I was born in the U.S. but grew up overseas on the clear blue Mediterranean Sea. I returned in 1975.
Beginning in 1995 I worked full-time as a Technical Director and then Sr. Business Manager in the IT Dept at AT&T. Although I am not an IT professional (I have a B.A. in Communication and an MBA in Business) I found my self-drawn to accept a job offer to manage Project Managers and Business Analysts at what was then PacBell. I was hired due to my experience at a very successful, non-hierarchical software company, where I worked in Marketing. My experience in that collaborative environment is what the Director at AT&T wanted me to bring to his team.
Having grown up in a large family where life was centered around relatives, friends, cooking, and shared meals, I decided to offer dinners to a circle of friends as a side hobby. This service became popular, and in spite of my full-time job, I was able to plan, shop for and cook three dinners a week for about ten people. Cooking for me was meditative and healing.
My mother was a self-taught consummate chef. She came from a small village and was taught how to cook by her father. She also learned how to sew, knit, crochet, embroider, paint and later had to learn to reinvent herself as the wife of a diplomat. Her skills seemed endless to me.
Mom started her family at 15 and raised seven children. She participated actively in the lives of her siblings and their children. Her skills were passed on to each one of us, and my gratitude to her is unending. I am proud to see that her spirit continues through the generations of our family.
My daughter was 6 when I started catering to friends and used to help in ways she could through the years. At 26 she is now a creative and clever cook, often inspiring me with her dishes. My son is in high school and is taking 'Foods'. The teacher works with them in a professional kitchen on campus, and we've enjoyed several meals my son has made. As a finicky gourmet I believe he is on his way to a love affair with cooking too.
For Mom preparing food was an act of love and nurturing. She created each dish with the care one puts into a task for one's beloved. She entertained large parties, and her friends cleared their calendars for a dinner at our house. Over the years she collected recipes as she joined my father on some of his business trips on several continents. She also created several original recipes.
Friends and family prodded her to publish a cookbook. When I was 14 she began to do so. After five years, her compendium of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine was a reality. It was the most comprehensive cookbook of its time in the Middle East. She sold many copies and fulfilled yet another dream I think she secretly had all along.
Working with her in the kitchen as she tested and measured recipe ingredients, something she had never done before, I began to understand why the food she cooked was so wonderful and drew such praise. Mother poured more than spices and sauces into her cooking. She poured love and God's name into every dish.
There was little doubt in my mind that this was the only way to prepare food. I believe what you add to your cooking (consciously or not) is what people get out of it. In my catering experience, I would sometimes receive rave reviews for what I felt were the simplest dishes. It used to perplex me until I realized that while I cook I say God's name as she used to. He adds His own spices to whatever I make. It's important to be in a happy state of mind, so I play my favorite music in the background.
After nearly 15 years at AT&T I was caught in the frequent round of layoffs. My severance package could see me through a couple of years if I was careful. I am a single mom, so didn't feel I could wait long to decide what to do next.
My daughter called to say that she saw the cutest little commercial space in Berkeley, and I should come look. I have always talked about having a small Cafe. I hesitated since I couldn't afford to lose my savings, but crazy unbelievable events unfolded in a way that left no doubt in my mind this was what the Universe wanted me to do.
My Cafe was a challenge. I was stressed learning the 101 things you have to do to get City approvals and permits and inspections. A lot of remodeling was needed, and the expense was more than I could have predicted. Well, after six months of agony and STRESS, we opened.
My menu was creative and healthy, and we made everything on premises. My employees were college kids from campus across the street, and their schedules were unreliable. I found I had to be there 10 hours a day, six days a week even after a year. Although I loved the work, I began to resent time away from family.
It was during this period that I felt a tiny lump in my breast. When my primary care Doctor told me it was cancer, I didn't react. Over the years I trained myself to be composed in my life and was surprised at my own reaction or non-reaction. As I sat looking at him I thought, "Huh, so this is what I have to do now. Me. Cancer. Wow." I drove home in a little bit of fog, but still no outward reaction.
One of my sisters passed from renal cell cancer in 2002, and her husband followed her in 2004. During their experience with cancer I became very interested in Alternative therapies. I spent a lot of time researching a product now known as Protocel. I wanted them to try it, but my sister was diagnosed after the cancer had spread, and decided to go to Germany for hypothermia treatments, and my brother in law decided to rely on conventional treatment for his pancreatic cancer.
I wish I knew then what I know now. The Immune clinic I visited for three weeks in 2010 treats patients turned away by their oncologists. The founding doctor has been treating her older brother for pancreatic cancer for the last 7 years based on their schedule of supplements, diet and massage therapy. That is practically unheard of.
With the help of a close friend, who is a retired ER Doctor, I began a serious foray into the world of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Through her I got in touch with an internationally prominent science writer who, for the past 35 years, has been an independent evaluator of the claims of conventional and non-conventional cancer treatments. He was also a founding Advisor to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Alternative Medicine.
My consultation with him led me to contacts in California, Texas, Florida, Utah and in Germany. Each impressed him with their work in the field of CAM and each brought a unique skill or perspective. But first I was going to go ahead with a lumpectomy since the tumor was very small, and thank God contained. There was no evidence that any other area was affected.
With my Doctor friend at my side, we knew that even at this point we should ask questions and participate in treatment decisions. But you know, doctors don't really have a lot of time to explain what you want to know in a comprehensive way. Although my Surgeon was a delightful person, when I asked about the risks of needle biopsies vs. surgical biopsies, she reassured me that needle biopsies were 99% safe. Her attitude said, "Don't worry your pretty little head about this. This is what we always do." And that in a nutshell is the attitude I encountered from conventional treatment docs every step of the way.
Well, despite my doubts and discomfort with the idea, I agreed to a needle biopsy.
Doctors will throw statistics around to support their advice, but you are not a statistic. During my first consultation with the Oncologist, she said there was a 33% benefit from Chemo for my type of cancer...well the data that actually matters is that Mortality benefit was only 3-4%! I wouldn't have known that if one of the leading Complimentary Medicine science researchers had not told me so when I asked about this statement.
He said that doctors can only offer you what they have in their 'toolkit', if they don't have access to or knowledge of alternatives, you're not going to hear about them. That was extremely helpful for me to hear. So, was it worth making myself sick, and possibly triggering other cancers for a 3-4% benefit? The fact is the tumor that was biopsied and removed was 1) less than 1 cm at its longest points, 2) self-contained (that is until they poked it with the biopsy needle, and 3) had not spread anywhere else. I decided on surgery alone, no Chemo or Radiation. It was not worth the health risks.
What I did do, was spend 3 weeks at the Immune Clinic in Southern California that I mentioned earlier, albeit at a great financial cost. Of course, when the second tiny tumor showed up a year later, it was a different story.
I started to look for a buyer for the Cafe. I knew I had to pay attention to my healing, and stress was something I always suspected as a leading role in cancer development. My father, my sister and her husband had identifiable stresses in their lives just a few years before they developed cancer.
Upon returning from the clinic, I consulted with a nationally acclaimed Nutritional Oncologist and based on my particular diagnosis was given a Supplement and Nutrition regimen. I lost 30 lbs in ten months once I started eating 'healthy’ and came close to my weight in college. See there are side benefits to everything!
I also decided to pay for a phone consultation with the former Medical Director of the MD Anderson Integrative Medicine program. Before the interview he had me fill out a form that tracked my diet for two days, evaluated my lifestyle, my fears, and my hopes! YAY! He recognized me as a whole person!
He recommended some promising homeopathic tinctures to go along with my supplements and tweaked a couple of the supplements I had been taking. Otherwise his nutritional advice matched what I was already doing. Confirmation.
It took 10 months to find a buyer for the Cafe. I cut back my hours and the place was now barely paying for itself.
A year after my initial diagnosis, almost to the date, I felt another little lump almost exactly where the other had been.
Unfortunately, it had affected one other lymph node. Coincidence? Join me in guessing what might have caused this. I knew I should have gone with my intuition about the needle biopsy, of course neither the Surgeon nor the Oncologist would acknowledge that there was a likely chance that was the cause. You have probably found out for yourself that the medical field has a hard time accepting responsibility for things that go wrong. It's usually the patient's fault. Well, this is the wrong arena for playing coy.
This time I agreed to Chemo and Radiation treatments. I made sure to consult with my Nutritional Oncologist again and she changed some of the supplements for ones that ameliorated the toxic effects of the particular drugs I would receive, and for the potential side effects, also recommending certain foods and spices that were known to help. No changes needed to be made to my homeopathic meds.
I was on 'potential-Cafe-buyer #5' at this point and was beginning to lose faith that I could sell the Cafe. One hour before my first Chemo treatment, my boyfriend drove back and forth to Berkeley with sub-lease papers I and the buyer had to sign and put the deposit check in my hands! Yes, God sometimes takes us to the edge, but if we hold on and keep a flicker of hope going, he doesn't push us over! Hahaha.
I mean really…an hour before? You have GOT to try to see the humor in things that happen, even if it's a delayed reaction.
Part II will explore my Journey through Chemo and Radiation, what I confronted, and what I learned.
~ Be Well. ♥