Wives’ Tales: Winter’s Cold Brew

Medicine is not only what can be bought with a prescription. Medicine can be grown in a garden, found on the herb rack, and prepared in the average kitchen. After our national and unsuccessful war on drugs, (more than 55,000 people died in 2015 from accidental opiate overdoses many of which were prescribed drugs; that number is expected to be topped in 2016) it’s time to look into traditional forms of healing to soothe the pain.

Since I was a girl, my mother would stop along the street in New York City to show me plants growing out of the cracks in sidewalks, or springing up along hedges. My mother would tell me the names of the plants and how to use them. Her wisdom is increasingly useful to me as I find that Western medicine does not always work in the way we need, want or expect. Sometimes, a little help from Mother Nature’s pantry is needed. Here’s a recipe that has gotten us through the bitter winter colds in resilient health. Try it.

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Winter’s Cold Brew

 

In a quart pan, combine the following ingredients in cold water:

Star Anise, 3-4 stars

Cinnamon, 1 stick

Jamaican Allspice, 10-15 pearls

Clove, 15-20 pins

Fresh Ginger, ¼ cup, thinly sliced

Heat the mixture under the lowest flame possible. It should take about an hour to boil. When the infusion is roiling, add 1-2 tablespoons of Echinacea let that boil for 8 more minutes (Okay to use 2 tea bags in lieu of fresh herbs). In an 8-ounce cup, add fresh lemon and honey. Strain the brew into the cup, and drink it as hot as possible. The various herbs and spices work to boost the immunity; many act as analgesics and astringents to soothe a sore throat, reduce and expectorate mucus and clear a stuffy head. You can drink as many cups a day as necessary to abate cold symptoms.

Stay healthy, and happy healing!

 

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How to Juice Your Way to Good Health

Do I have what it takes to change your lifestyle? First thing I gotta tell you about juicing is that it’s addictive. If you want a habit that is packed with micronutrients, heals your body, encourages and causes weight loss all while making you look and feel younger, too, read on!

At first I was drinking sweet juice like apple and orange with a carrot or two. Within a month I was throwing in broccoli hearts, kale, parsley and cabbage from the garden. Last week I pulled up some beets, rinsed off the roots, clipped the wilted leaves and put everything else straight into the juicer. The result was a dark green, bold cocktail that I had to sit down to savor. No novice could drink that one, but I know that my juicer brothers and sisters are nodding their approval. Clear-headedness follows, as does mindful eating habits and deliberation over produce. A glass a day is all it takes.

What’s so great about live juice? Everything! Good nutrition improves skin, hair and nail conditions, promotes healthier eating and improves energy levels. Those are just a few changes I’ve noticed in myself. To learn more about nutrition and juicing, I recommend two films: “Hungry for Change” for anyone who wants to learn more about your dietary needs and nutrition, (http://www.hungryforchange.tv/ ) and “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” the documentary about two very sick and obese men who change their lives for the better, one juice at a time (http://www.fatsickandnearlydead.com/ ). Both films are inspirational and convincing. Plus, you’ll learn that you don’t have to be overweight to benefit from micronutrients.

If you’re not yet ready to invest in a juicer, these days there are lots of great places to try live juice, which is unpasteurized and unprocessed whole fruit and or vegetable juice containing live enzymes. For the casual juicer, you can grab the occasional nourishing glass of juice at lots of places in San Francisco. Herbivore (http://www.herbivorerestaurant.com/) is one of my favorite spots away from home to juice. Many farmer’s markets now have juice stands as well. For the rest of us, you’ll need a juicer at home.

When you get serious about juicing you’ll need a Breville. The Juice Fountain Compact is the best. I’m not used to promoting products, but I can tell you that this machine is worth every cent. I had an old juicer that lasted over ten years. It was good to me but so hard to clean that it became a deterrent. After trying our friends’ Breville Compact, which cleaned up in about five minutes, we decided to buy one. For only $99, the compact model gives you several advantages:

  • Expels a large percentage of liquid from each fruit of vegetable, making lots of juice from just a few items
  • The wide chute makes prep easy since most fruits and vegetables fit in without cutting
  • The sharp blades keep juice cool because they do their job quickly
  • It’s easy to assemble and disassemble
  • And of course, easy clean up (yahoo!)

Last notes: Never juice premium fruits like blueberries, raspberries and strawberries; it’s not cost-effective to put a half blueberry in the compost. Instead, make a smoothie or eat them whole. Your body will absorb more of whatever you put in the juicer. Make it count.

Bottoms up, my friends.  IMG_4404

My Battle with Fibroids, Part II: A Look at Procedures and Options

For the record, a fibroid is a benign tumor. Don’t ask me to define benign; fibroids are not benign to me. But thankfully, they were not cancerous. Fibroids can occur in many places in the body. Some are easily treatable; others are not. From what I’ve seen, these things are never pretty. I know more about benign tumors than I care to. This is because I needed to know everything I could to understand what was happening to my body so I could reclaim it. If you look at real fibroids, especially those where someone’s bloody insides are laid bare to the voyeur’s camera, you will marvel at how our bodies keep their form.  At least I did.

When I first learned that I had fibroids, it was almost five years before I had surgery. Since I didn’t have health insurance at the time, I was seeing a doctor at a free clinic in Oakland. By that point, my monthly cycle was severely effected and a lump could be seen and felt bulging through my abdomen. My heavy blood flow and uncharacteristic cramping during my menstrual cycles urged me to seek medical attention. These changes were the first warning signs for me that something was wrong. That first doctor I saw at the free clinic wanted to perform surgery right away, but frankly, I didn’t think my problem was severe enough to warrant it, and I was secretly afraid of an enormous bill following a hospitalization. I saw my parents’ big bills as a child, and I didn’t want any of those showing up at my door. At that time I was fairly broke, was attending a private graduate school with its own hefty bill, and didn’t want to add to my financial worries. The doctor, my apprehension notwithstanding, sent me for my first ever ultrasound.

At the insane (free) ultrasound clinic—it was exactly like DMV only with lots of pregnant women crowded into a large room with side corridors for more crowding and waiting—, my fibroids were measured if not weighed, and I could clearly see in the gray images on the screen, the two bulbous forms attached to my uterus. What a surprise it was to learn they were twins. Ugh…I know, poor taste. Please excuse my vulgarity, but it was that odd to see them on the very small screen filling my pelvic cavity with their grotesque form, attached to my uterus and syphoning life from the source of life. The largest one was six by five centimeters. And since, like most of us, I don’t deal in the metric system, this meant absolutely nothing to me. I thought that if I let them alone, they’d leave me alone. Ha!

Once I finished graduate school, and landed regular employment, I could make my health a real priority, which is what I did. I found a doctor at Kaiser. My fibroids were bigger if not quite big enough, at that point, that I felt the urgency to act. I was sent for another ultra sound to see what was going on. Note that by the time I had surgery, there were eleven fibroids altogether. I wish I were joking about that number, but apparently, the twins had twins. The largest two were the early ones that plagued me for years. I began in earnest to research possible treatments and to try at-home remedies. Unfortunately, none of the latter worked. I started my process by getting a deep understanding of fibroids. It’s how I process things: I intellectualize them. They became a course of study.

While the treatments vary, hysterectomy should really be a last resort unless there are some other pressing circumstances mitigating your decision. After all, it’s 2013, and there are numerous advances in medicine. Typically, treatments range from hormone therapy to full-on organ removal. I considered several options before undergoing laparoscopic myomectomy, a fabulous, minimally invasive procedure that is quite intense; I needed a month off from work to convalesce.

Before settling on this treatment option, I read blogs written by women who had tried the different procedures. I even tried hemp-seed oil therapy after watching a series of videos about its benefits. I’m sure that as an anti-inflammatory agent it does have some benefits, but I was apparently well past reaping neigh a one.  And, the oil itself is expensive. Hemp oil also gave me acne. I next turned to the fascinating research coming from Europe, such as UTE and hormone therapy.

UTE, or Uterine Fibroid Embolization sometimes referred to as Uterine Artery Embolization (UAE) was one I seriously considered. Originally used as a pre-op procedure in French hospitals to reduce bleeding during surgery, it was found than in 40% of women, the UTE alone reduced the size of the fibroids enough to eliminate the need for surgery altogether. The doctor injects an artery leading to the uterus with micro-pellets that permanently block the blood vessel, and thereby, starve the fibroid. A woman has to sign a contract saying that she will not attempt to get pregnant after this procedure. There a lots of scary things about having tiny plastic parts injected into one’s body.

We found the risks were much too high.

The more I learned about hormone therapy, the more frightened I became. From what I read, it was ostensibly chemotherapy treatment for non-cancerous growths. Our bodies are not designed to tolerate such chemicals, and I believe we do so in order to save our lives when fighting aggressive cancerous growths. To me, as miserable I was, fibroids were not life threatening. In fact, if they had been life threatening, simply removing the uterus would most likely be the most effective course of treatment. With this in mind, I read several blogs written by women who had submitted to this chemo for fibroids; they didn’t recommend it. One wrote that she had no idea what was signing up for. She advised readers to run. I did.

With the right doctor, laparoscopic myomectomy can be great solution to this devastating problem. Using four small incisions in the abdominal cavity, everything is removed through tubes after being cut into small pieces. Everything gets mapped out in advance using CAT Scan images. The result of this procedure is minimal scarring; there is also less pain and tissue trauma. Some damage can occur during surgery, such as tearing or puncturing of bladder or intestines; doctors can take precautions and repair these quickly, before one leaves the operating table. As a bonus, some women can regain normal bladder function after this procedure, depending on the cause.

Not every woman needs surgical intervention. My sister had one the size of a grapefruit during her pregnancy. It hurt, but it didn’t cause any problems. In my case, I had so many that my uterus was literally deformed. In retrospect, I wish I had undergone the treatment when there were only two fibroids. Still, the other nine might have been emboldened. We can’t know the mysteries at work in our bodies. We must simply be able to listen to its rhythm and dance its dance.

Angelina Jolie and the Solution to Cancer

There are so many ways that Angelina Jolie’s story touches my heart and disturbs my mind. Her choices to have a double mastectomy and to publicly disclose it are surprising for different reasons. Before reading about her choice on several different media sources, I defended her, thinking that she must have done this because she watched her mother die. In part that is true, though her mother died of ovarian cancer not breast cancer. I can understand her wanting to take steps to care for herself. As I’m not a doctor, I’m not here to judge her on her very personal decision. I do, however, think that her identity as a famous actor, her social status and class do too much harm to the large percentage of women living in the United States without the amazing healthcare access that Angelina Jolie can easily afford.

How many women who you know personally can afford to convalesce for three months for reconstructive surgery? How many will have insurance and co-pay coverage for an elective double-mastectomy? How many women do you know who feel confident that they’re getting good care from their doctors and that they’ll walk away with “a few tiny scars” but looking good as new? How many women do you know who have the resource to have the needs of their children met while all this is going on?

Sadly, I don’t know any.

That is what frightens me about the situation. Women are undergoing mammograms when they could have MRIs. Ultimately, it comes down to economics. Again, this is a financial situation more than a health issue. Women like Jolie get to make choices. Therefore, when we’re having this discussion, it has to include issues of socioeconomic class. I don’t think Mrs. Jolie has a problem making her co-pays, taking time off from work to heal or a difficult choice regarding elective surgery. According to Time Magazine, the test to identify the cancer gene costs about $600. I’m guessing that Kaiser and basic insurance providers don’t cover it.

*I’m amending this post in order to include some relevant information revealed by US Supreme Court’s June 2013decision to not allow patent rights for gene discovery. I applaud their decision as it gives normal mortals the chance to get help with preventative care. Furthermore, the decision revealed that the patent holder, of the so-called breast cancer genes BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, Myriad Genetics, is able to greatly profit from having sole access to the research and medical treatment associated with the genes. According the San Francisco Chronicle, Myriad’s diagnostic test to identify the cancer genes cost $3,000. That’s even more than my original estimate and that of Time Magazine. So now we get to wait and see whether tests such as Myriad’s will be made available to all patients, regardless of their economic status.

While I respect her choice, this discussion would be more realistic if she talked about the total expense. What kind of spiritual and psychological counseling did she undergo? Did she have to turn down a movie part, or did she postpone a potential role? What part of her personal wealth did she invest in her health? Did her healthcare choice lead to the endangerment of her home ownership, employment status or other hardship?

Most likely, Angelina Jolie can afford to ignore the issue of money; the rest of us cannot. For most of us, the solution to cancer is not preventive surgery with full reconstructive surgery. Most of my students can’t afford basic dental or medical care. I know that even the diagnostic tests that Angelina Jolie had would be prohibitive for them. I was relieved to hear that Brad Pitt supported his wife’s choice and that in a recent interview he acknowledged that the costs are largely prohibitive for most women though they shouldn’t be. So, yes, let’s talk about health, and please, let’s also talk about the costs.