I just celebrated the one year anniversary of my expiration day—the day conventional medicine predicted I would prematurely die from recurrent cervical cancer. I was given fifteen months to live when I was diagnosed in Feb 2016. That meant I needed to have my affairs in order on or around my forty-fifth birthday in May 2017.
This week I celebrated by forty-sixth birthday with my best friend and her newborn baby. Miracles, life and joy abound.
I’m living proof radical remissions are possible. Proof that Western medicine doesn’t have all the answers all the time. That patients are people, not statistics.
I wish I could name the one thing that made the difference in my survival. I wish I could hug every cancer patient and whisper in their ear, “Just change your deodorant. All the aluminum in antiperspirant is toxic and poisoning you,” or “Do yoga and meditate for 60 minutes a day. All the stress is breaking down your immune system.”
Unfortunately, there is no one thing that helped me heal my body, aside from my sheer determination to do so. I followed western medicine’s protocol, but I also changed every part of my life. I made small changes like switching to all-natural personal care products and I also made sweeping changes, like leaving a stressful corporate job.
I am a completely different person than I was before cancer. I look different (darker hair and pudgier), I feel different (healthier and stronger), I even think different (calmer and more focused).
As I reflect on this survivor milestone, I think the three most important things we can all do to heal—in addition to embracing the advice in the book “Radical Remission”—are:
1. Decide We Want To Live.
This will sound silly to most of us. No cancer patient wants to die, but it takes an inordinate effort to want to live. We must be ballsy enough to look our doctors and every fearful family and friend in the eye and say, “You’re wrong, I’m not going to die. I’m going to do everything to live.” Then go out and research just how to do that. We can’t “wait and see” what happens. We must take control. Be willing to try new things. Explore new options that will make people think we’re crazy. It’s not easy, but for me it was worth the effort.
2. Listen To Our Gut Instincts (even when they defy logic, doctors, and loved ones!)
I have come to believe that cancer is a symptom of a bigger imbalance in our lives. Our bodies know how to re-calibrate that balance, but we need to learn how to listen. Meditation, prayer and sleep help me hear what I need. So if 300 people tell you chemotherapy is the only way you’ll live, but it just doesn’t feel right, then take a nap and ask your gut what it thinks. Only you know you.
3. Think of Food as Medicine.
I went through five nutritionists before I found what worked for my body. I’ve tried both sides of the current vegan versus ketogenic diet debate. One worked. One didn’t. But what they have in common is a “food is medicine” mindset. It’s a seismic mind shift for most of us. Instead of thinking, “What will taste good?,” we need to think, “What food will heal me?” Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients. Sugar and processed foods don’t. Every nutritionist worth their salt will agree on that. Every bite, every meal takes on new meaning and purpose and adventure.
We lose so much control when we get a cancer diagnosis. We don’t know if we’re going to live or die, but we can control how hard we try to survive. Two years ago I didn’t know what the outcome of all my sometimes seemingly crazy tactics would be. I’m blessed that all my efforts brought me to these birthday reflections. I have cancer friends that won’t get the same chance. But as you go through your battle, believe in yourself. Take control back from those who inadvertently steal it away. And love yourself as if you were a newborn baby. I applaud your efforts and invite you to share some of your own reflections in the comments.
By Tracy White