Journey into Integrative Medicine – Mika McDonald
Mika, a 26 year old ecologist and student of herbalism shares in her own words, her journey with Cystic Fibrosis and integrative medicine.
In many ways, CF has been a great gift, though one with many struggles and hardships. I have gained so much intellectually and spiritually from this disease, and there is no question that it has given me the motivation to live my life to the absolute fullest. This life may be short, but I am going to make the most of it!
– Mika –
Hello there! My name is Mika. I am 26 years old and live in Vermont (in the U.S. … kinda). I have Cystic Fibrosis (CF) and was diagnosed right after birth via a meconium ileus surgery and subsequent sweat test. So CF has been a part of my reality since my beginning. Although CF has been challenging and frightening at times, I am so grateful for the lessons it has taught me, and continues to teach me. I have been profoundly deepened and humbled by my experiences with this disease, and have become a wiser, more insightful person as a result. I have never “fought” CF. Why would I fight a natural aspect of myself? I strive to understand why I was given this challenge, and to learn these lessons as best I can so that I may share my discoveries with others. I struggle to survive day to day, yet I am all the stronger for it.
My journey towards empowerment has been long with many obstacles and switchbacks, yet I finally found the healing path that I am on now. I began to walk this path in earnest at age 24, after a frightening bout of hemoptysis triggered an awakening of sorts. I realized that although I had been “compliant” and even pro-active with my health for my entire life, my mental world had been stuck in victim-hood. I had given my power away to the modern Western medical institution. Without being consciously aware of it, I had believed that if I was to be healed, helped, or cured, it could only come from this institution; and if this institution could not provide me answers, then none existed. My awakening shattered this paradigm that I had been drowning in. The institution I had given my power away to began to run out of answers. What they offered was not enough. It was no longer working for me. So I took my power back and invested it in myself – my true healer. Amazing things began to happen then.
The first part of this journey related to a rediscovery of the necessity of exercise. I had been an active and athletic kid, but starting in college, exercise and sports took a back seat to my academics and my blossoming career in environmental policy. After my awakening, exercise became the foundation of my treatment plan. Being outside in nature is my favorite way to exercise, and it serves another and arguably more important purpose – it is also how I experience the spiritual aspects of the world. I spend at least an hour in the woods everyday, come rain, snow, sun, or bitter cold (and we have plenty of that in Vermont). Hiking keeps my lungs clear and my mind centered. I also began jogging occasionally and taking yoga classes regularly. Becoming very strict about exercising everyday has improved my life immensely. Although my FEV1 has declined in the last few years, my physical endurance, strength, and energy levels have dramatically improved. I can do more with less lung capacity because my muscles are so much stronger and more efficient with the energy and oxygen that they receive. I now pay less attention to the test results (which only measure a small aspect of my overall lung health) and more attention to how I feel and what I can accomplish. This has made me feel so much more empowered and in control of my own life. It has done wonders for my mental and spiritual health!
The second part of my journey was an exploration of and experimentation with different healing arts and health practitioners. Through much trial and error, I finally discovered a handful of highly skilled health practitioners in my area and most of them are covered by my state health insurance (Vermont is the best). I currently see a Doctor of Osteopathy who also performs cranial-sacral energy healing, an herbalist who is now also my professor, a network-chiropractor, and an incredible acupuncturist. I feel extremely blessed to have landed in a town overflowing with exceedingly talented complementary practitioners. It seems I was drawn here for many reasons.
A third aspect of my healing journey has been diet, and much of my website (www.cfnaturalhealth.weebly.com) is dedicated to my research and experiences with nutrition. I’ve devoted most of the last year and a half to the very close study of nutrition from a variety of different perspectives (from macrobiotic to Paleo, and lots in between). I have found a diet that works pretty well for me, yet I am constantly tweaking it as I make new discoveries and as my disease symptoms change. I control my CF-related digestive problems and my diabetes very well with my diet, and thoroughly understand the connections between my gut, my lungs, and my immune system. I am constantly scanning the latest scientific research on nutrition, as well as perusing many nutrition/Ancestral health websites, and reading many books on topics ranging from digestive health to Chinese Medicine to evolutionary biology. Health research and education is my passion and my calling. It is my goal to cultivate a deep and holistic understanding of how nutrition relates to all disease (including CF) and how to use food as medicine. The nutritional advice given to us by our CF clinics is often scientifically outdated, inappropriately dogmatic, incredibly reductionist, and can be very harmful. With my website, I strive to provide the CF community with an alternative source of nutrition and health information based on the latest scientific research, ancient healing wisdom, and personal experience. I also have begun to lecture on nutrition, digestive health, and herbalism at conferences and food coops in Vermont.
The most recent leg of my journey has been experimentation with and research on supplements and herbs for the treatment of the many complex facets of my cystic fibrosis. To deepen my knowledge of these issues in a more structured educational environment, I decided to study at the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism. I find it quite funny (and also totally revolutionary) that I declined admission to graduate school at the Yale School of Forestry to instead enroll in herbalism school! And I am so happy with my decision! Recently I have made some incredible improvements in my health using inhaled essential oils to combat my MRSA and Pseudomonas lung infections. I am continually reading through clinical research and talking with other smart CF revolutionaries about the latest herbal and nutraceutical experiments folks are trying. It is such an exciting time to be a CFer!
Living with CF is difficult, and often painful and frustrating, yet it is an undeniable part of my destiny; it is a central part of my role on earth and my spiritual path. I am following my dreams, making exciting discoveries, improving my health, and helping people along the way. What more could I ask for? 🙂
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