By Karla Mans Giroux
My Story: From Cancer to Consciousness – Healing from MBC
I consider myself an optimist, a cancer thriver, and a longevity geek (I plan to live to 100…healthy & sane of course!). I’ve had two experiences with cancer…one that is currently ongoing, but I’ve never let it define me. Change me? Yes. Define me? No!
I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003. I was 37 years old and had a 5-year-old and 2-year-old at that time. As you know, or can imagine, it was a frightening time, and while I did my research and took control of my health, I did not make the lifestyle changes that I could have to ensure it never came back.
I took a conventional approach and underwent a mastectomy with free-flap reconstruction (a tummy tuck was the silver lining). Lymph nodes were involved, and they found another spot of cancer that was previously undetected. Chemo and radiation were next. I also took Tamoxifen for 5 years as recommended.
I believe that my positive mindset helped me make it through treatment relatively easily, despite painful neuropathy in my hands. For me it was pretty much over and done in 9 months and I went back to my “normal” life. Since I thought I lived a healthy lifestyle I figured that was the last I would see of cancer…and I certainly hoped and prayed for that. When I hit my 10-year “cancer-versary” I really felt safe!
The Metastatic Diagnosis
However, 11 years out from the original diagnosis I found the cancer had metastasized to bone. It was November of 2014, and I had an MRI to diagnose an issue in my leg. Turns out the issue was not in my leg. It was metastatic cancer on the spine that was blocking a nerve pathway which pinched that nerve and caused numbness and collapsing of my leg. The cancer was back, and it had spread all over my bones – spine, hips, pelvis, ribs, collarbone. I did not know how I would survive this, but I quickly returned to my conventional oncologist to work out what could be done.
Since it seemed we caught it early and it responded to hormone therapy, I was feeling hopeful. A biopsy was attempted but was not successful. Therefore, the oncologist recommended we treat it as if it were the original cancer - ER/PR+ - and I began taking anastrazole in December 2014. By February 2015 ibrance was on the market and so I switched to letrozole with ibrance. The numbness in my leg receded very quickly and my “leg issue” was resolved.
The Healing Begins
Since this was serious stuff it called for a lot more than I had done before. I was older and wiser and was not giving up my goal of making it to my 100th birthday! I knew better, and I did better. I left no stone unturned.
I hired a cancer coach and she helped me clean up my diet, my home, and my lifestyle. I learned how to manage my stress and take better care of me. I became a very inhospitable host to cancer.
The changes to my diet were not drastic for me because I had recently done a real food challenge and eliminated sugar, dairy and processed foods. I also stopped drinking alcohol and eating red meat. I ended up losing so much weight that people feared the worst for me. After a few months, I learned how to eat well without eating meat, refined wheat, dairy or sugar, and I put a few pounds back on.
I also worked extensively with a therapist to work on my feelings of lack. I uncovered reasons for that lack and suppressed emotions and worked on releasing a lot. I learned to believe that I am enough just as I am.
From Conventional to Integrative Care
My conventional oncologist didn't believe I needed to do any of the additional things I was doing to support my health. He would tell me to “go eat a brownie” or “have a margarita”. When I would ask about supplements or things I felt would help me stay strong and healthy, he would tell me I could “waste my money” if I wanted to and referred me to the "Integrative Medicine Department"...which was in a different building two blocks away. Not so integrated if you ask me!
I didn’t feel supported in my efforts to do all I could to stay in the best possible health and manage this disease. My conventional oncologist just wanted to put me on the latest drug protocols and leave it at that. I was not comfortable leaving it in the hands of conventional medicine alone.
Then In late July of 2016, a liver tumor showed up, so I found an integrative oncologist. I scheduled an initial consultation and liked what I heard. This doctor agreed with the conventional protocol I was on, with a slight tweak, and had so much more to offer. He supported my diet and lifestyle changes but also wanted to ensure that I was on a supplement regimen that would put my body in the best possible state to support my health and beat cancer. I continued ibrance and added faslodex. Within six months the liver tumor was fully resolved!
My integrative doctor encouraged me to engage in a more routine exercise plan, provided nutritional support and ran a terrain panel every 4 months to determine what food and supplements my body needed to be in the best health to keep cancer at bay, and he really made me feel like I would make it to my 100th birthday just as I’d always planned. I have felt so supported and feel that I have really found a partner in my health and wellness journey.
I am proud and pleased to say that there has been no evidence of disease (N.E.D.) since 2016 (4+ years)! Ok so technically I can only say that about my CT scans since the bone scans are classified as “stable”. They show “scarring”. However, I know that what they see on the bone is just that, scarring. The proof is in the improvement of my “leg issue” and no new growth.
I know that a big part of my healing came from the integrative approach that I took and from utilizing the 10 healing factors from the book Radical Remission by Dr. Kelly Turner. When I found the book, I just KNEW that I would live to see my 100th birthday like I had planned. I had already implemented many of the factors – strong reasons, empowering, changing my diet, supplements, positivity, social support, spiritual connection, exercise – check, check, check. It was all life changing and so supportive and inspiring.
I believe that we all inherently know what our bodies need, and I wish that others knew this too. There is huge need for integrative care. I became a certified Radical Remission Health coach so that I could help other. I love to share the healing factors, from Dr. Turner’s research, and help people learn that there is so much more they can do to help themselves heal.
Never let anyone take your hope.