begin every morning with a cup of pure, hot filtered water.  Reverse osmosis water is the best,  alkalinizing the body, as well as gently waking up and warming the digestive tract. It may sound dull as a starter, but pure water does wonders for the lymph system, the largest cleaning system in the body.  It oxygenates and revitalizes. A once devout consumer of a morning espresso, after just a week of beginning the day with hot water, the thought of pouring black, vitamin depleting caffeinated espresso down my throat has started to sound disgusting. I just imagine all my B vitamins washing away with that cappuccino, and the coffee ritual quickly lost its magnetism.

I chase the cup of hot water with another infused with herbs prescribed to me by my homeopath.  Containing burdock root, sheep sorrel, slippery elm bark, and turkey rhubarb, this mixture, in addition historically treating a number of ailments, is composed a quartet of elements that all have anti-cancer benefits. From the view of Chinese medicine, cancer is often a disease originating from a weak liver and stomach, so the third appertif on my morning menu is a mixture of Chinese herbs and mushroom fungus given to me by my acupuncturist.  Whatever this woody mixture contains – likely things I can’t pronounce – it’s helping to heal those vital organs.

The Main Course

The most delicious part of the meal is by far the main course – my breakfast smoothie – and the thought of it gets me out of bed in the morning. Other smoothies simply pale in comparison, so I’ve named it “The Bionic Smoothie”. How I feel after drinking it has me wondering whether a Wonder Woman cape in my wardrobe might now be in order. A few moments after I’ve finished, I sense my cells waking up and buzzing with vitality.

Making the smoothie begins by blending a proven cancer-fighting mixture discovered by Dr. Joanna Budwig, one of Germany’s top biochemists as well one of the top cancer researchers in Europe. After years of experimentation and research, she found that when she combined flaxseed oil, with its powerful healing nature of essential electron rich unsaturated fats, and quark or cottage cheese, which is rich in sulfur protein, the chemical reaction produced makes the oil water soluble and easily absorbed into the cell membrane.

Blending the six tablespoons of cottage cheese and the two tablespoons of flaxseed oil together alone in a hand-held blender, I then add to this a bit flaxseed, ideally freshly ground. Flaxseed, when digested, helps regulate endocrine function and balance the ration of progesterone and oestrogen during the menstrual cycle. Since an overload of oestrogen in the body leads to cancer, especially breast cancer, it’s clear why flaxseed taken regularly is a winner.

(The cottage cheese in this mixture is the only dairy I consume – but its purpose is specific to healing cancer. In fact Dr. Budwig in her full anti-cancer diet plan does not recommended cancer patients consume any dairy other than the six tablespoons of cottage cheese blended with two tablespoons of flaxseed oil).

Next, I pile on wheatgrass, chlorella, and spirulina powders. All of those green babies are wonder foods with more benefits for the body than I can name. Wheatgrass increases red blood-cell count and lowers blood pressure. It cleanses the blood, organs and gastrointestinal tract of debris and detoxifies the whole system. It stimulates metabolism and the body’s enzyme systems by enriching the blood. Restoring alkaline in the body, the enzymes and amino acids found in wheatgrass can protect the body from carcinogens. It strengthens cells, detoxifies the liver and bloodstream, and chemically neutralizes environmental pollutants. Finally of note, wheatgrass fights tumours and neutralizes toxins. We all could do with a little more wheatgrass.

Chlorella and spirulina are both micro-occurring algae that contain a mountain of benefits.  Chlorella contains all the essential B vitamins.  It stimulates the immune system, increases white blood cell levels, reduces high blood pressure, relieves PMS and helps prevent cancer.  Spirulina protects the kidneys and the liver, treats depression and helps with mineral deficiencies.

For flavour and fluidity I add:

Unsweetened Almond Milk: This “milk alternative” contains more vitamins and minerals than any other. With 30 percent of the recommended calcium intake, 25 percent of the recommended dose of Vitamin D, 50 percent of the recommended intake of Vitamin E (a powerful antioxidant) and enough Vitamin A to keep the eyes functioning properly, almond milk, as one of my friends affectionately puts it, is the bomb.

Freshly Squeezed Grapefruit Juice: Full of vitamin C, citrus fruits like grapefruit also supply the body with photochemical compounds that act directly on cancerous cells, stopping their progression.  They also exercise beneficial action as anti-inflammatories.

Fresh Organic Berries: Most fruits are off the menu for me because of their high-sugar content, but berries are a sure fire in the fight against cancer. In addition to being colourful, wild and delicious, berries, like citrus fruits, contain large amounts of phytochemicals to help fight tumours. If you want to win a battle against cancer, or you simply want to prevent it: go organic with your berries. Your health is worth the extra money.

Last but not least comes a spoonful of psyllium husk, a native plant to India, where they have used it medicinally for thousands of years to detoxify the intestines.

That’s a lot in one smoothie.

Why Green?

When I had my first-ever full-body acupuncture treatment a few years back, the healer commented on my kidneys: “You need to send love to your kidneys,” she said in a staccato Chinese accent,  “Say, ‘Kidneys, I love you.’ Oh yes, and they need more colour green. Eat green foods. Spend more time on green grass.”

“What better place can I be,” I think, “than in England, where the hue is perpetually verdant and the rain pours down regularly to keep it that way drinking green smoothies?”

Green is the colour of the earth; it’s a healing colour.  Foods that are green are the most nutritious on the spectrum. It’s also the colour, in many traditions, of the spiritual heart.

Dessert

I chase up the Bionic Smoothie with a real delight: a matcha green tea unsweetened almond milk latté. Green tea, rich in anti-oxidants, is, as you may know, another cancer-killer.  Matcha green tea powder has ten times the potency of regular green tea. This blend I’ve got in my hand now is the real deal. Given to me by my stepmother, Midori, whose name in Japanese means “green”, I’ve prepared the tea in honour of the Japanese tradition with a little prayer and ritual – reminding myself in each step of the process that only this moment exists.  But that’s the best way to enjoy any meal, isn’t it?

Digesif

No meal is complete without a pro-biotic. In the old days, before cancer, I often used to often finish meals with yoghurt, a tradition in Ayurveda where the “good bacteria” in yoghurt has been thought to aid in digestion. That said, Ayurveda began in India where cows are considered holy, so it would follow that bovine milk and its derivatives would be thought to be holy too. Now that I’ve learned the dangers of dairy, the yoghurt routine has been replaced by a natural pro-biotic. Whilst I have always been wary of relying on too many supplements to replace what’s not present in my diet – most vitamins ideally are digested in the form of whole foods – visiting a nutritionist and seeking advice on what’s best for the  body can often clear up deficiencies with the right natural supplements.  Since I have the big-c, I’ve upped the ante with selenium, turmeric, milk-thistle, lycopene, omega-3, cod liver oil, echinacea, aloe vera, B12, D3, C, E and a natural multi-vitamin with ginseng. I drink Pau d’Arco tea throughout the day, (a tea derived from the tree of life from the Amazon known for its anti-fungal properties), and chew on four cloves of raw garlic. All these are digestifs, natural immune enhancers and together they work in ways with the body to fight against cancer.

I realize this may be a lot, and if you’re not in risk of getting cancer, it might simply be too much to consider even a fraction of what I put into my morning meal.  However, if you’re eating bacon for breakfast, jelly doughnuts, processed cereals soaking in pasteurized milk, toasted white bread with egg and melted cheese, then chasing it down with white coffee sweetened with refined sugar, it might be wise to consider some alternatives. Add some goodness and green to the top of your morning. Give up coffee and go for green tea.  Replace the white toast with rye and add some spinach, roasted tomatoe, chives, oregeno and scrambled tofu. Skip the cheese, dump the bacon, and replace it with some homemade muesli filled with almonds, dates, pumpkin seeds and topped with organic berries. Sprinkle in a little wheatgrass for good luck.  However you choose begin with breakfast, may it be luscious and life-affirming.

Let’s meet tomorrow for lunch.

A Rich White Disease

April 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

my breakfast

One thing I’ve learnt to discipline in this journey is my diet. With cancer, my immune system needs full support; my lymph system needs circulation; and my liver, responsible for detoxifying my body and supporting the flow of chi, needs all the help it can get.  As a cancer patient, I need energy and life force, minerals and vitamins.  Just as importantly, I need to feel good. Many natural foods and supplements have been found to do all of the above, and whole foods working together in the right combination, can attack cancer at its varying stages of progression.  Few medical doctors have been trained adequately in nutrition to give the full-range of proper advice for cancer prevention or support, so for anyone like me who wants to live cancer-free, I would highly encourage you to consult a reputable nutritionist and naturopath and work with that person over time.

What food makes us optimally healthy is often person-specific.  Traditions like Ayurvedic and Eastern medicine recognize that each of us has a predominating dosha, a constitution or set of inheritances that determine not only our physical structure, but our emotional anatomy, our preferences and perceptions, as well as the accompanying physical problems our bodies will confront over our lifetimes. In many ways, Medieval medicine – borne on the idea that there are four temperments based on four humours – phelgmatic, melancholic, choleric and sanguine – is similar. The Greek physician, Hippocrates, whom some consider the father of medicine, incorporated those four tempermants into his medical theories, and they might even be considered to influence modern psychology. Whether Medieval, Ayurvedic or Eastern, the same principle applies: sources of disease originate from an individual’s specific imbalances based on his or her specific constitution.  That said, no one diet suits all constitutions. In the realm of cancer, some patients are found highly deficient in minerals, others are overheated, others “damp”, still others too acidic. Finding the right nutritional programme for any individual, whether disease-ridden or disease-free, depends on careful investigation of all factors that might set the individual internal terrain off-balance.

Nonetheless, I thought I would share with you some of the general things I’ve learnt about how and what most of us eat can either stimulate or discourage disease.  In this post I’ll be looking at the White Offenders, (the bad foods). In the next, I’ll introduce you to the Rainbow Warriors, (the good foods).

First, there are some big “no-nos” that most holistic traditions agree cancer-active patients need to eliminate completely.  In my humble opinion, anyone who wants to stay optimally healthy should avoid these foods.  The usual suspects in the realm of disease, the big “no-nos” have been proven to promote everything from diabetes to heart attacks.  In addition to being nearly nutritionally void, some of the following “white” foods feed cancer cells, rob our bodies of calcium and build up acid in our gut, and line our intestinal walls with mucous, which then causes a whole host of problems both physical and emotional. There’s a reason cancer is called in China a “rich, white person’s disease”.

Here they are, The Three Bad Whites:

  1. White Sugar
  2. White Rice, Bread & Pasta
  3. Dairy

Whilst I don’t have time to go in depth into all of these usual suspects, I’ll give  you a quick overview of some of the central sick things attributed the Big Bad Whites.

Milk

For whom\ever grew up in the 80s when I did, you might remember the incessant television ads insisiting, in a catchy tune, accompanied by a freckled young boy smiling with a milk-mustache, that “milk-a-does-a-body … milk-a-does-a-body-good”.  My response to that industry-funded advertisement is that it depends on what milk you’re singing about and to what body you’re feeding it.  Growing babies need their mother’s milk for growth: milk is full of essential enzymes and growth-inducing chemicals that promote healthy cell division necessary for the growing child. However, no species on the planet consumes the milk of their mothers beyond infant years, and no species – save humans – drinks the milk of an animal other than that of their mothers.  A human baby normally takes 180 days to double in its birth weight, whilst a cow takes only 47 days. Cow milk, even in an organic state, is considerably more abundant in a growth factor chemical called  IGF-I. Scientific literature strongly supports the link between high circulating IGF-I levels and several types of cancer, a disease that begins with rapidly dividing cells. IGF-I is just one example; many powerful chemicals contained in milk have an important role in the development of healthy mammals – but what happens when the chemicals intended by nature to stimulate cell growth in newly born animlas send similar signals to adult tissue in humans?

Beside growth-inducing chemicals abundant in milk, dairy is full with a host of natural and human-induced chemicals and bacteria.  Milk is an excellent culture for the medium of the growth of many unpleasant bacteria and micro-organisms, some of which have been known to cause diseases such as IBS in humans. Listeria, found in soft cheeses, can cause meningitis and septicaemia.  And if that is not enough, contemporary intensive farming methods found predominantly in North America, use a wide range of chemicals including antibiotics and anti-parasitics that compromise human immune systems among attacking other things in the body. The inhumane methods of intensive methods of dairy farming means that cows live in artificial, unhealthy conditions where cows are milked more intensely and for longer periods of time. Cows udders become infected; pus leaks into the very milk many humans end up drinking. If you drink milk from these cows, you’re ingesting the pain they’ve suffered, and you’re contributing to their suffering.

A lot of additional hard evidence supports that milk does not do the body good – nor does supporting the multi-national dairy industry do our planet any good . Professor Jane Plant in her book Your Life in Your Hands cites dairy as the leading cause of cancer, as well as a number of other diseases including child-onset diabetes and a host of allergies. Contrary to what the dairy industry would like us to believe, milk products rob the body of calcium. Rather than aid in the maintenance of healthy bones, the deficiencies in milk often cause the body to withdraw calcium from the bones to neutralize the proteins and lactic acids in milk.

If you are interested in reading more, this article by the AFPA is rather thorough: “Does Milk Really Do the Body Good? Calcium and Protein: A Mixture for Disaster”  A good documentary that exposes truths some of the dairy industry would prefer to keep from us is Food Inc.

If you’d like an alternative to dairy, I’ve found almond, rice, quinoa, oat and hemp milk many times more delicious than cow’s milk. A whole range of soy and rice cheeses can substitute cheddar, mozarella and brie.  Whilst some cooks may turn up their noses at such a suggestion – I was one of you – my response now is that if you have cancer, have had cancer, or are at risk of cancer, (and with 1 out of 3 people getting cancer in our modern world, who isn’t at risk?), eliminate dairy even if it means giving up goat’s cheese; for the rest of you: consume this white felon sparingly.

White Bread, Pasta, and Rice

The miscreants in this pale trio are criminal characters that have come from overly refining, processing, preserving and packaging what was once a healthy food. Brown rice tonifies the body and mind; it is beneficial for those with weakness, pallor and depression writes Paul Pritchford in Healing with Whole Foods. White rice, on the other hand, sits in the gut providing calories, but no essential nutrition. A telling anecdote: leave damp white rice on the counter for a couple of days, and it rots. Leave damp brown rice on the counter, and it sprouts!

Similarly, white bread and white pasta contribute to cancer and disease by raising the acidity of the body, which deprive the body of oxygen. Cancer develops in a low-oxygen environment. The process of refining and preserving eliminates much of what the original grain had to offer; When wheat is refined, it loses 75% of its B vitamins, at least 90 % of its mineral content, 98 % of its vitamin E and 99% of its fibre. The overproduction and storage of grains means that moulds are increasingly common, resulting in the presence of aflatoxin in the grains – and that is carcinogenic.

In short, eat whole grains: brown rice, barley, quinoa, oats, rye and spelt. Eat whole grain and sprouted breads. Pass on the white pasta, white bread and white rice. The more demand is made in restaurants, the more those foods will become available. Don’t be a whitey!

White Sugar

When you have cancer, refined sugar should be the first outlaw thrown in the slammer.  Cancer cells literally feed off of the stuff. The German biologist Otto Heinrich Warburg won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for his discovery that the metabolism of malignant tumours is largely dependent on glucose consumption.  When we eat foods with a high glycemic index, (white flour, white sugar), blood levels of glucose rise rapidly.  The body immediately releases insulin to enable the glucose to enter the cells, which is accompanied by the release of a molecule called IGF, (or insulin-like growth factor, whom we met on the section on milk). In short, sugar nourishes tissues and makes them grow faster.  IGF and insulin promote factors in inflammation, which stimulates cell growth and fertilizes tumours.

Corn syrup is ubiquitous in packaged and processed foods. Read the labels: anytime you see the words, “gluctose”, “fructose”, “corn syrup”, or any word ending in -ose you can’t pronounce, keep it on the shelf and out of your body. Our bodies have always had a difficult time digesting refined sugars, and several studies have shown that this difficulty in the stage of digestion is what contributes most significantly to adolescent acne, as well as a lot of other digestive related problems. Corn syrup is pure toxicity; our bodies can simply not handle this chemically produced sweetener. Dr. David Servan-Schreiber in Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Live sees there’s good reason to believe refined sugar is the biological malfeasant responsible for the epidemic of cancer.

I know some of you may have a sweet tooth. Before I was diagnosed with cancer, I indulged in an almond croissant at least once a week. It was full of all the wrong stuff: refined sugar, refined flour and all the bad fats.The only healthy thing in that treat was the almonds, which I now eat raw. I’ve found now that I’m more informed, the almond croissant has lost her allure:  it simply whispers to me in it’s sultry sweet breath:”cancer”, and I have the wisdom to walk away. My advice: if you have cancer, have had cancer, have a high-risk for cancer, have diabetes, or just want to stay optimally healty: cut this refined, sweet, white guy out of your life. You’ll meet other sweet dudes along the way: stevia, xylirol, (a birch-bark extract), acacia honey, or agave syrup, to name a few, and I guarantee you, it won’t be a toxic relationship.  That said, considering the findings of Otto Heinrich Warburg, cancer patients should consider the benefits of eliminating as much as possible their sugar consumption whether the source of sweet is either refined or natural. In my humble opinion, and for all palates, refined sugar is a waste of space in the diet. It might even be seen. We might even see this refined, white guy as the burden of colonialism.

There’s a number of foods not in the white category you can do without if you want to live cancer-free.  All preserved, smoked and refined foods can stay in the aisles of the supermarket and away from your precious cells. Red meat has been linked to certain forms of cancer, as well as most oils except flax, oil, walnut, linseed and grape seed.  If you need animal protein, fresh ethically farmed fatty fish high in Omega-3 is your best bet. A good rule is to eat as close to the earth as possible, but I’ll get into all the good foods, “The Rainbow Warriors”, tomorrow. So hold tight, and in the meantime – happy eating! Happy eating,  by the way is a whole other dimension to healthy diet. Enjoying and relaxing with your meal will ensure the best nutrients are optimally digested!

20 Reasons to be Grateful in 20 Minutes

April 15, 2012 § 2 Comments

inspiring graffiti

spring blossoms

blue stocking feet on the green grass

punctuation

the word "flounder"

regent's canal

many-generations-old tree

perseverance

laundry mats

the good old days

a white wall peeling revealing layers of colour

a beautiful door

wallpaper

shadow play

lock 7 cycle cafe

an old lamp

pubs

the view from market cafe

Tree Sacrifice; Blossom Resurrection

April 12, 2012 § 1 Comment

The cusp of winter collapses into spring. Cherry blossoms spread their petals and pirouette in the breezes. The sun breaks through the cracks in our winter curtains. Christians consume the metaphorical, (or literal, depending on your faith), body and blood of Christ. Some make sacrifices throughout lent and resurrect spiritually in lightness.  Christian or not, Easter has always signified a time for me to surrender and renew, to renounce and resurrect, to offer gifts to the spirit and bring the best of myself back to life.

Spending this holiday with my family has reminded me of all the everyday sacrifices and resurrections made for and born out of love. We make sacrifices to be with the people we love when it’s needed: my brother’s family endured a long car ride with a two year old and a dog to reach my father’s steps Toronto. I flew across the Atlantic and endured in-flight rom-coms starring Adam Sadler to be home for Easter.  As onerous or mundane as sacrifices might be, when done for love, sacrifices are more often than not often performed without question. Parents spontaneously sacrifice sleep for their newborn babies. My brother and his wife sacrifice hours upon hours to care for my young nephew. My own father as well as extended family and friends have been making sacrifices to extend their support to me as I face cancer.

It’s almost as if all good things born from love and commitment require some sacrifice; it’s almost as if a degree suffering must be endured at times for joy to emerge. When I lie in bed in the morning and think how nice it would be to skip yoga and stay under the covers, I remember the small sacrifices that result in a joy that only comes from fitting in a full early morning practice before I start my day. Getting out of bed when I’d rather to lie in pushes me into a little bit of suffering, but the satisfaction of honouring commitments I’ve made to myself gives birth to a deeper joy. Attending a silent meditation retreat requires the sacrifice of time, patience and finances, but the feeling of renewal, spaciousness and lightness at the end of a retreat can feel like a figurative resurrection. Writing this blog entry requires sacrifice too: I had my mind set tonight on a hot bath and an early night, but something else was calling me to write, to keep up this deal I’ve made with myself, (for whilst my journal is full, I am already two blog entries behind).  So here I am, surrendering my bubble bath and enduring tempered thought and typing late to unwind in the waters of words.

As I think of the weeks that have passed since my diagnosis with breast cancer, I’ve been contemplating the sacrifices I’ve had to make in order to heal.  Change is vital to surviving cancer, (or to survival period), and with upheaval in states of mind and habitual lifestyles come sacrifices in all forms and variations. Whilst there hasn’t been any ritual slaughter – at least not yet – there have been a fair game of resignations, renunciations and relinquishments I’ve made in the name of healing.  I left a stressful job.  I gave up sugar.  I’ve had my last glass of wine. I’ve offered up a good chunk of my day to energy work.  I’ve surrendered myself to a pile of research on holistic cancer care.  I’ve started a gratitude journal. I’m sacrificing time to sit with myself and listen for any guidance my body might whisper to me. I’m staying as soft and as tender as I can be with myself – soft with all the fluctuation of emotions, tender with all the transformations that are shaking me out of my comfort zone. I feel I’ve got a long way to go, but though all those sacrifices, I sense I’m developing deeper intuition and relationship with myself.  Perhaps eventually, a resurrection will happen: Nancy will emerge, like a phoenix from the ashes of carcinoma, physically, emotionally, and spiritually vibrant, (provided all these crazy cancer therapies don’t burn her out first).

In my more existential moments, I ask myself: why am I making all these sacrifices?  For whom? For what? For myself?  For my family? For God? It is Easter after all, shouldn’t I be thinking about my relationship with the Almighty? Whilst I have no fixed perceptions and conceptions of what or who God is, I sense this journey of healing is as spiritual as it is physical.  Healing disease involves addressing the imbalances in the whole self, and the whole self doesn’t stop at the limits of my skin.  As I address cancer, I’m confronted with just how connected I am to the world around me.  How many toxins are swimming in our polluted cities?  A typical beauty cabinet is stocked with chemicals that can initiate rogue cells to fire off in the body; a common refrigerator is loaded with carcinogenic condiments; under the bathroom sink, a host of toxins exist that with prolonged exposure to human skin can alter cellular function and DNA.   As I confront not just the outer world and its rogue contributions a cancerous environment, I confront my own inner environment and the rogue tendencies that could fire off unhealthy messages.  I have started to notice acutely the thoughts and feelings that fertilize disease, and through that I have begun to seek a more profound balance in my emotional well-being.  I sense that begins with relating to myself and to the world in a way that is genuine and compassionate.

With that shift in focus, or rather the immediacy I feel in changing not just how I think and perceive the world, but how I live and act in it, I sense subtly that my relationships have been shifting alongside those inner shifts I have made towards healing. I have been seeking a more meaningful level of enquiry into the sources of this cancer, and through that, a more meaningful level of enquiry into my life. I have begun to see the journey of healing evolving into something as collective as it is individual. It is a cancer in my body, an imbalance I must confront privately in the room of my own heart, but with that I meet myriads of others– not just other humans, but animals with whom I interact and that help heal me,  with the earth and to the grass beneath my feet on which I walk that nourishes me, the leaves in the teas from which I drink that cleanse my system, the flower remedies from which I ingest and that make up my medicines.  I sense there’s a mystery to this illness, and that I can never know the ultimate cure or the cause, but through enquiry into its healing, I sense I am receiving guidance by life’s interdependence. Dreams are guiding me. Intuition is guiding me. Synchronicities are guiding me. Nature is guiding me. When I resolve inside to heal this cancer – and not just the cancer itself, but all the physical, emotional and spiritual imbalances that may have precluded this bodily symptom – life starts co-operating in my journey.

Like the sacrifices of sleep mother makes for her child’s wellness, I have been making sacrifices to heal my body.  Like the sacrifices of time a father makes for his family’s wholeness, I have been making sacrifices to heal my emotions. Like Christ’s sacrifice of his body for the life of the spirit, or like the Buddha’s sacrifice of fasting and meditation to reach enlightenment for the sake of all sentient beings, I am too in my small ways, making sacrifices to heal my spirit.  And like all those sacrifices – of mother, of father, of Buddha of Christ – the right sacrifices made on my own journey of healing will be primarily ones born from and for love.

When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I was one toe short of being paralyzed with complete fear. Much of orthodox cancer approaches function on fear. Entering into discussion with oncologists about medical procedures and possible outcomes, I seized up in fright; I mirrored the panic I could see in my doctor’s faces as they began to describe what was happening in my body and what I had to do to rid myself of this terrifying disease.  In that state of mind, I could only think of cancer in the most threatening way possible – a malignant, mindless, greedy clan of cells out to colonize my tissues and eat me alive.  In that light, all weaponry had to be unsheathed to slash, burn and poison the terrifying mass from my breast and stop it at all costs from returning.

But whether in sickness or in heartache, fear has never been entirely successful in bringing me closest to genuine health. Fear certainly has its function, but sustained over too long a period of time, it only creates more stress and more disease. When I approach the condition of living with cancer with greater softness, greater nurturance, greater patience, greater love – when I begin to see the cancer in my body as a process unfolding, a sign that inner conflict needs resolving, a signal that profound healing must happen, I feel empowered, courageous, and less burdened by this fate. I wouldn’t go so far to say cancer is a gift – if it is a gift, I’d like to return this mass of cells with a full refund, or perhaps a gift certificate at the department store of diseases? Perhaps I could exchange cancer, for say, hay fever or athlete’s foot? Whilst cancer is no gift, I do see this disease as an opportunity focus on self-nurturing. It’s a time to heal – not just the rogue, multiplying cells in my left breast – but it’s a time to work on my whole self.  I am giving myself full permission to address all the emotional and spiritual places of stagnation that need clearing.  Cancer is the raven, the omen, the cipher, and the ideogram from which multiple things can be read. “There’s no time to waste.” “Investigate your life.” “Be soft with yourself.” “Listen to your inner voice.” “Heal your heart!” Maybe through this life journey, cancer is the sacrifice that has to be made, and the resurrection will be a more profound feeling of what it means to truly love. Here’s hoping.

cherry blossom resurrection

Where Am I?

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