health coach

My Swollen Lymph Nodes Were a Sign of So Much More

I remember that moment like it was yesterday. I was lying on a hospital bed, getting an ultrasound on the lymph nodes in my neck—swollen six times the normal amount—the cold gel shocking to my skin, my brain on overdrive whirring through all of the horrifying possibilities that could be revealed through this device. “It’s cancer,” I told myself. “I should just prepare for that.”

The room was dark and eerily quiet. My wife, Anne, was with me, and I could feel how nervous she was, yet trying to remain strong so we both didn’t lose it. As soon as the test was over, the technician left to go “talk to the doctor.” “What does that mean?” I remember saying to Anne. (Hint: That’s never good when they say that.) So I just laid there terrified. The technician came back and told me I was all set and that they would be calling me with the results—no indication was given as to whether I was ok or what was going on with my lymph nodes. I couldn’t even process the walk back to our car, and I barely made it to our vehicle when I just broke down. Anne and I held each other, crying, reassuring ourselves that everything happens for a reason and all will be ok.

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This was the final straw to a frustrating, scary moment in my life, but let’s rewind a bit. In May of 2015, I went in for an adjustment with my chiropractor. While she was feeling around in my neck, she noticed that the chain of lymph nodes on the right side of my neck was severely swollen. I noted how concerned she looked when she asked me how long it had been like this. “I have no idea,” I said admittedly. She immediately recommended that I get a blood test done to rule out anything major and I could feel her dancing around the word ‘cancer.’ Holy. Shit. What the hell was happening to me?

Before the swollen lymph nodes, I had been experiencing numerous things over the course of many years. I had daily aches and pain in my whole body, feeling more skeletal than muscular. I constantly felt like I was out of alignment, and frequented the chiropractor weekly, sometimes multiple times a week. Specifically, the problems were in my neck, shoulders, right knee, right big toe, and lower back. There had been times where I felt like I was having a heart condition. I felt like my breath was being somewhat constricted like I couldn’t take a full, deep breath. I had a few panic attacks. Feeling tired and brain fog were everyday occurrences for me. I lost weight, which was crippling to my confidence since I had always been “too thin” by most people’s standards. And on top of all of this, my mood and spirit were affected. I was feeling anxious, nervous, worried, and agitated.

The catalyst that triggered everything for me was when I contracted a virus a few months prior. My gums were extremely swollen and my entire mouth was covered in sores. They were everywhere—on my tongue, under my tongue, on the roof of my mouth, on the inside of my cheeks, on my throat—and were searingly painful. It hurt so badly that I could hardly eat or drink anything for days. The pain was so intense that it was all I could focus on. And on top of that, all of the tension it created in the muscles of my mouth, face, and jaw added fuel to the fire. After being told to "wait it out" by a doctor, Anne took action and went to our local apothecary to ask the pharmacist if there was anything that I could help relieve the pain so I could at least get some food down. They recommended that I try applying myrrh oil to the sores. I applied some and it burned like hell, but then, RELIEF! This was my saving grace while the virus ran its course. After suffering for about a week, the symptoms stopped, and I thought I was out of the woods. Emphasis on ‘thought.’

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I started noticing that after every meal, my tongue would burn with a searing pain. It wasn’t until a few days of this that I decided to look at my tongue in the mirror (hello, Captain Obvious!). I was shocked at what I saw. It looked like someone slashed my tongue with a knife all over the place, and there were burns on it as if a cigarette had been extinguished on the surface. This went on for a couple months, and I was completely dumbfounded on what to do. I was lost, directionless, and in pain. It was around this time that I went in for the chiropractic appointment I mentioned earlier, where my chiropractor noticed that my lymph nodes were swollen six times the normal size.

I had the blood test taken, and in the meantime, I scheduled a visit with my General Practitioner. My test results came back negative, and after examining me for about two minutes, my GP ordered that I have an ultrasound done on my neck. I was so scared when he told me that—the flat line of his mouth, his head shaking in concern, forever etched in my brain. We covered the ultrasound already, but what I didn’t tell you is that I had to wait a week to get my results back from my GP. A WEEK! Now, I’m not even going to get into all of the thoughts that popped into my head over the course of that week, but let’s just say it wasn’t pretty.

I showed up to the follow-up appointment with my doctor to review the results and he simply stated, “the results came back normal.” A huge wave of relief washed over me, but then confusion set in. The doctor continued to tell me in a short tone that he didn’t know what was causing the problem, that it very well may just resolve itself, but that he would recommend I get a biopsy on it. A new emotion bubbled up inside of me: anger. Why was this man telling me to get a biopsy when he knew it wouldn’t help and knew both my blood tests and ultrasound came back normal? Why would he order a super expensive procedure to have done when I am self-employed and barely have enough to cover a joke of a health insurance plan? And then it hit me. He was passing me off! He didn’t want to be liable for me. He didn’t know what to do for me, and therefore, was done with me. I was furious.

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On my drive home, I told myself that I was going to get to the bottom of this. Mainstream Western medicine failed me. There were all of these things signaling that something was wrong with me. My body was screaming, “Hey man, I need help here! Listen to me!” It was at this time that I decided to try different healing modalities. My first step was seeing a massage therapist who specializes in lymphatic massages. These sessions were incredibly powerful, but after three, even he saw that I needed more help than he could offer. My next step? I would give a Chinese herbalist that I had heard about a try.

In July of 2015, I walked into the shop/office located in Chicago’s Chinatown, and it felt like stepping into another world. Workers were busily divvying up concoctions for various patients; the scent of herbs and tea lingered in the air. During my appointment, the herbalist, Dr. Lisa, examined my tongue, pulses (“There’s more than one?”), my complexion, my posture, and so much more I was not aware of. Right off the bat, she told me foods that I needed to avoid, and also showed me foods to eat more of or add in. Everything she was addressing had to do with food and diet, and I ate it all up (pun intended). I left with an eating plan and a week’s worth of herbs and I felt so empowered. I felt like I finally won some control back over my health! I didn’t understand any of the concepts or reasonings behind her treatments at the time, but I continued to see Dr. Lisa for months. It was difficult to stay disciplined on such a strict, temporary diet.

At times, it made me feel isolated and alone. It was extremely difficult to deal with, and I felt like I lost a part of myself. I felt my sickness changing me. I wanted to bow out of every social situation in order to avoid having to talk about what I was going through or be the "problem one" of the group who had to specify exact requirements when ordering dinner. Anne was a huge help to me during this, always encouraging me and finding new recipes that fit the bill. After implementing Chinese food therapy and herbs for a while, my lymph nodes improved. However, I finally got to a point where my progress plateaued.

Six months later, I decided to also see an acupuncturist. I had acupuncture done once before, but nothing quite like this. After explaining everything that I was experiencing, the doctor went to work placing needles at various points on my body that seemed completely unconnected. He also performed cupping on my back and noticed that my body was toxic, apparent by the deep purple bruising that lasted for weeks. I had acupuncture done religiously for months, each appointment bringing about new discoveries. My acupuncturist pointed me to different foods, teas, and books to learn from. Anne and I couldn’t get enough! We found ourselves researching and learning all about Chinese medicine, specifically how food and diet play such a crucial role in overall health. One of the books the acupuncturist referred me to was Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition by Paul Pitchford. I dove in deep, reading for hours on end, and over the course of a few weeks I came to a section that addressed the danger of root canals.

(Left, January 2016) Severe bruising that lasted for weeks after my first cupping treatment.  (Right, May 2016) Minimal bruising from cupping that cleared in a day after months of detoxing.

(Left, January 2016) Severe bruising that lasted for weeks after my first cupping treatment.

(Right, May 2016) Minimal bruising from cupping that cleared in a day after months of detoxing.

This was a light bulb moment for me because I had a root canal performed on a molar three years prior, and my symptoms really intensified after that procedure. My mind was blown that it could be having such an affect on my overall health and this realization helped me start to connect the dots about a lot of things in my overall health that I had been experiencing for years. I decided to have my root canal tooth pulled out completely. I needed to get that toxic piece out of my body. The moment it was extracted, I felt lighter and more positive, almost like a weight had been lifted off me, and I knew immediately that it was absolutely the right decision. I listened to my gut and it did not fail me! After my root canal was removed, symptoms that I had been experiencing for years started to clear up—things that I never would have associated with a tooth. The constant pain in my right big toe was gone, the pain in my right knee greatly subsided, and the pain and occasional numbness in my right hand resolved. (Fun fact: my swollen lymph nodes and the root canal tooth were also on my right side! Coincidence? I think not.)

I continued to receive acupuncture appointments to help my body detox from years of toxicity and to aid in healing the root canal procedure. Slowly but surely I improved. I didn’t have an instant, “I feel better moment,” rather a slow realization that I was starting to not notice pain or certain symptoms anymore. My lymph nodes were still inflamed at this time, but they were down significantly, from six times the normal size to only twice the size.

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Four months later, my chiropractor was offering a new test to patients that tested blood, hair, and urine for metal toxicity. She felt like I would be a great candidate for it since my lymph nodes were still problematic. I decided to give it a shot, and low and behold, I had extremely toxic levels of various heavy metals. (we’re talking things like copper and mercury, not AC/DC ;) Their office put me on a supplement protocol, which I followed for 7 months. I was doing Chinese food therapy and acupuncture in conjunction with the supplement regimen, and my levels improved drastically! My lymph nodes FINALLY resolved, most of my pain was gone, my attitude improved, my confidence grew, and I had far less flare up with my tongue cuts and sores. I had even gotten to the point where I could start weight lifting to regain my strength.

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There was just one more thing. My tongue was still bothering me on more occasions than I would have liked. I decided at this point to switch to an acupuncturist that Anne was seeing who mentioned that she could help. After just a couple treatments with her and through taking prescribed Chinese herbal formulas, my tongue was noticeably improved. Now, I hardly ever have a flare up! I do want to let you know that I’m not completely healed though because I think it’s important—I’ve learned that I was sick for a long period of my life, and it takes time to recover from that. But I am healthier, happier, and more in control of my health than I have ever been in my life.

In hindsight, I now know that this all happened for a reason. My story is what ignited a new passion for me—to help guide others on their health journey by advocating for Chinese medicine.

I understand what it’s like to struggle with a health problem.

I understand how scary and frustrating it is to not have answers or anyone to listen to you.

I understand how lonely it can be.

I understand how it feels to be neglected by the Western medicine machine.

I get it.

This is why I do what I do, why I am here to listen, and why I want to help you. Because I was there too.

Be Wise,

Steve