Let me just say for the record, I have great boobs! (Highly subjective yes, a little crass maybe but I definitely got your attention! Wondering what boobs have to do with nutrition? As I have said before and will say many times again good nutrition involves all five senses and through The Regal Fig it’s my goal to educate individuals on how to nourish the mind, body and soul in an authentic and sustainable way. To that end I have a story to share which goes back a few years now but seems to be especially relevant as of late for a number of reasons.
About 2 years ago now, I went in for my annual mammogram being that I am now over the age of 40 with a family history of breast cancer. The test showed the breast tissue was relatively clear but there was an area of dense tissue, a “shadow” mind you that required further review in the form of a follow up ultra-sound. Of course this type of news raises all kinds of red flags like OMG is there a lump? Is it cancer? Am I dying? Not wanting to freak out but having a slight flair for the dramatic (yes I readily admit it), I immediately began to question my health. Am I well, am I sick, do I need to be concerned? Suddenly in a matter of seconds I wasn’t the person I thought I was-If I wasn’t healthy who was I? As a health and nutrition strategist, I firmly believe that how we perceive our health, our status of wellness, is fundamental to our actual state of health and wellbeing. Furthermore, how we choose to perceive our health determines how others perceive it as well.
After years of acupuncture, meditation, mindfulness and great nutrition I have become keenly in tune with my body and knew my breasts were perfectly healthy but I made the follow up appointment none the less. I arrived at the radiology center, a large practice which supports a major hospital system in my area and one I had gone to on more than one occasion in the past. Once processed in the outer waiting room, you are escorted to in an inner waiting room full of women naked from the waist up and covered in a medical gown. Although no one speaks a word as we are all very engrossed in our outdated People Magazines, you can’t help but in some way feel just a little bit of solidarity with all the ladies in the room seeing as you are all there for the same reason. We may come from different walks of life, have different histories, medical conditions, speak different languages but all with one common goal-to wait to be told we don’t have breast cancer. As if by just being there, there was the possibility that we just might.
As I sat reading my very outdated but oh so delicious People Magazine I became engrossed in reading the faces of the women around me. All were in their 50’s, 60’s or 70’s. Many appeared disconnected, just wanting to move on with their day-nail appointment, hair appointment, pick up dry cleaning, blah blah blah-sure, I get it-getting your boobs zapped with radiation never fun and most annoying especially when there are other more effective less toxic (however more costly) ways to do it. There was another sweet soul who looked very overwhelmed and full of anguish and pain(maybe she did have cancer?) and yet another in her 70’s who spoke no English, looked completely confused and seemed to have no idea where she was or why.
After being greeted by “My”Tech, I was brought into the exam room and asked to disrobe-as if I didn’t realize I was there to have my boob squished tight in a hydraulic press to be hit by carcinogenic radiation. In the process of getting set up, the Tech pointed to two yellow Post It notes stuck to the plastic window separating her from the radiation and explained to me that I had lumps in both breasts and “We”needed to get a better look? Uhmmmm Excuse me? I’m not sure who “we” is but I graciously explained she was in fact mistaken, I had no lumps in either breast and last time I checked neither she nor the yellow Post It note was qualified to make that medical diagnosis. Furthermore I was not supposed to get a mammogram and yet again be zapped with radiation but was supposed to only get a sonogram. So the argument ensued-she was insistent that I in fact had lumps in both breast and she was right because the Post It note said so. It was my choice she said, I could have the mammogram or not but it was her way or no way. Her way? This 20 something nothing who had nothing more than a high school degree and a radiology tech certificate-Her way or the highway-WTF? Fine Mammogram over or at least I thought- what’s another dose of radiation in less than 6 mos.? Go wait in the waiting room she said and “They” will let you know when you can go-Huh? So back to the waiting room. I was utterly floored and totally devastated. What do you mean I have lumps in both breast was all I could think of? That is not possible? Oh but wait, turns out it wasn’t over, I was also getting that sonogram . This time another lady came to get me and honestly to this day I don’t know if she was for real or really just an angel sent down from heaven because she was amazing. No sooner did I get on the table that I literally burst into tears explaining what had just taken place. I was absolutely horrified and so was she. Neither of us could believe this horrible nothing of a person could and would inflict such doubt on my health. The sonogram nurse was amazing. She confirmed what I already knew, there was no lump, my boobs were perfectly perfect as they should be since I paid so much to have perfectly perky healthy little boobs. I left that morning feel absolutely EXHAUSTED after all that had transpired for nothing.
I am not a shy person and was raised and always encouraged to speak my mind which, my friends and colleagues would surely reiterate so after leaving my appointment I wrote a scathing letter to the hospital accounting for all that had transpired. I was absolutely furious. I was furious for the way I had been treated –WHAT IF I did have cancer-was this the right way to communicate it? WHAT IF I was the lady that spoke no English, shouldn’t someone be there to advocate for me? The list of red flags and “issues” needing to be addressed here are extensive BUT what I know is that AT NO TIME is it EVER appropriate for anyone other than your doctor or the medical team YOU establish to assess or diagnose a life threatening medical condition. AT NO TIME is a Post It note EVER an appropriate means of delivering a medical diagnosis and last but not least AT NO TIME is it EVER okay for someone else to decide how YOU choose to perceive YOUR health.
The more I study nutrition the more I learn about the body and the more I firmly believe that our health is a fine and very delicate balance. Our bodies our tough and resilient and can withstand unbelievable trauma but our mental emotional state is of equal importance to our success in overcoming illness as is our cells ability to respond to treatment. Not only that, but how others around us perceive our health and engage with us also has a profound impact. I have two very dear friends battling very different and aggressive forms of cancer, both are convinced they will overcome their illness and frankly why shouldn’t they! As part of their treatment and as a friend it is my job not only to support their belief of great health and success but to believe it as well. In the absence of being able to do anything else, this is an incredibly powerful and healing gift anyone can offer another.
With regard to my experience, the hospital’s response was swift, immediate and amazing. It was my choice they said I could have the Tech who was new to her job fired or let them take action and subsequently I could always ask that she not be my tech in future. I opted for the latter. Better she learn than lose her job. However the damage was already done, whether the Tech learned a valuable lesson I have no idea and I don’t care because I never have to see her again. I however did learn a huge lesson and that is I as with all of us have the choice to decide the fate of our health. We have the right regardless of socio-economic, racial, religious or gender characteristics to ask for second opinions, question authority and seek the providers who we feel we can trust and support our goals to health. You know that little voice deep inside that says something just doesn’t sit right? LISTEN TO IT!!! Sometimes we have to ask a little louder and a little more forceful than we would like or are even comfortable but we get this one body and this one life and no one else but us should decide how, when and if we are healthy.
The World Health Organization defines health as “a State of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease”. I LOVE this definition but in all honesty if this is health we are all pretty sick and the likes of cancer is mere speed bump. According to Leon Eisenberg in his landmark paper Disease and Illness (1977) “Disease is a practitioner’s assessment of biological changes while Illness is comprised of a person’s experiences, state of being and perceived role.” How do you perceive your state being? I chose health. The power to change is entirely within you.