Learning to not to blame myself. aka: Not all disease is “lifestyle created”

True, a lot are. I learned this first hand working as a phlebotomist and then in registered nursing school. Lots of times, it was pretty easy to see the correlation between eating habits, vices in one’s life, or lack of exercise being a key contributor to the diseased body I was helping care for. A few years after my college graduation, I went to work for a plastic surgeon and most of the time, the complaints by patients about things in their physical appearance they wanted to change, could easily be minimized by lifestyle change. I could spot a smoker, drinker or poor eating habits a mile away. As a trained professional, I could see the years of poor self care in your physical appearance, mainly skin and athletic health. So imagine my surprise when after decades of daily exercising, eating almost obsessively healthy, routine check ups, and the illusion of “being in control of my physical and health destiny” I discovered a cancerous tumor the size of two tennis balls in my chest by accident.  This tumor was found during an xray for broken ribs, following a high speed ski accident.

Initially this advanced cancer diagnosis seemed impossible, I had a thorough check up only 6 months before and everything came back fine. I guessed they missed something, because I was told by my new oncologist that I had probably had this cancer for at least 2 to 3 years by the time we found it.

Initially I blamed myself for getting cancer… “I must have done something wrong”. Then came the worst… Friends and family asking me “do they know how you got it?”, ” What did you do around the time you got sick?”, “Do you think it stress?”, “Did you live by power lines growing up?”,  “Cancer must run in your family, right?”.  Newly starting treatment, I was  meeting lots of “new” health care providers like phelebotomy, infusion, xray, scan techs, ect, who would meet me initially, eye my still athletic body,  and say “You smoke, right?”

It seemed like everyone around me, needed for their own mental health, some evidence, that I had somehow caused my illness.  I suspect this was simply a normal reaction because no one wants to believe a  healthy 34 yr young nurse could have just randomly gotten some advanced cancer that was immediately life threatening. If it could happen to me, it could happen to them. In one particularly foolish instance, I was actually accused by a close friend’s sister of making “up my cancer story”, for whatever reason, I’ll never know.  I didn’t look sick enough?  I’ve detailed more of my illness and recovery with photos on my “About Peggy” page.

Here I am now, over 5 years out from being cancer free, still battling with immune system issues despite my best efforts.  Weekend seminars on advanced integrative medical nutrition, day classes on holistic culinary pharmacology, classes on  integrative medicine and university classes on immunology.  For exercise doing  yoga classes, boot camp workouts,  hiking , swimming and weight training. For nutrition, being very mindful and cooking healthy organic food, juicing, and  taking numerous healthy cooking classes.  For mind and spirit,  seeing a well known energy healer in the Stanford area, spirituality classes, meditation, ect.    Basically treating my body better than the majority of the population.  Yet I still have these unexplained, unusual problems with my immune system rather frequently, where I get quite ill.  To me, its seems like some days my immune system is working like a new sports car, and then without warning, it just starts acting like a beat up old Pinto.

This past Monday my blood pressure dropped extremly low, which  I realized when I was too dizzy to get up for boot camp.  I wound up in the urgent care with some IV fluids, only to additionally find out  my white blood cells and red blood cells were very abnormally low for the 3rd time this year.  No warning at all.   No explanation. It just is what it is. If my bloods don’t improve  in the next few weeks I am looking at another potential barbaric bone marrow biopsy to find out what the heck is going on, and having to suddenly once again, question my immediate future health.  Its really scary.  I feel very alone.

Again I am asking myself “What did I do?”,  “Did I do something wrong?”. “What should I have done”, “Am I not doing something right?”  I am once again blaming myself, which is common I’ve heard.  But is this right?

The answer to all my self doubting questions is likely “no”. The only different thing I’ve done in the past few months was I got out the old juicer and began making my own vegetable juices.  I’ve been weight training just a little bit more than usual.  I’ve been going to the gym  more frequently than usual.  I’ve been  doing more gym classes and had started going to boot camps a few times a week  to increase my cardiovascular endurance (I only have one fully working lung).  I had knocked my body fat down 3 pts  and had put on 3.5 lbs of muscle.    At home I was doing isometric exercises, up to several hundred crunches a day and doubled the number of “boy” push ups I could complete.   I did a fit test at my gym, and was rated as being in “outstanding” to “excellent” shape in almost all classifications for someone 10 to 15 years younger than myself.  My stress over the past few months had actually decreased exponentially, and the unexpected stresses I did encounter, I was able to deal with quickly and with a much greater resilience and recovery. So “no”, I don’t rationally think any of this weirdness going on in my blood and with immune system right now is my fault. I’ve had to conclude I just was born with a challenge, which I have proven time and time again, I am capable of taking on. But even if this is the start of some new problem I can’t ultimately win, I don’t think I caused it, rather I think I postponed it through my healthy behaviors.

As much as we would love to think we can control our health destiny, or   as I’ve witnessed, many individuals developing an “invincibility complex” in regards to their health.  This invincibility based on the false belief  that our own actions are  somehow absolute predictors of our future  health.   That our health can be controlled entirely by if we eat perfectly, avoid all “bad” foods, take all our supplements and vitamins, “manifest good energy or happiness “, meditate, exercise daily, and avoid vices.   That somehow we can completely control the environment around us, and in the process we can completely control our health or our bodies.  While we can do quite a bit to keep ourselves healthy, we are not as  complete control as we would like to think we are.  Some illness or challenges that occur with our bodies and our health can ultimately be chance, not within our control, and happen without explanation.

In my case if  being young, athletic and healthy, with a clean bill of health during my physicals, and promised me a future healthy life, that’s exactly what I would be living right now.  Certainly I would devoid of a story, platform or motivation to have ever started “The Truffled Pig”  in the first place.

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