By Ric Coggins
Early in April of last year, I was dressing to give a talk at a women’s retreat in Prescott. I struggled trying to button the top button of a tailored shirt that should have fit. I remember thinking I needed to “cut back on the donuts.” A couple of weeks later, my wife looked at my neck and asked me what was going on with my throat. I too noticed my throat was getting larger.
My first doctor believed I had a thyroid issue and began treating me for that. Over the next couple months my throat kept getting larger, and he, in turn, kept upping the dosages of my thyroid treatment. When a final large dose of iodine enlarged my throat overnight, he suggested I needed to see an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. I found one who could see me soon, as the swelling in my neck was now beginning to press on my windpipe. As a part of the ENT’s initial exam, he performed a needle biopsy which showed a number of abnormal cells. He admitted he did not know what the cells were, but he knew they should not be there. He recommended immediate surgery to remove my thyroid. When I pressed him for more information and suggested that I was troubled by such a severe treatment for a yet unknown cause, he told me he did not need to know what the cells were — if he “cut it out,” whatever it was would be gone. I moved on.
Still thinking “thyroid,” I now went to see an endocrinologist. After an ultrasound and more biopsies, she was the first to use the “C” word, ultimately referring me to the oncologist who ordered even more biopsies and tests to pronounce it was, in fact, cancer.
My three months of whirling in a cyclone of doctor visits, misdiagnoses, blood tests and biopsies felt a lot like I was spinning with Dorothy and Toto in their uprooted farmhouse. And like the homestead falling from the sky to impact Oz, the final cancer diagnosis hit with a thud. However, when I opened the door, I found my world went instead from Technicolor to Black and White. I also seemed to have skipped Munchkinland, finding myself stepping immediately into the Haunted Forest. Like Dorothy, I was going to have to find my own way “home.”
My “Yellow Brick Road” took the form of the Internet with Google, TED Talks and YouTube. I watched, listened to and read everything I could find on cancer. Some of the doctor peer-level reports and studies I had to read while googling all of the medical terms. I listened to folks telling their survival success stories. I read and listened to Allopathic, Naturopathic, Homeopathic, Integrative and Functional medicine practitioners. Very quickly a pattern formed and I began to understand that the reason I had cancer was because my immune system had failed to prevent it. No, not bad genes, not bad luck. I learned that it was normal for some cells to mutate into cancer and that everyone has them. You likely have them right now! But I also learned that nature had designed our immune systems to hunt down those rogue cells and kill them. So where was my immune system in all of this?
It was then that I connected the dots to all of my health misadventures the year before. All of the seemingly disconnected and random symptoms were the early warning system of a failing immune system. THAT’S what my body had been trying to tell me for so many months!
I now began to sharply focus my studies on the human immune system, learning how much diet, nutrition and lifestyle have to do with the immune system’s success or, in my case, its failure. Next month, I will share what I learned and the changes that that knowledge allowed me to make in my life and health.
Ric Coggins is a University of Arizona Master Gardener (Maricopa County) who grew up on a one-acre garden tended to by his father, who was a regular contributor to organic gardening and farming magazines. Ric continues his father’s “green” traditions, owning and operating The Fool on the Hill Farm, a one-acre organic garden homestead in Mesa.