Saturday 30 May 2020

Puppy lessons part two

My beloved dog, Ace, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure this week. He is almost 5 and usually has the most robust and vivacious energy. To say that we are all devastated would be an understatement. And so begins a new journey with him - one of even more presence and renewed unconditional love. There are so many lessons revealing themselves. From acknowledging our feelings, to being mindful of our energy around him. With the shock of a diagnosis comes the gift of a life thrown once again into technicolour, the surprise that that lesson had faded, that there had been some subtle seepage of comfortable taking-for-granted. And again, the big lessons, the reminders to trust and surrender.

Ace is a beautiful, big dog. Huge. He has always attracted attention from strangers, and been lavished with love and affection. As a result he is incredibly curious about, and loving towards, people. He is wonderfully patient and gentle with children. His heart has been relentlessly, unconditionally filled with love. Maybe that is why it's so big. His left ventricle is enlarged and failing to push oxygenated blood efficiently around his body. As a result there is fluid building around his lungs, making his breathing fast and laboured. He has lost weight and his coat is rough. His body is working hard. 

But he is still playful and happy. He smiles. The wag is enthusiastic and when it meets an obstacle (which it frequently does in our small house) it reverberates. He rushes to dance with me when we play salsa music. That dance is not the most elegant, and involves him jumping (invited) onto my back, front paws gripping my waist, his head nibbling my shoulder, while he kangaroo hops ten inches off the floor. He comes for a blow dry when he hears the hairdryer. He is hilarious. Strong. Soulful. We find him endlessly beautiful to look at. None of us has ever managed to sufficiently drink him in. He is majestic, derpy and handsome. He is soft. His paws smell of popcorn. We have painted the inside of one of our cupboards pink in homage to the delicious colour of the inside of his ears. We are obsessed with this dog.

He has taught me so so much in the past 5 years. My journey with him has totalled half of my post diagnosis life. He has truly shown me my ultimate healing environment by finally being the one to get me moving. We have covered much ground over days, weeks, months and years. We must have walked close to 10,000 kms together. He has shown me the seasons, the changes, the beauty of nature pushing up in Spring, and the coldness of muddy East Sussex winters. We have favourite pathways, rivers, forests and chalk pits. We forage together. He has shown me why we should eat cleaver tips in spring and where the best elderflowers blossom. Together we have discovered fields of clover, wild cowslips, hogwort, mullein, dulcamara, and hawthorn. We know where the peregrine falcons nest, and which fields hold the sheep that he would so love to chase. We get high, up onto the South Downs, and low, onto the beaches where there is sand at low tide. He has given me the gift of freedom and of feeling connected to Mother Earth in a way I have never before been, or thought possible. And he has shown me how to see love and familiarity in all animals, in the way they lay, scratch, stretch. No lie, elephants in Sri Lanka reminded me of my dog, as did camels in Morocco. And by being part of a dog walking community I have made wonderful new friends, and I see the genuine kindness in humans. 

And so to his healing, and the acceptance that maybe that is not what will be. For weeks now he and I have been walking through fields of hawthorn trees heavy with blossom. I have taken to bringing a large basket and secateurs on those walks, and collecting the flowers and leaves, not really knowing why this year in particular I have been drawn to cut, dehydrate and make tincture from these beautiful plants. I was aware of their powers to aid circulation, support the kidneys and improve heart function. And also for their potency in grief. And so, Ace and I find that we are both taking the medicine from this plant. 

I'm amazed at how similar the allopathic treatment for congestive heart failure is for humans and dogs. That has lead me to believe that I can support Ace with herbs, homeopathy and supplements based on what I know about the human body. As such we are giving fermented cod liver oil, vitamin E and oily fish to counter the cardiac cachexia (lean muscle weight loss). He is also taking liposomal glutathione and taurine, and we will be starting him on COQ10 as soon as it arrives. Magnesium and potassium are vital for heart health, and we are adding those to bone broth with colostrum. We feel lucky that we have all of these supplements indoors. He is raw fed and not interested in treats. I am having to be creative about getting him to eat these supplements, but I wholeheartedly believe in the power of supporting body systems with nutraceuticals, so I will find a way. 

He has been prescribed diuretics to move fluid from his lungs. These will eventually deplete his kidneys to the point of failure. I am keen to find alternatives to pharmaceuticals, but it feels like a fine line and a huge responsibility. At the moment I am giving him homeopathy to help with this, and we are making fresh teas from plants which are diuretic, like dandelion. As the dandelion wanes, I am looking for plants that are fresh and relevant. He is still teaching me. Elderflowers have diuretic properties, and are abundant at the moment. This local, seasonal magic feels potent to me right now. 

He has also, maybe ironically considering his name, huge personality and big heart, been prescribed ACE inhibitors. This medicine widens and dilates blood vessels so that his heart doesn't have to work so hard. There have been studies to show that pomegranate juice is as effective. Pomegranate is in his protocol. 

It's a lesson in patience. We are watching him. Making sure he is comfortable. I will let him guide me in whether he needs more, less or something different. 

Beyond the physical healing he is teaching me to be even more gentle, patient and communicative with my children who are aching at the moment. I've realised that whether he lives or dies, he was always going to teach us about the process of dying. And of loss. And of letting go. Maybe that will be his biggest lesson to us all. 

But at the end of all of that is LOVE.

Saturday 2 May 2020

Hello, it's been a while

It's been a while since I've written a blog post. Almost 4 years to the day in fact!

Today I received a lovely message from a friend who said that she had only just realised that the blog she followed when she was newly diagnosed was mine. She had wondered what had happened to the author and if she was still well. Her message got me thinking about all of the reasons I wrote this blog, and all of the reasons why I stopped.

Two and a half years after my own diagnosis, I started documenting my cancer experience. It took me that long to feel safe enough to blog, to feel well enough mentally, physically and emotionally to share my story. Around that time I was receiving a lot of emails and phone calls from people who were interested in alternative treatments, many of whom who had reached the end of their allopathic journey and were looking for something else. Because I had rejected chemotherapy, radiotherapy and tamoxifen, those people were curious about my protocols. The blog was a place where I could signpost people to all of the wonderful practitioners and treatments that I had found, and it served as a possible shortcut when, at the point of diagnosis, overwhelmed and scared, we find ourselves needing answers fast. I called it Grow because I was still learning. Ten years on, I am still learning. The ideas in the blog are all seeds. Seeds that others can take and plant, research and identify with, or discard if they don't resonate.

Around that time I started admin-ing on a wonderful Facebook group, Cancerucan. That group is an utter beacon of hope and solidarity to those experiencing cancer. I got heavily emotionally involved on a daily basis. I felt that suddenly I had a connection with people who were speaking my language. A language of circulating cancer cells, genetic polymorphisms, hormone tests .. and fear. Initially it was a blessed relief and it calmed my feelings of isolation. But over time I began to feel that cancer was defining me.

My world once again turned into a place where cancer hung in every moment. As an admin, for a long while it was my job to join new members. That involved talking to people who were often newly diagnosed, at the exact point of their most intense feelings about life and death. Over time that level of anxiety became pervasive. I had a skewed perspective on how prevalent cancer was. I started to see it everywhere, in every stranger's cough, every friend's ache, in my husband and my children.

And then I took a step back and looked at my immediate physical environment. We had moved to Lewes by then, and my community was that of creatives and home educators. No-one had cancer. My real life was not, in fact, all about cancer. My real life was about nature and connection, learning, being, freedom from routine ... it was about all of the things that I love.

I thought about the ways in which our cells mutate to survive in hostile environments in the body. In acidic, dehydrated, toxic environments. I looked at the mental and emotional environment I was creating in my body, and it was NOT conducive to health. My REAL environment however, was.

I decided that I was finally ready to cut the cord. Cancer had certainly served me in ways that I had been unprepared for. It had allowed me to reclaim my voice, shown me how to develop a spiritual practice, given me a loving lesson in nutrition and taught me that to learn I had to un-learn. It had released in me the strength to start a new life which felt more compatible with my soul's desires. But I hadn't noticed that over time I had held on so tightly to my new master, unwilling to let it go, that it had in fact become my master.

I stopped writing the blog and I stopped being an admin on Cancerucan. I began to put my energy into positive, local enterprises. I started a Wellness group for young home educated teenagers. We have been running it weekly for almost 2 years now. To be able to share what I have learned with these healthy, open, enquiring, articulate young people is an incredible blessing. To share the premise that we are each responsible for our own health, with a group of kids who are open to that idea is just amazing. We have talked about the big stuff like epigenetics, and the small stuff, like the cell. We have played games to support our learning about phase 1 and 2 liver detox, and we have foraged over the Downs, and made natural medicine from our hauls. I want these children to understand that they have choices in how they eat, think, breathe and live. I want them to understand that they can positively impact their health. I want them to develop a running conversation with their bodies so that they can respond to lack or toxicity, rather than masking symptoms with an allopathic mindset. Most of all I want them never to have to get to the stage of ill health that I did because I wasn't equipped with an understanding of how my body worked.

As for my health. It has been 10 years and 2 months since my diagnosis. I am still counting! I am well, and managing my health from a functional perspective. I pulse my protocols depending on where I feel my body needs support. At the moment I am going gently through menopause, and I find myself, after years of painful periods, oestrogen dominance and breast cancer, missing oestrogen and all of the wisdom it rhythmically dispensed. I am well, with no evidence of cancer. But I am always mindful of maintaining that healthy internal environment that keeps cancer quiescent. For me that is a mind, body and spirit approach that serves me well.