Some of you know I had a life changing event last summer – I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. This is why I have been offline for the last year.
After the diagnosis, I was shocked, fearful, and angry. As a 48 year old who didn’t drink or smoke, ate a beautiful whole foods organic diet, used the support of herbal medicine, prioritized a healthy lifestyle and reducing my exposure to toxins, I couldn’t believe I was given a Stage IV cancer diagnosis.
It’s been a long and challenging road, but I’m relieved to share that I have surprised my doctors and there is no more detectable cancer in my body! This journey is not over – I’ll continue with treatment for years into the future – but I have landed well enough on the other side to have some perspectives on my experience that I think are worth sharing. I don’t propose to have any answers, but my hope is that by sharing my own experiences, it may help others who find themselves in the throes of a cancer diagnosis.
People ask me a lot of questions about cancer treatment. Being an herbalist, there were some assumptions made about how I might approach healing cancer. Didn’t I think it was best to choose natural treatments, dodge the detrimental effects of chemotherapy and radiation, avoid the dangers of surgery, and come out on the other side feeling more vibrant and alive? I love the sound of this scenario! And certainly here in my Nevada City community, there are lots of people who would have supported my decision to take that path. I know several people who took it themselves.
But it is exceptionally clear to me now that any dogmatic thinking about what treatment modality is best for “cancer” (on the part of the patient or the practitioner) is a dangerous path. There is no best treatment for cancer, natural or otherwise, because cancers are incredibly diverse in their biology and potency, as are the dizzying number of treatments available. And then there are the complexities inherent in each individual who is diagnosed – age, vitality, state of health, belief system – that make it impossible for any single treatment modality to be the best approach to cancer treatment.
I write because there is plenty of well-intentioned misinformation out there (in both the medical and alternative realms), and once the surprise of a cancer diagnosis is delivered, decisions must be made, sometimes quickly, that will determine survival. I believe these decisions should be made thoughtfully, critically, and holistically, using both research and intuition. I pray that my words may support others navigating these daunting decisions.
I write because I was diagnosed with an aggressive breast cancer that quickly spread to my spine. My husband and I could watch it, week by week, enlarging my left breast into an impossible shape. If I hadn’t considered western medicine, and the specific antibody therapy developed to give women with HER2+ cancer a chance of surviving, I don’t think I would be alive.
I write because I have seen other women refuse western medicine on principle, until it was clear that their bodies were ravaged by cancer, and only then began to see the potential benefits it could give them. For one dear friend, it was too little too late, and she passed away this year, leaving two young children behind.
I write because my sister did everything her western doctors recommended when she was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The treatment was single-minded in modality, yet potent and cutting edge. Several years later, the tumor returned as a glioblastoma and she died at age 41, leaving two young children behind.
I write because I know too many healthy women suddenly navigating the unexpected windstorm of a cancer diagnosis. We all have different circumstances, but we share the familiar darkness of being yanked into this world of cancer, navigating the uncertainty, disbelief, anger, and fear that is often veiled as we move forward with our lives in the outside world.
I write because one of my doctors handed me a summary of the standard of care for my diagnosis, in which the only visible path was disease progression until the final endpoint of palliative care. He handed it to me over his desk, an unspoken reference as to what I could expect. I have come to understand that this reflected his own limitations as a healer and the limitations of a single-minded western medical approach in which he was trained.
I write because some doctors need to be reminded that the risk of giving “false hope” is worth taking when it means reaping the benefits of aligning their patient’s spirit and belief that healing is indeed possible. Hope is not a promise, an attachment, nor is it false. It’s a powerful tool for maintaining a high quality of life and has the
I write because a cancer diagnosis doesn’t mean you are going to die, but it certainly offers a salient opportunity to contemplate your death, face your fears, and align your mind and spirit with what is most important in this life and what you are here to do. Diving deep into the darkness is a sacred part of our human experience, and a cancer diagnosis offers that gift.
I write because facing the probability of my own death, having to let go of what I could not control, praying for guidance in how I could live my life in the highest good, has left me with a more joyful, peaceful, and meaningful existence. It has opened incredible realities to me that I hadn’t imagined were possible.
I have deep gratitude for the recent advances in medical cancer treatment, the support and synergy of a complex herbal regime, and the wisdom of many teachers along the way who helped me let go of how things should be and instead, allow myself to be comforted by the beauty of what is. I am deeply grateful for the incredible support of my family and my community who held me through this trying time.
I encourage anyone facing a cancer diagnosis to remember that you are driver of treatment, nobody can make you do anything, and your doctors and practitioners work for you. Don’t limit yourself to what is possible, and don’t let others place their own limitations upon your well-being. This journey has taught me that the stories we tell ourselves are exceptionally powerful, so be thoughtful in what you choose to believe. A cancer diagnosis is terrifying – don’t be afraid to feel your fear. But don’t forget to recognize the rich rewards and be grateful for the incredible mercies along the way.
A helpful and comprehensive resource on alternative treatment options, created by an organization that has no financial benefit from the content of their website, is Beyond Conventional Cancer Therapies, http://www.bcct.ngo
A holistic treatment approach that I found extremely helpful in my own healing is Donnie Yance’s ETMS at the Mederi Center.