The Null Zone: Cancer’s Desolate Desert

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It’s the empty place that lies between diagnosis and treatment, but it’s full of life.

It happens to most of us who share this cancer disease. One ordinary day we hear the news that we have cancer and from that moment on our lives are irreversibly changed. And, even if our health care provider gives us immediate options to consider in our quest to eradicate the cancer from our bodies, we still experience a time — sometimes days and sometimes weeks — where we grapple with our new reality as we attempt to make the important decisions for our own health and healing.

I think of this time as "The Null Zone," where we long for something "ordinary" in our day to give us a little stability. We look for something familiar to bring us back to center, to give us a moment to collect our thoughts and to balance ourselves as we walk a tightrope of uncertainty. It can be anything or anyone. It only has to be a part of our pre-cancer lives that offers peace and tranquility, hope and security. Although we are in the "Zone" it gives us a chance to experience "normal" again.

In my case, it was a simple spice called turmeric. That’s what got me through the "Zone."

Here’s how it all came about: several months before I was diagnosed with male breast cancer I mentioned to my wife that I felt an inflammation in my body. It was difficult to pinpoint the source. We were living in Hawaii as residents in a Zen Center, studying and practicing meditation in a year-long program. I was confident that my vegetarian diet and lifestyle did not play a role in my discomfort, so I was a little bewildered by the subtle symptoms I was feeling, telling me that something was "off."

We maintained an organic garden as part of our program and one of my favorite herbs was turmeric, a perennial plant of the ginger family. Like ginger, it grows below the surface, and the color and aroma of the freshly harvested clusters were beautiful to behold with their golden-orange hue that looked to me like captured sunshine. It’s turmeric that gives a kick to curry dishes, along with a glowing golden color.

A young man who lived with us, and shared the large industrial communal kitchen, was an acupuncturist. He was also in charge of our garden and suggested to me that I harvest and juice some of the turmeric that grew in abundance. I was told that one of its many benefits was the fact that it served as an anti-inflammatory.

I quickly developed a taste for the juice that was pungent and earthy and turned everything yellow including my fingers from picking and cleaning the plant. I did some research along the way and discovered that the science behind turmeric’s therapeutic ingredient called curcumin is sound. It has been shown to be a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and recently was demonstrated to have some anti-tumor properties that are hard to ignore.

Several months after I noticed the sensation of inflammation I discovered that I had breast cancer.

Those of us with a cancer diagnosis remember all too well how it felt when our disease was discovered. I was alarmed and confused, of course, but at the same time I was intrigued by the fact that my body was giving me signals months before the tiny tumor was discovered in my breast. I was also grateful that I had some sort of program to turn to, that being my daily ingestion of turmeric as tea or juice.

There are moments — sometimes extended moments — after our cancer is revealed when we do some very quick and intense searching, listening and questioning with regard to our future and our choices of procedures and therapies to kill our cancer.

There is a lot to digest in those first weeks and having something as reliable as my daily turmeric dosing was a positive routine that gave me a sense of peace and well-being. I grew it, harvested it, juiced it and adored it.

I was involved in the process from beginning to end and I felt good about that. Today, having survived three years since my original diagnosis, I find that each time I drink or eat turmeric, or take one of the many supplements available, I get a feeling that something good is coming my way. In this belief, I am able to visualize a healthy me as I happily ingest my anti-cancer cuisine.


Nobody really knows for certain, of course, just what effect any of the more than 200 traditional chemotherapy agents or countless natural supplements available today will have on any of us, and I make a point not to push any of my views on others. But to believe in our own choices, to support and embrace our own path through the garden of healing through which we walk can be powerful medicine. So, if you are in the "Null Zone" of cancer you may want to have a look at something out of your daily routine to see what gives you peace and serentity.

Perhaps it’s that daily walk or a regularly scheduled phone call with a friend. It might be writing in your journal or grooming your cat. All survivors take this cancer journey together and yet apart as we struggle to find our own point of reference from which to live day by day. Cancer has no definitive markers, no dependable parameters to allow us to formulate our future, and so we are left to find our own, often simple therapies to combat our disease.

Feeling good about our choices and believing in our body’s intrinsic ability to heal itself certainly can’t hurt. And, if you find yourself in the "Zone" it may be the perfect opportunity to trust in and appreciate those simple things that truly add a little spice to your life.