Sherry Williams, profiled here in November, 2006, was diagnosed with breast cancer four times between 1999 and 2004. After the final recurrence in July 2004, she embraced the advice she received from Victoria Maizes, M.D. at the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (formerly the Program in Integrative Medicine) Clinic at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center in Tucson, which was founded by Dr. Weil in 1994. Now, she celebrates four years of being cancer-free.
Finally conquering cancer after four attempts has given me much wisdom. Surviving chemotherapy twice and radiation twice are not my proudest achievements. Instead, my proudest achievement is discovering that my health is largely a reflection of my lifestyle.
Being a middle child who became outspoken and driven to be seen and heard in a positive way, I became quite good at most of my life's adventures. Being outgoing, athletic, dependable, and trustworthy allowed me to foster great relationships and people skills. As a result, when breast cancer found me in 1999 shortly after my 40th birthday, I was shocked at the diagnosis.
It was not until my third diagnosis that I discovered that I needed to look closer at what was going on. It was not until my fourth diagnosis that I realized I had to do something totally different. It was at my support group session at The Wellness Community that I decided to check into the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (AzCIM) at the University of Arizona's School of Medicine in Tucson.
Through self-discovery, I realized my health is more associated with my lifestyle and how I chose to cope with things than anything else.
As I look back over the two years prior to my cancer diagnoses, I was clearly overwhelmed, stressed-out, sleep-deprived, and had failed miserably at recognizing it. Living the fast-paced life that society forces upon us leaves us thinking this is the way it is suppose to be. Yes, life is more complicated now than it was 30 years ago, but we can uncomplicate it - the choice is ours.
Yet the crazy stress continued even after I was diagnosed. As I honestly look back at my life while I had cancer, what I see is unbelievable! I found myself working into the wee hours of the morning (on my commissioned-based job) despite grueling radiation and chemotherapy treatments running simultaneously.
In retrospect, it was a combination of stresses that overwhelmed and rendered my immune system defenseless, allowing the cancer to recur multiple times. Just as a bridge will give way to too much pressure, so will our bodies. Working long hours in a negative environment, getting insufficient sleep, eating on the run, skipping meals, missing exercise sessions, not taking enough time to relax and enjoy life can wreak havoc on even the best immune system. While trying to juggle all these challenges, my body simply caved in to the pressure.
Dr. Weil is right. The body can actually heal itself if it is fed and nurtured properly. Unfortunately, often illness has to hit us - in my case, four times - before we are forced to stop and evaluate.
After my consultations with Dr. Victoria Maizes at AzCIM, I decided to take the time - time that I said I did not have - to care for myself.
You can learn from my experience. Dr. Weil and Dr. Maizes did the work. Now, all we have to do is use the "Weil Lifestyle" to stay well. Being busy means we have to be more proactive about how to eat healthfully by taking fruit and nuts for snacks. Setting clear work boundaries, scheduling fitness time, "me" time and time with family can actually improve and lengthen our life. Evaluating our habits and tweaking them to include the right vitamin regimen to help boost our immune system (after we have wrecked it) makes us look and feel better. Taking time to rest, read, reflect, renew, and love are imperative to healthy living.
Knowing that quality-of-life is everything helps me stay on my Weil-recommended vitamin supplements, healthy eating, spiritual time, yoga/exercising, and lifestyle habits. And these have kept me well. We have to know enough to treat our bodies and minds as sacred temples and not abuse them. The "Weil Lifestyle" is actually biblically correct. Eat, drink, rest and reflect on these things. I know it sounds too simple. That is also why it works.
Dr. Weil's tips and techniques have proven to keep me cancer-free far longer than all the conventional therapies did alone. Using integrative medicine to heal our bodies is not just the right thing to do. It is the only thing to do.
By Sherry Williams, Guest Commentator