Blessings in Disguise: How I overcame cancer without chemo
January marked the five year anniversary of being diagnosed with breast cancer. I look back on it all as if it were yesterday. At 3:45 in the afternoon I received the call. My doctor spoke the words no one wants to hear. All I could distinguish were the words “cancer cells”. The rest was a blur.
You never know how you will react in a situation until it is staring you in the face. In conversations whenever the topic of cancer had come up, actually the topic of the treatment of cancer came up, I was always pretty clear that I would not choose chemo or radiation. To me the treatment seemed extremely toxic with risks of damage to organs and multiple side effects, some of which were detrimental. So, I verbalized that I would not go with traditional treatment but instead opt for alternative ones that would support the immune system, treatments that would put the body in balance so that it would then be able to heal. Easy to say when the decision is not eminent in your life, but not so much, when it is.
When you enter the dark hole of looking at your mortality all sorts of things go through your mind. Of course I thought about quality of life and if I had a limited amount of time left, how would I want to spend it? I reached out to other cancer survivors, listening to the stories, each one unique in its own way. Many urged me to take the dreaded chemo. I could hear the fear and urgency in their voices as they pleaded with me to go the traditional route. It almost felt as it they were claiming a part of their own recovery through me that in aligning with them our collective conscious would somehow become stronger in beating this ferocious adversary. At times these conversations were helpful at others they were draining and added to my confusion.
Nighttime was the worst. In the silence of the night when I awoke at 2, 3 or 4 in the morning, I would have only my thoughts and fears with me. What should I do? I would go over my options and play out the possible scenarios in my mind. When morning came I would get up exhausted, with my now almost constant companion, fear by my side. No one could make this choice for me. No matter how many people I spoke to, it was mine to make. Where could I go to get away from this? No where.
I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but somehow after all the searching; I arrived at my own truth, the truth that I had known all along, the truth that had waited patiently for me until I was ready to acknowledge it. It was part of what this cancer called me to do: to listen and follow my own inner guidance: to trust in it, to surrender to it and so I did. The tears I cried at this moment were tears of relief at finally reaching this place and tears of gratitude. In my heart I knew that I was going to be all right.
The next few months were busy as I started forming my treatment team. I worked with an acupuncturist, a psychotherapist, and a healer. I read and researched and had a growing stack of books beside my bed on everything from breast health to diet to hormones. At times I felt as if I couldn’t read fast enough. I was studying at The Barbara Brennan School of Healing at the time and so was doing a lot of process work which was cathartic for me. I went on a diet of organic foods particularly those that were anti-carcinogenic. I cried. I did yoga. My focus every day was on healing.
Several months later the “lesion” as they called it had increased slightly in size. I felt like a failure. I had worked so hard to heal holistically. In my work as a psychotherapist, I had helped others to heal. Why couldn’t I do it with my own health challenge?
Dejected, I agreed to have the surgery and met with three different surgeons before selecting one. It is so important to be with the right person and to be clear about what one wants. It was a big step for me. I came to realize that I probably needed to have this cancer physically removed from my body; to have it out of my field. This was the first of many lessons in surrender. I now focused on the surgery.
The atmosphere of the hospital was not exactly the healing environment I was looking for. I was learning about honoring myself during this process and asking for what I needed. So, I called several friends and asked them to be there with me before the surgery to do a healing circle. They all agreed. My nurse also honored my request and allowed the whole group inside, something that was “stretching” the rules a little. I was surrounded by my loved ones and friends who created a circle of loving energy. There was a lot of emotion in that small cubicle. Among those in this circle were several who came from a medical background and perhaps did not believe or fully understand my beliefs, but they honored my wishes and stood by me and that was truly a gift of love. My surgery was delayed by five hours but most of them stayed until I was out of surgery. I am convinced that their love and powerful intention made a huge difference in the whole experience for me. I will always be grateful to my team of angels whose love formed such a safe container. Part of the lesson that came with all this was not only learning to ask for what I needed but more importantly allowing it in. Asking for help is one thing, being able to receive it is another. I also learned who my friends were. This type of thing really separates the “men from the boys”.
A week later, I was in the surgeon’s office waiting for the lab results. He told me that although the lymph node looked clean in the operating room, it had come back with cancer cells. He suggested more surgery, chemo and radiation. We discussed my options. He admitted that there were patients who opted to stop here and went on and lived healthy lives, but there were others who had not been so lucky. I listened to my inner guidance and opted not to have further treatment but instead set out on a healing path which I remain on today, cancer free. It was a huge step and it was a personal choice that only I could make.
In my reading I had read Ann Wigmore’s book about how she healed herself through eating raw foods, drinking wheatgrass and juicing. My first step after surgery was to go to the Hippocrates Institute where I started on this regimen. There were many people with health challenges in attendance and we encouraged one another. No one looked at me in horror when I told my story; no one questioned my decision not to have the chemo. It was an atmosphere of support and acceptance and it was just what I needed. I started to feel empowered and confident that I was on the right path. The days were full – everything from morning meditation to process groups to learning how to juice the wheatgrass. I went through a detox that was emotional as well as physical. I returned home and added this to my regimen but also included some cooked organic foods, which are easier for the body to digest; allowing more energy to be devoted to the healing process.
This was the physical part but I didn’t stop there.
There were a lot of emotions that had come up with this cancer and even more so after the surgery. I had plenty of work to do: emotionally and spiritually. I wanted to know about the emotional component to this cancer and why it had manifested in my life. What were the life lessons I needed to learn? This was the hardest part of the healing process. Everyday was a learning experience. I learned that I had been giving a lot of myself away. As a psychotherapist I was very much a caretaker of my clients. I realized that I needed to direct some of this energy inward. I looked at the imagery of breast cancer: the breast – a symbol of nurturance, and women- how we are wired to be nurturers, sometimes to our own detriment. Is it any wonder that the cancer should manifest here? For me it made sense. This cancer was a warning call that said something has to change. In fact, everything had to change. I had to do something here or else this cancer would win. I was looking at my own mortality and I wasn’t ready to die. I wanted my life and so I had to look at what had gotten me to this place. I had to learn to take really good care of ME. I looked at patterns that had been there for years and started dismantling them and replacing them with new ones. I released, released, released. I learned surrender and then I learned it again. It is something I work on every day; to realize that there is a bigger plan and to allow for the unfolding of that plan. It is a difficult process sometimes because we so often let ourselves get in the way.
This cancer was teaching me that I couldn’t control everything, that there were things beyond my control and I needed to surrender to the process. So I did. I closed one of my psychotherapy offices and slowed down to have more energy to myself. I looked at my relationship with God and changed that too. I realized that where I’d been, all the pain all the fear and terror in my life had led me to this point: of facing cancer and saying “I want LIFE”. I saw who I was more clearly and came to know my life purpose. I had been at a point of questioning my career and wondering where I was to go. Being in the field for fifteen years I was feeling stuck. However, through deep self exploration, I realized that the work I was doing was exactly where I needed to be. Specializing in trauma and helping people to heal their pain was why I was here. And now, by living through the trauma of cancer, I realized that this was yet a deepening of my ability to help others heal. The experience of having cancer took me full circle.
As I look back on the past five years, I reflect on the journey. I have gone to some dark places and faced my demons. I have been given the opportunity to re-claim myself in a deeper way. I am living a more authentic life and each day I get closer to becoming the person I came here to be.
If I were given the choice of cancer or no cancer, if I could go back and choose, what choice would I make? Certainly, if I could have had the deep learning without the illness, without the life shattering fear, I would opt for it. But would that be possible? Are we moved to do such work without the impetus of crisis?
Looking back, I see that every single detail was a building block to the total experience. Take one block away and you change the whole. The metamorphosis I experienced would not have happened in any other way. I often tell my clients that their darkest challenges can sometimes be their greatest teachers and I would have to say that my bout with cancer was just that.
It sometimes catches me off guard when someone says that I healed myself or calls this a miracle. But as I think about it, we are all healers – we each possess a tremendous power to heal ourselves. That is one truth I now know for sure. We can heal and miracles can happen every day.
Rosemary De Faria, L.C.S.W. is a psychotherapist in Miami specializing in trauma, P.T.S.D., grief and psycho-spiritual issues. She can be reached at 954-966-3446 or at [email protected]. Visit her web-site at www.distincttherapy.com.