Wednesday, September 19, 2012

G.G.G.C Guest Blogger: Western Bonime

On Friday I introduced you to my friend Western Bomine and her beautiful jewelry Style by Heart.

Western told me that when she read Dr. Michael Friedman's post about depression it struck a chord with her so I asked if she would like to write about her own experiences more in depth. Her combined  "Eastern" and "Western" approach to treatment provided the right balance for her own path to mental as well as physical healing. There really is no one-size-fits-all remedy for anything but I think Western's experiences will have resonance with anyone battling cancer themselves or with their network of friends, family, and caregivers helping them on their road to recovery.

Reflections on Cancer and Depression by Western Bonime:

Depression hit me when I was least expecting it; after treatment and just when I was starting to have enough energy to focus on life again. When I was given the “all clear” after my last CT scan I expected to feel elated. I thought I would be celebrating. Instead, I was crying my eyes out.

I was comforted to learn that this is actually a very common side effect of treatment so I decided to try the anti-depressant Celexa, an SSRI, a psychiatrist had prescribed. At first I felt great but then the pounds started piling on. I was gaining two pounds per week and gained 20lbs in the first two months alone with no end in sight. I went off the medication and opted to try acupuncture and hormone replacement therapy instead. The combination of these two things, along with my own spiritual practice, exercise, and keeping busy, was the recipe that finally worked.

Western medicine felt a bit like a sledgehammer. If, like me, you are sensitive to medications, you will probably have to use much lower dosages than are normally prescribed to avoid any negative reactions. Those who take medicine well however, will generally respond positively and smoothly. 

I understand fully that there is wide debate when it comes to the benefits of Eastern vs. Western medicine and each person has to decide what is right for herself. Personally, I don’t believe it’s a “versus” argument and that what works best is a combination of both.

The most significant factor though which has saved me from misdiagnoses and endless “trial” visits has been to pay attention to my own body and be an advocate for my own treatment. I asked tons of questions and made sure that the doctors really understood how my specific body handles different drugs rather than just blindly accepting their standard of care.

The following is a list of resources and Eastern Medicine techniques which helped me handle my cancer-related depression:
  • Read "Emotional Freedom" by Judith Orloff, Phd.  Dr. Orloff is a renowned therapist specializing in emotion-based treatment.   She categorizes people by emotional type (intellectual, empathy, rock, gusher) and offers insight into not only how your type copes with the world around you, but also addresses the connection between one's emotional state and how well we respond to medicine.  Her specific exercises are a miracle for understanding yoursef and for changing your underlying thought patterns
  • "Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma" by Peter Levine, PhD is another great book and DVD series.  Dr. Levine provides simple, quick exercises to help you "snap-out" of feeling overwhelmed, numb, or frozen.  He explains how many of our responses are innately biological and were originally intended to ensure survival in the wild.  Under stress animals often "freeze" but they also have special exercises and techniques to shake-off trauma and return to normalcy.  We humans often get "stuck" and his methods are a simple approach to overcome this state.
  • Listen to Robert Holden, founder of the Happiness Project.  His 5-minute dialogue on tea alone will have you laughing so hard you'll actually be crying.  He has many great tips for how to reset your "happiness point" such as making simple choices first thing in the morning or abandoning your search for happiness in favor of “following your joy.”  Available on Amazon.
  • Acupuncture was a great way to alleviate my depression as well as helping with symptoms of early menopause, like hot flashes and night sweats.   It’s important to do your research though.  Make sure you are with a very experienced practitioner who really understands holistic medicine and is not just hawking something because its trendy. Equally important is to choose an acupuncturist who is experienced in the Japanese style if you are overly sensitive, as the Chinese style can be slightly more painful.
  •  Jin Shin Jystsu is the art of pressure points.  One simple exercise is to place your right hand gently on the top of your head and then put your left on the Chakra points starting at the brow line and moving it down through your throat, solar plexus, and navel.  Hold each point for 5 minutes and you should find yourself feeling more calm and relaxed.
  • Light exercise.  Recognize and be patient with the fact that you can’t do as much as you did before and try to eliminate those “shoulds” that plague us all.  Yoga, swimming, and walking are excellent routines to do for the first year after treatment.  Recognizing your limits and resting can often go a long way towards quieting the mind, feeling embodied, and finding peace.
  • SLEEP!  Last Winter I was going on my 10th month of 0-2 hours of sleep per night and losing my mind.  In vain, my doctors prescribed one sleeping pill after another but nothing worked.  Some left me even more wired, others left me dizzy, worn out, nauseous or confused.  My acupuncturist finally hit upon a combo of natural supplements that was literally a MIRACLE and had me sleeping 6 hours a night within a few days time.  
Here's the combo that worked for me:
200mg of Gaba, 200mg of 5-HTP, Inositol, and Cortisol Manager
Gaba and 5-HTP you can get at the Vitamin Shoppe.  Jarro is a really good brand. Look for 5-HTP that combines vitamin B6 as it helps absorption.  Both of these are naturally occurring amino acids in the brain and aid in the production of serotonin.  The cortisol manager I use is by Integrative Therapeutics.  One of the biggest sleep interrupters is hormone imbalance which is caused by early menopause triggered by radiation and chemo.  This results in your adrenals producing cortisol at the wrong times of day. Adding cortisol manager brought immediate relief and sleep.  Many people also find melatonin to be helpful for sleep but you have to be careful with it.  Standard OTC doses can often result in increased depression.  Start by cutting a 1mg tablet in half for a few days and monitoring your response.
It’s my hope that these resources, techniques, and suggestions will be helpful to anyone who is facing a serious illness and feeling depressed.   If you are interested in learning more about these or other ways to fight depression, please leave a comment below or email me at:

1 comment:

  1. Western's blog is excellent. She is completely on-point with respect to the adage "different strokes for different folks." Everyone is a unique individual with different emotional make-ups. A treatment, be it a medication or specific psychotherapy, may not be right for a given individual. The key is for a doctor, therapist, etc, to actually LISTEN, and get to know their patient as, yes, a person! Patients are people, not "cases." We as clinicians have to get to know who this individual is sitiing in front of us. I can't tell you how many of my colleagues are able to brilliantly explain a patient's pathology, but can't even tell me what that patient does for a living. As an Osteopathic Pscyhiatrist, taking a holistic approach and being open-minded helps me make more informed decisions and have a greater impact on my patients' lives. Kudos to Western, Wendy, my Mom, my Dad, my Grandmother, my Uncle Billy, and all the other men and women who have been diagnosed and battled cancer.

    -Dr. Michael J. Friedman