I was born in Washington DC.
At 2 months old my family returned to our home on the Mediterranean. I came back to the U.S. permanently at the age of 20.
In 1995 I was a Technical Director at AT&T. I was drawn to accept a position to manage Project Managers and Business Analysts at what was then PacBell, although I didn't have a technical background. 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 hiring Director wanted me to bring to his team.
Having grown up in a large family where life was centered around relatives, friends and shared meals, I decided to offer to-go 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 as well. Her skills were passed on to each one of us, and my gratitude to her is unending.
When my daughter was 6 I began a catering business. She was a good helper throughout the years. She is now a creative cook running her own food business, and often inspiring me with her dishes. My son is a talented cook as well. As a finicky gourmet I believe he is on his way to a love affair with cooking.
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. We often held large dinner parties, and her friends cleared their calendars for dinner at our home. She 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.
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. Consciously or not, what you bring to your cooking is what people get out of it. 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 invoke the Divine as she used to.
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 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 I began a serious foray into the world of Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM). Through her I got in touch with an internationally prominent bio-chemist and science writer who, for the past 38 years, has been an independent researcher 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.
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 at you to support their advice, but you are not a statistic. The Oncologist 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%! You are not told that.
Main stream 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.
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.
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.
In the meantime, 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’. There are side benefits to everything!
I also had 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? 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 link. I found that a number of doctors have a hard time accepting responsibility for things that go wrong. It's usually the patient's fault.
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! I mean really…an hour before? You have GOT to see the humor in life.
Part II will explore my Journey through Chemo and Radiation, what I confronted, and what I learned.
~ Be Well. ♥