Guest post by Carol Lourie
It is possible to feel better at the end of breast cancer treatment than you did at the beginning. That is the message I want you to understand. You can be healthier after cancer than you were before you got diagnosed when you learn more about nutrition and implement lifestyle changes. You can be more compassionate and caring of others after you’ve gone through cancer. And you can feel better about yourself when you’ve learned to use the three pillar tools of energy, empowerment, and grace.
Maybe your new functional medicine practitioner will test your nutrients and discover an imbalance in your vitamin or mineral levels. With the addition of the correct supplement in the correct dosage, you could be free of or improving from a condition that has always bothered you. Maybe starting a meditation practice to deal with the stress of cancer will o be so impressed with the results of acupuncture that you consider a change in careers. The possibility for life-improving benefits is endless.
Often, when you are able to look back on your experience with breast cancer, you will see how that process transformed your life. For example, Hollywood star Shannen Doherty said “I’m feeling ridiculously lucky and very blessed. Cancer has changed my life for the better. It’s made me a better human being. It stripped away all of the walls and the barriers. … It’s this amazing thing where you look at people and realize their worth and what good hearts they have because they’re not running. That’s what cancer does. It strips everything where everyone, including you, is laid bare.”
That’s what I mean by breast cancer as a spiritual path. Spirituality emphasizes inner experiences of personal growth that reflect your deepest values and your purpose in life. Your priorities change. It’s a search for meaning that is independent of any traditional religious beliefs. There are many of us who consider ourselves “spiritual but not religious.”
Spiritual practice is whatever moves you along your individual journey towards awareness of your own self, the discovery of higher truths, and a liberated consciousness. These practices include ways to purify the body of disease and toxins; ways to transform negative emotions into positive affirmations; and ways (such as meditation) to get beyond the thinking mind and connect to intuition, diminish egocentric thoughts and behaviors, and bring more love and compassion into yourself and out into the world.
THE TRANSFORMATIVE PROCESS OF BREAST CANCER
Those who have been through cancer are termed “survivors,” just like people who have been through earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes. The ground beneath you shifts. Chaos blows through your everyday existence. You are swamped with cascading emotions. Cancer disrupts your life and the lives of those around you. Schedules have to change, workloads have to shift, and a thousand other adjustments have to be made to accommodate the shake-up of cancer.
But when you learn a bit about seeing everything in your life through the clear window of mindfulness, the storm will pass, the rough seas will calm down. You’ll be able to get a grip on yourself, and instead of fighting a war against cancer or feeling like a victim, you will be able to befriend it and note how it is moving your life in a positive direction.
You can transform your outlook on every level: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. An important place to start is with work on your emotions, your feelings, and your busy life.
THE BUSY AMERICAN WOMAN
You have been so busy in your life. You juggled work and home, partner and kids, parents and co-workers. You had places to go and things to do. Meals to cook, laundry to fold, carpools to arrange. You multi-tasked and did the best you could, but it was always stressful. Now you have to stop and gather in all the strands of your scattered attention. Bring it all back in to you—to your care, to your health, to your life.
Who knows what you’ll be able to see about yourself and your life when you take a step back from your business and your busyness?
Think of the fact that as of September 2017, the average American spends 721 minutes per day (that’s 12 hours!) with media —the top 4 being: TV, mobile devices, online laptops and desktops, and radio. Are you always in front of a screen, or listening to the radio? (The number of hours was calculated with multitasking in mind; if you spend an hour watching TV while surfing the web on your smart phone, that counts as 2 hours of media time.)
Dan Goleman, who wrote the book Emotional Intelligence, said: “It used to be you left work and went home. Now you’ve got your devices that follow you everywhere. The body is designed to be energetic and active and then recover. People don’t have any recovery time—there’s been this silent, invisible ratcheting up of invasion of our space.”
Well, now you have to make time to recover. And you can emerge stronger, more focused, and with new perspective on the future.
Besides being a very efficient way to get through a stressful situation, there are also biological effects of mindfulness practice.
Linda Carlson is the co-author (with Michael Speca) of the 2011 patient manual called Mindfulness-Based Cancer Recovery. She described it this way: “…we do know that mindfulness practice down-regulates sympathetic nervous system activity and upregulates the vagal nerve and parasympathetic nervous system, which stimulates the relaxation response. And we know that this is tied into the immune system, so it also results in less inflammation and less of the psychological symptoms associated with inflammation.”
For at least the last 20 years, mindfulness-based interventions for cancer care have been developed and evaluated. In 2016, a Duke University study showed how meditation can have a positive influence on pain, fatigue, and anxiety during a breast cancer biopsy. A 2014 Canadian study from the University of Calgary and Alberta health services showed meditation powerfully complements treatment plans to alter cellular activity in breast cancer survivors—one of the studies that show the reality of the mind-body connection.
There are certain common experiences that are related to diagnosis, treatment, and surviving cancer: loss of control, confusion about what to do, fears of recurrence, uncertainty about what will happen in the future, and symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia, tremendous fatigue, and depression. All have been shown to improve through mindfulness practices.
Mindfulness brings you into the NOW. And here, in the Now, you are in charge of your healing team and can evaluate and “feel into” what is best for you. You have enough clarity to make skillful choices. You can choose to keep your focus on a positive outcome. Choice is the key to your empowerment, and to your progress along the spiritual path of breast cancer.
Links to Carol Lourie’s programs and free guides:
Carol is on a mission to bring good health to as many people as possible. “I’ve always believed it is possible to recover from metabolic diseases, such as PCOS, and to feel well and have joy again.” A native Philadelphian, Carol received an undergraduate degree from Temple University and went on to attend the National College of Naturopathic Medicine in Portland, Oregon. Moving to California, she obtained her Acupuncture license. After working at the well-known Berkeley Holistic Health Center as a Homeopath and Clinical Nutritionist, in 1988, Carol founded the Natural Health Care & Healing Center in Berkeley, CA. Carol has dedicated herself to the study of homeopathy, and has attended advanced Functional Medicine classes for the last 30 years. Her studies and clinical experience have led to expertise as a practitioner of Functional Medicine and provided her with the medical foundation to unravel complex chronic disease. She became especially concerned with the increase of young girls and women coming into her practice with the complex presentation of PCOS and began to focus her expertise on helping these women recover their health using an integrative approach. She incorporates the principles of root-cause and mind-body healing and develops individual protocols for the unique needs of each woman to address their PCOS. As she continues to expand her knowledge and care for women, she is launching an online healing series for women with breast cancer, ThePathofBreastCancer.com, which she’ll be discussing during this interview.