Lupus and the War Within
An elder Cherokee Native American was teaching his grandchildren about life. He said to them, "A fight is going on inside me ... it is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One wolf represents fear, anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other stands for joy, peace, love, hope, friendship, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you, and inside every other person, too. "They thought about it for a minute and then one child asked her grandfather, "Which wolf will win?" The old Cherokee simply replied, " The one you feed."
Recent clinical studies into cancers have some researchers questioning the usual practice of attacking the disease. They believe now that current regimes based on drugs and radiation may only aggravate disease reaction and spur a more aggressive spread of cancer. These researchers hope that gentler, carefully thought-out individualized programs will calm cancer and give those coping with it a better chance of healing and survival. While battling my own inner wolf, I learned that fighting tooth and nail only provoked a more rabid response. Now, I strive for peaceful coexistence and though there are still difficult bouts and and occasional time-outs, Ol’ Wolfie and I tread more softly towards each other and I have lived with SLE for well over fifty years. If we think of lupus as our mortal enemy and feed it with our fear, we allow it to wage shock and awe on us. In this most intimate conflict, we must be armed with knowledge in order to win. When it comes to surviving the struggle within, the wise warrior learns to make love, not war.
Throughout this work, we've investigated the multitude of environmental factors that can trigger and worsen lupus. I've written on the roles healthcare and medical support play in our well-being and the importance of knowing, understanding and enforcing our medical rights. I've reported on medications, supplements, nutrition, assorted chemicals and more and there's plenty more to come. Modern warfare, industry and "better living through chemistry" are rapidly changing our world and environmental science is finding out just how it all hits home.
We all carry some biological factors for various illnesses but they usually need specific stimuli to generate disease activity. After decades of debate, our ancestry is now one recognized component, thanks to our own persistence, improved medical record keeping and more specifically oriented research. Our ancestors' origins, their health and their diseases can have tremendous impact on our own health and many of us have relatives who also have autoimmune diseases.
Diseases like asthma, cancers including childhood leukemia and autoimmune diseases such as lupus, diabetes, fibromyalgia, multiple chemical sensitivity, scleroderma, reynauds, sjogren's and others are rapidly increasing over the last couple of decades alone. Cancer rates are expected to double within less time than that and many responsible researchers believe our chemicalized environment is the most toxic culprit. Researchers sometimes love to disagree but many factors have already been identified, with others under suspicion.
We need to know what lurks in our water, our air, our food, medications, cosmetics, household products, back yards, building materials, schools, hospitals, parks and playgrounds. Information that should splash across the front pages of every big newspaper and highlight every major broadcast is often buried in back pages or mentioned as an aside. There may always, unfortunately, be wars and rumors of wars but in this most intimate conflict, we must be armed with knowledge, in order to win.
The war on Iraq has unleashed its own army of chemical hazards in earth, water and air. Iraqi soil is contaminated by depleted uranium from spent weaponry used in both gulf wars yet gulf war illnesses are only now being officially acknowledged.Sometimes it seems like we're all living in Dodge City and everybody wants to be Wyatt Earp. My Cherokee grandfather knew Wyatt Earp and called him, "A back shootin' SOB" - not much of a role model. but despite my Grandpa’s colorful language, we can't necessarily blame his mother. Like us, he had the choice to blaze a war path or explore a path of peace.
In our lives with lupus, we often use warlike metaphors, with good reason. After all, we were drafted or conscripted by disease so we fight and survive battles, developing the gritty determination of seasoned warriors. In our efforts to combat our illness, metaphors dramatically accent our words, lace our thoughts together and influence our attitudes.
An assertive attitude can be a worthy and formidable weapon but if we view life as a battlefield, then we're always at war. If we think of lupus or any illness as our mortal enemy, it assumes far more power than it has naturally, because we allow it to wage shock and awe on us. When we're living in the stress of fight or flight mode, our adrenaline develops a hair trigger that's never fully holstered.
When we overload on built-up stress, we implode, blowing like bunker bombs, exploding from deep inside. We're bombarded with shrapnel from cluster bombs of hormones, cholesterol and systemic chemical assault. Our vital body fluids and essential nutrients are drained, leaving us prey to infection, virus and full blown flare. This is indeed biochemical warfare, with the warrior trapped inside enemy lines, caught in an endless internal firefight.
To win with lupus, we do need to be warriors when appropriate but we also need to be explorers, students, scholars and most of all, we need to be diplomats. We can't win this one by imposing sanctions or declaring war on ourselves - that will surely do us in. We'd better learn instead to observe, understand and nurture our true needs. When it comes to surviving the struggle within, the wise warrior learns to make love, not war.
Weapons are forged to attack, fight and destroy, while tools are crafted to reveal, create and refine. With supple hands and modeling tools, sculptors coax shapes from clay, freeing the art hidden within the lumpy dough. Weapons are effective in warfare but they're counter-effective overkill when negotiating a truce. If we want to shape and recreate our lives with as little collateral damage as possible, we'll accomplish far more with tools than with grenades.
We are the battleground, so we must learn to live in peace. Research and communication are powerful tools and we learn even more, by sharing what we learn with each other. We're connected by our health, our humanity and our hope. It is our shared experience, pooled research and stalwart support of each other that teach us how to survive this illness and can even teach us to thrive, despite war, within or without.