Why Integrative Health?
I had skin cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. It is common and serious and I had not known that it was silently growing across my face. Integrative Health is whole- person health. Encompassing body, breath, science and mind, it places me in the center of my health and well-being. I have an active relationship with my health, and yet I still had skin cancer. I am happy to say it in the past tense, and happy to now be in a place of healing and recovery from its treatment.
Integrative Health is dynamic. It is a balancing process. Knowing that it is dynamic and a process is important. It helps me to remember that my health is not a fixed or steady state but one of consistent balance and adjustment. Balance is movement and movement is best expressed in the symbol of a wheel. I trained at Duke Integrative Medicine and their representation of Integrative Health is modeled in the Wheel of Health. The Wheel of Health places me in the center of my whole-person health.
I knew that I had a random red spot of dry skin on my check and that it was bothersome. Bothersome was easy enough. I just hoped it would go away. But my denial ended when I saw it through the concern of a friend. She pointed out the redness, asking about it from her care and concern for me. This random issue jumped from bothersome to worrisome. Worrying about it gave free rein to winds of thought and waves of emotion. Unmanaged, this would have degraded into fear and a nervous system response to freeze and do nothing. Unmanaged worry may contribute to low patient engagement. Discomfort can do that. A first course of action may be to just do nothing. I am grateful for my practiced skill in being in relationship with thought, feeling, and sensation. My background of body-mind practice brought steadiness through the turbulence of thought and the reactivity of emotion.
Mindful Awareness is the 2nd circle in the Wheel of Health. Mindfulness allowed me steady presence through the shifting reactions of fear and concern. It enabled me to be alert and aware along the edges of my discomfort, without falling into a trap of doomsday hopelessness. With mindful awareness, I made my way from the ease of complacency, to gain stamina to have the courage to care. I passed through my own phases of acceptance to stay in relationship with this issue.
The 3rd circle out from self and mindful awareness, is self care. I had always worn a hat, sat in the shade, and advocated suncream at all times. I ate well, moved regularly and rested both in sleep and restorative meditative practice. I had gotten fairly regular skin checks with different dermatologists through my various relocations. I had had the area scraped and frozen twice already. I knew that I needed to get back for a check-up, but with the year of COVID, it didn’t feel worth it to risk exposure to the virus. So I waited a year.
But then I saw skin cancer play out in our culture. A TV actress appeared with a bandage on her face after her skin cancer treatment. It highlighted the importance of skin checks. It was real for her and became real for me. I needed to stop waiting and needed to be seen. I called around to several clinics needing some luck for an immediate appointment. I got an appointment, got biopsy results, and got in for surgery within a week of feeling my rousing call for action.
The Wheel of Health places me in the center of my health but it does not place the burden of care solely on myself. The Wheel of Health highlights the balance between self care and professional care. The 4th circle lists prevention and intervention in complementary and conventional approaches. It took a visit to the dermatologist and then a skin surgeon to catch and treat the malignant growth on my face. Conventional medicine offered the appropriate treatment at that time. Through the 7-hour MOH procedure, I sat in mindful awareness, holding my seat through the uncertainty of what would play out, the emotional waves, the sporadic attempts for rationality, the triggered reactivity, and extremely intense body sensations. Steady in my center, I could be with my experience as it was. Steady in my center, unswayed by mental noise, I also felt the tidal rise of my immune response, my endocrine sweep of hormones that came to the rescue at the onslaught of pain. I felt the huge capacity of my body systems rise in action, arousing newfound respect and high regard for my body’s evolutionary capacity for healing.
I’m in a state of healing for the next year. I will access both self care and professional care in my balance of health and wellness. I will apply my skill and familiarity with restorative practices of yoga and meditation to assist and work with my body systems in my inherent healing capacity. I am eating a nutritious diet, prioritizing sleep, and embracing supportive loving relationships. I am grateful to live in a first-world country with medical services and health insurance. I am truly enabled to live my best health possible. My Integrative Health is my personal relationship of care, concern, and respect for the life I am given. It reflects my energy and time management for the values I hold. It reflects the constant balancing act between short-term focus with long-term goals.
Skin cancers, hypertension and other health conditions may be silent and subtle in their appearance. The Wheel of Health assisted me to persist when it wasn’t easy. It reminded me of the equal importance of doing what I know to do and reaching out to professional care for what others can do for me. Why Integrative Health? Because I’m grateful to have had the perspective of whole-person health that it offers. I’m glad for the courage and stamina to press forward through the diagnosis, painful surgery, and year-long recovery that was required in my balancing process of health. Having a year long recovery is far better than a shortened lifespan if the cancer had had time to metastasize. Optimal health is its own reward. It is a journey that I am traveling. How about you? Where are you finding yourself as you balance within your health and wellness?