One Patient's Journey Through and Beyond Cancer and Chronic Illness -- By Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg
I was at the end of my rope in November of 2017 when I first walked into Dr. Neela Sandal's office. I had been struggling with frequent sinus infections and severe acid reflux, I seemed to catch whatever virus was rambling about town, and I'd been enduring migraines since my teens. A good deal of my ailments came from aggressive chemotherapy for breast cancer that, in 2002, saved my life. Multiple cancer-related surgeries also put a strain on my health and healing.
What drew me to Atma was an approach that embraced holistic and integrative medicine without throwing the baby (conventional medicine) out with the bath water. While I had studied and benefited tremendously from holistic medicine for decades, I also knew in my bones that conventional medicine had kept a Stage II breast diagnosis at age 42 from taking away many future years.
Dr. Sandal and I talked extensively after I filled out many detailed forms on my health history and propensities, diet and lifestyle habits, health goals, and practices. He then suggested high-quality, very nuanced scientific testing to gauge everything from my hormone levels to my gut health to my adrenal function. Once we had the results, he drafted a plan--something we would collaborate on for years to come, tweaking supplements or vitamins I would take as well as adding other approaches as needed.
Over the last three years, our visits--always a strong hour full of vibrant discussions about my whole health and not just any ailments of the day--brought me greater wisdom about how to embrace my very individual healing journey. Our dialogues and his vast knowledge of Vedic medicine as well as gastroenterology, and cancer origins as well as meditation practices, brought me to better health. He even collaborated with my therapist on approaches that helped me manage my runaway dog of anxiety. My migraines dissipated once I learned how to avoid triggers, my sinus infections diminished from cutting edge treatments, and I stayed well and energetic for longer and longer stretches. What's more, when I did come down with something, I was able to move through it much more quickly.
Like all such journeys, there would be places the path vanished or turned sharply in a direction I didn't anticipate. For me, this happened in late April of 2019 when I discovered, after surviving one of the most common of cancers, I now had one of the rarest of cancers: an ocular melanoma. Dr. Sandal was the first person my husband and I went to after we received the diagnosis, and he was my constant wise companion throughout the wild weather of radiation implants via two daunting surgeries and recovery in the many months afterward.
While I continue to work with my excellent primary oncologist, a specialist ocular oncologist, several eye doctors, and other practitioners, Dr. Sandal is the one who helps me integrate what I'm learning and recovering from so that I can make sense of it. From there, he advises me on my options for the fullest recovery and best chance at what I hope is a long and healthy life.
Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, Ph.D., is the 2009-13 Kansas Poet Laureate and serves as the Atma Clinic blog editor. She makes her home south of the Wakarusa where she writes, coaches people on writing and right livelihood, and facilitates workshops and projects that help communities find and celebrate their voices.