Five Years Plus

{February 21, 2010}   Between Two Worlds

It’s easy to be part of the alternative camp if you haven’t had to deal with a life-threatening or seriously debilitating condition. Faced with cancer, entering the conventional system seems to offer some security. Treatments are standardized and backed up by objective statistical research, or so it seems.

When my first treatment protocol of minimal surgery supported by alternatives was not successful, I wanted an oncologist on my team. At first he was reluctant to have me as a patient given that I did not want the tools in his doctor’s bag – chemo and estrogen inhibiting drugs like tamoxifen. He stuck by me even though I chose not to follow the “Standard of Care” and over the years has provided reassurance and on a couple of occasions calmed my nervous worries about unusual lumps.

I had an oncology appointment this past week. I asked Chuck to come because I was anxious about broaching the subject that I no longer want to have an annual mammogram. It’s not that I find it difficult – the pain of my breast being squeezed is momentary, the technicians are friendly and I receive immediate results in person from my radiologist. It’s the nagging feeling that the annual dose of ionizing radiation to my breast tissue that has already demonstrated susceptibility to cancer, might eventually cause cancer.

Early on in the interview my oncologist proposes to schedule my next mammogram for September. I accept the need for some surveillance for my one remaining natural breast and have been looking into thermography. This technique uses infrared heat to map body temperature and is an “especially well-suited tool for breast screening”, according to the literature I received from Advanced Thermal Imaging. It was approved by the FDA in 1982, but never gained prominence and therefore has not had the extensive research that mammography has had.

Lack of research is the main objection of my doctor. He reminds me of my high risk of getting cancer in my other breast and points out it would be tragic if a cancer went undetected because I refused to have mammograms. He believes that mammograms are completely safe. As he speaks, I am thinking about how dentists used to assure us that amalgam fillings containing mercury were safe, but I don’t argue. I simply continue to state my truth: “I don’t want to have mammograms anymore.”

“We could schedule your mammogram and then see how you feel when the time comes”, he suggests. Eventually, after a fairly lengthy negotiation we reach a compromise. I agree to have an MRI instead of the annual mammogram. MRI’s are becoming more widely accepted in breast screening. The downsides of an MRI include: inconvenience, cost, risk of false positives and the requirement for an injection of a contrasting agent called gadolinium. The upsides for me are that I had an MRI in 2005 so I have a baseline from which to compare current images and the radiologist who is familiar with my history will read the results.

As I write about this, I remember that the MRI was a horrible test and not really something I want to repeat, certainly not annually. So the questions arise: are mammograms really as dangerous as alternative proponents would have us believe, is thermography a viable alternative and is gadolinium safe? We have some months to do some research and will keep you updated on our findings.

Taking responsibility for my own health is extremely challenging. Sometimes I think it would be so much easier to have taken that “blue pill”, to trust the conventional system and believe everything that the doctor says. My path is to find a place where I can stand on my own two feet, neither in one world nor the other. From here I can tune into my own inner knowing, augmented by research, to make decisions that are right for me.

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Karen Love says:

Gyata- You are an inspiration to all. So many of these questions are difficult if not impossible to answer unless we had a crystal ball to see what the future would hold.
I will say, having had 4 MRIs with gadolinium since July, that you do get used to them as difficult as it is.

jim says:

good going…i’m going to suggest your blog to some people i know with cancer because i think your ideas are relevant to any type of cancer.

i hope at some point you will tell your readers how to GET STARTED looking into alternatives to conventional treatment. i’m sure there are many who are interested but feel overwhelmed, esp after a cancer diagnosis.

Loved reading your story-I was there, with tears when you first shared your frightening news with your Yoga class. You are a beautiful and courageous woman, admired and loved by all who know you. Thanks Gyata, for contributing to my good health thru’ Yoga.

[…] Years Plus {March 6, 2010}   Baby Steps This week’s blog is inspired by a question from Jim (Between Two Worlds, February 21, 2010). “Where does one start on an alternative path when faced […]

A says:

I got this address from Linkedin. First of all, I would like to congratulate you and your family. I liked reading your story and I am sure it will inspire and provide courage for others to handle personal health. Thank you for sharing, it is not easy to share personal details.

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