Change is Good: My Journey Back to Health Part 1
I am a cancer survivor- 42 years and counting. I was diagnosed with Wilms’ Tumor in September 1974 at 18 months old. I survived something that could have and should have killed me had it not been for the call on my life that would not be realized for another 40 years. Forty-one years later with one less kidney I was, in my opinion, healthy. Outside of seasonal allergies I didn’t have too much to complain about until one day my body started to speak and it was not happy. It was hurting and I finally had to listen. In June 2015 I was diagnosed with Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and multiple Pulmonary Embolisms (PEs). In layman’s terms, I had blood clots in my leg and both lungs. At the hospital my attending physician told me if I had not come to the emergency room when I did, I would have died. Whoa! Back up! Two weeks prior I experienced the same symptoms and attributed them to the asthma diagnosis I received because nothing showed up on any x-ray or any other test I had. My allergies had been getting worse for some time and allergy medicines were not working so it was assumed my symptoms were likely related to asthma. For those two weeks when my symptoms went from whispers to screams I was, for lack of a better description, a ticking time bomb. My doctor tried to explain to me the nature of my illness and said that the clots could travel to my heart or brain leading to a heart attack or stroke. I should stop here to say in October 2014 my primary care physician urged me to quit my very stressful traveling job because in her words “I was priming myself for a heart attack or stroke”. Two years prior to that she recommended I take a medical leave of absence from work because in short, the way my body handled stress was no longer “working for me” and because of that, one fateful day in October 2012 my body literally shut down. Fast forward 3 years, I wanted to know what would keep these clots from traveling to my heart or to my brain. The doctor looked at me and paused for a second then very carefully said “Sweetheart, they already went to your heart, they just didn’t stay there.” That was my come to Jesus moment and for the next year I would try to figure out how to heal because after all, I am a nutritionist and wellness advocate. If anybody could do it, I knew I could but my health just seemed to get worse. I had to take blood thinners and bled non-stop. I bled so much I felt like a slaughtered pig and I lost so much blood I had to get intravenous iron (6 hours at a time) for 4 sessions. Then in December 2015 I learned the clots disappeared. Surely the hand of God delivered me. Yes! But why did I still feel the same? Short of breath, low energy, fatigued, swollen lymph nodes (for which I would be hospitalized again), constipation, dry and itchy skin, diabetes/high blood sugar, borderline high cholesterol and high blood pressure, fluctuating weight, headaches, joint pain, hair breakage, insomnia, and to top it off, every esthetician’s worst nightmare- hyperpigmentation and facial/hormonal acne!
Then this past June (2016) I was diagnosed with a mild form of Lupus. My rheumatologist, in an attempt to make me feel better, told me all this means is I have a name for what has been making me feel so bad. But the prospects of staying on potentially dangerous medications to help me feel better doesn’t feel right
for me. In July I learned the clots returned to my lungs, I have pulmonary hypertension and the nodules on my left lung that showed up seemingly out of the blue, still could not be explained. After a third hospital stay in 13 months I’m back on blood thinners, this time the recommendation is for life. I decided to chronicle my journey back to health because for one thing, I believe it will happen and I want to lead a revolution of people who will take ownership of their own health and wellness and not just learn which drug cocktail works best for them. I do support treating illness spiritually, holistically, and medicinally when necessary but some doctors believe more in (conventional) medicine than miracles. Personally, I have no interest in masking symptoms. I’m looking for root causes! So when my doctors tell me taking a certain medication will slow the progression of the disease, I take issue with that. Believe it or not, the body is not designed to coexist with autoimmunity. There is a reason why my body is ill. There is a reason for the dysfunction. My job is to figure out what it is. I also have to understand that as much as there is a reason for everything there is also a lesson in everything. When I first got sick, I shared my thoughts on what I thought all of this meant. Here is an excerpt of that post:
“…I have a story to tell- not about illness or hardships but about surrender. That is what these blood clots are trying to teach me. Even though my body is tasked with breaking down these clots, I have no control over how and when or even if that happens. It's enough to make me cry but I don't. I can't anymore. I surrender. God brought me to this place for a reason. He has "us" in this for a reason. All I can do now is surrender which doesn't mean give up or stop fighting. It means stop working against. Up until now I have tried earnestly to take care of myself and God seemingly allowed me to do it. I was always able to "get another job" or "rob Peter to pay Paul" to buy time. I was never happy and it ultimately led me to this place. In this place I can't do anything except be here. I don't think I care anymore why I have these clots or where they came from or what caused them to be. There is nothing I can do about them…
…I can enjoy making homemade ice cream with my girls and watching the lightening bugs sparkle in the trees next to my house. I can enjoy quiet solitude while listening to the June thunderstorms. I can relish in the ability to sleep in and enjoy the fact that there is nowhere I need or have to be. I can finally color in my coloring book. I can do today what I used to put off for tomorrow. I can thank God He allowed me to see this day and be in this moment. I can let Him teach me the lessons of trust, patience, and surrender. My journey back to my healthy self is a long process accompanied by a host of side effects. The fear is in what happens next. But there is no reason to be afraid. I lived with these clots for a long time before I knew they were here. My life could have ended because of a simple fall. If I made it through when I didn't know there was danger, I can't be afraid now. Eventually I will get back to the work of being a healing presence and helping others live more brilliantly. For now I will rest in the knowledge that this too will pass and I'll try as best I can to enjoy this mandatory sabbatical and the freedom in surrendering.”
In the spirit of surrendering, my illnesses have taught me to be fully present and pay
attention to how my life is presenting itself. My dis-ease forces me to acknowledge what does not work for me and needs to be let go. I’ll never forget the first nutrition class I took in graduate school. The professor asked us to list our symptoms. He said on any given day we experience 5-6 symptoms in our bodies. He went on to say these symptoms are manifestations of our lives (the lives we have created) and if we tend to ourselves, our symptoms will go away. As I listed my symptoms in the order they first occurred, I noticed a correlation between the symptom and the part of my life I neglected. For example, when I stopped writing, my hands began to hurt; when I stopped speaking what was true for me I started having extreme sensitivity in my teeth. All together there were five neglected areas in my life that were causing pain in my body- my yoga practice, art, writing, nutrition, and sleep which spell out the acronym Y.A.W.N.S. which I certainly could have used more of. This little exercise proved to me something my professor stated earlier- there is no separation of your mind from your body or your body from your mind. If I am going to be well I have to pay attention to the collective me. We all have an inherent wisdom that helps us know what to do and what not to do for our wellbeing. In a recent message to a friend I said, “Writing has been the one thing that has kept me sane as I try to figure out why my body is rebelling. But then again, I know why it is rebelling- repressed emotions, saying "yes" when I should say "no", offering too many explanations for why I think what I think and do what I do. It wears you down and the body can only take so much external BS before it turns on itself.” More than ever, I have to “reverse” what my body is going through- namely inflammation. I wish I had taken better care of myself and listened when my body was still whispering. I wish I would have made myself a priority long ago. Now my body is rebelling against itself and I sometimes feel helpless. But, I know there is hope and I will find the missing link. I love how Dr. Eric Zielinski puts it: “Under the right conditions God has given our body the unbelievable ability to heal itself of virtually anything.”
As I work my way back to health I am reminded of the words of Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg after the sudden death of her husband. She posted these words on her Facebook page: “I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel- and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning.” Whatever I was concerned about prior to getting sick I can assure you, doesn’t concern me now. And with this second trip around the mountain, maybe in addition to needing to change my diet and health habits, its lesson is about worry. I simply cannot afford to worry anymore nor can I afford to let anyone worry me. Bills will get paid or they won’t. People will get over what bothers them or they won’t. Life will continue until it stops but I certainly don’t need to speed that process along with worry. I need to hang out peacefully allowing whatever good there is in all this to change me. I have written before that being well requires a mindset change not a lifestyle change. There are a lot of people doing the right things and they are terribly sick. I have to change my belief system about health, wellness, success, love, God, trials. Clearly God can and will stop all our rushing around and cause us to sit and be still and I have no choice but to be here now…
I should point out the title of this post is “…my journey back to health” Part 1. I have not arrived. I am still traveling, still navigating some rough terrain, yet I see a clearer path to the life I want to live. I’ll take you on this journey with me and in Part 2, I’ll chronicle the steps I take to get there. I have to believe it is okay to make myself a priority. I have to trust my body’s innate wisdom and I have to accept that sometimes, you have to do what you know to heal yourself.
©2016 by Tasha D. Manigo-Bizzell