When I first got the news from my breast surgeon, in June 2017, that the breast cancer was back and had found its way into about 7 places in my bones I was deeply shocked. The first month or two after diagnosis of stage 4 cancer was overwhelming. I got a horrible response and no support from my original GP, and then a couple of weeks later went on Zolodex hormone blockers as prescribed by my oncologist. My adrenal system was well into over-drive. I speak to other people each week who are in similar ‘totally shocked, exhausted and or highly stressed’ early stages of healing, and my hope is that my story below will be helpful to one of these dear souls
When I got my secondary breast cancer diagnosis I went to see my then GP, who at the time was is well known in the area to offer alternative medicines and referrals to her patients. The earliest possible appointment for me to see her was two weeks after I found out the news of metastasis. During the two week period I waited to see her, I was online researching hormone receptor positive breast cancer treatments and talking to my very supportive breast surgeon in Brisbane, Dr. Christopher Pyke. I had regular contact with Dr. Pyke, after my stage 2 mastectomy in 2014. He saw me each year and ordered my MRI scans and had also ordered my PET & CT scans after the MRI in May 2017 found three spots which led to three biopsies, all of which returned the news that the breast cancer was in my lymph nodes and remaining breast tissue.
So, in the first two weeks after the CT and PET confirming secondary breast cancer to the bones, I was spending a lot of time online researching the new ketogenic diet I was on, and learning about the conventional hormone therapies that Dr. Pyke had told me about. Before I got in to see my then GP, I had already come to the conclusion that I would ask her for a referral for the Cancer Institute in Coffs Harbour where I could speak to the oncologist hear what she had to say about the various hormone treatments available.
When I went in to see her, I let her know I was there to obtain a referral to the oncologist; she sat and nodded. I then asked her if she could refer me to a good dietician as I was seeking support and some assurance in regards to the ketogenic diet. Her response was. ‘the cancer institute has a dietician, speak to them’. Then my next question to her was regarding a referral to a good exercise physiologist so I could learn how to best support the specific muscles near the tumour on my L3. Her response to this was exactly the same as the first response; ‘the cancer institute has a physiotherapist you can speak to’.
So now, I’m sitting there barely five minutes into our appointment time, wondering what else I had on my list. My partner Neil looks up from his empty note pad ( his job is to write down what the doctors say) and he asks her “So what can you do for Abbey?” Her response to this question was shocking and what I believe sent me from manageable stress, into adrenal over-drive. Her words, no joke, were these;
“Come back to me when you need me to write you a referral to palliative care.”
Hearing these words I stood up to leave her office as I knew then that she was not interested in practicing integrative health, only alternative.
Note to all the newly diagnosed: Be aware of the difference between alternative and integrative when seeking a good GP.
I had seen this same alternative GP back in 2014 when I had 3 lobular carcinoma lumps detected in my left breast. Back then, she talked about the oncologist and the hormone treatment in a way, that easily persuaded me not to go that path. She did not encourage me to be brave and learn all I could; instead she spoke to me about estrogen-less sagging breasts and dry vaginas. She advised me to increase the time I spent on my meditation and Qi Gong practices and make monthly appointments with her colleague, a very alternative energy healer. She made no suggestion that I return see her for blood tests regularly or anything else, after my post mastectomy check up in April 2014.
So here I was 3 years later, in June 2017 walking out of her office (for the last time) with a referral to the oncologist but no other professional support in place. It was only after a month or so, of not knowing who to turn to, that a series of almost magical events led me to a really wonderful local integrative GP, Dr. Adrian Hekel.
When Dr. Hekel asked me why I was there, I told him about my need to have an integrative doctor, someone outside the cancer institute to walk beside me and support me in doing the very best I could to get through this. I asked if he could find me the diet and physio support, and he did. I also told him about the mental, emotional and physical side effects of the chemical menopause. I had just begun a monthly Zolodex implant and was an emotional mess.
After my second appointment at Northside Health, and a thorough biopsychosocial evaluation, Dr. Hekel suggested I try a supplement, the Metagenics brand of AdrenoTone tablets. The idea was that they would support my adrenals replenish after the shocking diagnosis and the effects of drastic hormonal manipulation. The herbs in the AdrenoTone product quickly agreed with me, and my ability to cope with situation on all levels improved rapidly.
I am so grateful that I was supported at this level, when I was. This integrative support enabled me to regain and focus my energy and emotions, and direct them toward my healing goals.
One of the herbs in the AdrenoTone was Siberian Ginseng , and I’m sure my oncologist would not have been happy with me using it. Siberian ginseng ‘might’ act like estrogen, Estrogen being the hormone the oncology injection was blocking. The official word of caution is “If you have any condition that might be made worse by exposure to estrogen, don’t use Siberian ginseng.” I decided for myself within days that if taking it was improving my quality of life this dramatically that I would continue to take it ‘short term and not long term’. Just long enought to get me through the overwhelm, shock and stress period.
Ashwagandha was another herb in the AdrenoTone tablets, however it that was not going to be an estrogen issue. I did go out and buy a large bag of Aswagandha from Noodles Emporium on Ebay. Ashwagandha really helped me in smoothing out the early days of overnight menopause madness. I still have some in my kit, which I take from time to time.
I wrote this because I care about so many of the people I speak to each week who are reeling in shock and confusion like I once was; unable to think straight or keep it together emotionally. I firmly believe that replenishing our adrenals during times of deep shock and great stress is the best place to start the healing process. Being in that sustained state of fright, flight or freeze post diagnosis does not help the body heal one bit. I believe that the stress occurring around the time of diagnosis can be outright highly dangerous in itself without the right integrative care and adrenal support.
Thank-you Dr. Hekel for offering me this support at the start of my own healing journey.