*A big thank you to Kevin Dunn of www.wutsurstory.com for so generously making this video for the Radical Remission Project!
Jan Adrian is a shining example of how to navigate one’s own way through the challenges of cancer. Throughout her experiences, she has taken charge of her treatment to do what she feels is best for her holistically: “body, mind, emotions, and spirit.” She looks for the blessings in every situation, focusing on befriending cancer, as opposed to fighting it. Here is her story in her own words:
“When I was sixteen years old, I had an experience that changed my life. Thirty-one years later, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my decisions about treatment were influenced by that experience. I had to be home-schooled for one semester in high school because I chronically ran a fever and was always tired. Medical doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. Symptoms were similar to Mononucleosis, but tests showed it was not Mono. There was no diagnosis.
My parents finally took me to a chiropractor whose philosophy was to strengthen the terrain of the body so my own immune system could fight the disease as nature intended. He believed it didn’t matter if I ever had a diagnosis, because my body would heal if I gave it the proper nutrients. He rubbed minerals into my body, gave me a horrible tasting tea to drink, and gave me a number of recommendations regarding what I should and shouldn’t eat. The most important was to NOT eat anything white – no processed sugar or flour. It wasn’t easy for a 16year old to pass up birthday cake at a party, but I did it.
In six months I was healthier than I had been for years. No more flu every winter, my energy was high, and my hair got curly. This experience left me with a respect for my body’s natural wisdom and ability to heal itself.
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1989, I received one round of chemotherapy, and refused more. I didn’t believe in the recommended chemotherapy because I knew it would be damaging to my immune system. Instead, I focused on nutritional and lifestyle changes that would support and strengthen my immune system.
I worked with a nutritionist specializing in cancer, took supplements prescribed by an integrative doctor, and also researched whatever I could find on the psycho/social/spiritual aspects of healing. Because of my background in teaching seminars to health professionals about the mind-body connection, I knew there was more to healing than treating the body.
I knew there is a difference between curing and healing, and I was interested in healing the whole person – body, mind, emotions, and spirit. As I began looking for resources to help me “heal,” I told my oncologist that all his recommended treatments only treated the body, and I asked him how we were going to treat the rest of me. He raised his voice, saying “emotions have nothing to do with this!” He was one of the many oncologists I “fired” over the years.
Of course I knew what he said wasn’t true, and I became concerned for the women who may hear this from their doctor and do not have the background or knowledge that I had.
Shortly after my diagnosis, I attended a workshop for health professionals. There I heard Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen say that we are spiritual beings on a human path rather than human beings who may or may not be on a spiritual path. She talked about illness as an experience of the soul, not just the body.
I knew from my own experience that having cancer in my body was getting me more in touch with the strength of my spirit. If I thought I was only a human being, the potential death sentence of cancer would be very frightening.
The concept that I was a spiritual being first helped make death not so scary. Death is not a failure; it is a normal part of life that will happen to everyone. Dr. Bolen’s message wasn’t new information to me, and hearing it again at that time was very powerful. At the conclusion of her presentation, she received an immediate standing ovation from 900 doctors, nurses, social workers, and health professionals. I believed other people facing cancer could benefit from hearing it as well. That experience planted the seed for the non-profit organization I started.
In the beginning of my cancer treatments, it seemed like going to the doctor was like taking my car to a mechanic. The only treatments recommended were treatments of the body. I needed more. I needed guidance to explore my thoughts, my emotions, my lifestyle, and my relationships. I needed to know I wasn’t alone, and that there was something I could be doing to facilitate my healing. I discovered other cancer patients had similar needs, and my background of teaching seminars on the mind-body connection had prepared me for filling those needs. Although cancer is not a path I would have chosen, there has been a gift in this experience. It put me on a career path I wouldn’t have found without it.
I was also influenced by the book, “Cancer as a Turning Point,” by Lawrence LeShan, PhD. In it he said, “The person exists on many levels, all of which are equally real and important. Physical, psychological, and spiritual levels are one valid way of describing the person, and none of these can be ‘reduced’ to any other. To move successfully toward health, all must be treated.”
In Dr. LeShan’s work with “terminal” cancer patients, he discovered that when they were able to get in touch with what made them excited to get up in the morning, and act on their dreams, 50% of them went into long-term remission.
I asked myself the questions he proposed in his book about the meaning and purpose of my life. I tapped into my belief that there is a message or meaning in everything. I began to find the “blessings” in my having cancer, and created a way I could use my experience to benefit others. Utilizing my experience of 7 years of teaching seminars, I designed a two-day conference called Cancer as a Turning Point, From Surviving to Thriving.
Why From Surviving to Thriving? Surviving implies a struggle, and that’s what my life felt like before cancer. Thriving implies the joy of living in the present moment. Having cancer was the trigger that helped me look beyond my body and feel my connection to something greater than myself, a guiding Spirit that is part of me and always present.
I started a non-profit organization called Healing Journeys and we offered the Cancer as a Turning Point™ conference as well as other workshops, including The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen. The conference, offered at no charge, has been produced 36 times across the country in the past 23 years, reaching more than 25,000 people.
I have continued to deal with cancer for the past 28 years. I have had three primary cancers – one in each breast, and ocular melanoma in my left eye. Since 2011, I have had breast cancer metastasized to my lungs. I have never experienced any symptoms from cancer. I only know it’s there because of PET scans.
I have done some conventional treatments over the years. I had a mastectomy in 1989, 35 radiation treatments in 1990, 5 years of Tamoxifen, 3 years of Arimidex, and a cryoablation of a tumor in my lung in 2012. I have been taking Femara, another aromatase inhibitor, for the past year.
When chemotherapy was recommended for my first breast cancer, it would have improved my chances of survival by 5%. Didn’t seem worth the damage to my immune system. When I had ocular melanoma in 2007, I learned that there were two treatments – removal of the eye or proton beam radiation. There was a facility doing proton beam radiation (only 3 in the country) 20 minutes from my house and it had a 97% cure rate. I chose to do that treatment and that cancer hasn’t progressed in the past 10 years.
I have also done many integrative treatments over the years, including guided imagery, supplements, and energy work. I am currently getting subcutaneous injections of a mistletoe extract, prescribed by a Naturopathic doctor.
In 2002, after a diagnosis of a new cancer, a major lifestyle change actually became my treatment. Even though I believed that producing the conference was my assignment from a Higher Power, I had been putting much of my energy into a business that was paying the bills, but wasn’t nourishing my soul. I had been producing the conference on the side and making my living owning a furniture store with my husband. I was also in a marriage that was so stressful that my will to live was being threatened.
As a response to the new cancer in my other breast in 2002, I recognized the relationship between stress and cancer and acknowledged what was causing me so much stress. I left my marriage and sold my interest in the furniture store. I moved to a different city and committed to doing Healing Journeys full time, not knowing how it would be able to support me. That was 15 years ago and Healing Journeys continues to offer programs for people with cancer. I am working part time, and doing my best to put more energy into the self-care that I ignored during the years leading up to being diagnosed.
In my first years of living with cancer, every time I had a new lump I would get it surgically removed, only to have it pop up again the following year. I had at least ten surgeries under my left arm, and now experience symptoms as a result of treatment. I am finally learning that it isn’t necessary to eliminate all the cancer in one’s body. In fact, the procedures we use to try to do that often stimulate the growth of cancer.
I’ve never been comfortable with the fighting metaphor. I am not fighting cancer. I am still learning to make friends with it, and being grateful that we can live together in peace. I would say my main “treatment” for the past few years has been using the nine strategies that Kelly Turner, PhD, found most radical remission survivors had used.
I currently have a lump in a lymph node under my arm that has been there for 6 years and I am living with it. I’ve heard that removing it would be like taking the oil filter out of my car. It may be helping to keep the cancer in check by keeping it contained. I feel it frequently, and as it changes in size, I use that as a barometer to know how well I am doing in managing the growth of my cancer. Today it’s about as small as it’s ever been, and I am grateful.
A recurring lesson in my life has been that I can’t judge any experience as good or bad. What appears to be a tragedy, like being diagnosed with cancer, can be a gift when I look for the blessings in it. As a child, there was a Bible verse on a plaque on the wall in our kitchen that said “All things work together for good …” Life seems to be easier when I believe that.”
UPDATE: As of April 2020, Jan is thriving in health post-diagnosis. Her update:
After several years of using different aromatase inhibitors (Femara, Faslodex, Arimidex, and Aromasin) and having my CA 27.29 numbers continue to climb, three months ago I quit taking any prescribed meds and increased my focus on improving my terrain. I returned to mistletoe injections, became more diligent with nutritional strategies, increased prayer and meditation time, began working with a therapist releasing old negative emotions, and got a sauna to detox, For two months my numbers went down significantly. I am feeling well.