Bookpleasures.com welcomes as our guest Judith Anne Desjardins. Judith has maintained a thirty-six year holistic psychotherapy practice and is listed in Who’s Who in the World, Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in Medicine and Healthcare, and Who’s Who in American Women.
As an educator, she has taught nationally and in Canada, and her first book, Creating A Healthy Life and Marriage, is the winner of 16 book awards in the United States and Canada. A Polish translation was released in 2013. Her second book, Our Journey with Prostate Cancer: Empowering Strategies for Patients and Families, was released in September 2014. It was an award-winning finalist in The 2014 USA Best Book Awards, Category: Health: Cancer in November 2014.
She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, a Board Certified Diplomat in Clinical Social Work, and a Master Social Work Addictions Counselor. She has speciality training in Jin Shin Do Acupressure, Jungian and Gestalt therapy, and has worked in various clinical settings: oncology social work, in-patient psychiatry, homeless shelter, out-patient substance abuse. To further her knowledge about the body-mind-emotions-spirit connection, she studied Hatha yoga and has maintained a yoga practice for the last twenty years.
Judith received her Bachelor of Arts with Honors from the University of Wyoming and her Master of Social Work degree from Arizona State University.
Norm: Good day Judith and thanks for participating in our interview.
First, I am sure our readers would like to know how your husband is doing in dealing with his prostate cancer?
Judith: I am happy to report that in eleven consecutive PSA tests post- radiation treatment, spaced every three – four months, my husband has had less than 0.04 PSA, undetectable for cancer. The most recent PSA test was 10-17-2014.
In cancer recovery, a person is not considered “free of cancer” until they have passed the five year anniversary of undetectable readings.
My husband continues his personal regime of self-empowerment: cardio exercise and weight work three times a week, juicing, diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and non-red meat protein, gluten-free breads, probiotics, and classical guitar lessons and reading of inspirational stories of true life survival and exploration to challenge his spirit. In addition, he has learned the wisdom of leading a balanced life – time for himself, work, and family. He no longer feels guilty about resting when he is tired and spending quiet time on hobbies that interest and sustain him.
Prostate cancer gave him the opportunity to take a deep look at his life and make proactive changes to enhance healing and health. Throughout our journey with prostate cancer, he has dealt openly with the psychological, emotional, and spiritual issues prompted by the cancer.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your recent book Our Journey with Prostate Cancer: Empowering Strategies for Patients and Families serves and what matters to you about the book?
Judith: The initial purpose of my book was to educate and encourage all men around the world who are living with prostate cancer and their families about the power that resides within their bodies, mind, emotions and spirits, and to teach them how to harness that power to proactively change the course of their cancer and their prognosis. I believe there are many men dying unnecessary deaths from prostate cancer and I know there are many family caretakers who are absolutely overwhelmed with the task of assisting in the battle with cancer.
Prostate cancer is a man’s disease and the general approach to treating it by the medical establishment is to treat the body alone, with such options as active surveillance, surgery, radiation, proton radiation, hormone deprivation therapy, chemotherapy, and some newer treatments. In these cases, the man “puts his body in the hands of the doctors” and does not participate in his own healing.
On the other hand, women with breast and other types of cancers have been educated and encouraged by other survivors to employ alternative therapies like acupuncture, diet, exercise, meditation, yoga, support groups and a “survivorship” mentality which is very proactive. I want to educate men about the power of this kind of approach.
In my book I devote a whole section to “Developing The Characteristics of a Warrior,” which covers seven specific characteristics needed in the battle with cancer: stamina, hope, faith, assertiveness, good self-care skills, flexibility, and determination. And I use a quote, “Your spirit is your most important personal weapon in the battle with cancer!”
The higher purpose of this book is to educate the general population of people dealing with any cancer and any life threatening illness, as well as their loved ones, about the power of a holistic approach to healing and living a healthy life. I spend a lot of time in each chapter of the book addressing the unique needs of patients and their caretakers, who are frequently ignored by the medical establishment.
Norm: How did you decide you were ready to write the book?
Judith: The day after my husband was diagnosed with prostate cancer I knew that I wanted to write a book about our experience. For the first six months I committed to keeping a raw, honest journal about each stage of our journey, combined with test results, medical records of pre and post surgical biopsy reports, consultations with various specialists, and research findings.
That was the best I could do at that very emotionally dark time. We were both in shock, experienced anxiety and various fears, and suffered from enormous amounts of fatigue. Both of us felt like we had been hit by a series of trucks and were grappling with this malevolent stranger, cancer, that had moved into our house. We both faced a daunting learning curve about treatment options, potential adverse side effects, and treatment facilities.
There was a life and death urgency to our lives, as my husband had an aggressive, dangerous form of prostate cancer which had escaped the prostate capsule and invaded his right seminal vesicle. He had Stage III prostate cancer and only a 30% chance of a cure. We had to make the right decisions, quickly.
My husband focused his energy on healing from the pain of surgery, radiation, and hormone-deprivation therapy, and started his proactive self-care. I committed to doing research, guiding the discussions with the medical treatment team, and helping my husband deal with his emotional/psychological reactions. I relied on my past training and work as an oncology social worker. I educated myself about an anti-cancer diet and eliminated foods from our diet that promote cancer growth, reading a series of books about innovative approaches to treating cancer, as well as research literature. I took responsibility to change our entire diet. We lived day to day, test results combined with treatment disappointments and successes. It was a gruelling and exhausting period of time.
I wasn’t able to begin the actual work on the book until six months after the diagnosis. By then, my husband had completed surgery and radiation and our lives had settled into a more reasonable routine. I had maintained my own self-care regime of journaling, prayer, yoga, gardening, quiet time in nature, and special healing time with our dog, cat, and family, and my strength and stamina had returned. I continued writing each chapter of the book as our lives unfolded over a two year period.
My spirit told me when I was ready to start writing the book. Actually it told me to start writing, saying that it would be healing for me to release the emotional trauma and memories from my body. It encouraged me to release what had been awful and convert the experience into something that would bless me and other people. My spirit told me that I was now strong enough and healthy enough to do the job, and reminded me how much I love the process of writing a book; being “in the zone” of creativity and honesty, challenging myself, releasing my voice, following my divine destiny.
Fortunately at that time I didn’t worry about the extra time and stamina that would be required to publish the book. It was enough that I began writing. The publishing process would take care of itself and was another part that I love.
Norm: How challenging was it to candidly report yours and your husband's experiences in dealing with prostate cancer?
Judith: The only challenge to candidly report about our experiences dealing with prostate cancer was my husband.
For me, as an author and therapist who had already written my first self-disclosing book, it was natural and easy. My life is dedicated to learning, educating, and serving God. My husband, on the other hand, is a very private person. He did not understand why I felt compelled to write this book.
I told him that I wanted to write the book because I believed we could help other people. I read him sections of the book, when he was willing to listen. Sometimes he gave me feedback and suggestions. Other times he could not bear to hear it. It depressed him. I was able to ask him questions about his feelings, his reactions to the treatments. He would answer my inquiries, knowing that I would be writing about them. I accompanied him to every doctor visit and keep a copy of all the medical reports. He knew I was writing the book all along, but never seemed to understand why I was doing it.
I could not move forward with publishing the book until I got his blessing and permission to go public. After all, it was his body, his cancer, his personal journey. I decided to keep writing each chapter, with the hope that he would eventually give me permission. I never really knew if it would happen. I had to be willing to spend all that time writing, risking that I would never be able to publish the book.
By the time I was finishing the last chapter, he finally gave me his permission to publish – on the condition of maintaining his anonymity. Now that he has read the reviews and the endorsements and seen the book honoured with its first award, he is really proud of our book. I am extremely proud of him and grateful that he was willing to share our story.
Norm: Do you feel that your husband is receiving the best possible medical attention and how important is it to become proactive in seeking out care?
Judith: That is a very interesting set of questions, Norm.
To answer you first question, I would have to say No. I do not believe my husband received the best possible medical attention because the doctors were not concerned with the state of his mind, emotions, and spirit. Each specialist treated his body with their particular specialty: surgery, radiation, hormone-deprivation therapy. But none of the doctors seemed concerned about him as a total human being. No doctor asked him if he had anxiety or depression. He received no referral for counseling or anti-cancer diet. When he suffered side effects from his various treatments, no one seemed concerned about quality of life issues. After all, they had eradicated the cancer. Wasn’t that enough?
To answer your second question, I would say that it is absolutely essential for patients and family members to be proactive in seeking care for their bodies, minds, emotions, and spirit! To have the best prognosis and quality of life, every patient and family member must be proactive in every aspect of their care. You cannot simply hand your body over to the doctors and hope for the best.
The current western medical approach to treating illness is very short-sighted and limited. It does not take into consideration the interconnectedness of the body-mind-emotions-and spirit. Illness is a state of imbalance in the whole system. To have the very best medical results, you must treat the whole person. You must look into approaches that treat the mind, emotions, and spirit, as well as the body: exercise, diet, yoga, prayer, meditation, healing from nature.
There are a few innovative medical facilities which address the whole person, but they are few and far between. I recommend reading the book Anti-cancer: A New Way of Life by David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., PhD to learn more about an integrative approach to healing and health.
In addition to seeking out a holistic approach to illness, I encourage each patient and family member to ultimately make their own informed decisions about which treatment they will select. It is your body, your quality of life that is important. Don’t worry about making a doctor mad if you do not accept their recommendation. Don’t wait for the doctor to make a referral for additional services. Tell the doctor you want the referral. Do your own research. Develop your own self-care program. Be in control of your own life. Never give up hope. And be willing to work hard for your own recovery.
Norm: What was one of the most surprising things you learned in writing Our Journey with Prostate Cancer?
Judith: I was surprised to learn that although I am a very strong person with prior experience treating cancer, and despite taking good care of my body, mind, emotions and spirit, I became very fragile and exhausted, sometimes depressed, and medically challenged in our battle with cancer.
I learned to appreciate the extreme challenge involved with being a family caregiver. You love your person who has the illness. You want to do everything in your power to help them heal and live. You devote your time, and prayers, and every ounce of yourself to help them, yet you must also take very good care of yourself and admit your limitations. You must set boundaries with your time and your energy and find ways to nourish your body, mind, emotions and spirit.
I relearned the importance of the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Ultimately, I learned to admit my powerlessness on certain days and the importance of asking God to give me sustenance and direction when I was empty and lost.
Norm: In the section of your book entitled Reflections you mention that yours and your husband experiences dealing with prostate cancer has led to our greatest joy, learning and bonding as a team. Would you care to elaborate?
Judith: Sure. My husband and I have now been married for twenty-one years. Over the course of our life together we have had many challenges – problems in our relationship, problems with our children, changes and loss of jobs, deaths of family members, minor surgeries, fluctuations in income.
We were alone together facing the biggest challenge of our lifetime. I told my husband, “We are one body, four legs.”
There is a scripture that talks about the raw ore being thrown into the blazing hot furnace. The heat of the furnace melts away the dross and only the precious metal is left.
Such was our experience
with cancer. We became forged together closer than we have ever been
in our lives, to fight the battle with cancer and save my husband’s
life. We went through the journey together facing the worst days and
the best days, always as a team. Going to the depths of fear,
fatigue, unknowing..............sharing our hearts and
thoughts.............devising our plan for healing............brought
us closer than we have ever been. Seeing each other’s strength and
resolve in the worst conditions brought a higher level of respect and
admiration. Crying, holding each other on the worst days, seeing
each other’s vulnerability brought us greater joy, appreciation,
and thanksgiving on the good days. Our love and commitment to each
other became stronger than ever.
Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and Our Journey with Prostate Cancer?
Norm: What is next for Judith Anne Desjardins?
Judith: This book has inspired me to reach out to people living with all types of cancer and their family members and encourage them to employ a holistic approach to healing.
I want to know if they were offered an integrative treatment approach by the medical teams that treated them. I want to interview them and find out what was the hardest part of living with cancer, and how did they care for their bodies, minds, emotions, and spirits. I want to promote books by authors and cancer survivors who are advocating a holistic approach to treatment. Likewise, I want to interview family caregivers and see if their needs were addressed by the medical establishment. I want them to tell me what aspects of their lives were most challenged and in what areas they need help.
I don’t know at this point whether my outreach will take the form of videos, radio show, blog or another book on the topic.
Norm: As this interview draws to a close what one question would you have liked me to ask you? Please share your answer.
Judith: I think your questions were great, Norm, and allowed me to cover all the pertinent topics I wanted to discuss. I guess the one question I would have liked you to ask was, “What part do you think God played in the success of your journey with cancer?”
My answer to that question is that I think God played a significant role in our successful outcome.
From the first day of diagnosis, I implored God to assist us. As I look at the succession of events that transpired, I definitely see the hand of God at work: life- saving appointments for immediate surgery and pre-op clearance fell in place where none existed, our referral to the treatment teams at City of Hope, success of the radiation and hormone-deprivation therapy after the surgery had failed, not developing Stage IV prostate cancer, recommendations from friends that I read certain books, strengthening our spirits and determination when we were depleted - all came from God.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors and we all pray for your husband and his battle against prostate cancer.