The dog jumped down from the bed, hitting the floor with a thud and stirring me from slumber. His high-pitched whining faded off down the stairs.
The room was still dark, and so was my mind. As my senses began to awaken, I reached over and found an empty pillow next to me. I immediately threw back my covers and stumbled downstairs to find my dog sitting on the couch, huddled up closely to my wife.
She was doubled over—her head buried between her knees and her arms wrapped tightly around her waist. She couldn’t speak…only moan in between the groans.
Having long suffered from endometriosis—in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside the uterus, developing into growths or lesions and causing pain, infertility, scar tissue, and adhesions—pains in Lindsay’s midriff were nothing new. She’d had them before. They’d come. They’d go. We’d just need to sit here and wait it out. And so we did. I rubbed her back—certain that this too would pass.
Until it didn’t.
Five minutes went to 10, before pushing on to 15. The cramping changed to unstoppable waves of pain through her whole abdomen. We couldn’t sit there any longer.
Leaving her on the couch to groan alone, I ran upstairs, got dressed, and woke our 3-year-old son. As I scrambled to find shoes and keys, he stood next to her. He’d never seen this woman before—not like this anyway—and yet he held her hand with bravery.
We all walked slowly to the car and then drove rapidly to the Emergency Room.
. . .
“It’s like a race car.”
Quinn looked at the wheels on the bottom of Lindsay’s gurney and wondered just how fast his mom might be able to cruise through the hospital hallways. I insincerely laughed. All I could see above the racing tires was my wife, lying in her pajamas and hyperventilating in between the kicks to her gut.
The attending staff moved methodically around the room—not at all in pace with my wife’s worsening conditions. They took blood, ran an EKG to check for a heart attack, and administered an IV mixed with pain medicine. An intern later entered the room, asking the same questions we’d already answered. No one was in much of a hurry.
All the while, I stood between Lindsay’s bed and Quinn’s seat—turning back and forth to deep breathe with Lindsay through the bursts of pain and crack jokes with Quinn about the toys he’d brought with him. Neither behavior seemed honest.
Two hours later, Lindsay and I sat through a series of tests, all of which came back with inconclusive evidence of two, three-inch masses, one near each ovary. We were then escorted to the exit door with an Rx for more pain meds and a recommendation to schedule a visit with Lindsay’s OBGYN as soon as possible.
. . .
At the OBGYN, we were again given nothing decisive. It could be a tumor, it could be a ruptured cyst, or it could just be another endometriosis flare up.
“Come back in one month,” he suggested. “These things have a tendency to go away at times.”
Thirty days later—right before Christmas—Lindsay got the news that surgery was needed very soon. The inconclusive masses near her ovaries were now quite conclusive. Not only had they grown into very recognizable tumors, but they were now severely threatening her health. And he cautioned us that he might be able to remove the growths and preserve some reproductive organs, or he might have to remove everything. He’d only know for sure once he could operate.
Happy holidays to us.
In the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I found myself walking a lot. Maybe moving my body would shake this feeling that my world was unraveling. Maybe I could walk faster than the fears nipping at my heels. The worry that cancer might be growing within my wife’s body. That I’d be the bearer of some dreadful news in the post-op room. Or worse, that this might be her last Christmas. That my son might lose his mom, and that she, after wanting to be a mom for eight long years, might be leaving her dreams after just three quick ones.
But walking wasn’t my therapy. It was my escape. It was my way of grabbing hold of the fears surrounding me for the sole purpose of pushing them down to a place where I no longer had to deal with them. Seize and suppress. Seize and suppress. Seize and suppress.
For me at that time, emotions were made to evade, not to embrace. (But more on that later.)
. . .
The day of the surgery eventually came. My in-laws stayed home with Quinn, and Lindsay and I left early in the morning for the hospital. As I’m prone to do in these situations, I joked most of the 30-minute drive and while in the waiting room. (Seize and suppress.) It wasn’t until I clasped Lindsay’s hand—now devoid of her wedding band and any jewelry—that the heaviness of the moment consumed the pre-op room. The pressure pushed me against the wall. I found myself slightly suffocating while praying before saying goodbye.
I took one last look at Lindsay before her bed turned the corner, unsure how I’d find her in a few hours.
Convincing my body that sustenance was needed, I walked downstairs and nibbled on two rubbery eggs in the cafeteria. Then I found a seat near a window and nursed my coffee. The gray December skies provided a fitting backdrop.
Over the next two hours, texts to/from concerned friends and family occasionally broke the lingering moments. It was during my third conversation with God in the hospital chapel that I finally got the call over the PA system to return to the front desk. The doctor was ready to talk with me.
Here it comes.
. . .
As I approached the desk, he greeted me with a smile. While still unsure how skilled this surgeon might be with a knife, I was convinced he’d won some awards for his bedside manner. “Let’s sit down over here and talk for a bit.”
He pulled out a folder of photos. “This is Lindsay’s uterus.” I nodded, pretending that I’d paid attention in health class and knew my way around the female reproductive system. Over the next five minutes, he walked me through a series of snapshots, showing me quite clearly what he’d found during the laparoscopic procedure.
As was first discovered in the ER, there was indeed a growth near Lindsay’s left ovary—a softball-sized tumor. On the opposite side, a tennis ball-sized tumor had grown near her right fallopian tube. And to round out the sporting goods store growing inside her, an unexpected golf ball-sized tumor was discovered in the area behind her uterus.
“I removed it all.”
Those four words hung in the air before contracting my chest. What did that mean? Ovaries, tubes, uterus? “All of it?” I responded. “Yes, I removed all three tumors and some additional endometriosis. The organs are still intact.” My chest released and my insides exhaled.
For the next few hours, I had the joy of telling and retelling Lindsay the good news as she came in and out of anesthesia. It was the outcome we’d hoped would be possible!
. . .
One week later, we were back at Lindsay’s OBGYN to further explain all the nuances of the procedure and discuss next steps.
He first suggested that Lindsay go on Lupron as a way to inhibit the growth of more tumors and endometriosis. After researching the drug, Lindsay learned that it’s essentially an expensive chemotherapy drug for prostate cancer (of all things) and would kick her body into a dramatic menopausal state at the age of 38. The side effects are serious and long lasting—bone density loss, depression, weight gain, nausea, hair loss, just to name a few.
But thankfully, he also told her they could discuss other options. We liked the open-endedness of that statement.
She immediately started researching more holistic ways to heal from her operation and disease. Online, she stumbled upon endometriosis communities all over the world and learned that she could find healing without drugs. Through lifestyle and diet changes, it was possible to live a better life with endometriosis.
She shared her findings and go-forward path with her OBGYN and he responded , “Fantastic! Let me know how it goes! You’ll be my case study. If you lived in California or New York, you’d likely find one holistic center to meet all your needs. But, here in Indy, you’ll need to piece together a group of practitioners to help you on your journey.”
. . .
I’d never heard the term “functional medicine.” Not until Lindsay told me that she’d booked an appointment with a functional medicine practitioner in January of this year. She wanted to learn more. What might have caused these tumors to appear? Why had they matured so quickly? Were there any other options besides perpetually popping synthetic pills?
After first completing a 70-question online survey that covered everything from “the first time you were prescribed antibiotics” to “how often do you have anxious thoughts”—Lindsay arrived at her first functional medicine appointment, which felt more like a counseling session than a doctor’s appointment.
Over the course of the two-hour visit, Lindsay and the practitioner covered the gamut of Lindsay’s personal background. Her practitioner is an RN, MSN, and FNP-C, working in functional medicine for the past 10 years. She specializes in natural hormone replacement (for men and women), using food as medicine, weight loss, women’s health issues, and more. She takes a more Eastern approach to medicine (think herbal medicine, acupuncture, message, exercise, and dietary therapy) rather than a Western approach (think conventional medicine). When Lindsay started to unpack her health history—including a history of miscarriages, anxiety, depression, allergies, asthma, and surgeries—Robin listened and set out a very specific plan for detailed blood, urine, and stool tests.
And one month later, she got an answer to all her questions. In addition to stage four endometriosis, Lindsay had Hashimoto’s disease—a condition in which the thyroid gland gets gradually destroyed when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells (think lupus, celiac disease, multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes) and the thyroid stores and produces hormones that affect the function of nearly every organ in our bodies. And that’s what had caused the appearance and accelerated growths within her.
. . .
Then it was my turn. All the swirling concerns about Lindsay’s health were taking their toll on my physical and mental health. But, of course, I didn’t acknowledge the strain. (Seize and suppress. Seize and suppress.) It wasn’t until January—nearly a month after Lindsay’s surgery—that my body started to physical manifest the stress I’d been carrying.
It started with my appetite. I was never hungry. (And trust me, that never happens.) Then came my sleep. I couldn’t get enough of it. I’d go to bed at 10:00p completely exhausted and wake up nine hours later feeling even more sluggish. And throughout the day I’d find myself sitting dazed and confused—constantly losing my train of thought and unsure what I was supposed to be doing. Eventually, it moved to my feet. I noticed periodic tingling sensations when I’d lie down to rest or try to sleep, and they were constantly clammy.
I’d never experienced health conditions like this before, and wasn’t entirely sure how to respond. Normally, I’d head to my family doc for a checkup, but all these conditions seemed out of the ordinary. I didn’t need a conventional doc who’d ask me what hurts, while robotically scribbling me a script. I needed something different, or someone different. And so I followed Lindsay’s lead and set an appointment with her functional medicine practitioner.
I, too, completed the 70-question pre-visit survey before driving to her office on the west side of Indianapolis—my feet and legs tingling all the way. I arrived to find no long lines in the waiting room. Just the two of us. We sat and talked for nearly two hours, exploring my family health history, discussing my current diet and daily routine, and analyzing some of the most stressful moments in my life—along with my typical modes of response.
In the end, she diagnosed me with adrenal fatigue—meaning all the mental, emotional and physical stress I’d been carrying since Lindsay’s ER visit in October and surgery in December had caused my adrenal glands to exhaust themselves outputting enough hormones needed for good health. And in the end, my adrenals couldn’t keep up with demand, so my DHEA levels began to fall. Hence the symptoms of excessive tiredness, depression, and poor concentration.
I also left with a prescription for blood tests by Boston Heart Diagnostics to not only explore my HDL and LDL levels, but also access the actual makeup of my blood cells to better understand my heart disease risks.
In the end, I was placed on a small regimen of natural supplements—DHEA, Niacin, Red Yeast Rice, Fish Oil, and Vitamin D—to assist my body and organs in returning to optimal levels.
. . .
And so here we were standing in a whole new world, knowing we couldn’t return from whence we came. We couldn’t keep running at the pace we were running or working the long hours we were working. We couldn’t keep eating what we’d been eating, or drinking what we’d been drinking. We couldn’t keep moving when we should be still, or remain sedentary when we should be active.
Our health . . . our survival . . .depended on a new approach to living.
And so we began exploring all the ways in which we’d been cramming stuff into the crevices of our lives. And it led us to make myriad lifestyle changes:
1. Plateology: Lindsay now periodically meets with this nutritionist, mapping out a diet plan to combat the effects of Hashimoto’s disease. Today, Lindsay’s on a soy-, dairy-, and gluten-free diet, as are Quinn and I by extension. (Think Whole30, but for life.) She’s also added red meat back to her diet—grass-fed, organic meat, that is.
2. Meal Planning: To reduce the stress and costs, Lindsay also now spends time creating a meal plan each month. No longer do we stare at a pantry full of food, wondering what we should make. And we’re less likely to take the easy route and eat out. Some of our favorite nutritional resources in Indianapolis include: Native Bread, No Label at the Table, and Market Wagon.
3. Chewing Well: We consciously focus on slowing down when we eat, knowing that digestion starts with how well we release the nutrients in our mouths.
4. More Tea, Less Coffee: As a way to decrease the trigger on our stress hormones (and, for me, to lessen the dulling effect caffeine has on my sensitivity to insulin), we drink more green and black tea than coffee these days. It’s not an equal replacement, but it does still give us the comfort of a warm beverage in the morning.
5. Soft Water System: To improve the quality of water flowing through our house pipes and body pipes, we installed a soft water system and a reverse osmosis filter system. It’s amazing how great the water feels and tastes now.
6. Cookware: In an effort to reduce the amount of chemicals touching our food while cooking, we’ve slowly begun the process of replacing many of our non-stick cookware with ceramic pots (via GreenPan and Le Creuset) and cast iron pans via Lodge.
7. Think Dirty App: Being in the profession, Lindsay and I know the power of persuasion in marketing messages. Read any cosmetic or personal care product these days—“all natural” this and “organic” that—and they all sound amazing for you. But the truth is they’re not. Many are filled with toxic ingredients that can be especially harmful on bodies with impaired immune systems. And so we now use the Think Dirty App to scan products we find in grocery stores, helping us better know the toxicity scores of the deodorants, shampoo, cosmetics, etc., we choose. Fair Warning: It is hard to find low-toxic products that work to the level we’ve grown accustomed to experiencing.
8. Laundry Soap: Being able to scan and see the amount of toxins and chemicals in our cleaning products, we also started making our own laundry soap—which lasts 10x longer than conventional liquid soap. Once a year, we spend time as a family grinding and mixing up natural soap ingredients.
10. Natural Supplements: This year, we’ve changed the suppliers we choose for our nutritional products. No longer do we load up at Costco (or the like) for a lifetime supply of vitamins and minerals. Now we select only suppliers who ensure that their supplements are devoid of any extra fillers (like gluten), including Designs for Health and Vitacost.
11. Apothecary: Instead of heading to local pharmacies for an recurring regimen of synthetic drugs, we now use a local apothecary to create custom compounding pharmaceuticals. Who knew these places were even still around?
12. Counseling: Lindsay and I started going to a therapist in 2012 to discuss significant trauma in our lives. While this isn’t a new change for us, we made a commitment to keep our monthly sessions going, in spite of all the new lifestyle costs this year. Therapy remains a vital part of our mental health—not just in dark seasons but preventative maintenance.
13. Sleep: We knew that we needed more sleep if we were going to give our bodies a chance at recovering. Nowadays, we’re in bed most nights at 9:30p, and not with the TV on anymore. We know now that shining that blue light in our eyes right before bed messes badly with our body’s natural clock—its circadian rhythm—and impacts the way our organs function.
14. Headspace App: While lying in bed at 9:30p, we mostly fall asleep to the sounds of a British male coaching us to breathe deeply and release the anxious thoughts inside our minds. Take a listen to Andy Puddicombe from the Headspace App for yourself:
15. Meditation and Prayer: Every weekday we now wake at 6:00a—much more refreshed than we ever did before—head downstairs, and take a seat on the same couch where Lindsay doubled-over in pain. Once there, we sit in silence to meditate, or we talk and pray aloud. All before our son wakes up at 7:00a.
16. Minimalism: In this desire to reclaim more mental space, we discovered along the way that we also needed to create more visual space. Our house had grown cluttered with stuff. And so this year, we began purging our house—room by room—of meaningless objects with no functional purpose. And then we started tossing out or donating the functional pieces—clothes, furniture, toys, etc.
17. Barefoot Grounding: To boost our immune systems through an adequate supply of electrons in our body, we now regularly take time to walk barefoot in the grass.
18. Yoga: While we’ve tried this practice in the past, we’ve primarily called on it in response to some sort of pain or ailment we were experiencing. Now we try to implement yoga as a way to better train our bodies and minds to become more self aware and observant of others in our lives, in addition to proactively caring for our bodies through regular therapy.
19. Reading Books: Nothing too mind blowing here, other than just an intentional return to reading hard-copy books. Not just blogs, emails, and audible books, but tangible pieces of literature. Being transported into a story offers a forgotten calming effect.
20. Regular Movement: In previous years, I’d find myself working non-stop at a coffee shop for 3-4 hours—no standing, no walking, just sitting. Today, Lindsay and I take time every 15-20 minutes to stand up or work at a standing desk. I also use a Fitbit to push me toward taking at least 10,000 steps a day. I’m much less sedentary these days.
21. Craniosacral Therapy: As needed, we also visit a CST therapist to release any compression in/near our head, spinal column, and sacrum to alleviate any pain and stress.
22. Neural Reset: To address my adrenal fatigue, I had a physical therapist perform a neural reset, essentially giving my body permission to stop working so hard in producing stress hormones. It’s an odd practice indeed, but seemed to be successful for me.
23. Biomat: Through the same therapist who performed the neural reset, I also rented a BioMat to alleviate back and gut pain within Lindsay and me. The mat includes pockets of pure amethyst, which allows the far infrared rays and negative ions to penetrate the body much deeper than a heating pad ever could.
24. Acupuncture: Lindsay has worked with a reproductive acupuncturist to help relieve pain, regulate circulation, and correct Qi energy imbalances.
25. Merciér Therapy: To help her body fully recover from surgery, Lindsay has employed a local merciér therapist to perform deep massage over the incision points to stimulate blood flow and help restore optimal function within the fascia.
. . .
And so what does all this mean? What results have we seen? I mean these are the questions we’re trained to ask. Seeing is believing, after all.
The truth is we have experienced many physical effects since implementing all these changes this year. Collectively, we’ve lost 40-some pounds. The tingling from stress has disappeared. Lindsay’s menstrual pain has become more manageable. We’re less tired and more coherent.
But more than that, our family has experienced many intangible gains.
We’re no long defined by busyness and exhaustion. By widening the margin in our lives, we’re more mindful in the present moments, and not always thinking of what else needs our attention now or in the future.
We now nourish our bodies with a better quality and greater quantity of nutrients, just as we nourish our souls by building in moments to rest and refuel. We no longer run ourselves ragged.
But truthfully, all this self-care is damn hard work.
These are lifestyle changes that require us to abandon old ways of living and claim new intentions. No quick fixes or fast remedies. It’s a long, slow process of restoring health to our bodies.
We’re not great at it. We still find ourselves, at times, being swayed by cultural conventions and pulled back into old habits of eating what we want, drinking what we want, and living how we want. But we’re trying.
And we’re living, for the first time, with more rest, peace, hope, and love.