Karen Milne: Mistletoe & Me
Karen Milne was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015, read about her journey with mistletoe...
Mistletoe & Me
My name is Karen Milne. I am 51 years old, married with three children and for the last twenty years I have worked as an English Teacher at a school in Aberdeen.
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2015, following routine post 50 breast screening. Naively, I had always considered breast cancer to be one type of cancer that I would not get: there was no family history; I had breast fed each of my daughters; I had been vegetarian for 23 years; I wasn’t overweight; and I was reasonably fit. Finding out that I had multi-focal breast cancer with four tumours was a very nasty surprise.
It was a rocky road. Once the results of core biopsies and an MRI scan were completed, it was decided that I would have a bilateral mastectomy. However surgery wasn’t straightforward. I had opted for an immediate reconstruction using muscles from the inner thigh. A burst artery resulted in 21 hours in theatre, only one successful reconstruction and a tissue expander inserted into the other side. I ended up in the High Dependency Unit for two days and needed two blood transfusions. In the following days and weeks the tissue expander moved towards the armpit, I had infections in the leg wounds, was in considerable discomfort and exhausted. I hoped dearly that the pathology results would establish that the cancer was restricted to the breasts. Worryingly, they showed cancer in the sentinel lymph node and I had to return to theatre in November for axillary clearance. Lymph involvement also meant chemotherapy and this was the point at which, spirits sagging, I turned to mistletoe and Camphill Wellbeing Trust (CWT).
The peacefulness of the beautiful grounds of Murtle Estate in which the clinic is located, continues inside the building with a warm welcome at reception, art in the waiting room and a picture widow with wonderful vista of trees and fields.
I felt in the right place even before I had met Dr Geider.
I first became aware of mistletoe therapy nearly twenty years ago when my father-in law had it following a diagnosis of stomach cancer and chemotherapy. At CWT he found a nurturing environment and individualised care. Finding out that cancer was in my lymph nodes and that I required chemotherapy was a defining moment in my journey. I recalled my father-in-law’s positive experience. I conducted a little online research and found that up to 60% of German chemotherapy patients undergo mistletoe therapy as an adjuvant treatment to boost the immune system and to alleviate the side effects of the cytotoxic drugs. I also learned that although cancer treatment and survival rates have improved in Britain, we still lag behind a number of other European countries. It was a no brainer: I made an appointment to see my GP and asked for a referral to Dr Geider for mistletoe therapy.
The first thing that hit me on entering CWT was the calm. The peacefulness of the beautiful grounds of Murtle Estate in which the clinic is located, continues inside the building with a warm welcome at reception, art in the waiting room and a picture widow with wonderful vista of trees and fields. I felt in the right place even before I had met Dr Geider. An initial consultation with him assured me that he and his team place the holistic health of individual patients at the centre of their care. In my case, given the immediacy of chemotherapy, it was agreed that I would undergo an intensive programme of mistletoe infusions and twice weekly injections that I would administer myself under the guidance of nurses Barbara and Heather. (I quickly discovered there is nothing to them!) The monthly infusions were pleasurable experiences and an opportunity for Dr Geider or Dr van Lieshout to discuss with me a variety of wider health issues including amongst other things: sleep, mental health and diet.
I felt as if I was being cared for and listened to.
Importantly, during mistletoe therapy, I felt a sense of control in what had become an out of control situation. I gained confidence, deciding to shave off my hair before chemotherapy took it – I went for a cropped blonde wig, a complete contrast to the long brown hair I had had for years. People tell me that I smiled during the four months of chemotherapy. The picture above was taken shortly after my second chemotherapy session. I had a sense of purpose: get up; apply makeup; pull on wig; go out for a walk; see the world. I felt strong. Yes I experienced some of the side effects of chemotherapy (sickness, mouth ulcers, acid reflux), but they were short lived and I didn’t experience some of the ‘nasties’ experienced by friends following the same programme of chemotherapy such as joint pain, peeling nails and loss of skin on feet and hands. I understood the link between oestrogen and my type of breast cancer and changed my diet, eliminating dairy products. With this I felt a sense of empowerment that I was helping myself to recover and maintain optimum health. Now, given what has happened to me physically and emotionally in the last twelve months, I feel good.
Consider mistletoe therapy if, like me, you wish to retain or develop a sense of well-being and resilience through and beyond your diagnosis of cancer. Make a visit to CWT part of your journey to recovery.