Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Self Portrait Joan Dobbie Copyright 2003
In the year 2003 I discovered, through a series of interesting coincidences, that I was dealing with breast cancer. My first response, you can see in this picture poem. It was odd. I wasn't terribly upset. I just felt... odd... something like early pregnancy. It didn't seem real. It was kind of an adventure. I had no idea what would happen next. Because the cancer had been discovered through the Lane County Breast & Cervical Cancer Program (541-682-6682), I was automatically accepted on the Oregon Health Plan. Since I had just had to cancel my own health insurance due to low finances, this seemed something of a miracle. I started keeping a scrapbook, filling it with doctor appointments and so forth. And, I was lucky to have supportive friends and family. One of my sisters also had dealt with breast cancer, back in 2000, and had done a lot of web research. This was a great help. One of my friends was dealing with cancer herself. She was a great support.


As far as AMA goes, an excellent Surgeon was recommended to me. I called him. I went to him. Looking at the xray, he said to me, "I'm sure, from looking at this, that you do have cancer. I'm going to order a biopsy, but even if it comes out negative, I want to operate." I went in for the biopsy. I waited for what seemed like an eternity for the results, and with a nudge from my sister, decided to call and find out what was going on. It turned out my doctor was on vacation, and the test results were unopened on his desk. Someone, I don't remember who, opened the envelope and, yes, the test had come out positive. I wanted the surgery right away and almost insisted on another doctor, but, as it turned out, he was soon to return, and so I didn't make any changes. My surgeon removed a TINY lump from my upper left breast, and 3 lymph nodes that had registered positive for cancer. He also was kind enough, at my special request, to take some unrelated skin tags off my neck. Here is a poem written the day I came home from that surgery. I felt pretty good. High, actually. No problem.

A Day at the Hospital
by Joan Dobbie

We were mostly lying down
on gurneys
or sitting up in wheelchairs.

Some of us were walking along the hallway
pushing huge awkward
drip machines around with us
like pet standard poodles.

The nurses kept comparing our names
to our birthdays
to make sure they were doing
the right thing to the right patient

I, for example, was the one
who had the word “YES”
written clearly in
permanent magic marker
above my left breast

who sat in a wheel chair
with a 3 inch wire sticking out of my “YES” breast
& a dixie cup covering the wire
so it wouldn’t move out of place.

I was the patient
with radioactive BLUE fluid flowing
into my lymph nodes

& a geiger counter beeping enthusiastically
telling the nurses who then told the doctor
which ones to cut out

who peacefully
slept through the cutting
& woke by surprise

with my good friend
Verna sitting patiently
at my side

a half moon cut out of my left breast
(but still, having two breasts!)
& three holes in my left armpit.

Then when I got home
& decided to pee (like in those dreams
that turn out to be real)

my pee
came out deep, brilliant BLUE
just like they told me it would.

And that was all yesterday.

All day today
I’m seeing pink angels
floating around me

patting my face
with classical smiles
& soft Rubenesque fingers.

God only knows
what will happen tomorrow.

But because the cancer had been found in my lymph nodes, the doctors recommended a second surgery, removing 23 more lymph nodes and widening the margin around the lump they'd removed from my breast. So, a few weeks later I was back in the hospital. This time was a good deal harder. First of all, I'd had some lycorice tea prior to the surgery. I thought it wouldn't be a problem. It was. I came out of anesthesia sick, sick, sick. I was crying and vomiting, peeing, gagging and sobbing. My good friend who drove me home never complained about having to clean up her car the next day. For what seemed like an eternity I had a drain under my arm which I had to clean a few times daily. And, all this, as it turned out, could have been done without. There was no cancer in any of the additional lymph nodes they'd taken out or in the extra flesh they'd removed from my breast. I was lucky,

The surgeon sent me to a chemo doctor at the Cancer Center. The chemo doctor recommended radiation and a round of chemo. He said the chemo would be a mild version. He gave me percentages. I decided to go for the radiation, but not the chemo. This was for a probably foolish reason. The chemo would have interfered with my traveling to my son's wedding. It also might have interfered with my work as a yoga teacher. I wasn't ready to lose my hair. In retrospect I sometimes think if I had gone for it, I would have had less to worry about now. But, I didn't.

My cancer, as it turned out, was a kind that thrived on estrogen, so I did agree to "adjuvent therapy. " I'm on a drug called Arimidex, which is meant to stop my body from making estrogen altogether. It is very expensive, but supposedly has less side effects than Tamoxophin. Thank God for the Oregon Health Plan. I've been on this drug for three years now, and so far the worst side effects I experience are what seems to me to be premature aging. I am hoping that when I'm finished with the 5 year bout of it, I'll get young again. My cousin, Lucie, tells me I'm being overly optimistic. On the other hand, it's kind of nice to get senior discounts without having to ask for them.

I had a young, smart woman doctor as my main radiation doctor. We liked one another. The actual radiation was a surprisingly pleasant experience. Altogether, the people at the cancer center were mind blowingly kind and considerate. Here is a poem about that experience:

My Favorite Radiators

Of course the radiation
causes damage. Of course
it harms my body. Why else do you think
I’m coughing like this?

Richie and Chris (my favorite radiators)
don’t just throw me on the table
like a slab of meat
go hide in the back room while the buzz goes on
& send me packing. No.

With professional grace,they
arrange my tastfully tattooed & drawn upon
torso onto my artfully sculpted plastic & plaster
body form, pull

just a little bit this way, push
just a little bit that way, ever so, always so,
carefully, with great coordination,

the right breast modestly
covered, the left arm raised
just so; the brilliant lazer beams

lined up exactly with
the pin prick tattoos just barely visible
beneath the left

offending breast (which is precisely arranged
to be in the exact position as it is in the photo
on the video screen above us).

With such obvious care
this delightful duo
does everything possible
to do everything necessary
with nigh on perfect precision. So

thank you again, Richie and Chris, for
damaging my body
not too much -- just enough --
to, hopefully, save my life.


A post radiation cat scan showed some spots in my lungs. The spots were the main problem all the doctors worried about. They were tiny. I had several check ups. My chemo doctor, after a couple of years, said to me, "The more I look at these spots the less I think they are cancer." He then said that when my 5 years of Arimidex came to an end, he would leave me drug free for 2 months or so, then check the lungs again. If the spots didn't change, I would be considered cancer free. If they began to grow, he'd put me back on the Arimidex for the rest of my life.

And that's pretty much it for the AMA part of my experience. The surgeon did a beautiful job. My operated-on breast is now lovely and pert and looks like a Barbie Doll breast. The other one, well... you know... I am 60. Thanks to my yoga practice, I haven't lost any flexibility in my left arm. And, except for checkups that come now further and further apart, a kind of ice-cream cone scoop out of my left armpit, a goodly supply of hot flashes, an equally abundant supply of cold chills, and the fact that I seem to be growing a beard, I'm pretty much back to normal.


First of all, let me mention that before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was a very heavy tofu eater. I would buy 7 pounds a week and devour it. I loved tofu! Also, I had been an enthusiastic cell phone user. And, when I went for hikes etc. it was my habit to tuck the cell phone into my bra for free hands. Now, it is possible that my cancer had nothing to do with either tofu or cell phone use, but, since the cancer just happened to be exactly in that spot where I used to tuck my cell phone, and since I'd heard that tofu can create a kind of illusionary estrogen in the body. I took my own advice. Got rid of the cell phone and stopped eating tofu.

I need to mention also, as I believe often happens, that the cancer came on when I was in the midst of my menopause. That means, as you can imagine, I was emotionally off kilter in any case, and, I wasn't sleeping a lot. It wasn't so much insomnia as being too busy to bother with sleep. I went for many nights with only two or three hours of sleep. I'd been living this way for years. I have read that very often cancer is connected with sleep deprivation, so I have been, since my diagnosis, trying to remedy that situation.

As for diet, well, I hadn't eaten meat for nearly 30 years. But I wasn't that much of a vegetarian either. My son (when he was young) once remarked to a friend, "We aren't vegetarians, we're pastafarians!" And it's true, I lived very much on pasta, tofu, bread and eggs. A good bit of dairy too. No more. I began eating daily salads, lots of brocolli, cauliflower, seaweed, lots of tomatoes, lots more vegetables and fruits in general and less pasta, less bread, less cheese and milk. And, as I said, no tofu. I learned new recipes like "cabbage lasagna" which actually uses leaves of steamed cabbage in place of the pasta for absolutely delicious lasagna. And, I started making smoothies: veggie/fruit/yogurt smoothies with orange juice, carrots, tomatoes, celery, apples, yogurt, blueberries, raspberries, whatever happened to be around. I decided to pay whatever it cost to eat organic. As the years have passed, I've gotten a little bit sloppy with that, but I have heard that the chemicals used in modern gardening mimic estrogen and so can feed estrogen positive cancers. And, while I was only an occasional smoker (you know, binge when freaking out) I simply stopped smoking for any reason whatsoever. I mean, smoking wasn't even an issue any more.

As I mentioned earlier, I had a good friend, locally, who also was dealing with cancer. She chose alternative treatments only. These included coffee enimas, cleansing fasts and colonics ( which I didn't use, at least not yet. I'm considering them.) She also made use of a Rife Machine and Preparation 714X (which is injected into the lymph nodes). I did use those methods.

Rife Machine:

It is, in this country, illegal to use the Rife Machine for human healing. It is considered practicing medicine without a license. Luckily there are several people around who have such machines for animal use. Since you only need to be in the room with the machine, and it is not illegal to own the machine, you can sit near it and receive whatever energy is emitted. At first I went to the home of a man who had built his own rife machine to help deal with personal health problems. Then I discovered a lady, actually my neighbor, who invited people with cancer or other health situations to visit her while the machine was running. She had a warm cozy living room with big reclining chairs, warm blankets; she made teas; she provided a safe and loving environment.

Foot Baths

This lady also had an "Aqua Chi" machine that turned a foot bath into a deep energy cleansing treatment. At first she did the foot baths for me, then she taught me how to use the machine. She charged nothing, but accepted donations. During my months of radiation, I spent many hours a week in her space.

This wonderful lady passed on a year or so ago, and I've begun going to another lady's "chat room." I go much more rarely, now, partly because I'm getting sloppy with time, and partly because it's an hour's drive, but whenever I do go, I think how I should go more often. And, I buy from her supplements that seem to help as well. A liquid derived from seaweed, Limli, seems especially effective for good energy. And, for special self nourishment, there she sells "Miracle Soap," a magnificent bubble bath that can be used for anything from human baths to carpet cleaning, but boasts of mystical healing properties, and, who's to say?

Healing Brew

I have a friend in Canada who is well versed in the healing arts. She connected me with a Canadian woman whose native American (Grandmother, I believe) had taught her how to create a traditional healing brew. We spoke on the phone; she sent herbs and instructions on how to prepare them. This lady sends blessings along with the herbs, speaks to you if you need some support, stays in email contact without overdoing it, charges nothing, but does accept donaltions. I drink 3 sips of my brew each morning and each evening (with Sundays off). When I run out, I ask for more. If I don't ask for more for a week or two, I notice a drop in my energy level.

Product 714X

This is a kind of healing medication that is injected into the lymph nodes in the groin, or inhaled through a special inhaler. I did two, maybe three rounds of injections. Product 714X is expensive, but the company will give a discount to low income people with cancer. The product is legal in Canada only for those with a terminal diagnosis, but if you live outside of Canada you can get it without that. I took a couple of rounds of injections, and they, too, made a great difference in my energy level.

Reishi Mushrooms

Once you come up with something like cancer, nearly everyone you meet has some advice to give, and my experience has been that a lot of the advice is actually very useful. And so, a friend mentioned reishi mushrooms. He knew someone with had done very well during cancer treatments on these mushrooms. It turned out they were being sold right here in Eugene, so I started ordering them. I take between 4 capsules and 8 capsules a day. And as with my other supplements, if I run out and don't replenish, I find myself crashing.


It doesn't seem to be one thing that is keeping me going, but a combination. I also take vitamins. I don't take a multivitamin because I don't trust women's vitamins not to have estrogen somewhere in there. Of course, I could go for a "man's" vitamin, and I've considered that. Instead, I do take calcium, vitamin B12, vitamin B6, folic acid, gingko, ginsing, vitamin C and several other supplements that my sister, the one who'd been dealing with cancer some 6 or 7 years ago, had left over from her arsinal of "life extension" supplements. These supplements, when she sends them, I simply trust and appreciate.

Healing Meditation

Another friend sent me a book. I don't even remember who, and I no longer have the book, since I passed it on to someone. But it was written by a man who believed he had healed himself from bone cancer, or at least had been living with a bone cancer (that doctors had said would kill him in months) for close to a decade. He attributed his life to the use of a particular healing meditation which I began to practice, and still do practice on occasion.


I used to drink water rarely. After my diagnosis I started to drink a lot of water, thinking it might help keep my liver strong and clean out my system. I stay away from tap water and drink bottled spring water. I've gotten into the habit of drinking it steadily, keeping a bottle with me pretty much everywhere I go.


And, not because of the cancer, but because it is the very core of my life, I practice hatha yoga and meditation. Not now and then, but on a daily basis. I make my living teaching yoga. And it seems that this yoga practice has had a huge effect on my healing in many ways. First of all, despite having lost something like 26 lymph nodes under my left arm, I have complete range of movement in that arm. Secondly, my yoga practice seems to have kept me calm through the whole experience, partly because of the physical exercise, but also because yoga philosophy doesn't see death as a monster or bogeyman. I'm hoping the cancer won't return, but I'm aware that I'm living under a sword, and it could come crashing down at any time. I believe it is my yoga practice that lets me live under this sword in relative calm.