My life changed forever on April 2, 2004, when I was diagnosed with Stage 2A breast cancer. Who would have thought that a simple doctor’s appointment would have such far-reaching consequences? At the time, I was 49 years old, much younger than my mother when she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 66. My grandmother also had breast cancer and died from it in her 70s.
Today, 13 years later, I am happy to say I am well. I am now a breast cancer coach and as a breast cancer survivor would like to share with you the six most important things I would do differently if I ever faced cancer again.
My Mother’s Story
First I need to share a little of my mother’s breast cancer journey because my own choices were hugely in influenced by what happened to her. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and was recommended to have a lumpectomy and radiation. That’s all she did. She didn’t change her diet that much and didn’t take any natural supplements. My father was a strong believer in natural medicine. My mother was not.
After we thought she was cured from breast cancer, four years later she was again diagnosed with cancer. This time it was Stage 4 with bone and lung metastases. My husband and I were devastated. We were living in Australia while my parents were in the U.S. I quit my job and began to study naturopathic medicine to learn everything I could about healing cancer naturally.
In 1996, natural treatments for breast cancer were not easy to find like they are these days. I got my mother to see a naturopath and a comprehensive natural supplement regime was underway. She complained she had to take so many things. Additionally, my mother also was given several rounds of radiation to treat the bone metastases, and was pressured into starting chemotherapy. She had one session and said, “This is not quality of life!” and refused to go again.
When it became clear my mom wasn’t getting better, we left Australia and went to Colorado to look after her, but by the time we arrived she was quite ill. I was able to buy us some extra precious time with juicing and dietary changes, but we lost her in March 1998.
My Breast Cancer Survivor Journey
My mother’s cancer journey had a lot of bearing on the choices I made when told I had breast cancer only six years after losing her. I had been having regular mammograms since the age of 40 because my mother was so concerned that breast cancer “ran in the family.” Mammography didn’t pick up the lump – however I did.
It was April 2004. My husband and I were back in Australia and I had just completed my training as a massage therapist while continuing to study natural medicine. I had accumulated 50 books on cancer and natural healing. Cancer was an enemy with whom I was very familiar.
I was surprised to be facing breast cancer because I had a relatively healthy lifestyle, and my massage practice wasn’t stressful. I was using healing herbs, essential oils, did yoga routinely, and did not smoke or drink coffee or much alcohol. Later, I came to realize that there were layers of stress I hadn’t dealt with – emotional wounds that lay buried.
As I left my doctor’s office one morning in April 2004, I knew two things: one, it was going to be an interesting journey, and two, I was determined to question every aspect and be an educated and empowered patient.
Choosing Treatments for My Breast Cancer
Since the lump was olive-sized, I chose to have a lumpectomy. Because its removal would leave me with a disfigured breast, I also chose to have breast reconstruction. I was also advised to immediately start chemotherapy, followed by radiation and Tamoxifen. I decided I wasn’t interested and went home to heal.
I juiced fresh, organic produce instead. I juiced so much my palms and soles of my feet turned orange. I took loads of supplements and sought the help of many different healers including a naturopath, a Chinese herbalist, an energy healer, and a chiropractor. I also did hair tissue mineral analysis, colonics to clean my colon, and took meditation classes to be able to better deal with stress. I began to tackle the emotional issues that I had been ignoring and was feeling great.
Dealing With Doubt About My Cancer Treatment Choices
Despite feeling good, doubt crept in. What if everything I was doing wasn’t enough? Even my naturopathic doctor agreed that I should do everything offered, including chemotherapy, and to incorporate what I was doing with conventional medicine. This eventually made sense to me.
In November 2004 I began six grueling months of chemotherapy although I still refused the doctor recommended radiation and Tamoxifen. I continued with meditation, using essential oils in very special ways (which I’ve shared in many articles on TTAC), and most everything else I was previously doing prior to chemo. I fared very well. I lost my hair, but never vomited.
6 Things I Would Do Differently If I Received a Cancer Diagnosis Today
Thirteen years later I am much more educated about breast cancer than I was when I originally received my diagnosis. Here are six things I would do differently. I share this with you in the hopes it will help you become a breast cancer survivor too.
#1. Not use mammograms as an early cancer detection screening tool
Because of my grandmother’s breast cancer, my mother stressed for me to get regular mammograms. So starting at age 40 that is what I did. I bought into the idea that I needed to get a mammogram every year, which had been drilled into my head by my doctor, and probably the pink ribbon campaigns.
What angers me is that the significant dangers of mammography have been downplayed, and I believe intentionally. I now know that mammograms are not only a poor screening tool for breast cancer, but that each mammogram I received also subjected me to needless, cancer-causing radiation. You can discover more about the dangers of mammograms and alternatives for breast cancer screening here.
#2. Refuse chemotherapy
Instead of chemotherapy, I would work very hard on building my immune system with specific herbs and nutrients, use healing essential oils, and increase my meditation time to decrease my level of stress. The more stress someone has, the more the immune system can be compromised.
I would also change my diet, eating mostly raw foods and all organic. If you are not well versed on nutrition and holistic healing, I highly advise you to seek out experts including a holistic doctor – preferably one who specializes in cancer. Don’t expect your oncologist to know these things as most do not.
#3. Seek a second opinion on breast reconstructive surgery
I hadn’t planned to have a nipple reconstruction, but my surgeon talked me into this bit of vanity surgery. He said, “It will put the finishing touch on the breast reconstruction. It’s a simple surgery. You’re going to love it.” Why did I let myself be talked into this? He never told me that it might fail.
The end result was a raging Staphylococcus aureus (golden staph) infection that I picked up from the hospital (even though I was only there for a few hours) and more misery, mental stress, and pain than I had with the whole rest of my breast cancer sojourn. In the end, the reconstructed nipple had to be tossed in the garbage. My suggestion would be to make sure that any surgery being recommended is actually needed – especially if your doctor is looking to remove lymph nodes. Get a second (or third or fourth) opinion on everything!
#4. Make more time for meditation
Having learned that the basis of most disease comes from some kind of stress in body or mind, studying meditation made sense. I employed it to take control of my thoughts and to learn a better way of managing stress. Faced with cancer again, I would spend a few hours each day in meditation because now I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, how healing it can be.
#5. Better understand the role of genetics
Because I lost both mother and grandmother to breast cancer, I had an ever-present worry that no matter what I did, if there was a genetic fault, my chances of surviving would be slim. Providence sent me a woman who shared Dr. Bruce Lipton’s video The Biology of Belief and I learned about epigenetics. What a liberating and empowering notion that our thoughts and beliefs actually govern our cells, not our genes. Read the book or look up the video on YouTube if you worry about genetic factors. The video is about two hours long, but it is important to understand that your genes don’t rule your life!
#6. Seek out stories of cancer survivors who healed themselves naturally
Because there wasn’t much information available on how to heal from cancer naturally on the Internet in 2004, I felt alone. I was a natural therapist and wanted to heal my cancer using natural medicine, but I didn’t have the benefit of reading about other survivors, hearing their stories, and knowing for a fact that it was possible.
Fortunately, this information is now readily available, due in large part to The Truth About Cancer’s docu-series. Thank you Ty for this invaluable resource! To see other survivors who healed themselves from even advanced stages of cancer was so empowering and inspirational.
I Did My Own Research and Didn’t Trust Tamoxifen
Something I did that I really want to encourage you to do as well is to do your own research and not just blindly listen to your doctors. I was told by both my primary care physician and my oncologist that I stood a much better chance of living disease-free if I took Tamoxifen – the most prescribed drug for hormone receptor positive breast cancer.
They pressured me quite extensively to take this drug. I did my own research and was horrified by Tamoxifen’s long list of side effects, with cancer of the uterus being just one of them. Also, I didn’t have estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer; mine was only progesterone receptor positive. So it didn’t make sense to me. In the end, thankfully, I decided not to take Tamoxifen.
I hope I have made it clear that breast cancer is a multi-faceted disease and must be dealt with from many different angles – a holistic approach. My best advice is to be an empowered patient – to do your research and don’t just blindly trust what the men and women in the white coats tell you to do. You need to be an active participant in your own healing on every level.
One closing tip: Do some investigative work. Try to discover why you got cancer in the first place. For some, it’s nutritional. For others it’s too much stress, or an inability to methylate properly, or a toxic workplace. If you can identify the source of your cancer and correct those issues, you will have a much better chance of fully healing from cancer and being healthier than ever. I wish you abundant healing.