Four years ago, my husband-to-be and I were about to go on our first European adventure together, but life had an even bigger adventure for us here at home.
I like to leave on vacation with few to-dos. I leave no dirty laundry, a clean home (because who wants to return to a dirty one?), and no pressing pending appointments.
Therefore, I decided to get my routine mammogram out of the way. This time, the doctor saw something “different” and wanted a biopsy. I got it done right away.
The biopsy revealed I had a cancerous mass in one of my breasts.
Hearing the word “cancer” when referring to my body was, as you can imagine, shocking. Instantly, my brain conjured images of devastation and even death: things I had seen on TV or movies, and the sad stories in my own family.
My first stop was the phone. I called my loved ones, cried, and shared my initial terror. After been showered with love and support, my journey began.
My first appointment with a breast oncology surgeon was a disaster. I walked away devastated. I heard worst-case scenarios and generalizations, where removing several body parts was “advisable.” Most of it is a blur now, but I remember getting pressured and getting rushed.
The system works in a certain way, and I wasn’t comfortable with it. It categorizes you, puts you in a box and prescribes “standard of care.” I get it from the system’s perspective, and I don’t believe there is malice. The system works for some, under certain circumstances, but I operate with information and agency. I need to first understand, so that I can then go with my gut.
Going with my gut
We did go to Europe because I needed fun and decompression; and because my situation wasn’t urgent. When back, I spent a couple of months doing my own research (my background is in journalism). I read studies, learned about staging and prognosis, looked for different experts, sought different points of views and opinions.
Only when I felt informed enough, I made my own decision.
No, I’m not a doctor, but it’s my body. I did get a surgery, but I didn’t follow the “standard of care” protocol.
I was fortunate to find excellent doctors who respected my decision, and I was able to work with them. The other doctors were not for me.
I’m glad to say I’m healthy. The staging was confirmed as 1, meaning a small mass with no signs of spreading. Later, a biopsy of the mass indicated low aggressiveness.
Of course, all cancers, all physiologies, and all circumstances are different.
There was a mind-body component, I’m convinced.
In my case, after the initial shock, I was clear there was a mind-body component to my situation. In my research, I was reminded that we ALL produce cancerous cells in our bodies and when our immune system is working properly, it gets rid of those cells effectively (by a process call autophagy).
Following my intuition, I did a lot of internal work while going through this journey.
I was able, with help, to reframe what was happening to me. Using “The Work” I went from: “I have cancer,” to: “I have a small cancerous mass in my breast.” And that felt truer.
It’s not that I’m in denial. I did have a cancerous mass in my body. But the thought “I have cancer” was giving me extra anxiety and blocking me from pursuing my right treatment.
This experience was like getting a master’s in Self-advocacy (Capital “S” for higher-Self). I learned to treat myself differently. It confirmed how much wisdom we possess if we go beyond fear, and the importance of working with limiting believes and the stories we tell ourselves.
My “treatment” was holistic
I’m convinced the level of stress, anxiety, and self-pressure I carried for so many years contributed to my immune system debilitating and allowing the cancerous cells to develop. Therefore, I prioritize calming my nervous system and supporting my health in every area of my life: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.
For me, cancer showed up as a benevolent teacher. Since then, my interest in the mind-body connection was strengthened. Mindfulness, loving-kindness, and self-compassion is the new language I learned and continue to practice to honor this “one wild and precious life” (like Mary Oliver says) I was scared to lose that afternoon in June 2017.
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