My Breast Cancer Journey
Thanks for visiting! Here’s my story.
I don’t think my story is so unusual, but many women have asked me to share what happened with my breast cancer journey. What I’ve learned over the years is that each of us has a unique journey with this disease, but it generally starts with us hearing those dreaded words, “I’m sorry but your test results show that you have breast cancer.”
My favourite chemo photo
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I’ve always been told I had an increased risk of breast cancer. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my mother and father and I piling into the family car and driving from Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Woodland Park, Colorado, where my grandparents lived in a mountain cabin. I was only about 4-5 years old and it was a long drive. My grandmother had breast cancer that had spread throughout her body by the time she finally went to a doctor. I guess it was about 1959-1960. I remember being in awe of the hushed tones people used when we visited her and I was definitely afraid of the oxygen cylinder that sat by her bed. When she finally died, after a long battle, my parents went to the funeral but left me at home with a friend. I guess they wanted to spare me their sadness and tears. In March, 1992, my mother was 66 when she discovered her own breast lump. By that time we were living in Perth, Australia, and I feel pretty sure the grief of losing her only daughter and grandchild to a place so far away was part of the reason she got sick. Mother’s tumor was 1.5 cm, so reasonably small but it was a Grade III/IV. In the early 90’s they only advocated lumpectomies and radiation, so that’s what she did.
She felt really good about escaping chemotherapy. However, her doctor kept a very close eye on her and 4 years later discovered bone metastases. We were all devastated, especially since just around that time my father had a massive stroke and died. Mother had infusions of a drug called Aredia, many sessions of radiotherapy to reduce the bone tumors and finally her doctor talked her into having chemotherapy, something she abhorred and wanted to avoid at all costs. She had one round of Taxol and felt so completely horrific for several weeks that she stopped that treatment, told me “This is not quality of life!” and refused to have any more.
My family and I moved back to Colorado to take care of her in January 1998. I’d spent most of 1997 studying naturopathic medicine and everything I could get my hands on about cancer and healing and passed on every relevant bit of information. Despite all of our combined efforts, my beloved mother died at home with me tending her on March 25, 1998. ‘
My mother always insisted I have routine mammogram screenings and starting in my 40’s that’s what I did. I was always determined that I would be the one woman in my family who broke the cycle of breast cancer. My studies in natural therapies led me to believe that there is much we can do to protect ourselves. I read as many books on healing and cancer as I could get my hands on and became well informed. I had a pretty good diet, a reasonably quiet lifestyle, and I used certain essential oils that are known to be anti-tumoral on my breasts daily.
However, in March 2004 at the age of 49, after a prolonged and very stressful time in my life which I wasn’t managing particularly well, I felt something unusual in my left breast. I checked again, using the flats of my fingertips in the manner taught me by some past doctor. Something there, I thought. I lay down. Yep, still there. Better keep an eye on it, I thought, but I wasn’t worried. It was a few days after my period and I had been noticing over the past year that my breasts sometimes felt different for several days after my period but then would be normal again.
A couple of mornings later, I mentioned it to my husband. I lay down beside him in bed and asked him to check and he said he could definitely feel something as well. Several days passed and I gave not much thought to what I’d been feeling, I didn’t even mention it to my best friend, Carol, to whom I confided everything. But the lump didn’t go away so I told Carol and she insisted I make an appointment with my doctor, which I had already done. None of us was worried.
The Doctor’s Office
March 23, 2004 – My doctor’s office called me to say that the female doctor I normally saw was out sick that day and would I like reschedule? I was firm and told them I had to see someone today so she scheduled me with another doctor, a male. I felt like that wasn’t a great start, I didn’t exactly want to see a doctor I didn’t know. When I arrived at his office at the appointed hour and he ushered me into his room, I took note of his nice brown eyes and friendly face and felt reassured.
His office however bordered on the surreal. The first thing I said to him was “Wow – I guess kids are your specialty” and I wondered whether he was the right doctor for me. His office was decorated from floor to ceiling and every available surface with plush toys (as they are called in Australia – stuffed animals in America). A gigantic Winnie the Pooh sat on a small table by his window. His desk was covered in Winnie the Pooh memorabilia. His exam table was engulfed by a giant brown gorilla. There were chimpanzees hanging from the light fixtures. Luckily there were high ceilings in the room! There was a 3 foot Mickey Mouse and his companion Minnie by the door. One wall behind his door had a bulletin board totally covered with the photos of his young patients. It was pretty cute, actually, and so unlike any other doctor’s office I’ve ever been in. I told the doctor what I’d discovered, he looked at my records on the computer, noticed that I had the routine mammograms five months previously which had to be redone by the Breast Unit at Royal Perth Hospital as the first one was “inconclusive”.
He observed that I received an “all-clear” from them. We both decided it was probably just a fibrous change in the breast but he moved the gorilla off his exam table and did a manual exam. His hands were warm and it definitely felt like he’d done this before and he talked me through it in a very professional manner. He said “Yes, there’s definitely an olive-sized lump here with very definite borders” and wrote an order on his radiology pad for me to have a mammogram, an ultrasound and a fine-needle aspiration. “There’s probably nothing to worry about – it is most likely some sort of cyst”, he tells me, “but we can’t be too careful considering your family history.” I agreed with him.I returned home and tried to make an appointment with the radiology center nearest to me. I wanted to go in THAT DAY, I didn’t want to wait. But they couldn’t see me for 6 more days and were squeezing me in at that. I sighed and told myself that it didn’t matter because it wasn’t going to be anything to worry about anyway.
Some Diagnostic Tests
March 29, 2004 – Bill went with me to the radiology center, he sat out in the car so he could read his book. It was a beautiful day. The technician who finally ushered me back to put on a gown told me that my doctor ordered firstly a mammogram, then an ultrasound, and the FNA, in that order, but they have decided to do the ultrasound first to see what it shows, and only then if it’s necessary they’ll do the mammogram.
I’m not a fan of mammograms so I was totally happy with that idea. The room was dimly lit and the doctor came in. I was pleased to see a friendly looking female doctor, she was British and very professional but not very communicative. She was good about telling me what she was about to do but through the whole ultrasound she uttered not a word. I could see the dark blob on the screen that she was looking at. She directed the computer to measure it. I didn’t know what questions to ask her so I just lay there silently wondering and staring at that dark blob. It didn’t look good to me – a little too real now. She prepared to do the fine needle aspiration.
She inserted a needle twice to “extract as many cells as possible for the pathologist” and it wasn’t as bad as getting an injection at the dentist’s office – much better, in fact, I told her. She decided we’d better have a mammogram. I left there feeling a little low. It’s one thing to feel a lump, quite another to see it staring back at you on a monitor. They told me I had to wait 48 hours for the diagnostic results. As we left, I called my doctor’s office to make a follow-up appointment and discovered I couldn’t get in to see him until April 2nd. Oh, the waiting… but still we weren’t worried. Not really. I was so healthy, how could there be anything sinister? I kept saying “I think I’d know if there were something wrong with me!”
It’s Breast Cancer
April 2, 2004 – I did a lot of yoga and meditation in the intervening days, trying not to worry. I felt a little nervous going to the doctor’s office, but was so positive there was nothing wrong. Bill asked me to call him after I’d seen the doctor, and so did Carol. Nobody was particularly worried, just concerned. We all wanted to hear the good news that I was fine and it was just a cyst or fibro-something-or-other.
The wait outside the doctor’s office seemed interminable but I kept reading my book, deep breathing, and pushing it out of my mind. Finally he called me in but he went to get the diagnostic results from another part of the office. I sat and looked around at all the animals and thought that kids must like to go and see him. When he finally returned, he had a face like thunder.
That’s the only way I can think to describe it. That should have sent me a warning but I was still in my think-positive frame of mind and decided he was just having a bad day. I chirpily asked him if he had all the requisite reports, and he didn’t answer me. I was thinking “that’s odd” when he finally looked at me and said he had read all the diagnostic results now and that unfortunately they did show there is a malignancy in my left breast. I felt my heart sink.
He went on to say that the thing we could feel in my breast was a small cyst but the malignancy actually sat beneath it. He said the doctor at the radiology office phoned him on Monday and she suspected there was a malignancy but would wait for the diagnostics. In the meantime, she was going to look at the second set of mammograms I underwent the previous October to see if they really were clear. I don’t remember my remark regarding all this. Something like “Is that right?
I felt so sure it was nothing to worry about”. He agreed, he’d felt that way too. I could tell it was ruining his day to have to be the one to deliver this kind of news and in fact he apologized. I sat in utter disbelief and shock and thought what bizarre surroundings in which to be told you have breast cancer. He asked if I had a good support group, he gave me the name of someone who works for the Cancer Council, and sat and called the surgeon to whom he wanted to refer me.
He really wanted me to be seen that day, I could tell, but whether it was because he considered it urgent or because he just wanted me to be saved from worrying for too long, I didn’t know. But the doctor wasn’t available until Monday (this was Friday) so he booked an appointment with the surgeon’s receptionist. He was very kind. He asked me if I had any questions, we discussed what would probably happen next (surgical intervention) and as I was leaving, I reached out and took his hand and thanked him. There was a split second when he looked like he wanted to give me a hug but I guess he thought better of it and didn’t.
I do remember thinking “I will never be the same person again” and as I left I mentioned something about starting out on an interesting journey. I had no idea how “interesting” it would get! But I drove home in tears. I cried on and off for the remainder of the day, in between calling to cancel clients and reading my cancer books. I was drawn to a book which was my mother’s called “Breast Cancer – What You Should Know (But May Not Be Told) About Prevention, Diagnosis and Treatment” by Steve Austin, ND and Cathy Hitchcock, MSW (it’s on my Recommended Reading page). It was comforting to have it on hand and I read lots of great information, as well as some questions I should ask the surgeon. If I’d had an appointment with him today, I wouldn’t have had the time to read this book. I sat outside in the sunshine on the most gorgeous day and read it.
Thank God the weather was beautiful today. If it had been raining, I don’t think I could have stood it. One of my massage clients who had called for an appointment today and got my news dropped off a book called “Shattering the Cancer Myth” and another called “The Journey” (both also on my Recommended Reading page). Everyone was so full of concern and love, it was absolutely wonderful. I’ve always known I was surrounded by beautiful people and I knew I would be alright. But then I remembered my mother’s journey with metastases and felt worried again. The “what if’s” and “buts” that you go through are terrible! Poor Bill. I didn’t want to call him and tell him this news. Or Carol. They both received the news with love and concern for me and how I was doing but I’m sure they hung up the phone and cried. I did not want to be the bearer of this kind of news.
Mostly today I felt absolutely in shock. I worried about mastectomy. I worried about chemotherapy and radiation. I hoped that my tumor would be the sort that wouldn’t need either. I hoped it was small, that we’d caught it early enough. I vowed to take better care of myself but felt amazed that this was happening because I do take such good care of myself already. Vitamins, yoga, good diet, healing essential oils. I wondered about the genetic aspect.
I wondered why this was hitting me now, at this stage of my life. To get me to take better care of myself in future? My mother and grandmother didn’t get it until they were postmenopausal and in their 60s. Here I was leading this clean lifestyle, I had a totally unstressful job, surrounded by healing herbs and essential oils. I don’t drink coffee, smoke cigarettes, drink too much alcohol. I couldn’t believe it. By the time Bill got home, I was upbeat and cheerful for him. He needed to see that. He admitted he felt like crying when he told anyone about this. I told him to go ahead – he probably should. But he didn’t.
April 3, 2004 – I REALLY didn’t sleep at all well last night. Which was weird, because I expected to. I was exhausted. Little things kept waking me up. Bill snoring. A loud car. Then I got a hay fever attack, was blowing my nose and got a bloody nose, which was weird enough in itself. Then there was a mosquito buzzing in my ear, which totally explained why both shoulders were itching like mad. I applied my lavender oil and went to sleep in the guest room. But my mind turned over and over like an over-wound clock. What if this. What if that. Things always seem worse at night. Finally I fell into a light sleep for a couple of hours. My overriding feeling this day is still of utter disbelief. I do believe that I have it, I don’t think there’s been a mistake. But disbelief that it should be happening to me at all. Now. I’m going to be a cancer patient. Me. What the….? How can this be happening? A friend who is a surgical nurse called. Sonia gave lots of information on the surgical side of things and hoped she hadn’t been too matter of fact. I was grateful for the information and for the fact that she knew and had worked with the surgeon I was scheduled to see on Monday and liked him. She advised me to have whatever treatment is recommended, even if it is radiation and chemotherapy. I didn’t tell her what I really think. The very thought of radiation or chemotherapy made me feel sick, as did the word “oncologist”. We made plans to meet up that evening for dinner and had a nice time. I ignored what I thought I should be eating and had a half glass of wine and ended the meal with a huge piece of carrot cake. As we sat in this al fresco restaurant, we became nearly overwhelmed by flying ants. We were told they only do this once or twice a year, so we feel real blessed (heavy on the sarcasm) to be here when they are. One flies down my shirt and I fish him out saying “Don’t I have enough trouble down there?” and everyone just laughed and laughed, clearly relieved that I was taking all this so well. As they left, I was given sincere hugs with wishes of good health and was told to take extra good care of myself. That night as I was getting ready for bed, I was feeling really positive and as insane as it may seem, I felt oddly grateful for the challenge.
April 4 , 2004 – Why does it take a diagnosis of cancer to breathe some life into a marriage? My husband was treating me like a porcelain doll, offering to do the most mundane things around the house, things I normally did without thinking about it. I secretly hoped he would do this later, when I might not be feeling the best. Once the treatment, whatever it is, starts. We danced to music in the kitchen before breakfast. He seemed oddly buoyant. Was he doing it for my benefit, to keep my spirits up? I didn’t ask him. I felt okay today, very positive. But I had to keep running to the bathroom so I knew there was an underlying current of nervous energy! Today we were visited by some very good friends, John and Sue. Bill met them outside first and as they approached the house, I could see Sue looking inside for me. I know everyone was looking for cues on how I would be taking this news. They provided me with hugs and support and love and Sue said she felt nothing but positive that I’d make it through this with flying colors. Of course, I agreed. Carol also came up to visit with an armload of roses from her garden. She held me tight and said “This is a fine pickle you’ve gotten us into.” We laughed and spent the day together, talking over everything that we felt. We rented movies that made us laugh and sat in the spa. The hot water was very soothing. We didn’t tell our son yet, in spite of the fact that he called from Berlin tonight. He had just had a wonderful weekend and as bad as I wanted to tell him because we share everything, I absolutely did not want to tell him then because I knew how much he’d worry. He lived with and helped nurse my mother when her breast cancer had metastasized to bone cancer in 1997. He saw what she went through and I did not want him to hold that picture in his mind with regard to me.
Meeting the Surgeon
April 5, 2004 – I felt, by turns, positive and then scared as hell today. Carol and Bill went with me to meet the surgeon who had been recommended to me. The 15 minutes of waiting in his office before we met was when I felt the most panicked and had to talk myself down off the ceiling. I really was looking forward to meeting him and to hear what he had to say, regardless of what it was. We all wanted to know what I would face. Carol explained that I have no family in Australia and that we are like sisters, also that three sets of ears are better than just one! The surgeon examined me and when he returned to his desk, I noticed him write down “20-30mm” on his notepad. He asked me questions and then answered the questions I had for him. He told me that I had the option of a complete mastectomy and reconstruction, a simple lumpectomy, or something called a mini-flap which he explained is a procedure whereby some skin and fat is removed from the patient’s back and put into the hole left by the lumpectomy – thus using your own tissues rather than man-made ones. It was nice to have a choice, I thought, and at least he wasn’t advocating mastectomy, which I only wanted if I absolutely had no other choice. The thing he really upset me with is that he thinks I will have to sacrifice my nipple – the lump is so close to it. I hope he’s wrong. The baffling part of the whole session had to do with the six different choices they give with regard to lymph nodes! I was aware that I was going to need to ask questions about lymph nodes, and I did, but by the time we reached this subject, I was in information overload. I saw the doctor’s mouth moving and sound coming out, but the information wasn’t making it into my brain. Luckily, Bill and Carol heard what he said and later tried to fill me in, but I still felt extremely confused and knew I needed to do a lot of research on my own. We chose April 22nd as the date of surgery. That night we were deluged by phone calls from friends – all offering love and support. How can I go wrong? Although I was feeling tired and overwhelmed, the outpouring of love and support was huge and I drew strength from it. One friend, a naturopath, called and got all my latest information and offered to get together some of the best products the natural world had to offer. Another friend, the nurse who was working at the hospital where I would have the operation, helped to answer some of the questions I had on the lymph node decision. What beautiful friends I have!
Coming to Terms
April 6, 2004 – I felt absolutely exhausted. I put on some beautiful music, Pachelbel’s Canon, and lay on the floor trying to do some stretching so my body doesn’t think I’ve gone completely crazy but all I could do when I listened to this gorgeous piece of music is lay there and cry. Still, that was cathartic. Carol’s antennae picked up my mood, obviously, because she was on the phone checking on me a few minutes later. She was having a personal crisis of her own – her daughter was in the hospital have a tonsillectomy today. We laughed about knowing how to have a really good time. I did a cranial sacral session with a client and the deep concentration that it required really helped to settle and soothe my nerves. I sat and composed a carefully worded email and sent it to all of my friends across the US, England and Australia and just asked them to send me all the positive vibes they could muster on April 22nd. By that evening I was already getting responses from my Australian friends – every one of them positive and supportive. By the end of the day, I felt more my old self again, much more happy and absolutely sure I will beat this.
April 7, 2004 – I splurged this morning. My next door neighbor picked me up in her beautiful new car and drove me to a special shop she loves, hell and gone from our neighborhood. They sell things for the home and bedroom. I found (in their catalog, not the shop, alas) a gorgeous soft pale pink blanket that looks like and feels like mink. I decided that would do very nicely to wrap up in when I’m home healing up so I ordered one, hoping it would arrive before my surgery. It’s gorgeous, and gave me something pleasant to look forward to. After our shopping trip, she took me to lunch. It was so nice to spend time with her, she’s a lovely person and very well versed in the medical field, being a former paramedic. I seem to be totally surrounded by the people who will be able to help me through all of this. It makes me wonder why I had to go through it in the first place but I guess I like being the center of attention, a real drama queen!
Telling our Son
April 11, 2004 – Bill seemed to be coping with all of this by exhausting himself in the garden. This morning he was in our fernery digging out bedraggled plants, levering out rocks and moving them. None of this, to my way of thinking, needed to be done but I think he needed the diversion! Late this evening we finally reached Sean in Berlin and gave him the news. He was shaken, I could tell, but when he spoke with me and learned how well I was taking it, I gave him some strength, I think. The love between us is strong and I know he’ll do some worrying but if I can keep my spirits up, I know he’ll be okay too (the same for Bill).
April 12, 2004 – Our lovely neighbor came over today and painted a section of our wall with suede effects paint to show me how to do it. We talked at great length about different colors and what could go where, and by the time she went home I was completely shattered! I had to rest and eat and meditate to restore my brain cells! That showed me exactly what state I was in when something as insignificant as what we were doing undid me to such a degree. Carol met us for a movie in the afternoon and afterward we had some dinner together. She felt the need to talk to me about my surgery and what I might expect as far as recuperation times and recovery. Things I needed to know, I guess, but hadn’t been facing. I plan to surprise them anyway!
Another Meeting with my Surgeon, Decisions Made
April 13, 2004 – After stopping with my dear friend who also happens to be a naturopath – she had a bag full of beautiful natural remedies for me, some to help with the bruising and aftermath of surgery, some that were potent anti-cancer remedies, all carefully thought out – then Carol and I went to see my surgeon again. This time he brought up the notion of two surgeries – one to remove the lump, and the second to reconstruct the breast. I was aghast at this idea and REALLY wanted to get it all over with in the one big surgery. But he explained to me that if the surgical margins of the extracted breast lump were not clear of cancer cells, he’d have to go back in anyway and take more tissue and that would be much easier to do without the breast being reconstructed. AGGGGHHHH. After doing some research, I did decide on one of the many choices I had regarding my lymph nodes which is a reasonably new procedure called a sentinel node biopsy . It would mean that I need to attend the nuclear medicine part of the hospital, have an injection of a harmless (one hopes!) radioactive tracer and from what I understand they observe where the tracer goes – which nodes it moves to first because that will tell them the direction of flow of lymphatic fluid from the breast and which nodes will be likely to contain cancerous cells if the cancer has spread into the lymph nodes. They then remove those few nodes (rather than all of them like they used to do) and examine them. If they are clear of cancer cells, they feel reasonably sure they got it all. That makes sense to me. So Carol helped me a lot to decide to do the initial lumpectomy, followed by a breast reconstruction. My surgeon said that could be done two weeks later and I liked that idea – the sooner we get it all over with the better, as far as I was concerned, but Carol wasn’t impressed, she wanted me to wait awhile to get over the initial surgery. We filled out all the requisite paperwork and I went home, exhausted and twitterpated. Thank goodness for my best friend, the voice of reason.
My First Meeting with a Cancer Support Group
April 14, 2004 – My doctor thought it might be a good idea to meet with a cancer support group and gave me the telephone number of the woman who works for the Cancer Council. She was lovely and told me there was a meeting today. Even though this is WAY out of my comfort zone, I decided to go and hear what they had to say. It was really good – very informal and I screwed up the courage to ask them if they’d tell me what sort of cancer they had and a little bit about their journey and each person present did that. It was good to see so many survivors, and some of the women had had recurrences despite the fact that they underwent chemotherapy and radiation! I was surprised to hear that. One woman in particular had just recently been through the whole breast cancer saga and was happy to share with me everything she did. That helped a lot. She works for a local organic fruit and vegetable shop. I decided I would keep coming to the group, they meet every couple of weeks.
Our Sons Worries
April 15, 2004 – Sean called at dinnertime to check and see how we were doing. He seemed genuinely concerned but I told him he was sweet and NOT to worry. We discussed the fact that there would be two surgeries rather than one. I think the most awful thing about knowing your mother has cancer is not just the distance between us but that it casts a shadow over your every thought of her. I went through this same thing with my mother 12 years previously, so I knew just how Sean was feeling.
An Obviously Weakened Immune System
April 17, 2004 – I woke with a horrible respiratory infection, which I rarely get. Just a reminder that my immune system really is under threat. We had made plans to spend the weekend with some friends of ours who live in the country, about 4 hours away. I felt well enough to get down there so we made the journey and were so glad we did – they welcomed us with open arms and took good care of us all weekend. Lots of good food, important life talk, just what we needed. I intimated to Judy that I was worried about the breast cancer returning after the surgery. She told me (and I’ll always thank her for that) how important it is to live in the moment. For now. Be appreciative of what we have here and now and let the future take care of itself. Wise words. We went home early on Sunday as I was feeling absolutely abysmal. I spent the next few days just looking after myself and trying to get over the awful sinusitis and coughing. At one point I was more than a little worried they’d cancel my surgery because I was so sick! My clients and friends deluge me with cards, flowers, cakes, free-range eggs, a fleece blanket, books… I am truly blessed.
The Sentinel Node Biopsy
April 21, 2004 – I was still coughing but today was the day I was scheduled to attend the nuclear medicine dept of the hospital for the first stage of the sentinel node biopsy. First they injected a radioactive dye into the tumor site, which stung a little but wasn’t too bad. The hardest part was lying still on a table under a piece of equipment close to my chest for an hour. My leg fell asleep, my arm started aching and I had a coughing attack! They let us leave for an hour to grab some lunch but then I had to be back for the second part. None of it was bad and if it helped to save some lymph nodes, I was all for it. We stayed at Carol’s house as she lives closer to the hospital where surgery is scheduled for tomorrow. She made a lovely dinner for us.
The Lumpectomy Surgery
April 22, 2004 – We had to be up at 5:30 am and amazingly I felt good and strong. Must be all those prayers, good wishes and loving energy coming from all of our friends and family. Carol and Bill and I were at the hospital by 7:00 am and they got us under way quickly and efficiently – not much time wasted at all. They put us into a room and toward the end of our wait when I began to feel rather anxious and anticipatory, I channeled that energy into doing some yoga and that calmed me down and felt very good. They gave me a pre-anesthesia medication which knocked me out quite effectively! I had been feeling rather anxious about the anesthesia (never having had it before). I remember my friend Sonia coming and paying me a visit (she’s the theatre nurse, a lovely friend) and I recall getting onto the operating table, looking up at the light, and the very next thing I knew, I was in the recovery room. What could be easier than that? I was feeling a bit weak and shaky but it soon passed. I needed a wet cloth to moisten my face but the trip back to my room revived me. I had Bill give me some of my goji/wolfberry juice and within an hour I was hungry and eating ice and some watermelon that Carol brought. Carol and Bill kept me happy and supplied with food and were amazed how well I sailed through it all. I was up and peeing blue (the dye) in no time. Carol arranged for a friend of ours who likes to cook bring me some of her special chicken soup – it had shiitake mushrooms in it and tasted like nectar of the gods. The surgeon told Bill and Carol that he feels positive he’s gotten it all, the margins were nice and clear. I had the option of going home but we all decided it would be better if I spent the night. Bill and Carol went off to different destinations and left me in peace. I got busy using various essential oils and arnica to minimize the bruising and heal the incision quickly.
April 23, 2004 – I started to have a bit of a rough night trying to find a position that didn’t hurt but that also didn’t make me cough. It was finally a combination of pillows, bed height, neck twisting and sheer exhaustion that allowed some sleep. My vital signs were checked at 6:00 am and they said I was good to go home. Due to my essential oils and arnica, I hadn’t needed any of the morphine they offered me! I was quite pleased about that. Bill came and collected me and took me for some breakfast and a walk on the beach. What a wonderful place to blow out the smells and memories of a hospital stay. At home, I was again inundated by telephone calls, cards, and flowers. Very sweet of everyone. I unbandaged my left breast and had a look – tried not to be shocked by the weird shape it now is and the fact that the nipple has been removed. My poor breast! But the next day I woke up feeling so great that Carol and I went over to a local garden shop to buy A plant and come back with ten! Nothing like getting your hands into the soil to get the healing process kick-started (although Carol ended up doing most of the work!). Sean called us to say that he’d had a nightmare that I died during the surgery. Poor Sean! I guess he’s having a little bit of a hard time with this. He told me I was an inspiration to him, which is always lovely to hear from a son.
April 25, 2004 – I’m healing very well – the only thing that annoys me is the lymph node incision under my arm because the waterproof tape took off the first layer of skin and hurts like hell! More annoying than that, however, is the damned flu I’m still dealing with – my sinuses are like concrete and I just don’t need this on top of everything else. But hey – I’m alive. Carol works her bum off helping us with house cleaning, cooking, laundry, gardening – all the heavy stuff. It’s her way of dealing with adversity – working like a Trojan.
April 27, 2004 – Today I began doing some gentle yoga and it felt wonderful. My incisions bothered me a lot more today than they have so far – burning, itching and sometimes just hurting. I applied my essential oils and they calmed everything down and felt so much better. My house looks like a florist’s shop! I’m a little bit nervous about meeting the surgeon tomorrow.
The Pathology Results
Nervous anticipation today as Carol and Bill and I meet with my surgeon to find out what the pathology lab thinks about the lump he removed from my breast. He invited us into his office, sounding quite jovial. He had a look at how I was healing and told us the pathology results looked good – the surgical margins were clear so that means he doesn’t have to remove any more tissue. And there was NO lymph node involvement, a huge relief. I was disturbed, however, by the fact that it was considered Stage II – invasive and fast growing. So it’s a good thing it’s out of there. He said I’d most likely be “offered” chemotherapy and urged me to consider radiation. He gave me more information on the reconstruction and I decided to go ahead with that. The words he said which made me breathe a sigh of relief were “You can consider yourself cancer free”. Whew!
April 29, 2004 – Outside of the eternal worries about money (without me working and with Bill taking off work several days to usher me to doctors and hospital our cash flow is severely dented), I had three basic thoughts today: (1) I’m glad it’s gone; (2) what was it within me that got so out of balance that I allowed cancer into my life; and (3) how do I keep it from coming back? The latter two I resolved to research. I spread out all the books I’d amassed during the time when my mother was undergoing cancer treatment and later, after she died. I also had some that were lent to me by my loving clients. There were 50 books, some directly related to beating cancer, some about healing in general, some about juicing and nutrition. 50 books. Does that mean I’m scared of cancer or simply determined to beat it? I rather like the sound of the latter; I don’t think I’m scared of it. I am simply determined to beat it and I always feel you can never have too much information because each author has something different to say and what resonates with you one day will simply not on another day. Some of my favorite books are listed here.
A Lunar Eclipse and a Fresh Month
May 5, 2004 – I got up twice in the night, at 3:30 and 4:00 am, to check on the progress of an amazing lunar eclipse. Watching this happen seemed to inspire me today – I fasted from the television news (always filled with negativity and fear-inspiring reports) and filled the house with good food, good music and spoke to lots of friends who all had such good things to tell me. How can I go wrong here?
Breast Reconstruction Surgery
May 7, 2004 – We had to get up before 5 am so that we could be at the hospital by 7 am. It was a really warm, beautiful and slightly humid morning with a definite edge of rain in the air.
I discovered I had a rampant case of very large butterflies in my stomach as we made the hour drive to the hospital. The check-in process went quite smoothly and there was an incredible thunderstorm and very heavy rainfall just before my operation.
I loved that – it seemed to wash the air clean and cleared it of any bad energy. They took me into the operating theater just prior to 9:00 – this time I didn’t have the pre-operative anaesthesia and so I was a little more cognizant of what was going on for a few minutes longer.
I remember thinking it was a really weird place to be. I woke up in recovery somewhere around 1:00 feeling very fuzzy and stayed that way most of the day. Which was a pleasant place to be! The surgery was called “LD Mini-Flap” – the surgeon made a 5″ (or so) incision in the latissimus dorsi muscle just below my left shoulder blade and (without getting into too much detail) brought part of the muscle around to my chest to create a very natural looking breast to replace the big hunk that was removed during the lumpectomy.
The whole day I had a procession of nurses coming in to check my pulse, BP and temperature and everyone kept encouraging my to self-administer the morphine that was set up for me but I’d been taking arnica for several days to help with pain and bruising and I never needed the morphine. I never really had any pain, just a pulling discomfort in my back.
I had a catheter so I wouldn’t need to get up for a few hours and I also had a tube and drain attached to my left side just under the incision.
The only discomfort I really felt was having the absolute driest mouth in the history of dry mouths. I must’ve drunk every bit of water they brought me just to try to keep my mouth moist.
They told me it was a result of the anesthesia. Carol brought food for me around 1:30 and stayed until early evening; Bill stayed with me until late afternoon and finally went home, mentally exhausted.
Carol kept me entertained with various comments and we watched TV together until it was time for me to sleep. Did I say sleep? They checked on me HOURLY! How could anyone sleep while this was going on?
May 8, 2004 – At some point during the night, my saliva returned, for which I was extremely grateful. I had a very nice and gentle male nurse, who was quiet and capable and had a caring attitude. Just the sort of nurse you’d hope for. They are keeping a very close eye on my body temperature as apparently it’s crucial to keep me warm to ensure the graft takes hold.
I finally got rid of the catheter today so was up and around a bit. I was allowed a sit-down shower and that felt great. Shortly after that, however, the surgeon came in and since my hair was wet I was feeling a tad chilly. He had a look at the surgical site and pronounced it “tickety-boo” (he’s British) and made the nurses chase down a space blanket, with which they enveloped me cocoon-fashion the rest of the day and night to keep my temperature elevated.
It was like a bit sheet of aluminum foil and rustled when I moved. My visitors kept bringing me things – helium balloons, flowers. I felt a bit silly! Had a little more peace and quiet at night – they only checked on me every TWO hours but I still didn’t sleep very well.
May 9, 2004 – Today was Mother’s Day. It occurred to me to feel sorry for myself but I really couldn’t! I was getting lots of attention and having food brought to me on trays so who could be upset about that?
Bill spent the night with friends nearby and turned up in my room with yellow roses around 10:30 and we spent an amiable day together reading the Sunday paper, talking and watching TV. At intervals nurses would come in, poke and prod me and take my stats, make me wrap up in the space blanket if my temperature fell and they finally took out the two IV lines in my right hand – I was so very glad to get rid of them!
My surgeon poked his head in the door around 6:00 pm, checked under my dressings and left happy. Carol and her daughter, Helen, came for a visit and brought Mother’s Day gifts, very sweet of them. Carol stayed until after 10:00 pm and although I was tired enough to sleep well, I think my nervous system is screwed up from all of the drugs and I was busy watching TV until nearly 2:00 am (“Dirty Harry” of all things!). The nurses let me be from 2:00-6:00 am so that was nice.
May 10, 2004 – I was determined to go home today – at least I could probably get some sleep at home. I packed up all my belongings, answered all of the questions for the discharge paperwork, got one last checkup by my surgeon’s registrar, had my bandages changed and when Carol arrived to collect me I was MORE than ready to go!
The fresh air outside was divine. I was starving so we grabbed a snack and she drove me home, stopping along the way at a tiny little chapel in the Swan Valley called All Saints. Built around 1827, it says it’s the oldest church in Western Australia.
It seemed the perfect place to be (although I felt the need to hide the disgusting drain bottle permanently attached to me for the next few days inside a cloth bag Carol thoughtfully provided) and we sat under a large plane tree and drank in the fresh air and looked at the interesting grave markers.
I said a little prayer in the tiny chapel and it was a special moment. It felt so good to reach home. We cooked some of the food provided by Anna (bless her!). I was so beyond tired that I actually felt a little nervous about going to bed – especially since I had to sleep on the opposite side because of my drain bottle.
It’s interesting how we get used to having a certain side of the bed and it feels bizarre to switch. I still didn’t sleep well – sleep deprivation is weird, you actually get so tired and wired that you get right past sleeping! I did manage a little though.
Recovering from Surgery
May 11, 2004 – Bill worked from home today so he could help me out. He built me a nice roaring fire, made us breakfast and then I cuddled up on the couch with my books, note paper, TV remote, water and pills! Spent the day there reading, watching TV, and at last, napping. Bill looked like he needed a nap too – I think he’s having a very difficult time adjusting to all of this upheaval. But he isn’t complaining about anything, he’s been a gem.
May 12, 2004 – We are fortunate in Western Australia to have a nursing service by the name of Silver Chain available to us and today I had my first home visit. She checked on my bandages and adjusted the hose coming out of my side for the drain. It’s been very uncomfortable. Before she left, Carol arrived and kept me company all day. She got me to walk out to the mailbox and around the house. Later she helped me do some banking and buy some organic produce so at least I’m getting out. I’m still sleeping restlessly and having bad dreams. Bill and I had an argument earlier in the day – it takes so much energy to fight and I don’t have it to give out right now.
May 13, 2004 – The best part of my day was firstly making up with Bill and then talking to Sean. His life in Germany is chaotic and I think he needs to touch base with us sometimes to get grounded again. It was so good to hear his voice, we talked for an hour. We talked about the fact that he’s been relying too much on others for his inner happiness (one of my failings too) and he is starting to make some changes. My boy is growing up.
Removing the Bandages – What Lies Beneath?
May 14, 2004 – Today I was very content to just sit and read by the fire and let the world go by. I listened to gorgeous classical music and read books written by the Dalai Lama, Andrew Weil and Bernie Siegel. Lots of food for thought. My Silver Chain nurse visited again and took all my waterproof bandages off at my request. It feels so much better! Now I can use my essential oils on both my breast and the incision on my back. I have a 6-inch incision below my left scapula where the muscle tissue was removed to rebuild the breast, and my left breast has a sort of oval incision about 3.5 inches long. It looks sore and nasty (I know that’s temporary) but the thing that bothers me the most is the damn drain hose where it exits my side. It’s really sore and I keep catching the hose on things and pulling the skin. Ouch! In the past 24 hrs about 35ml of fluid has drained out and the doctor wants it down to 25ml before he’ll allow it to be taken out. I’m hoping that tomorrow the drain can be removed. It’s driving me crazy.
Removal of the Drain
May 15, 2004 – FREE AT LAST! Around 1:00 pm today my Silver Chain nurse arrived and as the secretions were diminished, she felt it okay to take out the drain hose. It sure as hell felt weird to have it removed too – imagine having a long length of hosing inside you for a week and then having it pulled out. Ooooohhhh! But it felt so terrific not to be attached to that ugly bottle. Gave everybody the horrors! We celebrated by going shopping – it was only a quick trip but made me realize that I wasn’t ready yet for crowds of people or standing in a long line of people. I have no patience or stamina yet. My neighbor, Kim, who has been a paramedic, came by and massaged essential oils into the scar on my back – she spent 20 minutes massaging my back and neck. Very sweet of her. It felt wonderful. Nothing felt as good as clean sheets on the bed and sleeping on MY side though. It made all the difference not to be worrying about that drain hose!
May 16, 2004 – STILL didn’t sleep well last night! I must be hyper-sensitive to any caffeine and I had a cup of green tea around 5:00 last night. Green tea has minimal caffeine in it but that must’ve been enough to send my brain spinning. My Silver Chain nurse arrived again today and changed the bandage on the “drain hole” (that sounds disgusting) and I can tell it’s healing. Felt good enough to go and see a movie but later in the day I was pretty sore and even got a sort of neuralgia style pain on my left side. I really have to be careful not to overdo it.
Beginning to Heal
May 18, 2004 – Today is the first day when I could safely say it feels like things are healing. I had an appointment with my surgeon and Bill took the day off so he could take me. My surgeon was impressed with the fact that I was healing so well and had NO bruising at all, which is totally due to the arnica I took (he now has arnica displayed on his office counter). He took a photograph of his handiwork and joked about putting it on the Internet. He said he’d see me in 6 months. I should have felt really happy leaving his office but just felt depressed – the real healing work begins now (on all levels) and I know it is going to be painful – way more than surgery.
I Make a Healing Plan
May 19, 2004 – I began doing yoga today – it’s only 12 days post-surgery and I was surprised that I could do as much as I was able to do. Some poses are a bit uncomfortable so I just backed off. I was resolved to get back to normal today so began with the laundry, cleaning the bathroom, and doing some desk work. I made up a healing plan that included the things I would do on the following levels: physical (like massage, exercise, juicing, etc.); energetic (like pranic healing, Reiki, acupuncture, essential oils): emotional (like counseling and support groups); and mental (like meditation, Thought Field Therapy, etc.). I posted it where I could see it and made a couple of appointments to back up my plans.
May 20, 2004 – Today I was much more sore so I guess I overdid it yesterday. I will learn! Bill and I attended a lecture given by Ian Gawler, the wonderful aspects of which were probably negated by the fact that I forgot the tickets to his lecture and we had to turn around and go back for them. That added 40 minutes onto an already long trip. I was so angry with myself and got so stressed out! I was already pretty familiar with what Mr Gawler had to say but I was glad that Bill was along to hear what was said. We ran into several friends there, including a friend/client of Bill’s who is a cancer survivor. The end result was good and we were glad we went.
My First Meditation Class
May 21, 2004 – I went to a meditation class today – it was held by the Cancer Council of Western Australia and I had a friend come and collect me for that so I didn’t have to drive. I found the class to be pretty good – nice and relaxing. I certainly needed it after yesterday. I wasn’t sure about whether the meditation instructor was a good “fit” for me, I may keep looking. I felt it was important to have a sort of rapport with the instructor – if they have any annoying speaking habits you can tend to focus on that rather than letting go!
May 23, 2004 – Today I’m observing that the least little bit of excitement (like a lengthy phone call from my son) wears me out totally. Also, my whole left side is very sore, like all my nerves are inflamed. The Internet research I’ve done says I may be having this for up to three months, but I doubt it will bother me that long. I totally believe that my special juice will keep any such nonsense to a minimum.
My First Meeting With My Oncologist
June 3, 2004 – Despite huge misgivings about oncologists and the “therapies” they recommend, I had good reports about the oncologist I had been recommended to see and arrived with a typed list of questions for him. Carol and Bill came with me. He had a very calm demeanour, spoke slowly and with deliberation and made it perfectly clear, after examining me and getting my vital statistics and reading my pathology results, that because I had a 2.5 cm tumor which was a grade 3, I should seriously consider chemotherapy. We discussed the “ins and outs” of it, my mother’s breast cancer journey, and he told me that if the cancer returns as a secondary cancer, it can rarely be cured. The three of us left his office feeling shell-shocked, I felt like my head would explode.
June 4, 2004 – Well as can be expected, I slept little last night. I didn’t agonize over anything, I just lay quietly and turned over many thoughts. I came to no conclusions but felt pretty low when I did get up. Today I spoke with Helen, a woman who chose to turn her back on all conventional breast cancer treatment and heal herself. Our conversation was timely and she inspired me. (NOTE: I DO NOT recommend this course of action for just anyone! This woman is remarkably spiritual and I was convinced after speaking with her that she operates on a whole different level of existence than most of us!) Her calm voice of assurance helped me a lot on this day and I felt much more grounded and sure of myself after speaking with her. During my subsequent meditation that day, I felt a strong healing presence that told me to trust my intuition and not get sidetracked by anyone, not to let them confuse me.
June 5, 2004 – Carol paid us a visit today. It seems she’d had some kind of vision or nightmare about me and she had some things to say. She arrived in a bit of a state! We sat around our dining room table and talked for two hours. She was very firm and told us that we had to work on the state of our relationship – that we had to get it working better or I wouldn’t make it! We also thoroughly discussed the issue of chemotherapy and radiation and I told them both that I may end up doing it but that I wasn’t ready just yet. I need to be sure in my mind what direction I am headed and I have to believe in the therapy and right now I just don’t. They said they’d back me, whatever I chose to do, and we sat and held hands in the semi-darkness and shared what I can only call a sacred, special moment. I am blessed to have the two of them. That’s how I know I’ll get through this.
June 7, 2004 – Helen (mentioned above), a friend who is also on her own journey with breast cancer, lent me a video entitled “The Biology of Belief” by Dr Bruce Lipton. What an eye opener! For weeks I’ve been thinking and worrying that no matter what I do to treat this cancer, if I am genetically predisposed to it (having lost mother and grandmother to it), what are my chances of beating it? This film was amazing and gave me so much hope. It was life-changing. Dr Lipton has also written a book with the same title – if you worry about genetic predisposition, read the book – it will change how you think about your health.
Seeing Other Therapists
I honored my feelings about chemotherapy and radiation and delayed the recommended treatment. I spent the remainder of this month seeing other therapists – I saw a very thorough chiropractor, who looked after my nervous system and spinal alignment. I saw a kinesiologist and did some healing work with her. I’m not sure I understand how she works, but I certainly felt different, lighter, when I left.
Meditating with a Buddhist Monk
June 10, 2004 – Sue, a friend of mine and a naturopath, told me of a place where I could learn meditation with Buddhist monks. That appealed to me. I managed to talk Bill into driving Sue and I there and he took part as well. It was a very wet and windy night so we were both grateful Bill drove! The monk was British and spoke with a resonant voice about the workings of the mind and how Buddhists are quite simple – they just strive for happiness! We all loved the monk, whose name is Rabten, and appreciated what he had to say and how we felt afterward. Bill was most impressed and is eager to return! Surprise!
June 11, 2004 – I attended another meditation class today held by the Cancer Council facility nearby. I’m generally of the opinion that anything worth learning is worth throwing yourself into. I have to say, though, that the Buddhist meditation was better, more interesting and enjoyable.
Making a Decision on Radiotherapy
June 14, 2004 – When I checked the mail today, it contained an envelope that was sent to our old address and was from the radiologist I’ve been referred to.
It was an appointment card that said I was to come in TODAY at 3:30!! So I called to cancel the appointment (having made my decision to delay this treatment until I could do some more research) and I could tell that the nurse was very dismayed with me.
She wanted me to just move the appointment, not cancel it altogether – I know she was just doing her job, but it was pretty confrontational for me. And very liberating – when I hung up the phone, I went outside on the grass and skipped around shouting “I’M NOT GOING AND YOU CAN’T MAKE ME!”
Boy, did that feel great. Now I don’t recommend that EVERYONE go and cancel their radiation treatments. I just wanted more time to gather information. You certainly have the right to do that.
In the end, I chose not to do the radiation treatments. The hospital where I would need to go was an hour away (one way) and since the doctors had already said I was cancer free, I felt I could better use the time and do something for myself that wasn’t so stressful or toxic to my body. If you’d like to know what I did instead, see my post My Thoughts on Breast Radiation
I cannot with good conscience recommend this course of action for everyone, but I just know that it worked beautifully for me.
Colon Hydrotherapy – A Cleansing Experience
June 28, 2004 – Feeling a little nervous but interested I went along to my first colon hydrotherapy session today. I wanted to cleanse my body of the anesthetic chemicals used in surgery, plus I’d been reading about the problems with our guts these days – I knew that if I wanted to get really healthy, I would need to start from the inside out. It proved to be a really relaxing experience, only a little uncomfortable with some minor cramping, but not bad. I went to the Colon Hydrotherapy Centre in Perth, they were extremely professional and caring and I felt squeaky clean when I left!
Not surprisingly, however, it had an interesting result. My husband had driven me to the appointment and we were having lunch nearby afterward and got into an enormous argument. He got some things out that he’d obviously needed to say, and so did I. Painful, but necessary. Lots of emotions were released on both sides – growth can be painful but I knew we were on the right track. Interesting how my cleansing affected both of us.
July 1, 2004 – My regimen of juicing, yoga and meditation are helping me so much. I started seeing massage clients today – only on a limited basis, one per day. I knew I was physically ready to work again, but wasn’t too sure about the mental aspects. I needn’t have worried. My clients have been so worried about me and they are so pleased to see me doing well and so strong. It was nice to see a smiling face (and some much needed money!) come through the door!
Another Piece of the Puzzle
July 20, 2004 – Today I was reading a book entitled “Eat Right 4 Your Blood Type” by Dr. Peter D’Adamo, handed to me by a friend who is a naturopath. Dr D’Adamo states that Type A blood groups (mine) suffer more from breast cancer because the cancer cells are able to mimic type A blood cells. That was NOT good news. I’m starting to rethink the whole issue of chemotherapy. Ten days later, while I was meditating, I got a clear vision of my mother (whom I lost to breast cancer that had spread to her bones in 1998) saying to me, “Marnie, DO the chemotherapy!”
My First Visit to a Naturopath
August 9, 2004 – I was very fortunate to get an appointment with one of Perth’s best naturopaths, Val Allen. She has been one of Perth’s most respected naturopaths since 1984 and I was told that she doesn’t see new clients now, she mainly works with cancer patients. She is exceptionally gifted with iridology – the study of the iris of the eye. She looked into my eyes with her iris scope and told me things that she would have had no way of knowing (they weren’t in my patient profile). She agreed with my oncologist that chemotherapy would be of some benefit to me and that I would tolerate it well. She suggested I do some work getting my white blood cell count up and recommended a couple of natural supplements that would help strengthen my immune system.
I Go to a 5-Day Cancer Retreat
September 1-5, 2004 – Lucky me! I got a sponsorship to attend Balya Cancer Retreat snuggled into the hills near Gidgegannup, Western Australia. Bill dropped me off early in the morning and the learning started! I joined a group of about 30 cancer patients – all sorts of diagnoses and all stages of health.
Most had partners here, I felt a little sad that Bill couldn’t join me, but he needed to keep the money coming in. This is not the sort of retreat where you get pampered as if you were in a spa. You are here to learn (although you do get a little pampering).
It’s all run by volunteers, which makes it all the more amazing. We learned about stress and how to cope with it, how the immune system works, how to meditate (lots of that every day), how to do affirmations and goal setting, a little on herbal medicine, how to cook healthy vegetarian meals which they served us up to 6 times per day – how glorious not to have to cook for 5 days!
The food is gluten free, dairy free, sugar and salt free and tastes amazing. We eat as much as we want – the only thing I found was that it had a lot of garlic in it (which of course is to help with our immune systems) and Bill said I smelled of garlic for 3 days once I got home!
All I could think about was how good it was for me and how good it tasted. The Retreat is in a beautiful location, inviting bush walks with total serenity – very healing. There were plenty of opportunities to speak with the two founders of the Retreat, Dr Ivy Bullen and Dr Jason Han, about health matters. Also opportunities to get much-needed bodywork. Lovely.
I don’t know when I’ve given or received so many hugs. One attendee said to me that I was the most positive person she’d ever met. Nice to hear. People really blossom here – it’s amazing to witness. I highly recommend this retreat to anyone who has a chance to go. You will learn much, make some wonderful new friends, it is a life-changing experience.
Working on my Stress Levels
September 30, 2004 – Ever mindful of the fact that breast cancer (and indeed cancer generally) is a multi-factorial disease, I went in search of some counseling for underlying issues today. The therapist I saw used a combination of Reiki, Gestalt Therapy and something called Emotional Freedom Technique which I found really interesting.
She was lovely – she had healing hands. I told her about some of the issues I’d been dealing with (going all the way back to 1998 when I lost my mother to breast cancer metastases) and we worked on reducing my stress levels. I’m sure there are many underlying issues that need to be resolved but there’s time for that.
Thank goodness there’s time for that! The session I had must have worked, because at midnight the phone rang and it was our son, calling from Berlin to say he’d been hit by a car while he was riding his bicycle today.
It was his 25th birthday too! What a thing to have happen on your birthday, and what a terrible bit of news to hear at midnight for parents! Luckily he was okay – just bruised and shaken and no broken bones. Lucky kid (and lucky parents!).
His angels were looking after him. Anyway, the point I was trying to make is that all of this would have ordinarily sent me into a panic but I handled it all extremely well and my stress levels remained very low.
My Chemotherapy Decision
For me, deciding on whether or not to do chemotherapy was very difficult – especially since I considered myself to be a natural therapist. It was quite possibly the most difficult decision I had to make. I felt fortunate that for all intents and purposes, I was cancer free after my surgery. Some are not so lucky.
I felt I had the option to take some time with my decision (although my oncologist wasn’t particularly happy with my decision). I talked to women in my support group who’d been through all of the treatment and although I appreciated their candor, it didn’t help me make a decision.
Some had undergone breast cancer chemotherapy, radiation and Tamoxifen and their cancer still returned (but they were still alive to tell me the tale so that was encouraging!). Most of my natural therapists actually urged me to consider chemotherapy, together with everything that complementary medicine had to offer.
That surprised me but I took it on board. I read as much as I could stand regarding chemotherapy and got some insights doing that. In the meantime, while doing all of this research, I built up my body and my immune system so that I was much stronger in body and mind than I would have been had I started the chemotherapy when my oncologist wanted me to.
I took four months with my decision. When my oncologist saw me again, he was pretty surprised that I’d returned at all. He told me I looked fantastic and, being the thorough sort that he is, scheduled me for a CT-scan and a bone scan, both of which returned showing no metastases (spread of cancer).
We scheduled my chemotherapy to begin on November 1, 2004. I was so glad that I took the time between my two surgeries and the commencement of chemotherapy to build myself up, get stronger, build up my immune system and get my brain to the point where I wasn’t actually afraid of the treatment – that indeed I felt it to be a good, healing thing to do – and I believe that for me, this made all the difference.
While I won’t say that chemotherapy was easy (far from that!), I got through six months of it with very few health concerns, my natural therapists helped me keep the side effects to a minimum, and I was able to carry on with life and, indeed, still enjoy it.
I know I was fortunate – some women have to begin chemotherapy immediately, sometimes even before surgery, due to the extent or size of their cancer. Even if that is the case for you, I strongly believe there is so much you can do for yourself to minimize the effects of the treatment and keep yourself well while you’re going through it.
The decision about whether or not to go through chemotherapy for breast cancer should be made with the guidance of your health care professionals, but the final decision rests with you.
Five Years Cancer Free!
March 19, 2009 – Today I saw my surgeon for the fifth and final time. I’d had the requisite mammograms and ultrasounds and everything was completely clear. He pronounced me CURED and said he wouldn’t need to see me anymore. What beautiful music those words were!
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1:1 Breast Cancer & Nutrition Coaching
I’ve been doing this for a long time. I’m delving into the research on breast cancer every single day. I talk with and coach women (and men) going through breast cancer every day. I went through breast cancer myself in 2004 and co-led a breast cancer support group for two years.
What my clients are sharing with me is that I helped them move forward with a holistic healing plan and feeling better in a lot less time (and with a lot less worry, anxiety and confusion) than it would have taken them to put together their own plan.
Toxic Free Me Online Course
As a breast cancer coach, one of the things I am asked most frequently by women going through the journey is how to get through it with a minimum of damage to their bodies, and their psyche; in other words, how best to survive and give themselves the best chances of recurrence-free survival — especially without the use of hormone inhibiting drugs.
In order to answer that need, I put together a comprehensive “how-to” course called “Toxic Free Me”.
Change Your Life Meditation Course
When I was going through breast cancer, one of the things I became aware of quite quickly was that badly managed stress was very much involved in why I got sick. Of course, it wasn’t the only reason, but I believe that this stress undermined my immune system to a significant degree. So one of the first things I felt I must do is learn meditation so I could better handle that stress and then the anxiety of having a breast cancer diagnosis.
This self study course has the power to change your life!
I just read your story, so many decisions we have to make along the way that alll the informatin we can obtain along the way has got to be beneficial in arriving at what will work best for each of us. I am prepared to receive a recommendation of both radiation & chemo, seems to me if I prepare myself for the worst then anything else has got to be good news, right? Anyway, I plan to read the books you recommend and I thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts along the way. JanetsJourney
Thanks so much for your story. I found it very informative. I am interested in knowing about the product you call arnica. Where would I find this? I do not like to take morphine as it gives me headaches so I am interested in other alternatives. I am having a bilateral mastectomy on August 1st with reconstruction. It was a hard decision to make to do the reconstruction right away. One never knows if we have made the right decisions or not. I guess time will only tell.
Dear Pat, thanks for your comment! I have put arnica on my page entitled “Useful Links” – both the oral form of homeopathic arnica, as well as the topical one that I used. I agree about morphine. I wish you blessings and much healing and will be thinking of you on August 1st. Please let me know if you need any other help!
Thank you for your candor and freely sharing your experience. My wife and I are both socialworkers and have helped people for years, her diagnosis 7 weeks ago with triple negative breastcancer has created quite a change in our lives but we seem to be on course for today and sights like yours only help. Nothing relieves everything but sights with resources and hope can only help. Thank you
Thank you so much for your comment. I can well imagine that your wife’s diagnosis has been a shock to you both and I am so glad that you found my site useful. If I can help you by answering any specific questions or concerns, I am happy to do so. I wish you both well on this journey. Please continue to use my site as a resource and contact me if you need more info on anything.
Hi Marnie. Great website. I was diagnosed with BC last year, same as you….2.5 cm grade 3. Have had a mastectomy and chemo and am now radiation. Tolerated all well as I work with a naturopath and do yoga, etc. Wondering what the essential oils were you mentioned that you used??
Thanks for your kind comments. You can see the list of essential oils I used on this page: https://marnieclark.com/breast-health/essential-oils-for-overall-health-and-specific-health-problems/ Have you signed up for my free newsletters? I explain lots more in my newsletters about the oils and many other things that will assist your healing path. If I can help you with anything, please contact me! Thanks for your interest.
Yes, signed up for the letter! Thank you!!
What a great diary. I wish I had kept a better diary of my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment. I am currently finished with treatment, (last day of radiation 6-20-14) I had bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. I now am taking tamoxifen for 10 years. Thank you for sharing. This is a great website.
Thanks for your comment. I’m glad to hear you are finished with your treatments, YAY! How are you doing with the Tamoxifen? I ask because so many are having to come off of it due to the side effects. Hope it is working well for you. Let me know if I can assist you in any way.
Sorry I am lat to the game on this subject. I was told by a naturalpath to take indole 3 carbonol. Hope this helps. I am suppose to take Tamoxifen after I try to figure out how I am going to go through chemo. I had toumor taken out my chest (male breast cancer).
Had clean margins but touched 2 out 3 lymph nodes. Just enough merit chemo and possible radiation. I was Classified Stage. Isn’t life grand.
Thanks for reaching out. Are you taking the Indole 3 Carbinol recommended by the naturopath? There are many things (both supplements and nutrition) you can do to help yourself through this – have you signed up for my free newsletters and e-books? I share a lot of information within them. Chemotherapy and radiation are recommended because that’s all the doctors have to offer you – it’s part of their standard duty of care to their patients, they have to offer it. If I can help you, please let me know.
sorry stage 2b.
Thank you marnie for sharing your inspiring journey of handling breast cancer… I know God leads me you to have more courage in dealing my journey…
Thank you so much for sharing your journey and for all these amazing resources you share. I’m 2 months into my diagnosis…also a family history with my Mom and all of her siblings including one brother…no one tested positive for the BRACA or other genes.. lost my Mom when she was 51, I was diagnosed at 46. I had a lumpectomy almost 2 weeks ago and grateful for no nodes involved, Stage 1A, grade 1. Doing my research on radiation although don’t feel aligned with it at this point..they are pushing me for Tamoxifin but that is a clear No for me. I;ve been on a detoxification journey on all levels, feeling wonderful with the changes and ready to sink into some deeper emotional healing and de-stressing.
Hello, Marnie. I wanted you to know how impressed I I was with your story and your journey with breast cancer. I am on my own journey and your story is very optimistic and hopeful. Thank you. I do, however, have a question about your diary. You were diagnosed on April 2, 2004. You make a statement at the end of the 5th paragraph of June 17, 2004 (2 1/2 months later) that you had just gone through 6 months of chemotherapy. How is that possible when you had just been diagnosed 2 1/2 months earlier? Just curious.
Thanks for your question and your kind words. I can see where you got confused – I probably need to change that entry. On June 14, 2004 I made the statement “In the end, I chose not to do the radiation treatments. The hospital where I would need to go was an hour away (one way) and since the doctors had already said I was cancer free, I felt I could better use the time and do something for myself that wasn’t so stressful or toxic to my body (having just undergone six months of toxic chemotherapy).” I was just discussing that I made the decision not to do radiotherapy. I didn’t start the chemotherapy until November 2004 and I finished it in May 2005. Thanks for your interest.