Health is not equivalent to happiness, surfeit, or success. It if foremost a matter of being wholly at one with whatever circumstances we find ourselves in.
– Joel Latner
Here we go again! I’m writing this post because when I was going through my decision making process following breast cancer, I would have wanted to read this. I looked for advice online and found many blogs that were on women who’d had or were having chemo. Personally, I didn’t like the vibe of most of them, except for The Savvy Sister. She seemed to know about everything!
That’s why I interviewed Susan for my Healthy and Powerfully Feminine Interview series! It was amazing.
Other than that I found a number of great sites on alternative treatment (you know the ones), though none specifically for breast cancer.
So I’m writing this in case you need to read it and I really hope you find it when you need it (and I do believe in Divine encounters, especially online. Other than that I’ll have to work on my SEO).
I feel quite exposed talking about ‘it’ again. I’m a big believer in not gaining an identity from an illness (a la Caroline Myss). Once you gain an identity and start getting attention for it, why would you want it to go away? You have an excuse for everything then. You know how it is when you’re sick – how great does a bit of sympathy feel? How awesome is it to have to take time off and just rest and do nothing?
So it is with cancer – there’s a fine balance between practising self-care and not being a ‘people-pleaser’ anymore (the personality type of those with cancer), and wallowing in the attention and having an excuse to check out of life.
That’s why I don’t like talking about it much.
BUT last week I ended up writing quite a bit on the perks of having cancer and so this week I’m going in to the not so perky.
The reason I told hardly anyone about it at the time was because firstly, I totally believe in the power of the mind and I didn’t want anyone to see me as being anything but healthy. That’s why I never said ‘I have cancer’ but ‘there’s a cancerous lump that is being removed’ to those I told. I also asked them to see me as healthy and called the whole experience ‘my healing journey’. I’ve written about that in detail for Madamesque and for The New York Times (who said they didn’t want to be exposed?).
I didn’t want other people’s input based on their beliefs of cancer being ‘terrible’ and so I cocooned myself in positive stories.
Nutrition is only the tip of the pyramid.
What we feed ourselves in terms of beliefs and stories is way more influential.
Michael, the counsellor at the cancer support centre in WA, a man who’d healed from liver cancer 30 years prior with 4 hours of daily meditation, a vegan diet and peaceful mind, was a great real-life example to me. Later, he sent me this from a talk he’d been to…
A cancer diagnosis for most evokes shock, horror, fear and denial. Yet to some degree these responses are in the main a product of long held western beliefs that to have cancer means suffering, and death.
In contrast, Chinese Traditional Medicine, for instance, views cancer like any other ailment, as a disturbance in the flow of chi energy in the body, an imbalance of yin and yang, and thus treats the patient according to the specific symptom requirements, methodically rebalancing the body’s energy flow.
Where it may be true that cancer can lead to both suffering and death, it is the unresolved fear and resistance to the illness that generates anxiety, and this anxiety is what perpetuates ill health.
This is the experience of healing : we are not fighting the cancer, we are learning from it.
For me the hardest part was not the cancer itself but the decisions I had to make around it. Like I said in the last post, I was avoiding decisions that seemed too huge before this. Now, I was being forced to make them.
I’d chosen to go with Dr Oliver because he was calm when he told me he’d do the lumpechtomy and then based on the type of cancer etc, would decided after what type of treatment would be to follow.
“I don’t want chemo,” I’d said.
“We’ll see,” he replied cautiously.
I’d gone for a second opinion but had been put off (traumatised) by the doctor freaking out. He said I’d need to start chemo as soon as possible to avoid having a mastectomy and then he had found another lump in my breast that needed to be biopsied.
Then I’d had to wait around the rest of the day in a waiting room which had lights that made our skin look yellow and grey and I for one was trying to see myself as perfectly healthy. I’d gone home and cried my eyes out. The new lump had turned out to be benign.
So I’d gone with Dr Calm and I felt lucky to have the choice.
And I was happy to have the operation. But not so happy when I went back to see him and he gave me the print out.
The print out came from a web page where he’d filled in my details (age, type of cancer, stage etc) and out popped my stats. The likelihood of recurrence if I had chemo, didn’t have, had radiation & Tamoxifen etc.
So I should start chemo then and go see the oncologist, he’d said.
I mumbled something, took the number and left.
I didn’t want to call the oncologist BUT I also didn’t want to let down those who loved me and believed in doctors being right. They were the ones who’d be affected by my decision. I had no kids. I didn’t mind so much if I died. At least if I went with what they wanted, they would at least feel “we’d done everything”. We’d followed the doctor’s advice. There could only be peace now.
But there wasn’t peace inside me and I knew that doing what other people wanted of me and what I rationalised was ‘right’, had contributed to my unhappiness leading up to this. My head pounded with the decision and my stomach felt twisted. I was unhappy. I didn’t want to make this decision.
It was at the cancer support centre, speaking with Michael, the counselor, that I was told I could do what I wanted. Those simple words brought me immense relief. Then, in the support group, just hearing the stories from the others about what they’d been through and all the different paths they’d chosen to take, I relaxed into this freedom of having a choice.
And I found that the more I looked for answers, the more I picked up the phone and took chances and followed intuition on which number to call, the more I found what I was looking for. This is how I found my alternative/conventional GP in Switzerland, who’d spent 10 years working at the expensive clinic I’d wanted to go to in another state, but was now right there where I was living, a ten-minute bus ride away.
To get to him I went through many doctors I didn’t resonate with – like the ones who gave me the same print out of my stats and told me I needed to have chemo and that was the only option. There was one I’d gone to at what was supposed to be an alternative treatment centre in Switzerland. He’d told me I should ideally have chemo and then go on Tamoxifen for 10 years and never have kids.
That day I was really sad.
I did not accept it.
I cried a lot.
It felt good to cry.
Then I’d pick myself up and keep going.
The time I cried most was when I went to the fertility clinic in Perth, soon after my operation, as recommended by my doctor when he thought I’d be having chemo and I was still considering the possibility.
The thing with chemo is that it ages your reproductive organs by 10 years. So my ovaries would have been 45 when I’d finished treatment. The fertility expert was lovely, but because I’d be leaving Perth and going back to Switzerland, I had to decide within a day or two whether I would go through with the harvesting of my eggs in preparation for chemo. To do this I’d be injected with enough estrogen to produce about 20 eggs to harvest in one go and then another drug to quickly bring the level down, because the tumour I had was stimulated by estrogen.
I went to the car and bawled my eyes out. I could barely see through the tears to drive, but when I got home, I curled up on the couch and cried a lot more. Sometimes it’s the only thing to do.
My mum didn’t know what had happened. I said I was never having chemo (‘I’d rather die!’ were my words) and I was so distressed that she believed me.
That was the day I really made my choice. I came to the decision that I’d rather die than have chemo and was at peace with it. After that I could move forward and find alternatives.
I did whatever else possible to not be a statistic – because I knew that there were so many other factors affecting those statistics – and I knew I could get the lesson and learn from it.
My biggest lesson was on making decisions that were in alignment. We have an inner guidance system and we really have to clear the chatter from our minds and tune in to hear it.
This extended from what to eat and drink (or not) to the major ones. My body would tell me when I was out of alignment. I was super sensitive to things like sugar and lack of sleep and arguments.
And why didn’t I want chemo? Because I’m a person who rarely even takes a panadol when I have a headache. I believe in my body’s natural ability to heal itself when fed with the right thoughts and nutrition and just because our bodies are so freaking miraculous anyway. I didn’t want to put all of that into my body.
I also believe in being totally for whatever treatment you’re having. If you decide to have chemo, fill yourself with stories of people who had chemo and are now thriving. You can find evidence for whatever you decide to do. Have full faith. Play music to lift your spirits while you’re going through treatment.
You may not always have the choice in what happens to you but you do have the choice in how you respond to it.
How I made these tough decisions was by going within. Find out what you can live with and what would be your best possible outcome. Keep searching and keep asking for answers. Pray, meditate, talk to experts, read, write… and then when it comes to making the choice you will know in your body what to do and what you can live with.
In the end, I got to see the top specialist in Switzerland, who by crazy chance/Divine intervention, invited me to come meet with him when my husband had sent him an email asking about immunology. It was this specialist who told me that the statistics on the print out didn’t really reflect my age (even though it said my age on it) and that for my age and my type of cancer, the best treatment was radiation and Tamoxifen. He quoted the research and was able to explain it all clearly. That’s when I decided this felt right and I went with it.
I got behind it.
I felt lucky to have the treatment.
And I didn’t read anymore about their side effects.
♥ I’d love to hear from you too. Simply leave a comment below and/or tell me… What TOUGH DECISIONS have you had to make and how did you make them? ♥
Sending so much love,
And p.s. I am so so grateful for doctors and the conventional health system as well alternative treatment. I loved and had full faith in my surgeon Dr Oliver (especially after the anesthetic) and Dr Ade in Switzerland, the radiology technicians, Dr Zhu, my accupuncturist in Luzern, Dr Aebe, the specialist, and many more. I’m also beyond grateful to Mum, Dad, Martin & all my family & friends (on & offline) for their support (that includes you no doubt). Thank you!