We grow up thinking “doctor knows best.” When the serious, forlorn doctor comes in his/her white lab coat in front a wall of fancy degrees and says, “you have cancer and it’s incurable,” our natural instinct is to grab on to whatever life vest they throw us. In America, that will either be surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation. When one of those three won’t work, we hear “there’s nothing we can do. I’m so sorry.”
I have had surgery and chemotherapy during my personal cancer journey. I have learned that modern medicine is a wonder, but it is only part of a cancer healing story. If I had relied only on conventional medicine in 2016, I would not be writing this story because, quite frankly, I would be dead.
My first bout of cancer – what I affectionately call “baby cancer” – was the fall of 2012. After months of playing around with hormones to ease unexplained cramping and severe bleeding, my OB/GYN found a tumor on my cervix that ultimately proved to be Stage 1B Cervical Adenocarcinoma.
Treatment was easy – a laparoscopic radical hysterectomy. It really was not much harder than having my appendix out. The doctor told me he got “clean margins” (cancer-speak for he got all the cancer cells) and gave me a full five year prognosis (meaning “we don’t think it will come back”). He told me to go live my life there was no need for follow-up treatment, just monitoring for the next five years.
So I went on with my life like the doctor advised. I got a less-stressful job and I already had a fairly healthy life. But I was never right again. My back hurt, I was exhausted, my digestion was even worse, everything ached, and intimacy with my husband excruciating.
I complained at my oncology check-ups. I met with a slew of other doctors: a primary who tested all my blood levels and found nothing, an ob/gyn who told me to insert valium before making whoopie, a urologist who said I had pelvic floor disorder, a GI who told me I was constipated. I felt like all the pain and symptoms were in my head and I was just a whiny middle-aged mom stressed-out from a demanding career, long commute, and raising/supporting a family.
I only got the medical world’s attention when I waddled in for a urology check-up looking 8 months pregnant and 20 lbs lighter. Finally the doctors agreed something must be wrong. After several more months of testing and uncertainty, they conclusively determined (via biopsy) that it was recurrent cervical cancer and this time it was “incurable.”
The tumors had metastasized across my entire peritoneum – there wasn’t an organ that wasn’t surrounded by a tumor. Too many tumors for surgery or radiation, but Sloan Kettering had done a trial with a three chemotherapy drug cocktail that was having a 50% success rate on extending a patient’s life. The extension we were talking was 15 months. Modern medicine could only buy me enough time to get to my 45th birthday.
I started chemotherapy immediately and completed nine grueling months, but I also began a desperate research project to save my own life. I became convinced other cancer patients had beat their dire prognosis and by sheer will and determination I could too. This research lead me to a life-altering book, Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds.
In the book, Dr. Kelly Turner outlines nine key factors she discovered after interviewing and researching thousands of spontaneous remissions (i.e. a cancer remission doctors took the time to document but do not understand why the patient healed). These nine factors made intuitive sense to me and became my healing roadmap:
- Having a strong reason to live
- Radically changing your diet
- Herbs & supplements
- Increasing positive emotions
- Releasing suppressed emotions
- Increasing social support
- Deepening spiritual connection
- Following intuition
- Empowering yourself with your health decisions
By nature I am a type-a, overachiever, which admittedly is part of the reason why I got cancer. I burned the candle at both ends and the middle. But I decided to channel all that energy into healing and see if radically changing my life could get me to being a grandmother.
I changed everything: I left corporate America; I moved to a newer house with less toxins; I throw out my cookware, my toiletries, and the non-healthy food in my pantry. In addition, I hired a nutritionist, naturopath, psychotherapist, acupuncturist, masseuse, and an astrologer. I also met with shamans, psychics, mediums, and crystal healers. I prayed a lot and got more involved with my church.
My biggest lesson was that my oncologist and conventional doctors only know what they know. Modern medicine can be an important to recovery, but it is only a piece of the healing. If I was going to survive cancer, I had to heal not just my body, but also my mind and my spirit.
This drastic lifestyle change added not only two quality years to my life, it made me healthier and happier than before cancer. Even in spite of a recent “recurrence “ the white lab coats call it, but I choose a “flare-up” of symptoms). Recurrences are dreaded by common in cancer, but like last time I intuitively believe the doctor’s doom and gloom that this is the end of my story is wrong.
How can I be so confident, I’ll survive? Cancer also lead me to my life’s purpose to be the best mother I can to my now 11-year-old son and a cancer counselor. Today I write, speak, teach and coach about Radical Remission as a certified coach and teacher. Quite simply, I have work to be done and I don’t believe the universe is done with me yet. But I doctor can’t know that, he can only see that CT Scan shows the tumors getting bigger.
Cancer sucks, but the disease is often just the symptom of a larger life imbalance. When we’re looking to heal cancer or any disease, the doctors are certainly important, but don’t let them determine your fate. Only you know you and your body wants to heal itself. From one survivor to another, I beg you give yourself a chance and believe you can heal. Then follow your intuition to what will bring that healing – maybe it is conventional medicine, maybe it is complementary/alternative, maybe it is a combination of both. What’s important is that you find the courage to heal even if the white lab coats think you can not.
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