May 25, 2017
Last August, exactly one week after taking the California Licensing Exam (CALE) in Sacramento, I was diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer, secondary to a cancer that started somewhere below my diaphragm. It was a shock to get that diagnosis.
I was so excited to begin my new career as an acupuncturist after being a poor college student for four years. It’s been an incredible journey – incredibly painful and at the same time incredibly healing. I first debated whether or not to go to the emergency room for a pain in my right rib cage. It turned out to be a pleural effusion – the emergency room doctors and nurses thought it was strange that I wanted to take a picture of the fluid they drained from my lung, but that’s the medicine geek that I am.
They found a nodule on my lung, and after days of testing the fluid, and visits from several doctors, they announced it was metastatic cancer. After studying for six months for the CALE, once they got me on pain medication it was actually a relief to be resting in a hospital bed watching TV. Next, they installed a pleurex tube in my lung so that I could drain the fluid on my own at home. At first it was incredibly painful, but at least I could breathe. Then, I found out my treatment was going to be 18 weeks of chemotherapy – a combination of Carboplatin and Paclitaxel. I wasn’t prepared for the feeling of having my hair fall out in clumps in the shower.
At this time, I began to get incredible help from everyone in my life. AIMC Berkeley President Mr. Tanaka, the school’s professors, administration, and all my classmates at AIMC, Berkeley took care of me in many ways – by giving me acupuncture treatments, lovely cards, driving me to appointments and being my friend. I was also so amazed by the many fund-raising efforts, donations and bake sales that you all put together to help me out in my time of need. I thought that when I graduated I was going to be all on my own, but you showed me what true community looks like, and it was life-changing for me. I learned that even though people didn’t go out of their way to tell me when I was well, when I needed your support, I was surrounded by love.
“In February, my oncologist, Dr. Irwin at Highland Hospital told me my bloodwork and PET scans came back clear.”
I also signed up to get help from two fantastic organizations who help women with cancer in the bay area – Charlotte Maxwell, and the Women’s Cancer Resource Center. At Charlotte Maxwell, they offered alternative medical treatments like massage, reiki and acupuncture. After my chemotherapy was completed, I got nutritional advice and how to begin an exercise program after being laid up for six months. At the Women’s Cancer Resource Center, they offered group therapy sessions, as well as 12 individual therapy sessions at no cost. Another source of great support for me were my housemates. I currently live in the Berkeley Student Cooperative, where my housemates created a task force to help drive me to appointments, help with meals and laundry as well as keep me company when I needed it.
Also, AIMC Berkeley professor Bina Jangda, LAc with whom I interned over the summer, went out of her way to support me as well by putting together a website for people to coordinate rides for me, and keep up with my progress. She introduced me to Dr. Amy Matecki at Highland Hospital, and made sure that I had access to acupuncture during my chemotherapy treatments.
The first week of my chemotherapy, I didn’t receive acupuncture, and I couldn’t eat that whole weekend. I felt like I had the flu, and couldn’t leave my bed. After that, I regularly got acupuncture – both at AIMC Berkeley and at the hospital. I credit it for my ability to maintain my appetite and my weight, in addition to better fighting the cancer. My friends who drove me to and from the hospital could visibly see the difference when I got acupuncture compared to when I didn’t.
After the first month of chemotherapy, the pleural effusion dried up, and I no longer needed the tube in my lung. I held up pretty well through December, but then in January I was basically bedridden. I was so weak that I passed out when taking a shower, and had trouble walking to the bathroom. Also, what surprised me was how much energy it takes to be social – I just didn’t have the energy to spend time with people or catch up with friends. I also wasn’t able to read – the chemotherapy made it so I couldn’t hold the sentences in my head long enough to continue on and put them together.
What surprised me was that finishing chemotherapy at the end of January was actually harder than being in treatment. At least during chemotherapy, there was a plan, an end date and nurses who checked up on me each week to track my progress. After it was over, I felt like I was on my own – there was no plan or end date for feeling sick.
“With the help of recommendations from AIMC Berkeley Professors Mike Morgan, LAc and Nishanga Bliss, LAc, Dsc, I got accepted for a Highland Hospital internship learning from the doctors and acupuncturists who treated me during my chemotherapy.”
It’s now the beginning of May, and I’m just now starting to get a glimpse of what my new life could be like. I’m impatient to get back on track to that new life I was hoping for when I started acupuncture school. I’ve also been doing my doctoral program at Five Branches University, where the school has been very supportive throughout my treatment. Now, I’m slowly getting back on my feet – literally. My doctor at Highland Hospital was able to get physical therapy for me, so I’m slowly regaining my strength. My hair is also slowly growing back, so I’m no longer bald.
I’ve also learned a couple of things through this process. I had much more support from family, friends and colleagues than I would’ve thought possible. So from now on, when I feel alone, I will remind myself that I have so much support and love.
The next thing I learned was to make sure I spend my time wisely. During my master’s program, I was running so far and so fast, but putting some of my energy towards things that were depleting me. My goal (fingers crossed) is to intentionally make sure I do less running around, and make sure I’m putting my time towards things that matter most to me.
Finally, I learned a great deal about what it’s like to be a patient. That giving advice is not always helpful – especially when I heard conflicting information from equally credible people. That when I’m weak, sometimes I don’t have the energy to put my best foot forward, sometimes I was in so much pain, sometimes physical, sometimes emotional that I wasn’t always my best self for my practitioners. I also learned to trust my body.
At times, I was instructed to take certain supplements or formulas, but sometimes my body wasn’t reacting well. When my digestion was very weak, making sure I was eating a proper diet was much more important than an herbal formula or supplement. So I feel I can use this in my practice – to be kind to patients who may be in a bad mood or don’t take my advice. They ultimately are taking care of themselves and doing the best they can in the moment.
Most of all I want to thank all of you for your tremendous support. Specifically, I want to thank Christine Newell as my main supervisor throughout my treatment and intern Carlos Haycock, as well as Hua Ling who will be supervising my treatment this semester. As interns, Diana Rogers treated me last semester, and Cassie Segal will be treating me this semester. And always the kind support of Patty Covell and Peter Blackman who gave me a hug every time I came into the clinic.
I want to thank you all by name – and I will try to do that in person. To list you all here would take another three pages because so many of you went out of your way to help me. In February, my oncologist, Dr. Irwin at Highland Hospital told me my blood work and PET scans came back clear.
With the help of recommendations from Mike Morgan and Nishanga Bliss, I got accepted for a Highland Hospital internship learning from the doctors and acupuncturists who treated me during my chemotherapy. With the help and support of AIMC, I am in a much healthier place today, and finally able to look forward to the future. Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart!