The Post Cancer Life: Metabolic Syndrome

maria's sculpture

Maria’s wonderful sculpture

First: My Planetary Observation

The fields of grass shimmer in the winds what should be spring/early summer. It looks like and feels like mid/late summer. Any observant person notices that the seasons are out of sync with what we knew growing up. The days that designate spring to summer and summer to fall and on through the equinox and solstice are based on the sun’s hours of shine upon the earth. But the earth’s seasons are in a wobble and out of kilter (kilter meaning balance or proper order)— “out of kilter” meaning out of balance, crooked or malfunctioning. We don’t know what the cause is but we sense that at some very profound level the seasons feel off.


Rainbow at Orcas Landing

The Post Cancer Life: Metabolic Syndrome

A growing suspicion had been lurking after receiving my lab results and I am doing the only thing I can: checking it out with Dr. Google. One article, especially, catches my eye.

“Metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular risk in survivors after hematopoietic cell transplantation”

The article begins with good news.

“Increasing numbers of hematopoietic cell transplantations are being performed annually with a greater number of long-term survivors.” (Hematopoietic = Stem cells that give rise to all the other blood cells.)

This is good, right? Of course! Here’s the bad news.

“… transplant survivors experience mortality rates higher than the general population and the risk of premature cardiovascular -related death is increased 2.3-fold compared with the general population.

I always had good labs, when it came to my cholesterol and triglycerides. That has suddenly changed. Not only that, but upon noticing an increase in blood sugar, I asked for an A1c test for long term blood sugar. Notice I asked, it wasn’t suggested. Confirmed, overall blood sugar on the rise. And blood pressure was up too. What was going on!? The article goes on:

“…increasing evidence suggests that Transplant Survivors are at higher risk of developing adverse risk factors leading to the development of the metabolic syndrome (a constellation of high triglyceride levels, low high-density lipoprotein-cholesterol, hypertension, high fasting blood sugars and increased waist circumference), which then predisposes individuals to risk for early cardiovascular-related death.”

lisa and horse

Lisa with horses on a day that could be late July

At this point, I don’t even know what to think. This little thing, JUST A TOTAL LIFE CHANGING SITUATION, had never been mentioned. Turns out Insulin Resistance is the prelude in this symphony of Metabolic Syndrome and there is no doubt that I started showing signs of that soon after my several month long encounter with prednisone, the paradoxical steroid that cured my graft vs. host disease, and gave back my appetite but also full blown temporary diabetes. And if I don’t do something strong now, I will have permanent diabetes. I saw enough to know I don’t want that, if I can escape it.

Another article concurs: “High prevalence of metabolic syndrome after allogeneic hematopoietic cell transplantation” Note: allogeneic  = transfer of stem cells from the donor to the recipient.

In other words, transplant survivors are at a high risk of developing diabetes and dying of heart disease. That is the reason I bring it up in my blog. I know it is dreary, but according to the American Heart Association: “About 34 percent of adult Americans are estimated to have it. Risk of developing metabolic syndrome increases as we age.” You may be at risk of developing it. But if you are a transplant survivor, then sit up and take notes. This message is for you.

mar and me

My transplant allowed me to live. Now I want to meet this new one.

About two or three years out of cancer and you have all of these symptoms, this cluster, and no one says “it’s insulin resistance, which is the beginning of metabolic syndrome and we have to treat the whole thing”. It would be so easy to just take a handful of  prescribed pills every morning. The side effects, they tell me, are “minor”; just things like muscle weakness, stomach upset, headache, swelling (edema) of the lower extremities, dizziness, drowsiness, tired feeling, stomach pain, or flushing. muscle pain and damage, and liver damage. Could it be that all of these things are just accepted as collateral damage? Could it be the doctors just don’t know about this because they haven’t had time to discover it? Okay, as before, when I get into this arena, I write and erase, write and erase. The truth is reluctant, then comes at me with the same force of losing my faith in journalism through the shams of the current election year. I am shocked and saddened and aware that my faith and mental image of the medical world, as well as the belief that the “news” was news, has been naive.

If I don’t fight back and challenge and just take the statins, or any of these others, the side effects are quite likely to leave me feeling so unwell that I do not do the one thing that I truly need to do: move.

good food

The food I should be eating (courtesy of Mariya)

So, here’s the post cancer plan. Radically, I am going to put health first. I have to if I am to see my grandchildren into this beautiful and perilous world. I know my old fashioned body needs old-fashioned fixes. Movement and diet become the cornerstones. Physical activity is a healer. So is a high protein, low sugar diet made from fresh local, organic and sustainable food. There are many plant healers. Today, when I go to the doctor, I surprise them by listing only one prescribed drug but several supplements.

More on this as it comes. It all comes down to being your own doctor. You have to be. If you find a good one, hurrah. I am not advocating that you abandon the medical world. They are very good at what they are good at: fixing specific ills. But beware the side effects and addictions of the cures. Whether you are sick or healthy, you have to be involved in your well-being. Choose life.

More on Metabolic syndrome

More on insulin resistance.