Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Letter to the Man Who Fought to Save My Life

Today my friend Sarada (her little boy Luke and her family are on their journey through cancer as we speak) posted a TEDxWaterloo video on her facebook page of my childhood oncologist speaking about the difference between "Curing and Healing".  It brought back so many memories and emotions as I watched this man - who fought so hard to save my life - speak about things that touched a very deep and painful place inside of my heart.

I decided to write to him.  I'm not even sure his email address is the same so I thought I'd share my letter - like a letter in a bottle thrown out into cyberspace.

Dear Dr. Greenberg,
I hope this email finds you well.  I wanted to write to you to say thank you.
Camp Ooch July 2002
The last time I saw you 10 years ago I was afraid.  I had just been diagnosed with malignant hypertension (do you remember?) and I was so scared that I was going to die young of a heart attack.  That summer at Camp Ooch, you said something to me that resonated so deeply.  You told me to live my life to the fullest because you never know when it could end.  You spoke from years of painful experience.  I know you were concerned about my health and the damage on my organs after the aggressive chemotherapy I underwent in 1985.  But since I was a pioneer of these trials, the evidence wasn't certain and I sensed you were holding back.
Every year has been a blessing and a gift.
Looking on with pride.  One of my fav shots.
Giving massages at camp.
The following year, I moved to New Zealand in search of something I didn't know at the time - I came here to discover the core of my own personal strength and determination.  I took life for granted, restlessly searching for happiness.  I was an unhappy person surrounded by a family who, as you so eloquently put it in your recent TEDx talk - were not healed.  None of us were.

Your TEDx talk was brilliant.  I was moved to tears.  It reminded me of the day we talked about my mom and her struggle with alcoholism.  You asked me, "And how is your mother?"  I sensed that you worried about her and it was time to ask, I needed to know.  "Dr. Greenberg, did you know that my mom was drinking heavily while I was sick?"  You dropped your gaze from my eyes and said, "Yes, we suspected she was." 
I was a bit shocked.  I asked, "Why didn't anyone DO anything?"  You explained, "Times were different then.  There wasn't the support like there is today.  She was all you had and she was in grief."  I didn't know what else to say.  That conversation plays over and over in my head.
If only you knew how much I wished someone else would adopt me.  I didn't understand what she was going through because I didn't realize the magnitude of my illness.  No one told me.  I can see it a lot more clearly now, a maturity of compassion and understanding. 

I needed to separate myself from my unhealed family to realize it.  To find my own path instead of living my life trying to live up to impossible expectations and what I felt was "judgment".  I reminded them of tough times.  My life was a constant reminder of "cancer".  The more I spoke about it, the more they shut down and pushed me away.  I didn't understand why, but now I finally do.

It wasn't easy.  Moving to New Zealand nearly broke me.  But as we both know, life isn't meant to be easy - it's meant to be lived.

In 2007, 20 years after my first diagnoses with ovarian cancer, I got another ovarian tumour.  I was scared again.  This time I was alone.  I didn't have my team of doctors or my close friends around for support.  I was in a foreign country with different ideas of medicine.  I contacted Dr. Laperrierre at Princess Margaret Hospital to ask his advice.  He advised me to have the radical hysterectomy but to avoid HRT due to my family medical history.  I think I contacted you as well to let you know what was happening.

My surgeon and GP in New Zealand told me that they would not go ahead with surgery unless I promised to take HRT.  More fear.  I was taking a cocktail of prescription medication: beta blocker, calcium channel blocker, ace inhibitor, water pill AND aspirin to try to control my blood pressure - which wasn't helping.  I was getting sicker, gaining weight (which they said was a normal part of "aging") and had no energy.   Then they added synthetic HRT which I knew my body didn't like.  I gained another 5kg. 

Two years later I had an epiphany.  I was being ruled by fear and I needed to get strong enough to take charge of my body (just like I did when I was a determined 11 year old).  I KNEW what was missing - trust and love - in myself and in others.

My sister had tested positive for the BRCA gene so I went to speak to my doctor about my concerns with HRT.  I haven't been tested for the gene and didn't know if I wanted to know.  The doctor said I should be tested immediately.  I said, "And what if it comes back positive?"  She said that the responsible thing would be to have my breasts prophylactically removed.  I burst into tears.  I just had a radical hysterectomy at the age of 32 and now she wants to take my breasts?  I walked out of there and never went back.

You may not agree with my decision but I stopped ALL the medications COLD TURKEY.   I found a Homeopathic GP who guided me through (she did not advise me to stop it all at once, that was my decision) and reassured me that I would NOT die. 

That was 5 years ago.  I began practicing yoga daily and got a personal trainer to help me lose the 10kg I gained.  Slowly, my body began to regulate itself.  The fear began to dissipate and I felt better than I had in years.  The damage to my organs has been done but that doesn't mean I have to spend my life taking pills does it?  I'd choose quality over quantity any day.

Last November I thought I should see if anyone in Canada is looking for me.  As you recall, I was being followed up yearly at Princess Margaret as part of the Clinical trial in 1985 to track the long term effects the chemo would have on my body.  It's been 9 years since I've seen a specialist. 

I contacted Ovarian Cancer Canada and they were so happy to hear from me all the way from New Zealand.  They told me that they were going to be taking a group of ovarian cancer survivors and supporters to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in September 2013 and told me that they'd love it if I could join them.  I said YES without hesitation.  This is right up my alley. 

So I've been training and preparing for second hardest climb of my life to summit the highest free standing mountain in the world.  We both know I can do it.  I'd love it if you were part of my cheering section. 

I wanted to share this with you because I know it will make you proud. 

This is the video to explain what I'm doing.  YouTube Video click here

This is the ending to a very long chapter in my life and I also feel that it is the beginning to another, very different chapter.  I bring a message of hope to those who have been told there is none.  That's my life's mission.  So please feel free to follow me on this journey.  I'm on facebook under Tracy Pepper's Expedition of Hope.  I'd love to know you were watching.

Thank you for the impact you've made on my life and my heart.  I know that doctors are not meant to form personal relationships with their patients - it breaks the code of ethics.  But as you said in your TEDx talk, we are losing "connection" in medicine today.  The most important thing is LOVE.  Without it, we have nothing.

This is the link to my story.  You might find it interesting.  Tracy's full story click here

I am in a good place.  I have a wonderful life.  Your care cured me 29 years ago and I want you to know that  healing does happen, sometimes it takes a lot longer than we wish it would. 
You'll be happy to know that everything I do involves connecting - with myself and with others and helping them do the same.  Watching you speak inspires me to continue doing my work and living life to the fullest.
Sincerely and with Great Love,
Tracy xo
P.S.  I'm proud of you for speaking the truth and for sharing it with the world.  Happy Father's Day.

"When we seek to discover the best in others, we somehow bring out the best in ourselves"         
William Arthur Ward
Me and Dr. G in 2002 at Camp Ooch

The Dalai Lama was visiting New Zealand this week.  I'm disappointed I didn't get the chance to hear him speak.  He wrote this on his facebook page tonight:

When young we have a vivid sense of basic values like trust and warm-heartedness, which we tend to neglect in today’s competitive world as we grow up, yet from birth we all have a need for affection. The emotions we experience today have not changed much over the last few thousand years, but the interest increasing numbers of people are showing in their inner world and how their emotions work is a sign of maturity.

No comments: