Time to wake up...
Around my 40th birthday in February of this year I found myself sitting in a dark lit radiology room full of machines, a cold linoleum floor and bare walls. The curtain closed around the bed I sat on, after having an ultrasound on my right breast to further check out a lump I had recently discovered. I waited anxiously for the doc to come in and tell me what he saw after looking at the results. He came in and with an unsettling warmth and concerned look in his eyes he said he wanted me to have a biopsy, there was 80% chance the cells he saw were cancerous. Holy Shit.
The room shrunk around me and my stomach left my body and I felt a wave of shock hit my body like a tidal wave. What?! He explained the next steps I would need to take, he would perform the needle biopsy and we would go from there. After he left, I got dressed and in a numb state of shock went home and wondered how on earth I would explain this to my daughter. I decided to wait and see what biopsy revealed.
Just keep breathing, you will be ok girl, you got this…a still small voice awoke from within. A few days later I went in to the hospital for a biopsy and as I walked down the long, white sterile halls I felt like I was in a strange dream. Each morning I woke up to a reminder this was no dream. The days between appointments were a blur as I did my best to put on a strong face for life and its non negotiable responsibilities at work and with my daughter, placating and riding the waves of catastrophic thinking that washed over me like a thunder storm. Doc called me a couple days later with the results. Infiltrating Ductal breast cancer, about 0.9cm x0.4cm in size. This doctor was the most kind and compassionate of all that I would meet, I appreciated his authenticity even as he delivered the shock of my life. He left me with a series of instructions and doctors I would need to meet with next, starting with an MRI to confirm the 'area of concern' was just located in that one spot. This would be followed by a meeting with the surgeon and oncologist to discuss treatment options.
From this point on I knew that life would never be the same. So, what now? Just breathe, I am here for you. I felt numb and full of shock waves as I drove home and stepped back in to 'the real world' of being a mom, getting to work, feeding the cats, buying groceries and making car payments. I kept thinking about my daughter who was facing her own struggles with anxiety. This had been a focal point of stress and concern for both of us over the past several years and I wondered how I would manage to carry another load of responsibility in the face of all this
The following week, with my loyal and practical sister by my side we went to meet with the surgeon. She was able to confirm the MRI results showed the cancer cells were localized to the one small lump in my breast. She was kind and patient and answered our questions, and explained the likely treatment options for me would be surgery --either lumpectomy or mastectomy (why not just cut them both off and start fresh?). This would be followed by radiation and possibly chemotherapy "for good measure, because you are young and your body can take it". The shock was beginning to be my new normal. Upon leaving her office that day, I felt it would be important to get a second opinion; with the name of another surgeon in hand (one that came highly recommended) I began to feel my inner voice grow louder. There has to be a better way. There just has to be a better way than this.
Over the next week before meeting with the next surgeon I was able to step out of the shock and begin to research; I knew it was time to educate myself before this next meeting. By now I was beginning to reach out, in particular to close friends and spiritual teachers/mentors. I was reminded to embrace the responsibility for my own healing which began with listening to my intuition; this I've learned is the best guide we can ever possibly follow. As I studied what cancer is, what chemotherapy and radiation are I became more and more clear that this path did not feel right to me. But it wasn't until after I met with the next surgeon that I would become more solidified in the direction I would choose to go.
The second surgeon came highly recommended and I felt a bit more prepared and in my power this time, committed to staying open and ready to ask questions to better prepare me for the decisions that I had to make. This doc politely introduced himself and for the next two hours proceeded to talk non stop in detail about tumors and cancer cells, ductal and nodular this and that, invasive or non invasive and when I interjected a question he grew impatient and patronizing at my interrupting his presentation. This began to set off internal alarms and I suddenly felt a powerfully strong sense that this was not the doctor for me and I was not interested in anything else he had to say. I interrupted him once more and told him this does not feel right to me, I thanked him for his time and politely excused myself.
What I found interesting about the process so far was how nobody reminded me I had choices. If you have cancer, the protocol is clear; there is a very routine and precise line of treatments laid out for you and as the doctors pepper you with statistics and studies while reminding you that this "truly is the only way", one all too easily can succumb to fear and powerlessness. Although that doctor was not a good fit for me I learned some things, most of all I took my power back. By now the voice was loud and clear. There is another way and you know this is your choice to make.
So I began to pray. You know, talk to God, spirit, nature….I used to avoid use of the word "God" with all of its religious baggage, but suddenly I didn't care. I felt connected, especially when I was in nature. I felt God-spirit all around me and began to ask for guidance and clarity around healing my body naturally.
By this point I had done a lot of research and just the information I needed would cross my path as I continued to search and as I read story after story of the thousands of people who have healed their cancer naturally I began to feel hope. I began to feel the fear melt away and in its place an incredible trust and inspiration took root. Keep going and just stay present with this.
The process of arriving at my choice took time, reflection and a lot of inquiry. I look forward to sharing many of the links and resources I came across that helped guide me to the decision that felt right to me. I just felt intuitively that the options offered to me so far did not sit right with me. Chemotherapy is a carcinogenic chemical used to kill all the cells in the body, the cancer cells as well as the healthy white blood cells that make up the most important system in our body: the immune system. Intuitively I felt that poisoning my way back to health simply did not sit right with me; it just didn't make sense. Radiation causes damage to our DNA, in breast cancer treatment can adversely affect the heart and arteries and is one of the top 10 causes of cancer. While I have struggled with a life time of insecurity, I ultimately felt a deep kinship and love for my body and felt there was no way I could subject this body to those treatments. It wasn't until later that I learned it is technically illegal for a doctor to prescribe any other treatment than the traditional protocol of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. They mean no harm, they are simply bound to the medical community and following protocol laid out to them.
One of the most important keys to choosing a treatment is that you believe in it and are at peace with it. Many people use these forms of treatment and they are choosing what feels right to them. It is so important to respect this; the ability to choose is the very source of our personal power and authority.
By this point I was feeling more and more empowered by taking care with my choices and researching what option felt right to me. Taking the holistic route resonated deeply within my heart, right down in to every cell. I knew by now that we all have cancer cells in our bodies but most of us don't know it, as our amazing immune systems take care of these cells for us without our even knowing it. However when the immune system is compromised by any number of things, its ability to do its job effectively is compromised.
I reflected back on my life just over the last 12 years as a single parent; I had been living in survival-mode levels of stress for the majority of that time as I worked hard to balance work, college for a period of time, and building a foundation for myself and my daughter. In addition she has struggled with varying degrees of anxiety and depression over the years which greatly impacted her ability to attend school regularly and was a source of stress for both of us. In addition to this I experienced financial distress, eviction notices, tiny apartments, big heart breaks and I just seemed to be stuck in a pattern I couldn't shake. In between of course there were a lot of sweet adventures and laughs but it was always overshadowed by my struggle to get some footing and find basic stability in my life.
The past year or two things were finally beginning to shift; I was promoted at work, finished a yoga teacher training and felt ready for a new year although many of the stressors were still unresolved and this was an issue of concern that sat heavily on my mind and heart. Then I received the wake up call of my life and knew that it was time for an overhaul of my life. The stakes were high and I knew in my heart I need to approach this holistically.
When I tell people this, for some it conjures images of eating granola and hugging trees and they wonder how on earth this can heal my cancer?
In holistic health illness is seen as our bodies way of trying to communicate with us. Disease is often the manifestation of not listening to earlier warning signs and thus demands a more dramatic wake up call to action.
So here I am. Through a dear friend I managed to find an amazing naturopath who has over 30 years of experience in his own career and his father too was a naturopath lending decades of experience with thousands of patients. What I most loved is his passion for holistic healing and the dynamic healing plan he created for me based on spending the entire day getting to know me, with the understanding that there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to healing. Each body requires a different set of tools and it must be approached from a physical, mental, emotional and spiritual perspective.
I have begun an 8 week program to strengthen my body (I will explore this in future blogs), work with mental and emotional patterns as well as to cultivate the spiritual guidance and connection as all part of the healing. In 8 weeks I will return to my naturopath and he will create the next phase of my program which will focus on detoxing. This is not designed to be a quick fix but a process of awakening the latent healing powers within the body and mind.
What's interesting is people look at me and think I am so healthy, how could this have happened? In many ways I have made healthy choices in my life, but people may see a photograph of me in a yoga posture and assume that I am healthy. The truth is I have lived in a climate of extreme stress for over a decade, I have experienced several traumatic experiences that I never fully released on an emotional (and ultimately physical) level, I have often used wine to self medicate on the weekends feeling it was the only thing that could relieve the layers of stress from my body, I've engaged in negative thinking that has resulted in deep insecurities within my whole being that began at a young age and I merely continued to feed unconsciously over the years.
I'm now learning that health is truly a lifestyle, a dynamic practice rooted in a devotion to the self and a willingness to release the old paradigm of thoughts and reaction patterns accumulated over the years. Its about embracing where I am, looking in to the eye of the storm and not allowing fear to drive the bus anymore. True healing is about taking responsibility--not blaming--but honoring where I am and choosing to follow my inner guidance about where the next step will be and trusting that fiercely. When I trust that voice, I am trusting and surrendering to nature and its deeply inherent wisdom. Healing isn't about fighting, its about releasing what no longer serves me and having the courage to stop playing it small and rise up to answer the wake up call.