In the Middle

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My dad survived not only that night in the hospital but he went on to become cancer free that year. He had a bone marrow transplant and although I know he never felt 100% during that year he was able to go back to work and do one of the things he loved most – conserving land. We had moved to New Hampshire for him to establish a new refuge. So while he was recovering from cancer that is what he did. He worked to bring into being Lake Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge.

In the meantime, at the wish of our dad, my brother and I returned to school to continue on with life. He wouldn’t have it any other way. We needed to live and do what we were supposed to do. After all, that was what he was doing right? I returned to the University of Idaho and for the next year I attended school and then continued to live there during the summer to work at a local coffee house. I don’t recall any signs of anxiety at the time. I was young and in school and the treatment for cancer had worked. My dad was doing better and that was good enough for me.

The fall semester came and went and so did Christmas. I hadn’t quite started in on my spring semester when my mom called. My dad had been in for his routine check-up. He had developed what is known as myelodysplastic syndrome. It had to be treated exactly like leukemia. I could hear the wavering strength in my mom’s voice. She confided that when my dad got the news she could see the discouragement on his face. Later I wondered if what she saw was more resignation. He knew that his time here on earth was short.

This time around family was tested to see if there was a match for his bone marrow. The first bone marrow transplant was actually cultured from his own cells to reduce chance of rejection. Everyone was tested and my dad’s sister Bev was a match. Not just any match, but a perfect match. She underwent the painful removal of the bone marrow and my dad underwent chemotherapy again to prepare his body to receive the new marrow. It came in beautifully. As the healthy cells grew and filled my dad with what we hoped to be life the rest of his body ravaged by toxic chemicals had simply had enough.

At the time of the transplant I was still in Idaho and had planned to be home over spring break for a visit which was in a couple of weeks. My plane ticket was already purchased and my boyfriend (who is now my husband) was going to travel with me to meet my dad. But when you are dealing with cancer it runs on its own time schedule.

Two weeks before I was supposed to go home I received a phone call from my mom. It was short and to the point. Your dad is doing worse. Get on the next available flight. He may not make it before you get here. I hung up the phone and hurriedly packed. The nearest airport was 80 miles away and I had a plane ticket to change. As my roommates surrounded me and helped me I got on the phone with the airport and attempted to change my ticket. The woman was less than helpful questioning why I had to change it and if I just waited another day the fee would be less, etc. until I finally shouted into the phone that I needed the next flight available because my dad was dying and I wanted to get there before he did. There was absolute silence on the other end of the phone. Hurriedly and with apologies she booked me the next flight out of Spokane. Like a whirlwind I was gone. So strange it was that I woke up with one thing in mind and found myself flying across the nation to New Hampshire.

I arrived in Boston around midnight and a close family friend drove me a couple hours up to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. By then it was around 2 o’clock in the morning. There were no cell phones back then or if there were I didn’t have one. I raced out of the vehicle leaving everything behind, found the oncology department, raced down the hall to the nurses station and quietly but quickly with a sigh of relief entered my dad’s room. He was still alive. There he lay on his bed the sickest I had ever seen him. He had no hair and his complexion was sallow yellow. His breathing was labored, but he was alive. I curled up on the extra bed against the wall next to him and fell fast asleep. In the morning as my eyes opened I saw he was awake so I shot up and brought my face close to his. In delirium he reached up and grabbed my face and with a big smile and child like voice full of joy he said, “Daddy’s little sweetheart.” It was the last thing my dad ever said to me.

In the Beginning

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A question that has been asked of late is what triggered your anxiety attack? That is not a short answer. In fact, I don’t think I can even answer it yet. I’m patiently waiting to dig in deeper to get to the root of why I struggle with anxiety. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t born anxious. Let’s go back eighteen years…maybe even further. I can most certainly tell you when anxiety became a part of my life. It was the day my dad died.

Did I have a happy childhood? Yes, I did. A very happy one. I was grateful to grow up in a two parent home with parents who loved each other and parents who loved me. I had a really great older brother (yes there was a period of a few years where he was the perfect one and I was the annoying one but isn’t that normal?) and lived in this tiny pocket of a town in the interior of Alaska with a most unique and quite wonderful group of people. My life was lived out in the boonies (I’m not kidding) and friends were family. I went to a small school that housed kindergarten through 12th grade and I knew everybody. My town was about community. I had lived in Montana until the 1st grade and then in March of my 1st grade year we made the long trek to Alaska and settled in for almost the remainder of my education. Alaska was my home.

My dad got his dream job my senior year of high school and we moved across the nation to New Hampshire. Could this be when some of my anxiety began to appear? Possibly. I don’t remember feeling anxious though. I remember feeling angry and cheated out of my senior year with all of my friends and community. However, as we settled in New Hampshire it became an adventure and I met people I never would have known. It turned out alright.

After I graduated high school I looked into college in New Hampshire but soon discovered that the cost was the same for in state tuition as out of state tuition in Idaho. Originally when I was in Alaska I had thought to go to the University of Idaho because they were a sister school to us. So, since the cost was essentially the same I gave up on the idea of an Ivy League school and went with my original plan. In the summer of 1993 I packed up my suitcases and my parents drove me to Montreal, Quebec to catch a plane for Idaho. Things were different back then…you could just flash your driver’s license at the Canadian border and be on your merry way.

I enjoyed my first year of college in Idaho and returned home for the summer to work as a waitress at the local restaurant. Yes, THE local restaurant. My dad could not move to a bigger town right? In Alaska I was in a town of about 1,200 but in New Hampshire it was a mere 300 people. The summer went by quickly and before I knew it I was back on the plane and back to Idaho for my sophomore year of college.

I didn’t know it at the time but that year a lot of things would change for me. Things I would never imagine. In September I found God, or rather He found me. I had grown up in church and my parents loved God so much but for some reason I just didn’t get it. I didn’t really get what He did for me. That he died for me and loved me and forgave me. I knew that in my head but I didn’t know that in my heart. I had a good fall semester in school and was eager to learn more and more about this God who loved me so much. That Christmas I went home to New Hampshire for break. Everything seemed fine but my dad was sick with what we thought might be a bad flu. Well, that was too bad to be sick over the holidays. Whatever he had caught though he just couldn’t seem to shake. On Christmas day he quietly made it through the morning family time and festivities of opening presents. I was sad that he wasn’t feeling well but I honestly didn’t give it a second thought.

The next morning my mom took him into the hospital (that was twenty miles away) since he was getting worse and not better. My brother went along. Later that morning I got a phone call from my mom. They had run a blood test on my dad and his white blood cell counts were very high. My mom, brother and dad traveled down to southern New Hampshire that day to Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical center for further testing. He was admitted immediately and they confirmed what my mom had feared. My dad had leukemia and he may not make it through the night. His white cell count was 208 and it should have been 4.7 to 6.1. The doctors wasted no time and got him set up on a machine that spun his blood and extracted the white blood cells from his body. All night he was on the machine. There was no way they could administer chemotherapy with all of the overgrowth of cells. It would kill him. My dad made it through the night and lost 15 pounds as his body fought to survive and the machine whirled the death cells out of his body. It was a miracle he was still breathing. If my mom had not brought him in when she did he would have most likely died in his sleep that night.

I was alone at home and my brother was with my mom to support her. I made a few phone calls to my dad’s closest friends hearing the shock over and over again in the voices of those who loved him. The cancer was out of the blue and hit people hard. It hit us hard. It hit my dad hard. He was in for the battle of his life. Little did I know that this would begin the battle for my mind.

Forget Not His Benefits (Part 6)

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My road to healing has been multi-faceted. It has been a combination of prayer, lifestyle change, medication, chiropractic care, massage therapy and supplements. I honestly believe that if I had just thrown medication at my anxiety I would not be this far along in my journey. In fact, I think I would have been quite hopeless and maybe heading back down my deep dark pit to an even deeper and darker place.

Before my anxiety attack I had been in contact with a metabolic doctor. I was so convinced that food allergies were my problem that a friend reached out to me and encouraged me to get the ALCAT (food allergy test) done. When I went searching online there was only one office in Spokane who offered it and they specialized in metabolic issues. This resonated within me because if you don’t get to the root of a problem you will never truly get better. That goes for the physical and the emotional. What was going on inside of me that had made me such a mess?

I went in and had a consult and got set up for testing. We actually didn’t do the food allergy test but rather a baseline intensive blood workup to see where I was at on the inside. The place you cannot see. All of this took time. If there was one thing I was learning it was patience and endurance and that any progress at all was still progress. I was simply learning to wait. When my testing came back I found out I had a problem with gluten and dairy. I also discovered I was extremely low on Vitamin D and deficient, and when I say deficient I mean it was bottom of the barrel low on Vitamin E and B. To top it off I had an off the charts yeast overgrowth throughout my whole body. No wonder I felt so sick.

For the first time in almost a year I felt a tiny beam of hope shoot out of me and slice through my confusion and darkness. It was pointing me in a direction. After months of quiet desperation I physically felt a departing of some of the wondering. I had been quietly clawing up the wrong trees and the shift in direction released my constant companion of worry and heaviness that I had gotten used to carrying. I had almost forgotten what it felt like to have a quiet mind so used to the frantic whirlwind of thoughts I had become. The winds of desperation had finally calmed down and a piece of peace took its place. I was then reminded about something that God had spoken to my heart a few months earlier as I asked Him a question about a certain family situation. What if this situation steals my peace? To which my ever so wise God said, “I am the source of your peace. Not your circumstances but me.” So even though I was in the midst of adjusting, waiting, testing and figuring things out my circumstances were not going to dictate my peace. My source of peace was Christ. I needed to be reminded.

After we reviewed all my testing I felt grateful; so grateful that I had been encouraged to take it to another level. I don’t know when I would have discovered the inside of me problems I was having if I had not seen this new doctor. I was out of balance, had an unusual yeast overgrowth and had some alarming numbers that required some genetic testing…and I thought it was just allergies and asthma.

Heading for home I was armed with a very large pill box (and a staggering supplement bill) to accommodate my needs. I was taking more than twenty pills a day to get my body back in balance and had radically changed my diet. It was restrictive but it was okay. I had to get better. If the doctor had told me to eat dirt I would have. Sometimes you have to get to a place where you really are ready to make a change and for me I was ready to do whatever it took to get my life back.

I continued on my supplements, medications and my restrictive diet for two months fully believing that by the end of my two months I would be 100% on my way to making a full recovery if not already there. After all, I had been suffering a year already right? Wasn’t that long enough? I was doing exactly what the doctor said and never missed a dose of anything. I began to notice good changes in my body. The tiredness was mostly gone, I was sleeping well and I was dropping weight. I still couldn’t run. I tried one time and my body screamed “NO” and I almost passed out. I began to accept the fact that I probably would not run again for maybe up to a year. I may not even run again ever. I was finding my new normal and finding ways to accept it.

After my two months I got another round of blood tests done and excitedly waited for my results. I was eager to meet with my doctor to see what my next step was. I was excited to see how I was better and how I would walk out of there with just maybe one or two supplements a day. When it was time for me to receive my results I plopped down in the chair expectant for a stellar report. The good news was my vitamin deficiencies had come back into balance and the genetic test proved to be a simple fix of taking a supplement to keep my body in balance. But then came the news I was not expecting. My yeast levels had not changed at all. They were still off the charts. I had eliminated most of the sugar in my life (sugar feeds yeast) and I had faithfully taken my prescription twice a day. Why hadn’t that worked? Apparently, I had a resistant strain. I left my doctor’s office and found myself back on another two months of a prescription medication, a natural anti-fungal that tasted like diluted perfume and an even more strict diet of only meats, nuts and vegetables. I also had to add a few more supplements because my restricted diet had made me deficient in a few things. Why was my body so angry at me? Why wasn’t it obeying me?

I headed home and swung by the pharmacy to pick up my medications. Even though I felt so discouraged the visit forced me to reflect on the “why” of why all this was happening? I wondered if what God was really doing was more of a complete work in me. I had a feeling God was doing far above and beyond what I could imagine because He knows me and loves me. Yes, He was helping me and teaching me to walk through anxiety but on a deeper level could he be setting me free from addiction?

For over twenty years I had battled emotional eating and I had prayed to God that He would do what it took to set me free. Food had been a bondage I could not break. Believe me I had tried only to gain back all the weight I had lost because I had not dealt with the root of the problem. Was now the time for me to break free? I had just done a strict two month diet and was going to do another three months of an even stricter regimen. Gone were the things I had run to when I was happy, sad, angry, anxious or depressed. I couldn’t turn to them anymore. Was God saying two months wasn’t enough to set me free from my food addiction? I contemplated who I was and I settled in a place of trust. Maybe, just maybe I needed more time defeating this unhealthy relationship with food that had been with me all of my adult life. I recognized that I had gone from an attitude of this is only a change for a little bit to get better (then I can eat again!) to I’ve just made a whole life change and when I am balanced and healthy I will not go back.

As my thoughts continued to ponder I left the pharmacy and made my way back home. I could not have done any of this on my own. He in His grace brought me to a place of brokenness so that I might find healing. I couldn’t see it a few months ago but I could see it clear as day now. He was getting me ready for something. Something I could not do until I was broken and the pieces could be swept out of my life, not left for me to glue back together. Was I going to embrace the change and stand firm in the way He wanted me to go? I desperately wanted to. Realizing the depth of the work He was doing I saw my pinpoint of light shine brighter in my darkness illuminating my path to lead the way. I don’t know how long the path might be but does it really matter? I can see the path and all that I need to do is simply put one foot in front of the other and follow it.