Each October, I check in. This year, I celebrate 25 years as a breast cancer survivor. Despite continual sparkling news about "major breakthroughs" in breast cancer, the fact is that breast cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women (behind lung cancer), and estimates are that more than 250,000 women will be diagnosed in 2017; 40,000 of those women will die from it. These statistics are nearly identical to the year I was diagnosed. There is really only an illusion of progress, in my opinion.
However, this year I choose to celebrate rather than rant. When people learn that I have survived this long, they naturally have questions about how that happened. I choose to believe my wellness is in part based on the actions I have taken to become a partner in my healing. I choose to believe in something called conscious evolution, despite my foreboding DNA. I choose to change what I do have control over, and to see my glass as more than half full, at every single turn in life.
This is where we have made progress.
Western medicine, through patient demand, is finally understanding the impact integrative medicine can have on not only the emotional well-being of a patient but on her physical body as well — and most importantly to them, the bottom line. When I take stock of what I have done, I realize there are many times one makes choices that can change the course of illness. What goes in my mouth, under my feet, into my head and heart — every bit matters.
Right within our community is a wealth of wellness providers. They have quietly been developing and sharing their skills with us for decades but now are finally seeing the light of acceptance, even within the insurance industry. Because patient empowerment makes sense. It's solid thinking because the mind is over half the battle in fighting dis-ease. Studies indicate that patient belief in their treatment will yield better results — regardless of what it is, and that tells us so much.
Experiencing the stark contrast between my first visit to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and with my naturopathic practitioner is when I began this journey of integrative medicine.
The first thing I noticed in Western medicine is the donning of the uniform. The gown that is generically sized and designed, netting the immediate stripping away of individuality. Second is the room temperature: almost always cold. Sanitary disposable paper covering everything. Third is the clipboard with all the boxes to check — again because even though you just did it in the lobby, the doctor doesn't have time to read it. Fourth is the lack of any interest whatsoever in the "rest of my life." Then begins the poking, prodding, cutting and burning and poisoning. All of which hurt, not just immediately but for a long time afterward.
On the other hand, my naturopath met me at the door wearing a sweater and holding a wam blanket that he wrapped me in before personally leading me to a living room setting where tea was waiting. We spent an hour talking. Not about disease but about who I am, what matters to me, both now and in the future. Then we eased into the medical realm. His offerings of Chinese herbs to build my immune system, a referral for reflexology for hormonal balance and relaxation, meditation, and dietary changes — all felt good. They felt healing. I left feeling like I mattered, more than like the ticket to an insurance bonanza the front desks in other places had felt. I'm not saying it was free but I am saying everything added to my well-being.
Everything I experienced gave me hope and belief and confidence. I am so grateful to be here, to be raising my wonderful son in a community that can offer these things to others as well.
Someone once said to me, "Your genes are the gun, the environment pulls the trigger." Well, your conscious evolution can bury that gun for a very long time.
I highly doubt anyone who has been through this never stews or brews in the wee hours. But knowing Belleruth's meditation is on my phone, and that yoga class will calm me right down, and a walk in nature will remind me of the life surrounding me is the best medicine one can ever get. Knowing I'm doing everything I can to stay well brings tremendous comfort.
We all continue to pray that we will solve the puzzle before it's too late. In the meantime, consider becoming actively involved with your wellness, and perhaps you'll never need Western medicine.
Independent filmmaker Mary Katzke is the producer and director of the new documentary "Partners in Healing," premiering at the Bear Tooth Theatrepub on Oct. 2.
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