74. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

This particular blog has been prompted by several people (including book reviewers) asking exactly what my attitude is to Big Pharma considering the rubbish press I give it – and that Oh! Look! It saved my life! Have I chosen to forget that bit, and all the millions of pounds that find their way via research grants and past local authority budget cuts into fantastically expensive treatment regimes like the one that saved my life? And, incidentally, that I didn’t have to pay for? Absolutely not, and trust me, if you ask that kind of a question you had better get that coffee/glass of wine right now, because the answer isn’t simple. It is, however, something that I am totally passionate about, and as I am apparently appearing to be biased against the system that saved my life, it seems there is a bit of clearing up to do.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is utterly terrifying. I know this because a) I had one and b) other people tell me about theirs, and they were just as terrified as me. For the fortunate few who are given a ‘wait and see’ approach to treatment rather than ‘we need you in tomorrow’, there is oodles of time to think about whether you want to risk dying of something else before the cancer gets you, or maybe do a bit of research into other ways of dealing with it. There are also the unfortunate souls who are turned away because there is nothing that can be done, and they are in a class all of their own. One where there is no teacher and no rules and they can do the wackiest things ever because there is nothing else that can save them. And nobody can take potshots at them for trying those weird and whacky things.

Right back at the beginning of this blog (Jan 2013) I said that I felt as though I had taken a wrong turning; I pushed open the door I thought was marked Health Club and ended up in a cancer ward. Whaaaat?! Alternative to my very roots as far as medicine goes, if there was something other than a prescription drug I could take to sort myself out, I would find it – so you can imagine how I felt when faced with an extremely toxic treatment regime that could kill me. They don’t bother to hide that bit by the way – it is listed as a side effect on the forms I had to sign. (That was a whole blog in itself – Blog #30 should give you a good laugh.) The lymphoma I was diagnosed with (Mantle Cell Lymphoma) had an aggressive proliferation rate of 90% so there was no time to sit around meditating and wondering what to do next, although TBH that is my preferred reaction to problems. In this instance I leapt straight into treatment because at these moments there is a split-second decision about whether to cash in one’s chips or attempt to stay around a bit longer and see the second half of the show. I decided I wanted to LIVE and that decision was made at a very deep level. In fact it wasn’t even really a decision, it was more a gut reaction, more like ‘WTF are you playing at? I’m not finished yet, in fact I haven’t even really got started.’

So that was that, and that was how I ended up with horribly toxic liquid pulsing through my veins at ungodly hours (lots of blogs on that too). In fact my lovely consultant Joe admitted, nay, apologised for the fact that the treatment is barbaric, but it is all they have just now. It might appear that I was in fact stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea as I could have died with either option, drugs (possibly) or the cancer (almost definitely), and I had to choose one of them. But once the shock of it all wore off I came to see that there was a middle way too. Just like those crazy rope bridges I would never go across, that stretch across canyons in countries I will never see because I hate bitey things, there is a strand of hope in all this. It would have been very easy to hang up my usually optimistic nature and put my whole life in someone else’s hands, and basically give up any responsibility for my own health. When I baulked (cried actually) at the proposed treatment schedule, which included 5 days in hospital every 3 weeks and at least a month in isolation, Joe said that in taking six months out for treatment and placing myself in their hands, I would hopefully get the rest of my life back. I’m not good at betting, but that seemed reasonable odds so I did actually put my life in their hands. But I kept a tiny bit of my spirit back for me. Because for me that rope bridge symbolised something that could get me back to health in better shape than would be expected from the treatment I was facing, and I had to have something to hang onto.

At this point I was writing regularly on the blog about trying to reconcile my ‘Alternative’ me with receiving toxic drugs, to which I was naturally extremely hostile, as they were delivered through the drip. And it doesn’t really drip, BTW. There is a horrible sort of thrumming vibration which feels awful. Well mine did. Anyway, in return I was getting some interesting comments. It seemed the more alternative of my readers were stunned that I was resorting to the much hated Big Pharma and that I should somehow be strong enough to fight this on my own (yes, really) while at the opposite end of the spectrum others couldn’t understand my need to explore diverse avenues to support my increasingly beleaguered system. Vitamins? Aloe Vera? Juices? What was I thinking? Where on earth did I get those weird ideas from? Actually, there were some pretty hurtful comments in recent reviews of my book, and they made me really cross. Why do people feel there is only one way, and that science is king? I believed, and still do, that there are literally loads of ways to support myself in any situation, and quite a lot of them are unsupported by science.

Oooh. There we go. The elephant is finally out from behind the curtains. I don’t actually care whether the science has decreed that arnica helps bruising, or that vitamin A will help to prevent chemo-induced mouth ulcers, or whether meditation helps people heal, or reflexology helps to clear toxins from the system. If it works I will use it, and I trust my body to tell me whether something is good for me or not, and I expect, in this first-world country, to have the luxury of that choice. I strongly resent being dictated to by a big authority (insert whatever is appropriate for your country here) that prevents the easy acquisition of herbal and homoeopathic medicine for political or financial reasons. Surely what is important in all of this is that we get back to, and maintain good health without further medical intervention, and that is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s culture of over-prescribing of drugs and adulterated food. Which is where my Facebook shares and Pinterest posts come in.

There might possibly have been a time, long ago, when I believed that governments and pharmaceutical/agricultural companies were working in our best interests, and that doctors prescribed drugs that really would help, but this is quite clearly not the case any more (if it ever was). And this is where the Internet really is a blessing, and I am determined not to get overly political here. It is pretty easy to do some research and uncover possibly more than you want to about almost anything these days, and sadly I have come to see that I was even more naïve in the past than I realise, especially on the medical front. I was sceptical before I was ill, but once I was in treatment my eyes were well and truly opened. I was astonished at the container load of drugs I was given after every cycle to help counteract the effects of the chemo, and then when I felt bad from those I was given more drugs to counteract the side-effects they caused. It just went on. I very quickly decided to take matters into my own hands and used a whole load of remedies and herbal teas (see the Vits, Tips and Resources page) whilst weaning myself off the majority of the drugs (and yes, Joe knew all about this), and started to feel a whole lot better for it. For instance, I was prescribed Omeprazole to help line the extremely sore stomach I was suffering due to the chemo. But I was doubled up in pain with stomach ache so it was suggested I double the dose. I tried that but the pain got worse so I was given pain killers, then a light pinged on in my head and I looked up the side-effects of Omeprazole. Yup. Side effects include stomach ache. So they give a drug for stomach problems which causes stomach ache, so another drug has to be used to counteract it. Clever, huh? Instant doubling of profits, from what I can see. A quick Google for ‘stomach ache with chemo’ revealed that L-Glutamine is incredibly gentle and very supportive of a trashed gut, which I had by that time. We belted to the nearest health food shop, and I kid you not, within 20 minutes of drinking that precious liquid, I was pain free and standing upright. Joe was fascinated and really interested to know that I was 2 drugs short of a prescription at that point; he is one open-minded consultant (thank heavens), but why is it seen as rocket science? At every appointment after that, his first question would be, ‘So what are you taking?’ He loved it, and was pleased I was doing something constructive to get myself well again. THIS IS HOW IT SHOULD BE, PEOPLE!

I am incredibly grateful to have been given another crack at life due to the drugs I appear to be rubbishing. But this is it – I’m not rubbishing the results of the hard-working and dedicated scientists whose work has saved my life. Science, without doubt, is wonderful, but it becomes something else entirely when combined with politics, money and profit margins. I am angry firstly that the cancer I had appears to have been caused by pesticide (hence the Monsanto posts) and secondly that drug companies have made millions by making the drugs to cure people of diseases they should never had got in the first place if they were eating decent food (hence the Big Pharma posts).

I am absolutely and totally passionate about combining the best of all worlds to cure diseases like cancer using what is now thankfully being studied, researched and openly referred to as Integrative medicine – which treads on an awful lot of toes as it combines conventional medicine with complementary therapies. There is a very long way to go with this and the fight will be a tough one, because Integrative medicine includes delicious stuff like mindfulness, aromatherapy, a decent diet, and many things that don’t create profit for big companies. The massive push to debunk anything that hasn’t withstood the rigours of trials isn’t to protect our poor, gullible selves at all – it is protectionist in the extreme. A little bit of research will reveal that the trials are usually funded by the companies that make the drugs, which renders the whole procedure totally pointless, but as we have discovered, these companies have deep pockets and will do whatever it takes to hound complementary medicine out of town.

That soap box was out for way too long, and it would be tempting to show you my entire collection, but I promised not to get too political, and this isn’t the place for it anyway. If you are interested in learning about the way we are being manipulated through the food we eat and the drugs we are told we need, there is an awful lot of stuff out there – you only have to look, or follow my posts. And maybe read something like The Seven Deadly Whites by Karl Elliott-Gough. Your eyes will be well and truly opened.

So – the goodie bag to take away from this particular party is that we have to fight for our freedom of choice, because it is threatened at every level, and awareness is the key in all this. We have the massive gift of the Internet, which makes communication easy, so news can travel fast – and we know more about what is going on, at just about every level, than ever before. Whether it is the TTIP agreement, Monsanto’s latest tricks, or mis-information about drugs, we need to stay alert.

Our bodies, our health, our responsibility.

Margaret xx


About Margaret Cahill

After diagnosis of Mantle Cell Lymphoma in 2013, I started this blog to stay in touch with friends, family, and and an ever increasing network of lovely people who sent me healing. The readership increased and I ended up blogging for all I was worth to try and stay sane through the chemotherapy and stem cell transplant. Then after I went into remission (thankfully) I was enjoying the writing so much that I have carried on, and the blog seems to have become a bit of a resource for people, which is lovely. The original year of blogs have now been made into a book, Under Cover of Darkness: How I Blogged my Way Through Mantle Cell Lymphoma. It fills in a lot of the gaps between the blogs, and the tone falls somewhere between graveyard humour and explicit details of chemo treatments. I do hope you enjoy it :-) Mxx
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2 Responses to 74. The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea

  1. Maria Barry says:

    This is brilliantly said, and I will be sharing this with my O Books followers. Integrative medicine is definitely the way forward for positive change. x


    • Thank you Maria – this one kind of reached a pitch until I had to write about it. Integrative medicine is being researched at Southampton University and hopefully it will have some real weight behind it so it can effect serious changes in cancer treatment.


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