What I Learned from Autoimmunity and Cancer
I am hard-wired for achievement and for many years I worshiped at that alter. I reached every goal I set my sights on attaining, achieving great success in both the clinical and corporate worlds. And yet, as I climbed the corporate ladder, I harbored a secret: I had been suffering with very serious illness for 30 years.
By the time I was 44, I had been diagnosed with systemic lupus, fibromyalgia, lyme disease, chronic EBV, endometriosis, asthma, narcolepsy, gastritis, gastroparesis, colitis, rosacea, IBS, Restless Leg Syndrome, Periodic Movement Disorder, Autoimmune thyroiditis, psoriasis, and eczema (that I can remember). I had endured many surgeries, hospitalizations and procedures, and I was completely disabled. What I discovered the hard way during my pursuit of success at any cost is that if you don’t take care of your mind and body and soul, your body will shut you down for maintenance. And by 2014, my body was trying to shut me down permanently.
So started the next chapter of my life: I spent the next 5 years studying mind-body-spirit wellness and I successfully clawed my life back from the abyss. After 4 years of healing, I was negative for autoimmune symptoms or antibodies, a true miracle. I was ready to design my new life!
Which is when I was diagnosed with Stage 3 cancer. And the rug was once again yanked out from under me. I was falling down the dark and disorienting well once again. Cancer was so shocking – I was completely taken by surprise. Cancer was a sneaky and frightening foe: My cancer was diagnosed with a routine mammogram. My tumor was too small to feel on clinical exam, and yet it spread aggressively through my lymph and vascular systems. So, even though I adamantly refused chemo for autoimmunity, I accepted that I needed a very long and aggressive treatment plan including chemo, surgery and radiation. My side effects were a nightmare. I was completely bedridden for a year.
I felt blessed for having had catastrophic health issues before my cancer diagnoses, as I was able to apply so many valuable lessons to my healing including:
I don’t allow fear to drive: It can be a passenger on my journey but it can’t be the driver.
I am not at war with my body. Cancer cells are my own, broke bad. I practice visualization, meditation and gratitude to encourage my immune system and cells to live and die healthy, as designed.
I know that in life, you get knocked down. Trauma is inevitable. Life is not about how many times I get knocked down – or knocked out – it’s about how many times I get back up. Not giving up is what I can control.
I am my own health leader. No one can make a better decision for me that I can make for myself. I choose the path that I am least likely to regret when I play out the consequences. Ultimately, I feel everyone should make the decision that serves them best and those decisions should be respected.
Illness does not define me. I am absolutely “more than cancer.” I am not the “lupus lady” or the “cancer girl.” My illness is part of my story. But it does not define me.
And I plan to stay well. I will make intentional wellness choices at every opportunity. Wellness is priceless.
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