Governing Grave's Disease

by Hanna Pratt
Winter 2015, Living Well Magazine

“Tell me your story,” she said. Which part, I wondered? There is so much to my story. I’ve lived a truly blessed life. Okay, some of it didn’t seem quite so blessed when it was happening. Hindsight and gratitude show the lessons were true and the experiences amazing.

Somewhere along my journey I found myself at The Gawler Cancer  Foundation. I believe things happen in our lives for a reason and we’re guided to what we need if we really listen and pay attention. And I listened; I listened to friends speak of the foundation, I listened to Ian speak at a local high school, which was really quite an intimate setting compared to some of the venues I’ve listened to him speak at since.

At that point I was drawn to the story, the good works, the emphasis on wellness, the lifestyle choices and the meditation, all good things the foundation represents. I attended a few retreats including a memorable one with monks from Plum Village.  I recall going back to work and describing the retreat and what I learnt to an actively dying palliative patient I was caring for. Some of what I was learning was helpful in that situation. I was applying so much of what I was learning in so many different ways, both professionally and personally. I’d started to change my diet, excluding red meat and having less and less chicken and fish, I was much more diligent in my meditation practice. I really started listening well to my body. The hippy/alternate description was fitting more. I just laughed; it was like coming home to whom I truly am.

I made some brilliant friendships at the meditation teacher training retreat, people I’m really privileged to have in my life and call friends. Meanwhile, my life was not what my demeanour depicted. I was in a relationship that was struggling, to put it mildly, in a personally toxic environment away from family and the support of just a few good friends. A community I became part of, but still didn’t belong to.

Then I turned fifty. The day of my party, I was attending to the preparations with my son and his girlfriend helping. There was an altercation between my then partner and myself, which had left me shaken, in many respects, more than I realised at the time. Friends arrived and noticed my shakes and elevated pulse rate, which I put down to the earlier incident.

Of course like a good nurse, I went to work the following day with my elevated pulse, took an ECG and faxed it to my GP, making an appointment to see him after work. I was diagnosed with severe hyperthyroidism.  No wonder I was dropping so much weight; my heart rate was more than doubled and that was at rest. “Beta-blockers,” he said. I said “No,” – I wasn’t prepared to take medications at that point. Fasting blood tests, they would have to wait as I was taking my son and girlfriend to the airport the following day. They were flying home and I would do a four-hour round trip driving alone with no time to drive into town when pathology collections opened in the morning.

Blood tests Wednesday, in at the doctors again Thursday; there was no discussion at this point. I needed medications unless I wanted to do myself more harm. The next two weeks were a blur of visits to doctors, specialist appointments and various investigations. Thank goodness for a good girlfriend.

My partner’s words, “there’s nothing wrong with you, it’s all in your head,” rang in my ears. He was only half right. I was sick. Though this was an autoimmune disease, and like all autoimmune diseases, I caused it myself. Many people would find that statement confronting but I found it empowering. I caused it myself because I let myself be in a toxic environment, I didn’t set appropriate boundaries for my own life, I didn’t prioritise my wellness enough and I didn’t love myself enough. If we don’t listen to ourselves our body gets sick, forcing us to stop and listen!

So I drew on all my Gawler training, everything I’d learnt about diet, lifestyle, exercise and meditation. The GP I had in Victoria was awesome. He didn’t necessarily agree with my natural therapies and naturopathy, but he didn’t knock it either; he really cared for me. The specialist down south was wonderful, working with me. The prescription medications were consistently cut down, the new endocrinologist disbelieving the ability for the results to stick. It’s not a cure he said, it’s likely to remit. I chose not to believe him and lived my life grateful and aware.

What I learned at The Gawler Cancer Foundation suddenly became second nature. Ultimately, I left the relationship, l left a job I loved and I moved back to my home-town. I lived with my parents for several months, finding a job after 5 months. I travelled to South Africa for 2 weeks, and I bought a house and moved into it. I reestablished my life. Despite all the class ‘A’ stressors, in that same time period of 6 months I reversed the hyperthyroidism, I stopped the prescription medications and my blood tests were consistently coming back normal.

Last year I travelled to Nepal and took the wonderful opportunity to complete my 500-hour yoga teacher training at an ashram. The diet was vegetarian, and although we ate well for the standard of the country, the dietary supplements I add were not available. No hempseed, quinoa, seeds, grains and nuts, not enough pulses and lentils. I came home anaemic, malnourished, and low in protein and the hyperthyroidism was back. I guess my second specialist’s words were prophetic.

I knew I could overcome all of this, I had done it before after all, and I had the knowledge and the skill. Within a couple of weeks I had resolved the malnourishment, anaemia and low protein. No I had not resorted to meat; I ate what I was taught at The Gawler Cancer Foundation, supplementing only with fresh home-made cold-press juices. Within a month I was able to cut my medication in half, stopping the Beta-blocker totally. I know I’m well – I can feel it in myself. My next appointment is in a couple of weeks and I’m sure my medications will once again be halved, making it one tablet a day. Ideally my aim will be to stop the tablets totally this month, though conventional medicine being what it is I can’t see my endocrinologist letting me get away with that. I am however, confident that I may be able to help him see how what I’ve been doing for my health and the responsibility I’ve taken for my wellbeing has in a larger way enabled my healing. How an alkaline vegetarian diet, dairy free, gluten free, (the tiniest amount of sugar over the Christmas period), daily meditation and yoga, a positive, realistic outlook, and the knowledge of what I’d learnt at The Gawler Cancer Foundation has taken me from a state of dis-ease to a place of ease and harmony.

I have so much gratitude for everyone there, for what I’ve learnt at the Yarra Valley Living Centre, and what I’ve learnt from various speakers over the years at the many conferences I’ve been to. Keep doing what you’re doing – it sticks. The principles are so good they transfer across all areas of the health spectrum and are not restricted to a specific illness category.

I am truly blessed.

“This is a small window of my story, but there’s more, so much more,” I say with a smile on my face.

Hanna is a member of the Australasian Neurosurgical Nurses Association and at their conference in September 2015 is hoping to present an abstract on how meditation and mindfulness changes the brain. She is also currently looking to buy a high set house in Brisbane, using the downstairs section to deliver meditation classes and sessions, yoga, reiki and massage; teaching what she has learnt.