My first mammogram was at age 41. When the phone rang with the results, I was already facing a recent diagnosis of ademomyosis in my uterus, degenerative arthritis in my feet and knees, and a deepening anxiety around burnout in my career and job. “We found non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in your right breast,” said the voice on the phone.
“You mean breast cancer?” I could barely breath as the voice continued. “It’s a pre- cancer. Non-invasive, stage zero—treated with a simple day-in-day-out procedure.”
The “simple procedure” was actually called a partial mastectomy or lumpectomy, from which the anesthesia recovery and pain killers made me sick for two weeks. Just as I was starting to feel better, the phone rang again. This time it was the surgical oncologist. “The margins didn’t clear and came back positive. I’m so sorry.”
“Positive margins” meant there was still cancer in my breast so I had to go back and have the surgery all over again. Only this time a breathing tube was inserted in my throat which led to a pinched nerve in my neck causing pain convulsions across my neck, back, and down my left arm. I couldn’t move my neck, which lasted for months. The margins from the second surgery came back positive and I was told I needed a third surgery—a full mastectomy—the removal of my right breast.
My life began to fall apart.
I could not work and my husband and I needed my income to pay all the bills. The fear of losing our home and lack of security was paralyzing. We did not have the physical and emotional support we needed and felt isolated and terrified.
I physically could not handle a third surgery—especially one that would be much more involved. A dark depression took over and I learned first hand what it feels like to want to do anything to stop the pain.
I felt like I had no control over what was happening to me, no options, and no voice. So I began to do my own research. I gave myself permission to feel my emotions. I stopped giving energy to other people’s judgements, expectations, and advice of what I “should” do.
I began listening to my intuition and making decisions from my heart.
I learned that DCIS is a controversial diagnosis. The improvements in cancer technology have led to earlier detection, so more women are being diagnosed. For the most part, DCIS is a non-life threatening breast cancer with a mortality rate 3%.
Interestingly, autopsies on women who passed from causes unrelated to breast cancer often find DCIS in their breasts. DCIS is treated the same as other types and stages of breast cancer, because, as I was told, “it can lead to more invasive cancer.” Yet, there is little evidence to support this statement as research has not been conducted on women living with DCIS due to how aggressively it is treated.
Herein lies the controversy. Some doctors argue that nutrition and lifestyle change to treat the root causes of early stage, non-invasive cancer are healthier for the body and have less quality-of-life side effects than treating a pre-cancer the same as an invasive cancer.
I wish I had not been so consumed with fear when I was diagnosed, and instead had been presented with all the facts and options so I could make the best decisions for my body, not just to act in accordance with statistics. Every single breast cancer diagnosis is different from the next because we are all unique, individual people with our own health backgrounds, genetics, and mitochondrial DNA mutations. We live and work in different environments which impact our health, exposure to toxins, and the DNA mutations that occur due to these environments and toxins.
My dear husband ran a Go Fund Me so I could take the time I needed to heal from the surgeries, additional health complications, and mental illness as well as to pay for the costs health insurance does not cover. Publicly asking for financial support for months was humiliating, but we needed the help and are so grateful for everyone who contributed and passed along their love and prayers. Eight months after the initial diagnosis, I had the mastectomy and removal of four lymph nodes.
For me cancer wasn’t about facing death. It is a continuous journey of holistic healing, acceptance, and love for who I am. I treat the root causes of dis-ease in my body by changing my entire life—nutrition, activities, relationships, career, and mindset. I advocate for my needs and honor my boundaries. I take a stand for health equity and healing ourselves so we can heal the sickness in our society. I found myself and I reclaim my power, my voice, and my relationship with the Earth. For the entire journey, I am deeply grateful, especially for how EmpowR is a creation of so much of the learning I was blessed to experience as a result of being sick, combined with my own personal journey to be who I am meant to be in this rapidly changing world.