What I Did
“What did you do?”
I’ve been asked this question multiple times in the last 3 days. I wish with all my being that I had a guaranteed cure-all for everyone who has ever faced a cancer diagnosis. I really, really do.
But I don’t.
While I’ve shared piecemeal here and there exactly what it is that I have done in the last eight months, I am going to try to summarize for y’all what it is that I believe really made a difference for me – what really got me to remission. I hope that maybe it will serve as a starting point for some of you (because – lets be honest – you don’t need a cancer diagnosis to start to heal yourself), but this treatment regimen was specific to what my heart and body and spirit needed.
Your mileage may vary.
* * *
What did I do?
The short answer is simply this – I finally learned to love myself.
Now, I’m not saying that everyone who develops cancer has some deep seeded self-hatred to deal with. I think cancer finds its roots in multiple sources and that – yes – many of them are emotional, mental, and/or energetic. My particular brand of cancer had to do with being raised in a sick home and never learning that I had any value independent of the world and people around me. I was so codependent that I didn’t believe I had any worth standing on my own. Heck – I wasn’t even sure standing on my own was possible.
And that’s part of where I was wrong too – just in how I posed the problem. Because it turns out that while my biggest fear was rejection by the world and being unlovable and while my biggest worry was that everything would come crumbling down if I had to stand on my own – I never had to worry about these things at all. Because as elementary aged Sunday school as it sounds, what I came to discover is that God would always accept me and love me and God would always be standing with me – so there can’t ever be a fear of being alone.
But I digress.
* * *
According to the Radical Remission Project, “[a] Radical Remission is a cancer remission that occurs either without conventional medical treatment, after conventional treatment has failed to work, or when conventional and complementary methods are used in conjunction to overcome a dire prognosis.”
Even as I was entering the beginning of my chemotherapy road, I knew there was something more to this whole thing than physical illness. So my prayer was simple – “Lord, deliver me whoever I need to heal however I need to heal, and I will use them.”
I explored enough during chemotherapy to know that certain things weren’t for me. Acupuncture is a good example. It works for lots of people, but it wasn’t doing anything to heal what was ailing me.
So by the time I heard the news that chemo hadn’t worked and that my cancer was “incurable” by Western medicine standards, I had a pretty good feel for how to put together my own ongoing “treatment plan”. So that is what I am going to attempt to detail for you here.
* * *
As a caveat – by the time I heard the word "incurable", I already knew that my disease was gone and that my numbers would eventually return to normal or – if nothing else – stabilize. God had started telling me that death was off the table by June, so at times I think it was easier for me to take this leap than it might be for others. My goal at that point was to hopefully help things along the road to remission, and to work on building a life that would sustain remission (and eventually a cured status) going forward. So everything you read about here is work that will be ongoing indefinitely. Its not like I heard “cancer free” and got a free pass to jump off the horse.
This is my new life.
Once the switch was flipped and I realized how much I love myself and how much that and my relationship with God are truly all that matters, it made what I had to do to continue to heal pretty obvious. Every decision I made – whether about a friendship or a volunteer opportunity or work or my food – had to be answered from that deeply rooted place of self-love that has nestled into my flesh. If it didn’t feel loving to me, I didn’t do it. No questions asked.
* * *
A big hurdle to self-love for me was loving my physical body in the wake of all this mess. I’ll state the obvious – I am a woman and society places tremendous value on our outward appearances. And I’ll be honest in confessing that after being a bit of an ugly duckling story, I believed that a large part of my ability to attract people had to do with how I looked.
So settling into bald, scarred, scrawny, and pale was hard. Settling into having no ovaries and lots of hot flashes has been harder. Its been a challenge to love myself when I look in the mirror most days.
But in that space, God has gifted me with many, many people who chose to not only walk into my life but to stay – regardless of how I look. And that’s been a huge lesson for me. I was walking along one new favorite several weeks ago – someone who had never known me before – when I mentioned my hair. He stopped dead in his tracks and told me it has never even occurred to him that I ever had hair. He had always thought I was beautiful – and he had only known me bald.
Yoga has played a huge role in accepting this new body. I am back to a daily practice and its essential for me – it’s a way to reconnect with a body that became completely foreign overnight, and while we still don’t get along a hundred percent of the time, my practice reminds me to love and be grateful for my flesh, regardless of the form it might be taking. Self-love is loving all parts of ourselves and yoga is working me back into this one.
* * *
Loving my body had two other components – my thoughts and my food.
At the suggestion of Dr. Bush, I revamped my diet several months ago. I talked about it a bit ago here so I won’t go into it all again, but the diet choices and supplement choices I made are the ones that I felt my body asking for. I think part of why a vegan diet feels so essential to me is because as I’ve learned to love myself so much better, I’ve also become acutely aware of the harm I might be causing to other living creatures and to the rest of our world. I’m not going to hop on a soapbox here. But for me, as I ground myself more in love my diet needs to reflect that too.
Thoughts were a trickier matter for me. So I had to get pretty regimented with them. If you walk into my house these days, you’ll find notecards with affirmations and prayers tacked everywhere. I have some I carry with me almost all the time. They are reminders that help me to train my brain to think in loving and positive ways as often as possible. We manifest what we believe in our hearts and we believe in our hearts what our thoughts tell us again and again.
I also have a series of five affirmations that I use daily. As an example, one states:
My body is whole and healed, strong and healthy. My CA125 is under 20. My body shows no signs of disease and is ready to support many more years of life for my spirit.
I read these aloud first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I also write them longhand twelve times at the middle of the day. Whenever I find worry or doubt or negativity creeping in, I recite them to myself. I often say them over and over while Hope and I walk.
Our thoughts are powerful creatures. Mine needed to go to boot camp.
* * *
I had two healers strongly encourage me to spend less time in the physical locations where I had spent a lot of time before my diagnosis, and to spend as much time outdoors as possible. I’ve changed the places in my home where I spend the most time – the location of my bedroom has even changed. And I am fortunate that I am able to work from nearly anywhere (and that I work for what might possibly be the most caring and supportive law firm to ever exist) so I can limit my time in the physical space of my office and be in spaces that allow me to get fresh air and sun while I work. And I’ve made it a point to travel at least once a month to a location that will allow me major doses of both of these things.
I am also under strict orders to reduce stress. Again, I am extremely fortunate to have colleagues who are willing to work with me as I figure out how to do this while still maintaining my legal practice. Its a work in progress. I am also learning to protect my time and to take a step back before committing to anything. I don't run around frantic anymore. My life has more space. This allows both for more time with God and more space for God to work His magic in my world.
I am not the only person to notice the remarkable impact of these changes on my physical body. My hair grows at an exponential rate. I get frequent comments about how much healthier I look – not just from chemo but ever. My law partner comments often that I look the healthiest I have ever been in the 10+ years he has known me. I know this is true. And I know in part its from these changes to the spaces I occupy with frequency.
* * *
I shut the TV off. It still sits there and glowers at me, but it doesn’t come on often.
I listen to a lot of podcasts, but I’m careful what I take in. We are a result of everything we surround ourselves with, so the negative, the catty, the snarky, and the gossipy is kept at bay.
My Instagram feed has been carefully curated to reflect only what I am willing to make a part of me – many people I know in “real life” have had to be removed in order to ensure it remains a positive and recovery-reflective feed.
I can tell you nothing at all about pop culture right now. I am fantastically okay with that.
I took some workshops in chanting and mantras and have healing music playing very, very often. I sleep to healing mantras or guided meditations.
Healing by osmosis is a thing, y’all.
* * *
In addition to spending as much time as I can manage in the great outdoors, I carry pieces of it with me daily. I’ve come to discover that I have a bit of a knack for crystal healing, and in addition to the stones you’ll find on my wrists and neck, there are several stones hidden on my body on any given day. One sweet one jokes that I am a walking rock quarry, and I suppose these days that is true. But they help me manage symptoms and heal ongoing issues, so I’ll own it. My home is also speckled with rocks and stones and I know they’re helping create the healing vibe that’s going on there.
Along with my stones, I use a number of essential oils daily – I add several to my water, use many on my body, and diffuse them in my living spaces along with incense.
* * *
My relationships had to change. And by change I mean I had to take an enormous step away from almost everyone except for a very small handful of people. In some cases, people had to take an enormous step away from me and I’ve come to see that God required them to do that so that I could learn to listen to Him before them, to stand on my own alongside Him, to love myself without being certain of the love anyone else might hold for me. It was the only way to really break my codependency, and while I was angry with God about it, it worked in the way only miracles can.
As I move back into the world and start test driving relationships again, its with a new barometer. Finally, I feel no need to prove myself to anyone or to win their affections, so those people who will be in my life are those who can sit with me as I am and accept and love that person – the stripped down and real version of who I am. Its new. Its scary. Its amazing.
* * *
Probably the biggest work I did, though, was the uphill climb of really tackling the emotional trauma of growing up in an alcoholic home and living through several abusive relationships. I finally had to admit that it wasn’t a weakness to admit the damage these things had done – it was weakness to continue to try to fumble my way through life without facing them.
Truthfully, this work started well before I shut down the chemo train. But its continued in earnest with the help of my sponsor, my spiritual director, my intuitive, my reiki healer, my trauma coach, and my therapist. Its difficult to give a short description of the work we’ve done and the work we’ve continued to do. But I can tell you without a doubt that God sent me each of them and has worked through them to repair what I thought was unrepairable and to bring me into the light of love and acceptance and truth.
They are angels.
* * *
If you've been following along you know that I've also maintained a daily prayer and meditation practice and spend time in the scriptures daily. How these things look may change from time to time. But the consistent is that I remain in constant contact with God, that I stay quiet enough to hear Him daily, that I seek to connect with Him before anyone else. When people ask who God is to me I answer that He is my bestie. Because its true. He and I - we can do anything.
* * *
The truth is, none of these things may work for anyone other than me. But I can tell you one thing that will. The thing that guided me in all this. Learning to quiet your mind and listen to your heart. Whether you call what speaks to you there your intuition, your Creator, the Universe, or - like me – God, there is a voice there that will tell you what you need to heal and how to heal it. But you need to be wiling to hear what it says. You need to be willing to follow it.
In the end, I didn’t save myself.
God saved me.