In December of 2013, I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. I was given three months to live by the oncologists at Wake Forest Baptist Cancer Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
If you’re reading this, sadly you too may know that feeling of helplessness that comes over you when you first hear those terrifying words: “You’ve got cancer.”
At first, I thought I was going to die. After all, the expert cancer doctors told me I was. They immediately began talking about “quality of life” for the time I had left – three months. Their “quality of life” discussion always included pain management, chemotherapy and radiation, with a possibility of surgery.
When a respected cancer specialist puts a time limit on my remaining days on this earth, who am I to disagree? I’m not the expert, the doctors are. I was in shock and probably at the lowest point in my life.
My husband though, would have none of it. To put it mildly, he went “viral.” He demanded that the doctors immediately stop putting a time limit on the days left in my life. I remember well as he raised his voice to the oncologists – over and over again – saying “How dare you tell my wife she is going to die in three months! Who do you think you are, God?”
Why was Rick so convinced that I was not going to die?
Didn’t he understand that I was at Stage IV and very few come back from that? Did he not hear the doctors tell us that once the cancer had learned to travel from my breast, it took over my spine and was present in my ribs, sternum, and the head of my femurs? Was he ignoring the fact that I had compression fractures in my vertebra, three cracked ribs, a fractured sternum and the cancer had weakened my femur necks putting me at great risk of breaking a hip? Were I to break a hip, my chances for recovery would be slim to none.
Did he not even consider the national survival rate statistics for stage four breast cancer patients?
According to the National Cancer Institute’s Seer database, in 2013, there were close to 250,000 new breast cancer cases, with over 40,000 deaths in the US alone. Most of those cases were localized, meaning they were confined to the primary site, the breast for example. The five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer, or stages one and two, is over 98 percent. But I had Stage IV, and the five-year survival rate for my advanced stage and type of cancer is less than five percent.
Still, Rick kept telling me I was not going to die, regardless of what the doctors said and you know what? I began to believe him.
I agreed to the 10 radiation treatments the doctors recommended immediately after my diagnosis. These treatments targeted my right femur neck, which was the most involved, and compression fractures in my back. They told me it was mandatory to stabilize the areas worst hit. When I had completed radiation, they told me I needed to begin a regimen of chemotherapy, a monthly injection to help rebuild my bones, and, possibly, additional radiation.
I was wheeled, that’s right, in a wheelchair, to the pod where I received my first bone building injection. This was also the area where chemotherapy is administered. It was decorated in soothing colors and looked brand new. The nurses were very nice and supportive. But, what struck me most were the looks on the faces of the other patients. For the most part they looked worn out, and many looked lost in hopelessness. Those who made eye contact with me expressed sorrow and pity that I was about to join their ranks.
That did it. I knew right then that chemotherapy was not right for me. If I only had three months to live, I was not going to live it like this. Normally, as anyone who knows me will attest, I respect authority almost to a fault. If an authority figure tells me that I have to do something, I do it. Once I made my decision though, I immediately felt at peace with it.
So, Rick and I both became obsessed with researching other treatments to fight, and beat, this evil disease.
We found that there were countless treatments, supplements and protocols available, all claiming to “heal, cure or prevent cancer.” If you’ve done any kind of online search, you know what I’m talking about. I’m not here to recommend or condemn any of them, although there is a list of some of the sites we utilized in our “Reference” area here on our site.
After narrowing the options down to a more manageable size, we came up with our own course of action to beat this beast of a disease.
Now, please understand, I am not a doctor. I would never recommend that you ignore the advice of your oncologist. We chose to try a more natural healing path over the past 20 months, and it appears to be working for me. This path I am now committed to hasn’t just given me an additional 17 months from the doctor’s original diagnosis, it has “stabilized my cancer,” according to my oncologist. While other doctors might claim I am in “remission,” my doctor doesn’t like to use that word. I will never be “cancer free,” but I believe that I can live to old age by continuing the path I am now on. The cancer will not conquer me or end my life.
Not that long ago, I needed a walker to move around the house and a grabber to pick up my socks from the floor. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t go up or down stairs. I couldn’t cook or clean or play with the dogs. I couldn’t do any of the basic things we take for granted every day. Thankfully, I had the help and support of my wonderful husband, Rick. He did everything for me, including being my chief advocate, an absolute necessity for anyone with a health issue.
In short, today I no longer even know where my walker is. I actually walk distances for exercise now. I still have to be mindful of my limitations, but have started physical therapy to increase my strength and range of motion. But, the best part for me is that I have plants! This Spring, I planted more flowers, vegetables and herbs than any one person should. It just felt so good to once again get my hands in the dirt and be able to create beautiful designs with plant material, that I went a little crazy. Ok, quite a bit crazy. Everything is planted in containers so that it’s easier for me to help maintain them, and I still need some help from Rick, but I don’t care. I get to play in the dirt!
Our purpose in publishing this site is to encourage all breast cancer patients and, maybe more importantly, those who have not heard those terrible words: “You’ve got cancer.” The changes we’ve made in our lives aren’t earth shattering. They’re just things that made sense to us as we moved forward in our battle for wellness. We believe that everyone can benefit from these changes. And the best thing is, you have nothing to lose by trying it.
If I can help encourage you in any way, I would love to talk to you!
So, what exactly is the path we’ve have chosen for my fight against breast cancer? To keep it simple we’ve condensed it to these four things: Lifestyle, Attitude, Food and Faith.
Here is a summary of each piece of the LAFF path:
We did an overall assessment of what emotions and triggers could have played a role in cancer setting up camp in my body. Lifestyle is sort of a catchall for things you do in your everyday life that can have a detrimental affect on your well-being.
Number one on the hit parade is stress. Everyone has stress. It’s a fact of life. But, we can all do little things to alleviate the level of stress our minds and bodies have to deal with on a daily basis. It will take some conscious effort on your part, but it can be done.
The other part of the stress equation, is how you react to it. Do you get even more stressed just thinking about how much stress you’re under? This is a vicious cycle that many of us find ourselves in. We even become stressed when we think there isn’t enough stress, assuming that something must be wrong. How out of whack is that?
Worry is another energy sink. We waste so much of the present time worrying about what may or may not happen in the future. The same can be said for wasting our energy worrying about the past. If you’re letting the past or the future monopolize your thoughts, you’re not really living in the present, and you’re certainly not enjoying it.
As simple as it sounds, a good nights sleep is vital for a healthy mind and body. I know that this is easier said than done, but it’s another one of those things that we became more aware of and made a concerted effort to work on.
Physical activity helps with a lot of the other things in the lifestyle category. It’s a great stress reliever, it helps you sleep if you’ve had a good workout earlier in the day, and it helps keep the many systems of your body working in tiptop form. The alternative lack of activity can lead to many physical problems, plus, you won’t get the kick of endorphins to brighten your mood.
We will expand on all of these and offer suggestions later, but let me just state right now that there is one little word that you will need to use more regularly. You will need to learn to say (and mean) no!
Having a positive attitude is so important in everything you do, but is huge in the healing process. I don’t mean being so overly positive that you become delusional about the fact that you are ill. The old “if I ignore it and say I’m fine, it’ll go away” tactic doesn’t usually work in real life. It didn’t for me anyway…
Rather, don’t dwell on the illness, or whatever your problem may be, and ignore all the good things that may be happening in your life. I’ve always been an upbeat person, so maybe this one was easier for me than it may be for you. I just never let myself wallow in self-pity or let my disease define me.
I appreciate even the little things more now than I ever have. I enjoy my time with family and friends. I appreciate the antics of our four furry kids. I plant and nurture beautiful flowers just because I can. It doesn’t matter if anyone else sees them. The bees, the butterflies, and I enjoy the to their fullest.
What we put in our mouths has probably been the biggest change for Rick and I. We will get into the particulars later, but suffice it to say, that when we started analyzing what we consumed in the name of nutrition, we were appalled.
We switched to a diet that consists of organic whenever possible, much less animal protein, little added sugar, less processed/packaged foods, and no Diet Coke. That last one was a biggie for me. My first thought when I was admitted to the hospital was that Rick would have to bring me one in the morning or I wouldn’t be able to get through the day. Pretty sad, huh?
The first thing we did when we heard those terrifying words: “you’ve got cancer,” was pray. We needed God to lay His healing touch on me and we needed His guidance. We also asked for prayers from family, friends, and the many Facebook followers Rick had acquired over the years. We had, and still have, hundreds of wonderful people lifting us up in prayer every day.
We felt a sense of peace knowing that we were covered by His grace. Although we didn’t know what the future would hold, or even how much of a future I had, we knew that God was in charge and everything would be okay.
Without this faith we may have bought into the prediction of the doctors who said I only three months to live. We knew that only God knows when we will breath our last on this earth, and although doctors have lots of knowledge, this sort of proclamation was above their pay grade.
Update Aug 2016: I wrote this original post in May of 2015. What has happened since that time? Well, I am still here and while a bit weak from a low hemo count, I have not given up my fight and never will!