I was literally transformed overnight September 22, 2010. This is the day I found out I had cancer. I came home with a new perspective. I came home for the first time as a woman with breast cancer. I knew that my life would never be the same. I don’t know why it seemed at that moment like such a fatalistic situation. I came home and sat on the edge of my bed all night long not moving… just concentrating on my breathing because it was the only thing I felt I had control of. And it represented the fact that I was living…and all of a sudden staying alive felt so precarious. So feeling that breath go in and out of me felt comforting. And in that non intentional meditative state…during that one night…my perspective flipped. I came to a comprehension of my life that was impeccably clear. My mind finally let go of the wheel and I gave the controls to the spirit within and without, and I listened intently. The more I listened, the more I heard. I realized my whole life I had been a warrior. I had been a warrior that fought battles for justice…always with a cause… and it was no longer serving me. Fighting was exhausting. I symbolically took off my armor and put my sword down and sat on the edge of my bed. With all that armor on it was hard for things to get in and for things to get out. I could stand there and shine in all my glorious strength as much as I wanted to, but I wasn’t connecting enough to the world…I was only connecting to myself which I had never had a problem doing. But even within that connection, I was only connecting to one aspect of myself at a time. I was either in my mind, my body, or my spirit. Seldom did they all unite as a whole, resonating equally in unison, balanced and in harmony. The words “I have cancer” created an emotional trauma within me…a fight or flight chemical reaction. Because of this all of my senses worked together towards keeping me intact and functioning at a really high frequency. Tuning into, and maintaining this high frequency of energetic vibration felt liberating. I let go of the controls and stayed connected to this energy. I have always felt this connection within myself. I just haven’t always acted upon it at all times, only when I felt it was needed. It embraces love in its purest form. It inspires the awakening of the core essence within others and myself, and the joy for simply being alive and being free to be.
The possibility of death brought me closer to life. I sat there on the edge of my bed and realized I had sat there all night without moving when I saw the sun peaking through the blinds. And by the time the sun rose, I had gone from looking at my art strewn all around my room and thinking what would my family do with it if I didn’t survive, to deciding I was going to live and be a better “spiritual being” because of it. Even though I knew without any doubt in my heart that I was going to make it through this experience, my mind still polluted this truth with its emotional tricks of doubt and fear. It sabotaged my inner power for a moment.
For a week I didn’t feel like there was a way out. I had to remind myself to breath, just breath, all day long. Every time I panicked, which was all the time, I would use my breath to calm myself down. Obviously this was the stage of disbelief. I tried to figure out a way to deny this whole thing out of my existence. That first night, when I had sat on my bed all night long, a lot had passed through my mind. Sitting on my baby bed, on the twin bed that had been mine as a child, I looked around the room at all of my paintings propped up against my furniture and felt this incredible sinking feeling that I hadn’t accomplished everything I had wanted to do yet. I had traveled on many artistically creative journeys. I had been to many different countries, lived in Paris, France half my life, loved and been loved, experienced many amazing adventures…yet I still didn’t feel satisfied or fulfilled.
I was feeling like I had run out of time, like it was over and I was mourning all the things I hadn’t done yet. I felt I had had my chance…my life…and I hadn’t seized it for one reason or another. What a waste of my abilities and my dreams. I wanted to share what I had to give to its fullest degree. I felt cheated and robbed of time. I suddenly found myself bartering for more time, time that seemed to suddenly be stamped with an expiration date. I had been immortal yesterday, and today I felt like every minute counted. I felt that the power of longevity was no longer in my hands and I was at the mercy of my own rebel cells. So I sat on the edge of my bed paralyzed in a stupor of disbelief. I thought how much I liked my paintings I had put so much love into. I had all kinds of beautiful things I wanted to share with the world and felt this massive weight of sadness completely engulf my heart. I couldn’t move without wanting to scream or fight. So I just sat there all night not moving, just focusing on breathing, on the edge of my baby bed. That seemed all I could do with certainty and normalcy. Crazy thoughts went through my mind as I sat there. I actually felt jealousy towards other people’s cancers. How insane is that? Envious of the people that had caught cancer before it had gotten into their major lymph nodes and blood stream. The people with a tiny clean cut tumor that only had to have it removed and that was it…no drugs or major surgery at all.
The first week of my new reality called cancer, I woke up every morning realizing this whole thing wasn’t a bad dream. I would lay there thinking how I would give anything to feel that overwhelming wave of happiness and relief that you get when you realize you have escaped the consequences of the nightmare. It took me a month before I could even say the words “I have cancer” without feeling sick to my stomach. I went through the motions of life in a heightened state of awareness…clear and vibrating at such a high frequency so that I wouldn’t miss a thing. I was wide open to any signal, be it spiritual messages or concrete information my research led me to concerning the surgery and drug options I had relative to my diagnosis. I wanted to make the most educated decisions, not based on emotion, but based on facts acquired from lots of diverging sources allowing me to play the devil’s advocate. Whatever game plan I decided on had to resonate the closest to my own belief system, and my inner voice. It was all happening so fast, and these decisions were building the foundation for the quality of my future prognosis. And once it was done there would be no turning back the consequences of good or bad decisions made during this time. So I was focused and driven by an obsessed super power of efficiency to make the right ones. I was living a one-track mind existence. I felt making decisions was the only control I had over this thing called cancer. The only thing I “did” for one month WAS cancer. I wanted to get a game plan and then focus on the next step. I wanted to get past that stage because cancer was now saturating my soul as well as my body and I didn’t want to give it any more power than it already had. Although I never got the chance to slow down my efforts to formulate a game plan for my treatment the month before surgery, there was a point where I felt sure of what I wanted, and relieved that I had found it. I never once went into a medical appointment asking their advice…ever. I had done my research and went in telling them what I wanted, and that was that. It was a strange concept, but I felt that hey were working for ME. The business was my body, I was the owner, and they were the employees. They had gone to 14 years of medical school and I didn’t care because they were speaking a language of numbers, protocols, research results from pharmaceutical labs that were financially biased and limitations enforced by insurance companies. They didn’t know me…ME. They didn’t know what I was capable of, who I had been and what I had done in my life to become the person that I was now. I have to give them credit. They worked with me. Although, I had to ADVOCATE for myself every step of the way for everything I had asked them to comply with. I hadn’t wanted to have to defend my views constantly. It was exhausting, and I was ill and already exhausted. Dealing with all of the extra resistance from people who were supposed to be making this easier on me, and helping me heal, was annoying.
I had cancer in my left breast only, but decided to have a double mastectomy for two reasons. One, because I had 2 tumors with messy edges and lots of satellite tumors spread out everywhere within my left breast making it impossible to do a lumpectomy. The second being I was triple positive and had her2+3 cancer. It is very aggressive and has the highest recurrence rate of any breast cancer, other than HER2 negative cancer. Another decision I had made was not to do the 2 chemical chemo drugs, tamoxifen or radiation they wanted me to take. People weren’t surviving this kind of cancer even with these chemical drugs so they created a biological monoclonal antibody immunology drug called HERCEPTIN. A miracle biological chemo drug that helped keep the recurrence rate way down and survival rates up. So why would I weaken my immune system with drugs that really weren’t making that much of a difference when I could simply take the miracle drug herceptin they had created especially for my cancer. Doing a double mastectomy upped the outcome of my prognosis also. I was so lucky. This new generation of cancer drug is the future of cancer treatment. I could take it and it would be effective because of the kind of cancer I had. I am SO grateful. So for me, this miracle drug didn’t need the counter action of chemical chemo destroying, or at best, severely weakening my immune system…that was already weak. That would have defeated the purpose. It didn’t make sense to me. I wanted to start taking herceptin right away, 3 weeks before the surgery. I made that happen. I have to take this drug herceptin intravenously every week for a year. I opted to get the surgery done as soon as possible instead of adhering to the normal protocol of waiting until the cancer drug had killed some of the cells first. I felt frantic that they couldn’t get me in sooner for the surgery…I just wanted as much cancer out of me as soon as possible. They say there is no pain with cancer…but for me there was pain. The pain that had come in the dream I had in September of 2010 had never gone away. And I swear, I could feel its existence. I could feel it pulsating and breathing and moving like a wave from my breast to the lymph nodes under my arm. It gave me knots in my stomach to feel it growing and spreading. I had decided also to have reconstructive surgery. I wanted a nipple and skin sparring double mastectomy. It meant basically they would take out all of the fascia, connective tissue, small lymph nodes, fat and breast tissue from my entire torso, and the first layer of lymph nodes from under my arm, but leave my skin and nipples intact. They just kind of emptied me out through a small incision on the sides of each breast. And I knew I could save my left nipple. I just knew. However, I had to change surgeons in order to make this happen. The first surgeon I saw didn’t communicate with me. My very first introduction to my medical team, just one week after my diagnosis, did not go well at all. I met with an oncology surgeon who circled things in a pamphlet while talking as if she was recording an info commercial on cancer. She didn’t even have my pathology report from my biopsy with her. She had obviously done this too many times. She had forgotten the first time she had to tell someone their life would never be the same, and what thier options were for surviving this ordeal. She wouldn’t even discuss nipple sparring surgery…which was what I wanted. That wasn’t “protocol” she had said. I remember sitting on this couch in front of her completely frantic at the thought that someone else was going to tell me what to do with my body. In that moment I realized the solution was simple. I told her that I didn’t trust her to be there for me when I was unconscious on that operating table…my life and body in her hands, and that I needed a new surgeon. I got a new surgeon who ended up being one of the reasons my surgical pathology report came back with clean margins even though she had told me we would not get clean margins because the cancer was too close to my chest wall. I think my positive outlook and persistence made her want to really rise to the occasion. I know she respected my research abilities and the knowledge I offered as proof supporting my demands. She was one of the best oncology surgeons in New England. I was told she went into the operating room with the conviction of a warrior. I trusted that she was going to get clean margins. I visualized her digging and scraping meticulously until she did! Every single margin came back clean! She and I had made a compromise. I wouldn’t sign the surgical consent form without the words nipple sparring written on the top. The cancer was really close to my left nipple and the deal was that they would keep the nipple intact during the surgery…under any condition. And she wouldn’t sign the consent form unless I agreed that if the pathology report came back with a positive margin for that nipple, that I would have it removed at the plastic surgeons afterwards. I had met my match! She was just as solid as I was…but she was also compromising. Honestly, as far as I was concerned, she had no choice but to be compromising. It was MY body. Of course, like I had predicted, that margin came back clean. From the beginning my intuition ad been spot on. That’s because I was really listening without my emotions getting in the way! But I had to advocate for myself to save “a nipple”!! I have never talked about nipples and breasts so much as I have in the last 3 months! It’s amazing how I took them for granted before…really…why wouldn’t I have? We women all have them. Now saving a nipple seemed to live on the same priority list as surviving. However, I always kept it in perspective. I would have done what needed to be done if I had had to. I never felt pretentious, cocky, or entitled during this whole process. The only word that echo’s through my heart every day since September 22, 2010 is gratitude. I am simply grateful. I get no credit for a saved nipple, or clean margins except that I had advocated for them. I have been so extremely blessed and lucky the whole way through this. So many people have been praying for me, sending me good energy.. I advocated for myself throughout this whole journey. I had to stand my ground and not be influenced by anything other than my inner guidance. I am so lucky that I was able to get reconstruction. Plastic surgeons use radiated cadaver skin to create a new pocket that will eventually hold the final implant. I have to admit, I was so not loving the idea of having someone elses radiated tissue in my body and had to give the radiated cadavre skin process lot’s of love! I had to see it as someone who had died and generously donated some of their tissue to me to help me heal and I thanked them for this. Then the plastic surgeon places expanders under the pectoral muscles at the time of the mastectomy and fill them with a minimal amount of saline solution so that the expanding of the cavity the final implants will be placed in begins immediately. Then during the next 5 months once a week they expand the cavity. Then a second surgery is performed to place the final implants in their new cavities that were created during the first process. Years ago breast cancer patients didn’t have this option.
I now understand that this is to be a lesson, an opportunity for growth, a new perspective. Life will give us the messages that we need over and over until we hear them and act upon them…and if we don’t…it will give it to us in the form of something so traumatic that we are left with no choice but to “get it” and finally act upon “it”. A week after I had been told that I had breast cancer, I was sitting in a café, still feeling devastated, frantic and in a constant state of disbelief. While doing research on my laptop this man rolled into the cafe in a motorized wheelchair using a straw type device to move the wheelchair with his teeth. He was obviously paralyzed from the neck down. He was smiling and laughing and was obviously a regular because everyone knew him and he sparked up conversations with them all. I sat there thinking to myself how ungrateful I was being. I actually felt embarrassed for being so shallow and self centered as to forget how difficult other peoples situations could be for them, and how much strength they could have in dealing with these challenges. I could have been in a car accident and never walk or use my arms again. I could still dance, and swim, and spin, and run and move freely! I did have the right to initially feel what I had to feel…sadness, disbelief, fear…whatever…but I had to take it to the next level and let it go. I had to move on to an assesment of my situation that was coming from a positive place of seeing what I had instead what I was going to lose. I had to come to terms with the loss and the challenge and find peace with it in order to let it go with love. I realized in that moment that I was blessed. And from that moment on, I felt strong. I had gotten the message. I acted upon it. After that I still woke up every morning having to deal with the wrenching realization, over and over again, that this wasn’t a bad dream and this was now my new reality. But it started moving away from disbelief away from fear, away from regret for all the things I had wanted to do and never got around doing because I had treated time as such a commodity. I started thinking of all the things I COULD do and how I was going to do them. And now time was treated as precious. I started believing that I had recieved that dream when I had so that I could heal this cancer in time. This was just the hard core message I needed to get turned around. Now everything seemed urgent in a positive way.
I have to admit, there was one day…only one…that I felt anger that it had been me. Why ME? I never smoked, drank or ate things like processed food or red meat…I was fair and true…but that was just one day. And how simplistic was that way of thinking. By not eating red meat or smoking I wasn’t going to get cancer! That was the old me thinking…the invincible me…that thought herself too spiritual to get cancer. Cancer is like the perfect storm. There have to be so many factors that come together in order for that one cell to decide to ignore healthy, normal DNA behavior and take off running in it’s own direction and start spawning offspring. BUT more important, I do believe now that cancer is a spiritual illness and my soul hadn’t been happy. My bon fire had been diminished to a flame bullied by the wind becoming faint and dim. And I could follow through with all the medical procedures and treatments possible, but I now realized that if I didn’t find a way to get my soul burning like a bon fire once again…this cancer would simply come back. And it’s easy to get a game plan going for medical procedures and treatments and follow through with them because that’s all your medical team wants to do. Before you know what’s happened to you, your spinning through all of this at 4 g speed and your thinking that just 3 months ago you were a normal person. You no longer remember what normal feels like, and your in the middle of becoming who you are going to be now. So your in limbo…no longer who you were, and in the process of being reborn into your new body and new perspective. I realized it wasn’t a quick and easy process re-heating this soul of mine to “bon fire” temperatures. It wasn’t going to happen overnight. Which of course is what I wanted to accomplish. I wanted it all…right now. My bad “warrior” habit of fixing it to near perfection in an instant. My other bad pattern also showed its face by not having any patience when I realized it would take time. Luckily, my new belief system kicked in and lI let go of old patterns. Now I realize that the only way to get that bon fire of an energy stoked up again, is to throw one log on at a time. And seriously, when all you have initially is a flame in the wind, we can’t be talking logs. For a while anything more than a tooth pick would prove to be enough to snuff the flame out entirely!! So I sit here with my magic box of toothpicks and stoke my flame all day long. And I sigh at the snail pace I am moving at. And I long for a new beginning in a new place. And I realize that THIS moment IS the new beginning. And I realize that I am on my way. And I realize that I am going in the right direction. And the new place is actually each moment, that happens over and over again and becomes the new place where I will be 5 minutes from now. The new place isn’t a tangible place…it’s a way of life lived within every present moment. The quality and intent of my positive and constructive thoughts is what takes me from one moment to another in the right direction. i trust myself to take me in the right direction. I trust.