health

My cancer journey: "Why I chose to go against convention".

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I am one of the lucky ones. I am strong and cancer free eight years after my initial diagnosis of cervical cancer. It is not a status I take for granted but nor do I dwell very much on being a survivor or entertain its return either.

However the recent passing of influential, bright, young, healthy-living babe, Wellness Warrior, Jess Ainscough, has caused me to reflect on my own process of dealing with a life-threatening illness, my chosen treatment plan and following what seemed to many people to be an unorthodox path to travel.

It’s tough hearing people criticising and dismissing her treatment decisions as “quackery”. I too was labelled negligent and naive by the oncology staff and friends. Which makes me shudder to think that had things not turned out so well for me, my children would perhaps now be hearing the message that I “didn’t do enough” to stay alive for them.

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You never really know how you will cope with hearing that you have cancer. It’s that “nightmare” that other people get. Most of us though, have an idea of what treatment will be. It’s assumed you will have surgery, do rounds of chemotherapy where you become tired and nauseous and maybe have radiotherapy to make sure they “get” any remaining cancer.

Michelle knew all too well how sick traditional cancer treatments could make you. Image: supplied.

For me, I knew too well how sick you could become with chemo. My stepdad suffered to the end with standard hospital treatment and not long before I was diagnosed, my favourite uncle had also passed away, after submitting to the gamut of hospital therapies. I struggled to see the benefit to their lives by going through any of it.

I am also a Naturopath. I practised natural healing and knew a lot about alternative cancer treatments. Some of it seemed too “woo woo” for me. Some of it was backed by good research and showed itself to be of enormous benefit. Some of it I had used with patients already and some of it I wished my stepdad had taken up, but didn’t.

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In many ways it was difficult to believe I had cancer as I had been eating organic for years, practiced yoga and “knew” how to look after myself. I had been a party girl once but having young children I was almost puritanical in comparison. So from the get go, I was looking for the reasons why I found myself at this scary crossroads.

Entering into the medical system was an eye opener. What I hadn’t bargained for was the toll it takes on you by having to make hasty decisions while being bombarded with information when in a highly emotional state. Having a science degree, I understood medical jargon. I had the know-how to do research and ask the questions. I understood all of what was being presented and still I needed time to take it in and work out what was best for me.

I did have a wonderful gynaecologist who took time to explain things clearly to me and I’m sure her extra compassion was due to the fact that she was a young mum like me. My oncologist and surgeon was one of the most experienced and skilled there is, and I only have gratitude for his expertise. But I also had my own belief system and way of looking at health to contend with and discussion of how we as a “team” were going to marry the two was never a consideration by my doctors. My beliefs were an inconvenience that they didn’t want to deal with.

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Time is a luxury you don’t get once a diagnosis is made. You are very quickly booked in to the first of your procedures and there is little room for movement on this. Therefore I presented a dilemma to my doctors when I requested time to work out what I wanted to do. You just don’t argue with the experts.

At no moment did I believe I was a cancer specialist. But I did and still do believe, that I know more than anyone else, what is best for me. I believe we all have that skill. You just need the time and space to work it out.

You see my training had opened me up to a different healing paradigm to mainstream medicine. Naturopathic medicine seeks to treat the person as a whole being and seeks to tackle more than the disease that presents itself. I believe that for any healing to occur aspects of mind, body and spirit need to be addressed.

A champion of alternative natural treatments, Jess Ainscough recently passed away.

From this viewpoint I had to work out if I should follow the protocol or if I was prepared to forego the medical wisdom of my oncologist and be aligned with my beliefs. I had to do a lot of soul searching. I consulted my naturopath who advised going with the surgery. My family had their opinions but were completely supportive of whatever I decided, which was a blessing. For two weeks I sat and meditated on my biggest question, “was I being a willing prisoner of my dogma to the detriment of my own life?” and I stayed with those answers until I was satisfied I was being authentic and true to what was best for me.

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I agreed to having the surgery. I thought it was best to remove the tumour before it had any chance of spreading further. Getting to that point was huge for me. Luckily I had children already, but having what is known as a Radical Hysterectomy is no day surgery. I was told even if all things went well, I would not really be back to myself for between six months to a year. It also meant saying goodbye to a big part of what being a woman is. Without a uterus, would I still even be a woman? (Post continues after gallery.)

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Bullying is too strong a word to use, but significant force was applied to help me reconsider my decision. I was reminded at each three-monthly check up that I had opted out of radiotherapy. Those reminders were like sowing little seeds of doubt.

For me though I chose to not allow another person’s doubt to infect my state of mind. I made my decision to follow a natural healing model based on what I had discovered about my cancer. Not cervical cancer or cancer in general, but the cancer that formed in my body. I felt the only real chance of survival for me was to get really crazy healthy. At this stage of my life when I was already depleted, weak and recovering from an operation, I didn’t want any other poisons entering my body and getting in the way of my healing. That included processed food, alcohol, sugar and radiotherapy.

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I don’t subscribe to the premise that people catch cancer. I think it occurs because your body’s defence system has gone “offline” enough that you create the kind of home where cancer, that is a clump of out of control cells, can proliferate. Day to day however, our immune system is eliminating cancer cells very effectively most of the time.

I discovered through hours and hours of meditation, a gentle peace within that I had not been feeling for a long time. I realised I had been spending a lot of time worrying and in a state of anxiety and stress. I believe that living in that stressed and malcontent state combined with sleep deficit over a few years depleted my immunity enough to create the right environment for my cancer to develop.

The truth is no one can really say what causes cancer, and modern medicine has not really improved on cancer survival over the last fifty years. I’m now on yearly checkups and I must admit I was very happy when my doctor finally commended me on “whatever it is that you’re doing” at the the five year mark. I do know that choosing whole food, getting enough rest and doing the things that make you light up to be a regenerating force in my life and I would not have it any other way.

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