I was diagnosed with aggressive her2-positive breast cancer at the age of 38. I did not have a family history of cancer and had been the epitome of health all my life. I was a health and wellness personal trainer, a vegetarian since I was 19, and a non-smoker. I had four children, all of whom I had nursed. So, at that point in life, I had probably done everything a person could to stay healthy.
I felt a lump in my left breast, and even before that, I had told my doctors that I was feeling tired. The doctors said this was probably due to the brain and spinal surgery I had 13 months ago. A part of me knew that this was different, but what the doctors said seemed reasonable, and I let it go.
When I spoke to them about the lump, they told me I was too young to have breast cancer and brushed it off. A few months later, I came across a flyer that advertised a self-breast examination, and it felt like a message from the universe to me. I did the test and still felt the lump. This time when we went to the doctor, they sent me for an ultrasound and a mammogram but ended up taking the ultrasound on the wrong breast. So, I had to take the ultrasound again.
The ultrasound showed that I had a tumour, and I was diagnosed with her2-positive breast cancer. But the doctors only suggested a lumpectomy because the tumour had not affected the lymph nodes. I, on the other hand, wanted to get a second opinion just to be sure, so we went to another hospital in Texas, and they discovered a second tumour.
Treatments I underwent
Following this diagnosis, I had a double mastectomy. I had a choice between having a single and a double mastectomy, but I chose double just to be safer. The chemotherapy treatment was really aggressive because the type of cancer I had was aggressive. Initially, I was supposed to have six rounds of chemo, but I had really adverse reactions to the treatment with just a single cycle.
I had severe neuropathic reactions and lost my hair immediately. So, I felt like this was not the right thing to do for myself and thought that the reason I had the disease was not because of my physical health but because there was something else that was not aligned in my life. And I realised that I needed time to figure out what it was instead of just sticking to the traditional treatment and hoping for the best.
So, I decided to stop the chemotherapy despite all the doctors advising against it. They also wanted to put me through menopausal treatment, and I refused that too. It was hard to go against all the traditional methods because I trusted that it was more of a holistic therapy that my body required.
My mental and emotional well-being
At that point in life, I felt that the treatments and the appointments were overwhelming my body and not helping me. I understood that it was doing more harm than good and got out of it. Looking at cancer and treating it from a different angle is an essential learning.
I believe that the cancer was a manifestation of my unresolved emotional traumas, and I have been going to therapy for that. I began understanding that healing from all the stagnant emotions and feelings I had in me while also learning from the journey of recovery is what helped me survive cancer.
Lifestyle during cancer
As I was already a fitness and health coach, I had been practising yoga way before cancer. But after the treatment, I started practising Yin Yoga, in which you have to hold your poses for three minutes, and that was the right amount of movement that my body needed.
Another practice that helped me was meditation. Meditation, to me, is not just quiet time. It is the peace I create within myself to really listen and know what to do next. There is a mountain near my home here in Hawaii, which I have climbed many times, I have conducted many of my fitness sessions there, too, and it is a really spiritual place for me. So while I was going through this journey, I used to have these vision boards in which one of the visions was to climb that mountain again. Things like this kept me motivated to become a better version of myself holistically.
Lessons that cancer taught me
If I test cancer negative this year, I will have been cancer free for eight years. And I have learned so much through this journey. I see things very differently, and I don’t take life for granted anymore. And I am doing everything I can in the time I have.
The thing that changed the game for me was finding the proper treatment for myself. Many of the reports we get are compared against the general population, and I think cancer should be a more personalised treatment. Another thing is that the doctors are only focused on eradicating the disease and not the holistic improvement of the patient’s life. That I think is something patients should take up for a better recovery and life.
My message to cancer patients and caregivers
The only thing I would ask the caregivers is to allow the patients to have their own voice and offer them the support they need to not just heal from the disease but also the effects and causes of the disease.
For the patient, I would say, Have your own voice. If something does not feel right, voice it out and don’t be afraid to get as many opinions as you think you need until you feel satisfied. Fighting till I got the correct diagnosis and treatment saved my life three times, and that is what everyone should do too.