Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spa Girl shares her own life experience...

Celebrating Christmas on Vancouver Island, 2011
I have been pondering this post for some time. As someone whose career often puts me in the public spotlight--I am the Executive Director of an art museum--I carefully protect my privacy and don't often share my more persona lexperiences.

Writing this blog has really changed the way I interact. Doing research for the SpaGirl blog--research is a passion--and sharing this information with my virtual readershiphas been a wonderful `public` experience, and I have learned so much, not only about myself, but the vast and often complex world of alternative health care, which of course includes the spa industry.

My Mom, me & my two sisters
My mom, as I have written in many of my posts, was a woman ahead of her time and a firm believer in alternative health care, so my own interest has come very naturally. However in 2007 it also became critical to my own overall well-being.

As someone who rarely got sick it came as a immense shock, when in 2007, I was diagnosed with leukemia. It was indeed a turning point in my life and in coming to terms with a "new normal".

I had no recourse other than traditional therapies, but the moment I was able to leave the hospital, and with the blessing and sage advice of my wonderful medical team (both traditional and alternative) I began looking at all the alternatives to compliment the traditional treatment I was receiving. I do however want to mention that while in the hospital I was offered, and did participate in, a 'heavenly' aromatherapy inhalation program. This exciting mix of traditional and non-traditional medicine is something, I believe, should and will continue to develop.

Sandy Wiseman
A wonderful writer and one of my very dear friends, who lost her battle with cancer started a blog a months into her own treatment. Sandy asked everyone she knew going through their own struggle to write about their personal experiences and to make suggestions for those who were just learning about their own diagnosis's. Always the first one to volunteer, lend a hand and connect people, it was one of her ways of giving back, helping others as they considered all their own treatment options.

This is what I posted October, 2010...

The day I learned I had leukemia was a major turning point in my life. As I write this, I am working on the second obstacle of this journey; the day my doctors tell me the chronic graft vs. host disease (cGVHD) I’ve developed from my stem cell transplant is vanishing.

Relay for Life, 2011
Until then, I strive to enjoy every day of my life and feel extremely grateful and remarkably humble to have come this far. There are days where I don’t feel 100 per cent and know I may be managing this disease for many years to come, as it may never go away. But rising to this challenge is all about “moving forward.” The day after my diagnosis I made the decision I’d “get on with it” after all, what choice did I have, and that’s what I've been doing ever since.

I was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia (AML) November 7, 2007, admitted to Vancouver General Hospital, Nov. 11 and under went chemotherapy treatments and a bone marrow transplant before pleading with my doctors to let me come home to Kamloops to accept an Honorary Doctorate from Thompson Rivers University, June, 2008.

Being home, after almost eight months living in a different city, I was surrounded by an amazing support system of friends and family which was wonderful. However, I am still connected via email, Skype and regular visits to my dedicated doctors at VGH. They insist I be a major part of my treatment and offer the best support as we work to over come various hurdles of living with my sister’s stem cells; she and I were a 10 of 10 match giving me a great prognosis for success. Kudos go to Beth (who travelled from Vermont) and was my caregiver for 11 months. We attended workshops at Inspire Health, a great organization based in Vancouver that offers advice on alternative treatments as well as dispensing loads of hope and laughter; walked with friends; changed my diet to more vegetables and fruit and less meats and sugar.

Trying different health related modalities is tricky when you’re fighting Leukemia/cGVHD as you cannot do anything that will boost the immune system, which is being suppressed so it won't attack your own body. I've learned to take more (highly controlled) medication than I have in my entire life. I continue to meditate as I have done for years; I do regular massage work and many other spa treatments, and joined some friends for a six-week healing session using a number of stress-releasing and breathing techniques. My principal doctor, who I run everything by first often smiles at me and says, "well of all my patients, you do ask some of the most interesting and odd questions", while another keeps asking if I am taking my vitamin D.

Learning to relax and release stress has been a big part of the work I’ve done while managing my disease. As someone who had a very busy career in the arts, making jewellery, and writing CV's. for friends proved fun and relaxing but also “productive" during my seventeen months of medical leave. I also started writing a blog “Spa Girl” that incorporates my love of researching ways to relax, rejuvenate and restore oneself, and I love it.

My 30+ year career has been a large part of my life and I’m pleased to be back to work as the Executive Director of the Kamloops Art Gallery. Working in the not for profit sector, one that I believe in so strongly, is another motivator to “move forward.” And the understanding and supportive board members, gallery staff and arts community in general have become a part of my support team.

For anyone facing cancer, I would encourage them to never give up, even on those days that are over-whelming and you feel like you have just had enough. Don't be afraid to ask for help, something that has taken me time to become more comfortable with, and embrace and learn from the many challenges and opportunities that come with having a life-threatening disease.

From the start I Iearned the only way to deal with having leukemia, while perhaps cliché, was to live life one day at a time, one hurdle at a time, try to enjoy every moment and keep the goal of complete recovery firmly planted in front of me.

April is Cancer month. Participate in a run, a walk, make a donation, support a friend. We can find a cure, but we must do it collectively and on the way, have a great deal of fun!

Spa Girl

CanadianCancer Society

AmericanCancer Society

StandUp to Cancer

Just Stand Up(music video)