PictureWhite Cells Fighting Cancer Cell
I am told I have a fairly active imagination, especially when it comes to creating metaphors.  Like this one for example. It came as a bitter-sweet gift right after my breast cancer treatments in September, 2001. In many ways, my strange, yet powerful metaphor, was a kick-in-the pants wake up call to becoming more proactive and respectful towards the care of my physical and emotional bodies. At the very least, it helped me cope and quiet the scary voices that kept up their constant jabbering in my brain, "You have cancer!" 

None of us will ever forget September 11, 2001. The day when a series of four coordinated terrorist attacks was launched by the Islamic terrorist group, Al-Qaeda, upon the United States in New York City and the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.Three days before that horrendous day, I flew to Seattle to spend time with my daughter and her family. Dawn and I would drive to Portland the following week to participate in Race for the Cure with a newly created team, The Wiggle Walkers. I felt so excited and honored.

In hindsight, all of it seems prophetic to me. When I watched the tragic ever-constant media airing of planes mindlessly crashing into the sides of the Twin Towers, I was ever-reminded of the presence of cancer and how it seems to operate in one’s body. My body. After returning to Kona, those horrific images continued to play out in my mind. Cancer was to me like a terrorist who always kept me on the edge of a cruel unknown, who hid silently in the shadows, evil snipers just waiting, waiting… Then casually and without conscience take careful aim and pick off their prey one at a time until all were dead and gone. Helpless victims of hate. I detested that feeling of powerlessness.  Did I really have no recourse? Some live, some die. That’s it? Cancer was a crapshoot? That just plain sucks!

That’s also when I began to have reoccuring night dreams of borders, boundaries, and strong, ever vigilant border security systems armed and waiting to protect the innocent living within.  In my case, that would mean my immune system which I suspected must be weak and needed extreme bolstering. I knew about the immune system being the body’s defense against microorganisms that can cause a variety of illnesses. And in actuality, I had been striving to live a more balanced lifestyle since the day of my breast cancer diagnosis.  Perhaps the terrorist metaphor had some validity after all for my long term care and prevention of recurrence.

In Portland, Dawn and I had stood in the midst of 30,000 exuberant men and women and children, a vast and glorious sea of pink T-shirts, white sweatshirts, and huge grins playing across hopeful faces, moving like one powerful, unified wave over the streets of Portland, propelled by one simple desire—to celebrate life for those are still here and to commemorate those that have passed on. To fight a terrorist that could be, and has been many times, overcome by thousands and thousands of women. I wanted to be one of those survivors.

I read everything I could on the immune system and disease prevention.  From eating a healthy diet, reducing stress, increasing my sleep and restorative periods, and popping daily supportive supplements. Despite the huge amounts of information I was digesting, I was very afraid that I wouldn't be able to keep up the daily discipline of living such a healthy life-style. What if I "fell off the wagon."  Fear is ugly in any disease. But I kept knowing within myself that I was worth it, my health would be a daily focus forever, and I had the strength and desire to do it. I even challenged my co-dependent issues. Which in my case, meant I needed to create healthier boundaries in my personal relationships.  Too nice?  Yes, I had been.  Too tolerant? Yes indeed! In the name of being loving, I was way too tolerant.

When I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer six years later and found NOT to have the BRCA cancer genes, I realized how lazy and inattentive to my health I had become. Back again I went to more attention to healthy eating and living. When my husband asked me for a divorce a few months after my surgery (that’s a story for another time), I thought I had been hit by a train and that I couldn’t go on without him.  What I realize now after hours and years of grieving, prayer, the pain of self-reflection and the support of dear and loving friends is that who I thought was my source, wasn’t. He hadn’t abandoned me as I thought he had. He released me to live a more fulfilled and satisfying life. 

I have absolutely no way of knowing if I am done with cancer or it is done with me.  But my life is definitely transformed since its most unwelcome intrusion thirteen years ago. I am a survivor. Of that I am certain. Each day, I fill my heart with gratitude to be given one more day to live cancer free. Perhaps you know someone who had cancer, did everything in their power to beat it, and died anyway. Or beat it doing, eating,and living the unhealthy lifestyle they always had.  That’s the reality of cancer. But I do believe that we can increase our odds of adding more years to our lives, if even a few, by making daily and transformative changes each day.

Dr. Oz Offers Life-Saving Suggestions on How to Increase Immune System Functioning

PictureTreya Wilber was my inspirational muse
When I was going through my chemotherapy treatments, I received a sweet but powerful book from one of my best and sweetest girlfriends, Nancy McCallum. It’s entitled Grace and Grit, Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber by Ken Wilber, her husband.  Contained within this book are many of the writings of Treya who became my muse, guiding me with her love, courage, and impeccable self-honesty. Because Treya's tumor was identical to mine, early stage and the most aggressive, and she died  five years after her initial diagnosis, I weighed whether I should be reading her story. More fear I did not need! But Treya validated  and inspired me as she raised my spiritual bar. And because her thoughts, feelings, and spirituality also seemed identical to my own, she became my sister in cancer. 

Treya’s presence lived with me daily, urging me and inviting me into a deeper self-compassion and shift of perspective. My goal wasn't just physical healing but inner change, inner choice, inner shifts in my being. When she began to question the reasons for her breast cancer, just as I had been doing, Ken responded to her,  "I don’t know what caused the cancer, and I don’t think anybody does. The people that go around saying that cancer is caused primarily by repressed emotions or low self-esteem or spiritual anemia don’t know what they’re talking about. There is no credible evidence whatsoever for those notions; they’re basically put forward by people who are trying to sell you something anyway.

Since nobody knows what caused your cancer, I don’t know what you should change in order to help cure it. So why don’t you try this? Why don’t you use cancer as a metaphor and a spur to change all those things in your life that you wanted to change anyway? In other words, repressing certain emotions may or may not have helped cause the cancer, but since you want to stop repressing those emotions anyway, then use the cancer as a reason, as an excuse, to do so.  I know advice is cheap here, but why not take the cancer as an opportunity to change all those things on your list that can be changed?" [Treya had also made a list of “reasons” for her cancer.]

I am not so sure I believed, or still believe, Ken's thoughts on the credibility of the Cancer Personality, but his response to his beloved Treya made sense in so many ways.  I certainly had my "What Caused My Cancer" list, but rather than focusing on them as the reasons for my cancer, I chose to use them as beacon lights to healing.

That being said, there are many who do believe that there is a Cancer Personality.  We will discuss them in upcoming conversations.  A hui ho!...Bye for now!

God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the Courage to change the things I can
And the Wisdom to know the difference.

~ AA Serenity Prayer

This is the first of many of what I hope to be empowering conversations with my readers. Who are my readers?  
  • Women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
  • Women who have been diagnosed with a gynecological cancer.
  • Family & friends who need support with a loved one
I do believe from my own experience with breast and ovarian cancer that when a woman is first diagnosed with cancer, it forces her to focus, to prioritize, and learn what's important. And the need for vital support from her family, friends, and community goes up exponentially! That's what I'm here for...to provide extra support, to alleviate some fear, fill you with daily doses of inspiration and hope, and to provide you with educational resources and tools that will enhance your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well being.  I would also like to hear from you and find out what other issues you would like to discuss. Keep the Cancer Conversation going! Let's turn a cancer diagnosis into victory and healing!  

This shall be the new light, the new sun, which rises when the worn-out one shall set, and shall give light to them who are in shadow and darkness because of the old sun, which did not enlighten them.

~ Dante Alighieri