Thursday, March 1, 2012

Life is a Chronic Illness

A friend was recently diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. Although her lump, which was pre-cancerous, was successfully removed, she has to have radiation therapy as a precaution, to reduce the likelihood of the cancer returning in a more aggressive form. Her oncologist told her “Breast cancer is no longer a death sentence. Breast cancer is a chronic illness.” I was there to support my friend, and it occurred to me that life is a chronic illness. While not immediately life-threatening (if that's not n oxymoron), it does kill us in the end. The trick is learning to live with this chronic condition, to take each day as it comes and make the most of it, not knowing when the end will come.

Now, I know this thought isn’t original. I’m not sure which philosopher put it into words first – probably not Marcus Aurelius, who I'm currently re-reading, although he had some helpful things to say. Do not act as if thou wert going to live ten thousand years. Death hangs over thee. While thou livest, while it is in thy power, be good. (From Meditations.) So why am I meditating on life and death? Because I’ve hit another little bad patch in my journey, and I need to remind myself that being ill is not the be-all and end-all of my life.

Low energy, shakiness, weepiness – so what’s new?

The most annoying thing about this chronic condition is the way a relapse takes me unawares. It’s a pain! I can go along feeling fine, full of energy, brain working almost as well as it always has (maybe a little slower, if I’m honest), and wham, suddenly I have a day when I’m feeling shaky, weepy, and an intense desire to lie on couch and feel sorry for myself.

The reason is I have been ignoring the little warning signs that this is creeping up on me. At some level, I have been believing that I well. Fixed. Cured. 100 per cent better. And behaving like I’m as fit or fitter than I was at 25. Exercising at the gym 3 or 4 times a week. Working hard editing, writing. Going out with friends. Filling every day with activity. When, to be honest again, I should know – and accept ­– that at best I’m only ever going to be 90 per cent or 80 per cent, and I can’t behave like I have the drive and energy of my younger and healthier self.

Low iodine and slow adrenals

In my last post, I mentioned the possibility of mild hypothyroidism. My most recent blood test reinforced that possibility. My blood iodine levels were mid-range at 48 – moderate iodine deficiency, so now I’m taking one drop of iodine tincture in a glass of water once a day.

Iodine is one of the micronutrients the body requires to produce the thyroid hormones. Although it is found in fish and seafood, the best natural sources of iodine are seaweed and kelp, which not many people eat, except as wrappers for sushi rolls. Japanese people, whose diet is high in seafoods and seaweeds, seldom suffer from iodine deficiencies, but many Australians unknowingly have a mild lack, and this is a concern with maternal and infant health. Other sources are eggs, yoghurt, milk, strawberries and some cheeses, but their iodine is dependent on the soil in which the grass or the crops was grown.

Worldwide, 139 countries have soil deficient in or entirely lacking iodine. Australia is one of them – particularly Tasmania, where I spent my childhood. Severe iodine deficiency, especially in pregnant and lactating women, causes horrific brain development problems in the foetus and young babies. Growing up in the 1950s, I saw many cases of cretinism and goitre, terrifying to a small child. By 1960, the cause had been discovered and we were given iodine supplements. The best sources of iodine in Australia are actually bread and salt, which have iodine added. (Milk used to be a good source, when iodates were used as part of the sterilising process in dairies, but this no longer happens.)

Adrenal exhaustion – not again!

Eighteen months ago, I was totally weak, limp and useless, as I was suffering from adrenal exhaustion. I was afraid this latest set-back would be the same, but I was over-reacting. Sure, I have a bit of adrenal fatigue, thanks to the low iodine, slight anaemia, having migraines on hot and humid days, and just doing too much, but I am 75/75 – ie – 75 percent well, 75 percent of the time. I just have to get it through my stubborn mind that I MUST rest more and do less, and keep taking my daily supplements of B12, folinic acid, vitamin C, iodine, and the Chinese herb, cordyceps. Find a balance between action and repose, to make the most of my chronic life.

Reasons to be cheerful

  • Music on my laptop, for when I have to lie on my couch.
  • Poetry cds, poems read by their British or American authors for couch time
  • Good books and a local library that gets all the latest ones
  • Walking through the Botanic Gardens or my favourite parks when I have the energy
  • Work that uses my brain and provides disposable income to buy concert tickets, books, cds, occasional new clothes,
  • Time with friends and family – either in the flesh or on Skype

1 comment:

  1. I keep making my medicos test for thyroid issues. Trouble is, I'm fairly sure they don't take me that seriously, and I'm not entirely sure I trust them to be using the most up to date thresholds for abnormal-low results. Almost certain I've not had a blood-iodine test. Well, it's almost time for my annual "argh, summer is coming" migraine doctor visit.

    It is way hard to take every day as it comes and to live in the moment. I'm dreadful at the mindfulness thing. But there seems to be a lot in it, for the chronic condition of life, and the chronic conditions within life.