Laura Paul interviews Debbie as she shares what it’s like to go through three cancer diagnoses within one year, her hopes for the future and what life has to offer right now.
Debbie was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013. With two additional cancer diagnoses, she has undergone multiple surgeries plus radiation and chemotherapy. Debbie is not just a cancer warrior, but she is also a writer, teacher librarian, mother, wife, friend to many and passionate about everything she gets her hands on…especially books!
What were the symptoms before your first diagnosis of cervical cancer?
The cervical cancer crept up on me for four months after I had been experiencing heavy irregular bleeding. My doctor advised me to get an IUD and hormone therapy to reduce the symptoms and help regulate my body. I had a clear pap smear, as cervical cancer does not show up on pap smears if you already have it. When I went for my IUD procedure, the cancer was discovered. It really shook me up.
What are you doing to keep yourself busy as you undergo treatment?
It is imperative to have purpose and activities while I have cancer treatments. My other two treatment periods were terrible, but what kept me going was focusing on writing my blogs, reviewing books, and interviewing authors. When I had the energy, I loved taking advantage of the time and directing it outwards. I love feeling valued and needed. It keeps me going. I was able to work through both of my radiation treatments and walk to the hospital after my workday for my radiation therapy. I’m not sure what to expect with chemotherapy since this diagnosis. I miss my students, colleagues, teaching and so much more while I am on leave. Having other activities to maintain my interests, energy and stamina are invaluable.
Are there any positives out of your experience?
Cancer is awful. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But a silver lining? It makes you reflect on your life, appreciate your experiences, retain hope for the future and focus on your days. Over the last year, I have appreciated getting to know friends better…seeing who has creatively stepped up in some way to help me out. I was also surprised by an acquaintance who I didn’t expect to become a closer friend and lifeline during treatments. I also have grown as a person. I feel like I’ve learned to say ‘yes’ more often and appreciate the actions of others. I’m also learning to ask for help and see which wonderful friend might be willing to step up.
What natural treatments contributed to your well-being during your initial diagnosis? What are you doing now?
I do strongly believe in a whole healthy body perspective incorporating mind, body and spirit. So, I’m using more natural treatments now, especially since my breast cancer diagnosis. I have always been a reasonably healthy eater, but I honestly didn’t completely change my meal selections until my second cancer diagnosis this past spring. I eliminated meat, quit eating most grains, eggs, soy, and sugar and increased my vegetable intake. I lost so much weight it was quite upsetting, but I have worked hard to find a happy medium.
Now that I am dealing with chemo-therapy and my third diagnosis, food intake is a big concern, as well as having a balanced diet. I juice and drink smoothies to help increase my vegetable intake amongst the dietary adjustments I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, since I moved to Hong Kong I didn’t maintain a few important healthy practices I enjoyed previously. Now, I’ve added back acupuncture, added mindfulness and meditation practice, in addition to having a Qigong session in my home once a week. I also met a life coach last summer who has helped me start writing a daily gratitude journal, experimenting with new food ideas and trying mindfulness challenges. I’m quite grateful for each addition to my practice.
What have you learned that otherwise wouldn’t have happened without being diagnosed with cancer?
I am starting to feel like an expert on so many topics I never explored before or conceptually understood. I’m growing every day, reading more reference books, and appreciating the opportunity to share with others on my personal blog – Life’s Journey, Interrupted. I never knew that sharing my personal journal about cancer to the world would lighten my load and make it easier to communicate with family and friends. It is helpful when I don’t have to repeat conversations about my cancer experience with all my friends. I’m grateful to have that outlet to connect me to all my important people, plus others are learning about what a cancer patient goes through. I think I’ve broken the taboo of talking about cancer by writing my blog.
Over the last year, what unexpected things have happened?
I embraced my passion for writing. I asked myself, “If not now, when?” In doing so, I explored where my passion is in writing. I was originally torn since I have my main The Styling Librarian blog where I express myself well. But, I have always wanted to explore writing children’s literature. Now I have time to do so, no excuses! I joined Hong Kong’s local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), which has been enriching from workshops to critique groups. This led to taking a writing workshop over the summer, growing and making new friends.
I have also really slowed down and taken the time to appreciate family time even more. Going on holiday back to the United States was a challenge for me, because I just wanted to have quality time with every special person in my life. Balancing activities and prioritising family time really helped my whole family have a deeper and more fulfilling visit. I also began sharing my personal journal – Life’s Journey, Interrupted with others, which has really been a surprise as that would never have happened without this most recent diagnosis.
What is next in your healthy living journey? How do you plan on reaching those goals?
Yoga. It is what is really lacking in my life. I used to have a yoga instructor that I saw twice a week. I practice Iyengar yoga, but I haven’t yet found an instructor in Hong Kong with whom I’ve connected. I’m curious about chanting and energy healing. I just started energy healing with my Qigong instructor and acupuncturist. I hope to continue learning about both through what they share but also by reading and researching more. I am also trying to figure out how to add more vegetables into my diet and increase my weight. Both of those are essential at this point especially with the chemotherapy treatments.
Who are some of the practitioners you have seen in Hong Kong?
My oncologist has saved my life multiple times now. He is incredible – his name is Dr. Kevin Lowe. I’m grateful to my surgeons as well, though I felt like I had joined a special club by the third procedure! I’ve also seen Miles Price from The Life Clinic for nutrition guidance. I haven’t followed all his advice or been able to take all the tests he wished, but I appreciate that he gave me the kick-start towards a better healthy food practice for fighting cancer. My acupuncturist, Peter Yeung at Integrative Medical Practice, is wonderful, honest, straightforward, caring and knowledgeable. It was the first time I’ve felt trust in someone since I was in the US where I had an incredible acupuncturist. I’ve been fortunate to have a wonderful team of people from doctors to practitioners to friends.
What has personally helped you most throughout your life so far?
I’m passionate about learning and sharing with others. I have a drive that has kept me going in education for 16 years without ever doubting my career path. I do have other passions that I balance, as well. I am a pretty caring person, and I believe kindness goes far in life. I love sharing and helping others; that has been a good focus and drive for me.