Chapter 4: Oh hello there, Candida

I called my physician, and he was able to get me in the next day. He ordered some labs and diagnosed me with reflux, ordering a prescription strength acid blocker. While I have an awesome doctor and respect his opinion, something didn’t sit right with me with that diagnosis. I feel like I would have responded to some of the million over-the-counter acid meds AND the reduction in wine (sad) and coffee (sadder) and all other acid based foods. Being the complaint (ish) patient that I am, I filled the prescription, but kept hesitating to take it. Finally, I decided not to take it and to give it a few more days. In the meantime, I scheduled an appointment with a gastroenterologist who was recommended to me by a colleague.

I saw her 5 days later. She said she didn’t think it was reflux. I asked her what she would do. She said “I’m a gastroenterologist, I’m always going to err on the side of doing an endoscopy to see what it is, THEN treating it.” I said “Ok, that sounds good to me, When can I sign up?” My gut (pun intended) instinct told me she was right and I needed a definitive diagnosis before treating with medication.

So I signed up for an endoscopy as soon as possible, cancelled 10 patients (sorry guys!) and in I went for my first round of anesthesia in 11 years. Anesthesia (the lack of control) freaks me out, people. But I wore my wonder woman socks and went in with muscles flexed and guns blazing.

The procedure lasts all of 5 minutes, so my little morning snooze was pretty short. The GI physician came in and said I had no reflux, ulcers, and my GI system was beautiful (*blush*, why thank you!) except for these little white spots she found all up and down my esophagus. She said “do you take an inhaled steroid?” (YES) “Because that can cause a Candida, or yeast, overgrowth, in your esophagus-though it’s rare.”


My allergist ALWAYS warned me to rinse my mouth after the inhaler…which I always do. Maybe I missed a few times? Maybe that would explain why my gut (pun intended) instinct also told me over the last few months to take a lot of probiotics. And I’d taken those darn antibiotics 3 months before—just before all this began. Hmmmm.

So she saw me back in the clinic a week later and confirmed the biopsy: Candida Albicans. She prescribed a common and very effective antifungal prescription: Diflucan. I was pumped that I had an answer and a solution. She put a refill on it “Just in case, God forbid, I’d need the prescription in the future.”

Good thing I didn’t take those acid blockers: evidently that’ll make a Candida infection way worse! Although I had done OTC ones for a month…oops.

20 days later…my symptoms were only mildly-if at all-improved. Hmph. My diflucan ran out and I thought maybe it was just the tissue irritation aftermath of the esophagitis. I’d been told the esophagitis may persist a little while longer even if the infection cleared up.

3 days after that, I wasn’t having it. All of my Candida symptoms were back. Well crap. I called the gastroenterologist’s PA who said “definitely take the refill dose” and off I went to the pharmacy, thinking I just hadn’t given it enough time.

In the meantime, my very perceptive and fabulous coach, Shawn, had asked if I was on a Candida diet. Actually, this is how that conversation went:

SH: So you’e eliminated dairy, sugar, grain, etc, right?

Me: And why would I do that?

SH: Because you’re supposed to be on a special diet. You didn’t know that? Google it.

Me: Dairy? Seriously? I’m already gluten free!

SH: Uh yeah. Seriously.

So I Googled Candida diet and was taken to

Not only was I to eliminate dairy, sugar, grain and all things that make up the majority of my diet, but other banned substances were wine (uh, ok fine—I’d already cut it out), coffee (same with wine), FRUIT (you’ve got to be kidding me) and CHOCOLATE (ok now it’s getting really crazy). Then it got really detailed with anything containing yeast (goodbye, mushrooms), most nuts, all processed food (see ya, Boar’s Head sandwich), most condiments (see ya later, mustard and ketchup), and gluten free grains and carbs like rice (bye bye Asian food), corn (bye bye mexican food), beans, potato (so long, french fries) and root vegetables. IE all the stuff I’d been eating since going gluten free 7 months before.

I laughed it off and refused to believe this was legit. I was also annoyed that my gastroenterologist (you know, the person who deals with the body system that digests your food) did not mention ANY special diet. I gave her credit as I often realize that so many things I would expect to be in physicians’ training just isn’t there in the real world. She may not have known any better. I’ve also come to realize that many physicians believe the “candida thing” is all a hoax and hocus pocus, and just some other fad diagnosis/diet for people to swear by. I’m not saying my physician felt that way, but I did get that response from other physicians and colleagues and even several of my own friends. Believe me, I wouldn’t choose to do this just to be part of a fad.

Anyway, I was thinking to myself–What the heck was I supposed to eat then? I quickly discounted this diet idea as a complete hoax myself and went into denial mode for about 2 weeks (isn’t that the first stage of grief?). Then I decided “Ok maybe I’ll cut back on dairy. If I can do gluten, this won’t be so bad.”

Then I contacted my brilliant colleague, Jessica Drummond, who specializes in holistic nutrition, health coaching, and oh-by-the-way is a kick ass women’s health PT. I had sat through one of her lectures at our national conference this year and was just blown away by her knowledge of how all this stuff goes together systemically and holistically. I asked for a little off-the-record advice on how to deal with Candida, asking her to ensure me this website I was reading on the Candida Diet was all a hoax and that all I had to do was cut back on a few things.

I believe that’s the stage of grief called bargaining.

You know where this is going.

She didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear. In fact she not only confirmed the diet but added in a few other tricks and treatments I needed to do and her take on the diet was actually a bit more strict than the one published online (Which I will admit, was well researched and I give the author a lot of credit for going to the trouble to publish that for all of us!).

Remember that time I said 2015 Julie was laughing at 2014 Julie about the gluten and corn elimination diet? Yeah, she started to laugh so hard she cried right about here. Chocolate? Really? And Cheese? And Pizza? And Coffee? Was my dream of moving to Italy really going to be shattered in one fell swoop? Cue another stage of grief: crying and sadness.

Jessica also confirmed what I was already suspecting based on what my gut was telling me. Man, my gut is smart considering it was very sick and messed up! Looking back on all of this I’m starting to see that trusting my gut is the way to go! She recommended I needed to see a functional medicine MD. I’d wanted to see one since I found out about the breast mass + weird eye problems + menstrual problems + anxiety problems. I needed someone to help me put it all together, because it seemed so coincidental at the time. Unfortunately, a year ago the only functional medicine MD I knew of in Atlanta decided to change her practice to a concierge-only practice, and I was not going to be able to afford to see her. So I let that go and forgot about it.

The good news is I’d already made an appointment with a functional medicine MD who happened to work in a practice very close to my office! I happened to live a few blocks from this practice for years and never heard of it. And they just added 2 new physicians so they could take on new patients. Great! I was set to see her 2 days after I talked to Jessica. I knew I was in for a lot of crazy lab work, testing, Chinese medicine diagnoses, and a very long, valuable visit with a physician and her team.

That was an understatement. WOW. Granted, these services are not in-network with insurance companies, and I can tell you why. Someone from their team was with me for 2 hours straight. My nurse asked a lot of questions about prior testing, labs, and radiographs. I mentioned something about chest x-rays and CT scans because of a mass in my lung. She looked sideways at me because I said that so nonchalantly. I explained that I’d known about it for 14 years and was told it was nothing to worry about by 2 different pulmonologists. She continued to look at me like I had 10 heads (I’m learning this is a common reaction to the words “Lung mass”) and said “Ok honey, I’ll just write it in your chart.” She spared me the “bless your heart” but I could hear it in her tone. She was thinking “poor thing has a tumor and is oblivious as to what to do about it.”

The physician, Dr. Stephanie Grossman, spent almost 45 minutes-1 hour (I lost track of time) with me. She listened to my entire history (including the nitty gritty details). Between tales of swimming, ear problems, sinus problems, a million allergies, asthma, hormone issues, breast masses, ovarian cysts, chronic myofascial pain, and anxiety, she almost missed the note in my chart that the nurse wrote.

“Wait. What is this about ‘abnormal mass in lung?’” She said abruptly. Knowing she needed to get on to her next patient, I quickly brushed it off as if it were nothing (There’s that denial thing again). Although to my credit, I’d been told by two well respected physicians in my past that it was nothing. Every time it has come up since then, the terror and apprehension I felt as a teenager and college student came sweeping back, and I quickly did anything I could do to smile, minimize the issue, and explain I’d been assured it was nothing.

Tell enough people that you’ve never had a large mass in your lung biopsied yet you know it exists, and you , too, will start to realize how crazy this story is.

So, she pretty much threatened (in a very caring way) that if I did not handle it with my primary care physician, that she was sending me for a follow up CT herself.

So that was one good way to rip off the bandaid and make me face a fear.

Not to undermine the rest of the visit—which was fabulous—but I quickly determined I would do as I was told and just schedule a CT scan after my next physical a month away. Whew, a whole month I could put off this issue and forget about it.

She had several tests she wanted to run for all of my other issues, and again confirmed that I needed to be on the Candida Diet.

In the words of the great philosopher Austin Powers, I thought to myself in my best British accent “Damn, three times.” Three different very smart people had told me to be on the diet. I told her “I had already begun the diet” and “I had it covered.”

Denial. Denial. Denial. Ok Julie, just because your other colleague told you 2 days ago to do it, doesn’t mean you are the expert. Honestly, at this point, it was a checkmate situation. I was backed into a corner and the only way out was by eating vegetables, meat, and coconut for 6 months to a year.

Then I got a whole list of supplements and herbals to take. $1250 later, I was good to go. Just a small drop in the bucket right? Actually—small price to pay for the awesome quality and depth of care I received. Plus the doctor’s wheels were turning so well in her brain I could hear them and see them. Who doesn’t love that? It’s worth it, folks.

Read on to Chapter 5: Take that, Candida! for more on this story!