When the cancer knocked on my door, there was no need to introduce us. I first met him when I was only 17, when my dad got melanoma, a type of skin cancer. The second time about twenty years ago, he took my mother away from me, this time using metastatic breast cancer. So-called, not the best opening conditions in the book. Just imagine the amount of tests and annual follow-ups of someone like me.
Despite the family background, I decided to be unique – who knew that a tiny lump near the elbow would be enough to cause such a big commotion? I was assured it was benign, checked it out here and there and in the end, when the tiny one had grown into a tennis ball, there was no choice but to cut the meat and find out the matter to the end. So I joined the cancer circle and won a follicular lymphoma, a lymphoma from the non-Hodgkin family that according to the latest information, there is no way to completely eliminate it and the doctors’ ambition is that I live with it for as many years as possible.
Because with me she settled out of the lymphatic system at all (what did she have to look for in her left elbow only she knows ..), for a moment there was hope that maybe spot irradiations would make my lymphoma disappear forever. I went through the screenings, hoped and held fingers, but after another routine check or two it turned out she was here and had not disappeared anywhere. That’s how my relationship with lymphoma began, which got the apt nickname “Penelope”, and I got into a routine situation called by doctors – wait and watch, let’s look at it, see what happens and respond accordingly. So we looked.
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A ‘considerate’ but surprising disease
In the meantime, several years have passed in which I switched to veganism to stop harming animals; I broke into a new career with the blog “Vegans Enjoy More” which included developing recipes, consulting restaurants, producing meals, leading workshops and lectures; I found the love of my life and in general, it seemed that Penelope and I were getting along quite well. I did not disturb her too much (or at least that was how I thought at the time) and she did not disturb me.
Some people go through a serious upheaval when they receive their entry ticket into the oncology world. Sometimes they do not breathe enough and are already sucked into the dizziness of treatments, without fully understanding what and why. Sometimes they realize that they should stop, look inward and make serious changes in life. And sometimes, like me, they hope everything was one big mistake and that if I just insisted hard enough as a stubborn redhead knows, the disease would just go away. I was very lucky that I “won” a “comfortable” cancer, a slow and thoughtful cancer, which did not settle at critical points and allowed me for a few full years, to stay a little with my head in the sand and believe that for me it would be different. After all, I have already switched to veganism, I eat healthier and I also started exercising for the first time in my life (yes, yes, it turns out that vegans do not crumble and can even develop not bad muscle mass!). On the face of it I had every reason to feel healthy and immune.
Then the real slap came. About three years ago Penelope decided it was no longer appropriate for her to sit in the dark and sent signs of life in all directions. In a routine scan called ‘PET CT’, spots appeared in all sorts of places on the body, especially inside the bones. These are not really tumors (more cell clusters) and are also on a very small scale (the so-called “low disease load”) but wow, this is also no longer the relative quiet that has been until now. And who even knows what might happen next, where else can the disease settle? Can I keep sitting complacent or am I actually dreaming a little? Because the package I won, of such a slow and considerate illness, also includes much unknown – it has no classic move that can be predicted. It is a systemic disease that circulates in the blood and bone marrow, and no one can know when and where it will decide to settle.
“There must be another way to calm the disease”
So I first heard my doctor say “like him”. Now, as I will write here many times later, I am the first to believe that each and every one has the full right to choose his or her own way of caring for their body. So like someone else would say to her doctor “Okay, when do you start?”, I said first to myself and then to the doctor, that chemotherapy and I really do not. As I recall, I accompanied both my parents in their coping with the disease and the treatments they underwent did not make me much eager to experience them myself, to put it mildly. It is true that many years have passed, the treatments have been perfected and medicine has advanced, but for me to choose such an aggressive treatment, at a stage when the disease does not actually threaten my life, felt wrong to me. I felt there must be another way to calm the disease again, without paying such a heavy price.
Now maybe some of you are saying to yourself, “Wow, she’s not normal, but the doctor said!”. And I totally understand, doctors have a lot of knowledge and they are life-saving, here thanks to the screenings I went through, the huge lump that spread into my hand and could have impaired my functioning, has completely disappeared – obviously I have all the appreciation and gratitude for that! And on the other hand, I also always remember the regular sentence my mother would say to me since I was a child – “Medicine is not an exact science.” With all the extensive knowledge that physicians have, ultimately especially in systemic and autoimmune diseases, they mostly weight their experience with research statistics and hope for the best, a bit like the rest of us. Of course my doctor offers me some treatment because that’s what he thinks I should do best, but he can only offer, he advises. And if I want to decide something else and he will not agree with me and will not cooperate with me? I can also decide I go to another doctor. I may sound cynical but I’m really serious, until recently I would not have come up with such a revolutionary idea as looking for a doctor who would suit me and my therapeutic perception, and not the other way around.
“All I do is help my body and mind to cleanse themselves of everything that bothered them and caused the disease in the first place – that way I will have a greater chance of truly recovering”
This was actually the real starting point for this journey, my self-healing journey, the journey to recovery and saving my life. The understanding that my healing is possible and that it is in my hands. The understanding that doctors have a lot to give and offer, but that it is absolutely not all What can be done – there are lots of ways and options for healing in addition to or in place of hospital treatments; The more I learn and understand, the more involved I will be in the process, the more I will help my body and mind clear of everything that has bothered them and caused the disease in the first place – so I will be more likely to truly recover. Not just getting along with Penelope somehow, but saying hello and not saying goodbye to this seemingly-chronic lymphoma, breaking the graphs and statistics and proving to myself that it’s really in my hands.
This is how I equipped myself with one of the most important components in the process of self-healing of this kind – faith. I truly believe with all my heart that my disease can be cured, that cancer can be cured. Cancer is an autoimmune disease, a disease that I cause myself, cells of my body that have changed and gone out of control and are constantly multiplying. And if I developed this cancer, who can cure it if not me? I believe in the connection between the mental and emotional experiences I went through in life and the outbreak of the disease and that it is true that there are genetic cancers and those that can be infected (in my life, for example bacteria found in cow meat), but in most cases it depends on us – will my lifestyle activate this recalcitrant gene Or will he make him continue to sleep quietly? And after the disease breaks out, will I allow her to continue to thrive or will I do anything to make her understand that she should go?
I decided to take responsibility. To take responsibility for my life, for my desires and dreams, for my hopes and aspirations, that in order to realize them I first of all need and want to live and be healthy. I invite you to join me on my journey towards recovery, a journey that will reveal the way I do, the treatments I choose to go through, interesting experiences, getting to know experts I meet, many questions and hopefully quite a few answers. A journey that is all about searching and deepening, there will also be a mistake, because from our mistakes we learn the most, right?
The author has been dealing with follicular lymphoma since 2010, author of the blog “Vegans Enjoy More” and author of the new cookbook “Vegan celebration“