“Regardless of whether our focus in healing is on the physical, mental, emotional or spiritual level, all levels are invariably touched by the process, and none can be separated out from the rest.” — Mary Maddux (Meditation teacher)
As I reflect back to November 2003 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my healing journey began from a physical place that included a wonderful surgeon, followed by the referral to an extraordinary oncologist at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. The physical journey started in 2003, but continues today as a result of that diagnosis.
During this season of Thanksgiving, it is with gratitude from my very depths to say THANK YOU to all of the HEALERS in our midst, near and far. Prior to my diagnosis 15 years ago, I had only experienced western medicine and looked to doctors as my primary healers. New and different healers have entered my life and have continued to play a profound role in my health recovery and journey—physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. I would like to share with you my experiences with some of these extraordinary healers.
A week prior to my breast cancer surgery, my friend and church’s health minister came for a visit and presented me with a special mantra to take with me into surgery. I remember repeating it as the anesthesia was taking effect, “My Body is a Temple of Healing.” I continue to use this mantra, almost everyday, either in meditation or in daily health intentions.
The overwhelming physical abuses brought about by my diagnosis brought me to the most humbling place I’ve ever been. I remember appearing to be strong assuring my children, husband and friends that I was going to be fine. I felt lucky to live in a time that offered such technologically advanced resources to treat cancer. I would follow a program of surgery, chemo and radiation. “I’ll be back to normal in no time,” I assured them. I soon realized that there was no going back to normal–there’s simply a new normal in your life.
Shortly after my double mastectomy my armor finally cracked, and then… I broke down. My husband was helping to support me in the shower and the reality of “the new normal” hit full force. Maybe it was the cascading water that brought on the tears and the flood of emotions; maybe the time was just right, I don’t really know. In the process of fighting breast cancer, I had allowed myself to become disfigured. I knew at precisely that moment what it felt like to be an amputee. While I had “chosen” no reconstruction (with no regrets), the reality of my physical condition was still a hard pill to swallow at first. By “breaking down” I believe I “broke open” and thus, began a new journey on my truest path for “whole” healing.
There will never be enough words, or the right words, to thank my family and friends for their love and support during that time. Family from Colorado also flew in at various times to offer support. They were and are all our earth angels. Nutritious, delicious, hot, and loving meals were placed in a cooler on our front step by our neighbors each and every day for weeks following my surgery. They even thoughtfully dropped off favorite foods specifically for my husband as well. The thoughtfulness to attend to him too will never be forgotten. I often think a caregiver’s needs are just as important. At the same time, the folks working in our retail store also pitched in by working extra hours and taking on additional responsibilities to lighten our load.
A friend mentioned a nutritionist to speak with prior to beginning chemotherapy. She was wonderful, and in one meeting she gave me a protocol that encouraged my body to quickly eliminate the toxic drugs used in the chemotherapy treatments. By following her suggestions, I was giving my liver and immune system a leg up to do what they needed to do without the additional overload of unhealthy foods.
Another friend told me about a neighbor who was a Reiki practitioner. Okay, I thought, why not? At my very first Reiki session, two weeks prior to my first chemotherapy treatment, an incredible serenity and peace came over me. My practitioner was a calm presence guiding me through an experience of overwhelming healing through intentions and energy. Within minutes of that first Reiki session, I just “knew” I was going to be okay.
By being okay, I understood that I didn’t know if I would beat the cancer, but I knew that I could draw upon another healing energy force, in addition to my faith, that would bring me peace and not fear. I continued my Reiki sessions for many years; even after my cancer treatment had concluded. I’ll tell you more about Reiki in an upcoming blog post. It’s a fascinating form of healing, so much so, that I am now certified as a Reiki practitioner to help others.
During my six months of chemotherapy, an abundance of healers presented themselves to me. Nurses, whose gentleness with the needles on collapsing veins brought tears to my eyes; volunteers, many of them cancer survivors, who came by to offer refreshments, a magazines or a kind word. My husband sat next to me at every visit, along with my mother-in-law who would knit and chat. For several days following each infusion of chemotherapy drugs, our wonderful, grown children would check in and Mike, my husband, would offer endless compassion to get me through the nausea and sleeplessness.
After finishing nine long months of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, my husband and I embarked on a two-week journey on the Trans Canadian Railway from Toronto to Vancouver, Canada to celebrate my remission and completion of treatment. At the end of the trip my immune system crashed and I came down with shingles, a serious virus that attacks nerves at the root. It feels like someone with a red-hot poker is stabbing you over and over again. Unfortunately, it wasn’t diagnosed within the critical 72-hour window in which prescription medication can relieve some of the symptoms. I was told I would have to deal with long-term neuropathy, which includes acute pain, mimicking the shingles in the right chest wall and corresponding shoulder blade when I get overly tired or stressed. Seriously? Yikes!
The silver lining of getting shingles, if there can be one, manifested itself in meeting and being treated by a most gifted practitioner of Chinese Medicine. He was an acupuncturist who specialized in breast cancer research at Massachusetts General Hospital, and was able to successfully arrest the acute shingle attack. He also introduced me to the healing properties of Chinese herbs. I continued to see him twice a month until our move to Denver, five years ago.I miss him and his healing gifts tremendously.
With the kids grown and out of the house, and after battling cancer for so long, we needed more life in the house. So, at the end of treatment I presented my husband with Bella, a 10-week-old Lab puppy. She joined Cricket, our seven-year old Lab. Both dogs became extraordinary healers.
A year following my treatment I had the good fortune to meet yet another gifted healer at a wellness retreat. She is a doctor trained in western medicine and a foremost expert on wellness, aging and bioidentical hormone therapy. She has helped provide me wellness in thyroid, adrenal and hormone support for the past 10 years. She is also a friend. I can’t wait to introduce you to her in another upcoming blog post!
In 2009, I opened a box that contained 279 cards and letters that had been written to me during my treatment. It didn’t seem right to keep them in a box so I reached out to a friend who is a gifted quilter. I gave her a design for the “Tree of Life” and asked if she could create a quilt that also included pockets for all of these cards. She finished it over New Year’s 2010. This quilt continues to bring me the memories of love and support that each one of these people offered during that year. Almost every week, I select a card from a different quilt pocket to read, remember and smile. It is treasured not only for the sentiments in the cards but also the love that went into making the quilt. It’s an honor to share this photo with you, my readers.
My community of healers here in Denver includes my new acupuncturist and herbalist who helps manage my neuropathy from the shingles; a chiropractor who has opened up my right shoulder and provides spinal and nerve support following my surgery and physical therapy; a bright, young oncologist; a new friend and nutritionist, a Feng Shui practitioner, a Reiki practitioner and adviser on Chinese herbs. These healers aid me with physical health as well as helping me in my quest for whole health on every level.
There are healers throughout the world offering their gifts to bring comfort and wholeness to those who are suffering. Today healers are working tirelessly to end the suffering from the Ebola outbreak, working in Haiti to rebuild after the hurricanes and the earthquake, and in war-torn countries around the globe. There are those providing comfort and compassion in treatment centers; providing counseling services for those with addictions and other life challenges.
There are those who work with the underprivileged and those who staff orphanages, hospice care centers, and cancer treatment centers. Healers are teachers, ministers and clergy staff; yoga, tai-chi and other alternative health instructors and practitioners. They are authors and speakers. They are family and friends and strangers who offer a gesture of kindness each day. I believe we can each be a healer in some way.
This Thanksgiving, in the spirit of whole health, I offer deep gratitude for healers everywhere.
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