In November, an ultrasound revealed that I had a massive nodule on the left side of my thyroid gland and that I had several, smaller nodules on the right side. Especially in the case of the left side, all these nodules were suspect for cancer. The left side had a few different factors increasing the concern .
Rather than getting a biopsy and, if the nodules proved cancerous, surgery, I opted to radically alter my diet. At the time, I was vegan-curious and attending meetings where I encountered people who had healed from all kinds of conditions, including a benign tumor, by going on vegan or raw vegan diets, and where I was advised that scientific studies linked meat and dairy to incidents of cancer. (See Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and the book The China Study.)
So literally overnight, I switched to an organic, vegan diet with no fried foods, gluten, soy, or sweeteners of any kind. My goal was to eliminate from my diet any and all ingredients that have been shown to contribute to any kind of health issues – cancer, thyroid problems, fatigue, you name it. I also started taking two supplements – one with concentrated doses of greens from the earth and sea, another with concentrated doses of immunity-building herbs (including those that purportedly fight cancer). I wanted to optimize what I was ingesting, effectively turning my body into one lean, mean, cancer-fighting machine.
The first month was especially brutal, leaving me fatigued, among other things. In addition, throughout the eight months I maintained this diet, I craved garlic toast, tuna melts, steak, chocolate, and all other manner of “forbidden foods.” Despite sudden and graphic fantasies of strangling and consuming cows, turkeys, and other random animals, however, I did not futz on this diet – not even a little bit, not even once.
The only time I allowed myself to deviate was after the four month mark, following my second ultrasound: I celebrated my dietary devotion, by allowing myself one slice of a raw vegan dessert that was “up to code” with my pure diet, with one exception: agave nectar sweetener. Even in that case, you can see, I didn’t’ stray too far from the mark.
When the ultrasound results came back from that second scan at the four-month mark, the nodules were the same size as in the first ultrasound. After the seven-month mark, however, the left nodule had grown 0.1 x 0.1 cm. While my endocrinologist informed me that the amount of growth was statistically insignificant (could have been due to difference in measurements on the various ultrasound machines), I opted to move ahead with a biopsy. I’d made a deal with myself that in the case of any growth, I’d get a more definitive diagnostic test. And so I did.
We started with the left nodule, then did a biopsy of the right nodule a couple of weeks later, once my neck had healed from the first procedure. People speak about biopsies like they are no big deal. But in my case, the left biopsy not only was painful in and of itself, but also triggered significant pain and swelling for over a week. I was in bed for the first few days after the procedure, as a result. I also was in bed for a few days after the right biopsy, though I did not experience the same extent of pain and swelling.
In addition, I personally know one person who nearly died from a biopsy procedure, and word of mouth seems to suggest that there may be other complications for people. In my thyroid cancer research, I found one website explaining that biopsies are like mini-surgeries. I think that about sums it up.
Regardless, the biopsies indicated that the left nodule had a predominance of hurthle cells, which are “suspicious” for cancer but inconclusive, and the right nodule was benign.
As I came to discover, both through speaking with my endo and through conducting all kinds of independent research (speaking with representatives of the American Cancer Society, Thyroid Cancer Association, and other reputable organizations), as of today there is no diagnostic tool, except surgery, for determining whether hurthle cells are cancerous or not. In the case of surgery, the thyroid gland has to be removed (either half or all, depending on biopsy results on each side), so as to enable doctors to figure out exactly what is going on.
As I understand it, doctors need to witness the relationship between the hurthle cells in the nodule and other cells in the thyroid gland. Hurthle cells can just be inflammatory cells that are expanding benignly, or they can be “unfriendly” cells that are bursting out of their little containers, infecting and affecting other cells in the thyroid gland. As my endo informed me, 80% of the time, hurthle cell nodules are benign. That’s a pretty big chunk of time that thyroid glands are removed, without the existence of cancer. And so, despite all our high-tech equipment and medical advances, we seem to be pretty close to the dark ages when it comes to this particular subset of thyroid cancer.
The week I was informed that the nodule on my left side was “suspicious,” I did copious amounts of research and outreach — from the time I woke up until the time I went to bed. I was looking for two things: 1) a cutting-edge research facility that had discovered some diagnostic tool for determining whether hurthle cells are cancerous, without needing surgery and 2) holistic methods that have been shown to successfully eliminate cancer.
The closest I got to finding a diagnostic test was getting matched with some clinical trials. I was pretty overwhelmed by the amount of information sent to me in the trials booklet, so I earmarked contacting the American Cancer Society for help sorting through it all. Meanwhile, however, my endo advised me that as far as she knows, there is a low accuracy rate in experimental diagnostic tests – something like 60-70% accuracy. Meaning that even if some diagnostic test shows the cells are cancerous or not, I won’t really know.
As far as holistic methods for treating cancer, I discovered that there are a few different options – nutrition, herbs, acupuncture, and energy healing; that there is contradictory information available about what to do (for example, being told to eat all raw foods and being told to eat all cooked foods); that the treatment protocols are as diverse as the mix-and-match types of cancers and bodies; and that there is little scientific evidence indicating the probability of success for the various methods.
In addition, and not surprisingly in the world of holistic health, I discovered that there is ample quackery, hocus-pocus, and pseudo-spiritual/blame-the-victim/intellectually lazy dogma imposed on people — like being told that I caused thyroid cancer through insufficiently expressing my voice and truth (clearly, in my case, a generic and absurd projection).
I was left overwhelmed, disappointed, and confused about what to do next. Meanwhile, I received ample emails and social media comments from well-meaning readers, adamantly suggesting that I make this or that decision – again, with contradictory personal experiences and advice. One follower got so pushy with his agenda that he bordered on being violent – sharing graphic, horrific images about the consequences of “failing to heed [his] advice” and going ahead with surgery. Of course, I blocked him after that.
I ended up discovering that I’m pretty much in the same place I was in when I started the journey self-healing from chronic pain, except for this one pivotal factor: I already have self-healed from chronic pain. And so I have a wealth of knowledge and insight from which to draw – like this one discovery from my decade-plus journey healing from pain:
I am my own healer. I am my own savior.
Last week, I spoke with a friend. She was sharing with me how she was interested in a man who was also interested in her, but that she was hesitant to jump into a relationship with him. Let’s just say that certain factors made it “iffy” whether the relationship would run the course my friend desires – namely, marriage and children. “But I’m creating this whole story, without even having gone on one date with him,” she confided.
I related to my friend on a number of fronts. First, I have noticed that men typically seem to be looking for formulas in women. Men who want children, for example, will target dating younger women, instead of women their age or older. But there is no guarantee that those younger women will want or be able to have children, never mind whether those relationships will be the best spiritual, emotional, mental, or physical matches. There is also no guarantee that the older women will not want or be able to have children (within reason, obviously – dating a 70 year old woman will pretty much rule out biological kids with her).
Life is, by its very nature, random and in constant motion, with ample risk and few guarantees. I think that’s why humans are so obsessed with things like statistical probability: We want to know whether to take Path A or Path B. We want to know, ahead of time (as if reading a 100% accurate crystal ball) what will happen when we go each route. We want to know how the story ends before it begins.
And so the Western medical model, built on this culture of research and statistical probability, feels especially comforting in moments of crisis and uncertainty. Western medicine holds out a definitive course of action, replete with statistical probability. If you have thyroid cancer, you go to the hospital; an anesthesiologist dopes you up; surgeons cut out the affected body part; nurses supervise your recovery in the post-op room; and you’re home free, end of story. You don’t even need to participate in any way, except to bring your body along for the ride.
Through my journey living with and self-healing from chronic pain, however, I came to feel that all the research and statistics were useless, because they had no bearing on my reality. To paraphrase David Simon, MD, from one of our many conversations, if you’re part of that 3% (and there’s no way to know ahead of time if you are or not), then the fact that a treatment is effective 97% of the time is pretty much irrelevant to you.
In my case, who knew that dance would turn out to be what healed me from pain? Who could have predicted such a counter-intuitive solution?
That said, I am grateful for all the work that has gone into researching and analyzing data with regards to cancer treatments. And I want more of it! I want more research available on how to diagnose hurthle cells ahead of time, without lopping out the thyroid gland. And I want a whole hell of a lot more research done on holistic methods – nutrition, herbs, acupuncture, energy healing.
I grew up with a very strong emphasis on academics. While I staunchly rejected the bullshit that came along with the elite institutions I attended (like being discouraged from original thinking and rewarded for regurgitated information, as well as being encouraged to detach the mind from the body/emotions/spirit), I now find coming front and center my love for other aspects of academia — namely, my value for the rigorous intellectual pursuit and evaluation of information. When you’re choosing a surgeon or, for that matter, a course of action in dealing with a potentially life-and-death condition, you want to know that as much work as possible has gone into predicting the outcome.
When dealing with life-and-death matters, one does not want to rely on the experience that one person has had. One wants to know that a whole lot of people have been tested with a particular theory.
I still maintain all my reservations and cynicism about the world of scientific research, mind you. I still think that so much of science is driven by money, politics, small-mindedness, and other factors that obfuscate the truth about what can help people heal. I also still maintain that scientific input is just one piece of the puzzle. You can have oodles and oodles of scientific data indicating this, that, and the other thing, but it can all be worthless human-error bullshit, or as one holistic health practitioner so eloquently put it, “consensus reality” that gets disproven a decade or century later.
At the end of the day, once I have done my homework and not only gathered the facts, but also gathered as much information as possible about the people or institutions offering those facts, the decision comes down to my intuitive sense about how to move ahead. At the end of the day, I am still, as I used to be fond of saying in my 20s, the physical manifestation of my Spirit. I am still a creation of Gd, Divinity, Source, whatever you want to call the creative force behind all of Life itself.
Anything is possible, as a friend remarks, in an infinite Universe.
And so I am putting together my own road map of how to move ahead. I feel as if I’m flailing around. I keep saying, “I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.” I’m panicked. And yet, at the same time, I feel confident that I know exactly what I’m doing, which is this: I’m trusting myself and my Creator, above and beyond all else.
As a friend said — after I shared with her that I’ve indefinitely postponed surgery, as I explore holistic options for healing — “It makes sense, Loolwa. It’s the essence of you. It’s who you are. It’s what you are about.”
As a child, I self-healed from back pain (which runs in one side of my family) by breathing into it. In my early 20s, I self-healed from a severe respiratory condition — for which I was taking four medications four times a day – through mental determination and the development of my own step-by-step procedure for weaning myself off pharmaceuticals. Within two years, I was drug-free and remained so (with very rare exceptions) for the next two decades. In my 30s I self-healed from chronic and debilitating pain, through the development of my own dance method.
I believe that we have in us the power to self-heal. We just need to figure out the constellation of variables that will kick our self-healing mechanisms into gear.
Then there’s the whole element of Spirit. In 2002, amidst a wave of terrorist attacks in Israel, shortly after two good friends came very close to being murdered in such attacks, I left my quiet, tree-lined, Northern California street and moved to the Holy Land. I chose love over fear. I followed my heart. I stepped out on faith. Those who knew me agreed it was the right decision and admired my courage. Those who did not know me, or who did not know me well, thought I’d gone stark, raving mad.
There are no guarantees in life, no matter what the odds. We cannot know ahead of time how the story ends. The best we can do is to make a very personal decision about what risks we are and are not willing to take.
Here is what I now know about the Western medical route for thyroid cancer: Even in the best case scenario, the very act of doing surgery around the thyroid gland permanently changes one’s voice (because of the proximity of the thyroid gland to the vocal nerve), and in the case of women, the surgery altogether eliminates the upper register. In other words, no opera, no ululating, no squeels of joy.
In addition, every body is different. In some anatomies, the vocal nerve is embedded in the thyroid gland – meaning, the vocal nerve must be cut in order to remove the thyroid gland. A cut vocal nerve means losing the ability to sing, and spending the rest of one’s life hoarse. Or, in the case of the entire thyroid gland being taken out, losing the ability to speak altogether. Forever and ever and ever.
I am a singer. I am a public speaker. And I simply enjoy making noise – singing, talking, ululating, yelling, laughing out loud with my head thrown back, celebrating life full-throttle.
When my endocrinologist first told me about the biopsy results for my left thyroid gland – ie, the suspicious hurthle cells – I told her, earnestly, that I’d rather be dead than have no voice. I asked her how bad the end of life would be, in a worst case scenario – ie, in the case of the nodule being cancerous and metastasizing. She informed me that metastatic cancer could spread to the brain and bones, causing a horrific, painful death.
I wasn’t, um, into that option, so after much thought, I soon opted to move forward with surgery.
Then I found out that a storyteller I knew back in the 1990s ended up having thyroid cancer about a decade ago, and as a result of surgery, losing his voice altogether. Fortunately, his voice returned a year and a half later, following cosmetic surgery on his vocal nerve. Regardless, the weekend I found out about that incident, I went to a very dark place — calmly and rationally planning suicide in the event of losing my voice after surgery.
I used to be a teacher at a self-defense school that guided students on making the following evaluation in any dangerous situation: What do you want to happen? What don’t you want to happen? Armed with that information, people can make the best possible choices in less-than-optimal circumstances. As another self-defense school where I taught used to say, “There is no safe way to do a dangerous thing.” You can, however, make the best possible decision in any situation. And that decision is of course highly unique and individual for each person.
I do want to live. I do not want to lose any dimension of my voice.
I cannot be more happy with the team of doctors and surgeons available to me. They are outstanding people with wonderful, loving energy. In, Gd forbid, a worst-case scenario, I feel I am in extremely capable hands. But I do not want to opt for surgery unless and until I have exhausted all the other options available to me. So I will explore these other options while continuing to monitor the left nodule.
It is a calculated risk. So is getting surgery.
Initially I felt that I’d already tried and failed with the holistic approach, given that my super pure diet had not worked. “Did you gain anything from your diet?” a trusted body worker asked me recently. “Yes,” I replied. “I feel stronger and healthier than I have since my 20s, before the onset of pain. “Then the diet did not fail,” she replied. “You now have a foundation of strength from which to move forward.”
A few weeks ago, I was teaching a class on a do-it-yourself approach to getting profiled in mainstream media. I advised the attendees that we would not be meeting in the coming month. One person asked why. He actually knew why, so that question coming from him threw me off. “Because I have cancer,” I blurted out, unable to think of a quick, fake, cover-up response. The open exchange ended up being a blessing. Following the class, a number of amazing people approached me, including one woman who had self-healed breast cancer.
That week, I was amidst my intensive research into various treatment options. Long story short, I decided that I would do my best to self-heal from thyroid cancer, without the use of surgery. I decided that as much as circumstances would permit, I would surround myself with people who had self-healed from cancer and other conditions thought to be irreversible, and I would also surround myself with people who had facilitated such healing.
To date, while I have increased my knowledge of healers and self-healers, I have found that there are not a lot of details about the process of reversing cancer. Some people eliminated their tumors in three weeks, others in six weeks. Some visualized wringing a tumor dry; others channeled their manifestation of Gd. I find myself wanting more details:
Did you pray? If so, what did you say? How many times a day did you pray? Were you sitting in nature? In your bed? What foods were you eating? Were you paying attention to your nutritional intake at all? Were you getting body work? Did you have a lot of loving people around you?
There are so, so many variables that go into healing. Of course, we can’t decide that because Person A did method B in way C, that every single person should do the same. I do believe, however, that the more information we have about specifics, the more we can help others.
Throughout my life, as I have succeeded in the various pioneering work I have done, I have made mental notes of my process and progress, specifically so that I would be able to teach others to navigate their own paths through and beyond various obstacles. I find that accomplished people often say, “Oh I just _____” when asked how they did something exceptional. The response irritates me. It seems to be more about ego than about how-to – aggrandizing oneself as being more competent than others.
I am hungry for information about exactly how people self-healing from cancer got from Point A to Point Z. That information is priceless. So I am asking you, dear readers, for very specific information: Have you self-healed from cancer? Do you know someone who did? Do you know a healer who facilitated such healing in cancer patients? What kinds of cancers were involved? What detailed steps were taken?
“How do I self-heal from cancer?”
I pose the question to the Universe. I ask myself, those who successfully have been down the road of self-healing, and the Creator Spirit. Which, come to think of it, is super Jewish of me: For Jews, you answer a question with another question. Meaning that, paradoxically, the answer lies in the question itself.