Rethinking how we got here (and thoughts on natural medicine)

On a side note before I begin, I also have to point out that subsequent listens to “Beloved” by Mumford and Sons have changed my view of it. I’m normally pretty hit or miss on their music, but this song seems to be everywhere right now.

I think the lyrics to the song just hit me like a punch in the stomach the first time I heard it. It’s been a roller coaster ride of a week and a half, that’s for sure. But now I view the song from a much more positive perspective. Rather than being sad about loss, it’s more about remembering to let your loved ones know how much you love them while you still can. A great reminder at this scary time in our lives.

So on to another note. Now that my husband’s coming home tomorrow, things feel a little less urgent and panicked. We don’t even know the official stage of his cancer or the next treatment steps, but already things are clearer enough to grant us both some perspective.

The one thing we’ve both realized in the past four or five months: both of us are pretty much done with taking the natural approach to our healthcare.

That’s not to say that complementary medicine doesn’t have its place or that nothing natural works. I’m still a firm believer that many natural treatments are indeed beneficial.

But I tried treating my MS the natural way for five years and got worse. I gave up on treating my depression because I hadn’t tried anything that had helped. Yet when I started the disease-modifying drugs for my MS and the right meds for my depression, I suddenly got dramatically better than I had been in years.

Meanwhile, my husband has had stomach and digestive problems since he was a teenager. He always self-diagnosed and tried eliminating certain foods or food groups, hoping that would help. It never helped much and his cancer surgeon believes he likely had undiagnosed ulcerative colitis that turned into cancer.

And there’s the rub: assuming you can afford care (the insurance situation in this country is something else altogether), you can’t just avoid medical care because you think everything can be managed with diet. Or you don’t believe mainstream medicine can help you, even though you may not have tried much or any of it.

There’s another camp that’s separate in its approach: the true believers in alternative medicine who live their entire lives that way. They reject mainstream medicine and mainstream food. I imagine that your results may be different if you’re more of a purist about your whole life.

But the thing is that sometimes that group is mighty persuasive. I can’t tell you how many books I’ve read, documentaries I’ve watched, and Facebook groups I’ve been in that actively rejected mainstream medicine and said diet and exercise were enough to manage even serious conditions.

If you were still sick anyway, it was probably your fault for not being pure enough with your diet or not exercising intensely enough.

I think that mindset was appealing to both me and my husband because both of us were raised by parents who had leanings toward (often unproven) alternative medicine. My parents gave me herbal tinctures to try to treat the “tapeworm” a friend of theirs suspected I had, based on the supposed evidence that I was very short and tiny at age five.

My husband’s mom has taken advantage of mainstream medicine when necessary, but she also falls for a lot of “diet cures everything” types of scams. She also tends to believe that if you get sick, it’s because you didn’t eat healthy enough. If you get cancer, it’s only because of lifestyle factors, no matter how strong your family history. And in my husband’s case, that family history is extremely strong.

I’m sure my kids will someday criticize my own leanings toward alternative medicine; to some degree, they already do. (For example, they want to get flu shots going forward, which I still avoid for myself.) So the point isn’t to criticize either my parents or my husband’s.

It’s that this year of finally getting on effective treatment for both my MS and depression had already changed my own view on mainstream medicine. Now my husband’s cancer (which I desperately hope was caught early enough) also proves that he needs to seek medical care more often, too.

You can’t just believe what you see in documentaries and figure it must work well enough since you’re still alive and somewhat healthy. I think our lazy orientation toward alternative medicine was actually harmful to us. If you are going to take the natural approach, you have to be 110 percent all-in, and that’s really difficult and restrictive.

If you’re one of the purists and feel it’s working, keep doing whatever you’re doing. But in my and my husband’s case, we were essentially doing nothing. And now we’re paying the price for it.

I’m finally getting better now. I hope he will, too.

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