‘ALTERNATIVE OR MAINSTREAM’- The decision of a lifetime
After I was diagnosed, my brain turned to mush. I couldn’t compartmentalise my thoughts, I couldn’t focus, my mind felt so fleeting and all over the place I felt like I had mental vertigo.
I was lost, pure and simple. I couldn’t differentiate between thoughts and feelings. Being someone who is quite intuitive and who follows their feelings rather than thoughts, this was extremely difficult for me to navigate my way through. I knew I wanted to choose the treatment path that felt right in my core. However my feelings weren’t able to help me in this time. I needed another way.
BROTHERS TO THE RESCUE
My older brother stepped up and gave me exactly what I needed at this time, structure. We sat down as a group and he headed up what each one of us was going to research and focus on and he collated all of the info in a ‘trello’ board. Basically an online platform that we could write lists, tick things off and add into. We could all access it at any time, anywhere.
My younger brother was equally fantastic helping me out when I was frazzled and getting me to focus on the things that I could start doing straight away. For me this was things like diet changes, getting cannabis oil, alkalizing (drinking bicarb soda, water and lemon), meditating, juicing, getting out in the sun for some vitamin D, being active (for me this was just walking).
FINDING OUT SPECIFICS ABOUT MY TYPE OF CANCER
I’ve always been more of an alternative girl. I imagined over the years if I got sick, I never saw myself having mainstream treatment as I truly believe in the bodies natural ability to heal when it is in it’s optimum state. So getting my body to this state was my priority. The problem was, the more I researched the specifics about my type of cancer: Triple Negative (Triple-negative breast cancer is cancer that tests negative for estrogen receptors, progesterone receptors, and excess HER2 protein), the more I realised how insanely aggressive it was and that whatever I chose, I needed to act fast.
Whilst I fully believed that alternative therapies and treatments were the way to go, were they going to be fast enough to match the pace of this cancer? That was my biggest concern; well one of the many.
EXPLORING THE MANY OPTIONS
As a family collective we looked into so many different treatments and clinics. In Australia there isn’t a lot of support when it comes to alternative clinics, most of the amazing clinics that treat the whole person ( physically, mentally, diet etc) were international. We looked into clinics in Germany, Mexico, Thailand, you name it. We arranged Skype chats with a couple of them and had back and forth correspondence and meetings with doctors. Two of my favs were Verita Life in Thailand and Hope for Cancer in Cancun. Both of these clinics looked at treating the whole person, from diet changes and teaching you about them, to boosting your immune system while they treat you, emotional and spiritual work, non toxic therapies, immunotherapy, oxygen therapies, light and sounds therapies and so much more. Their approaches really resonated with me, as a part of what I never liked about mainstream treatment is that they treat you and then you go back off into the wild on your own. You are not educated on other things you can be doing for yourself in your own time, you're dependant on them. I hated this notion.
The alternative clinics all had one thing in common, they understood that whatever treatment path I chose I should fully believe in it. If I felt like mainstream was the way to go they were happy for me to do that. They believed in the power of the mind, which is something I whole heatedly believe in. So it was a comfort to me that they were likeminded in that regard.
These clinics are incredible but most of the time they cost upwards of $100,000 for 4-6 weeks of intensive treatment, while you're there they teach you and give you support when you return home so you can carry on as much as possible afterwards.
To be honest we didn’t have that kind of money lying around, we recently sold our house, bought a new property and used our money to fix it up. We were literally back at square one. Whilst I knew if I really wanted to do this we would find a way to make it happen, I knew there were other options and it would be silly of me to not explore the mainstream path as well.
MEETING A SURGEON
While we were exploring these other options my older brother found me an incredible surgeon in Melb, Peter Gregory. We did not just go with the surgeon our doctor recommended. So we made an appt to go and see him straight away to keep the ball rolling with whatever I decided.
When we walked in, the woman who was behind the counters name was Caroline (my deceased mothers name), this gave me a good sign I was in the right place. Then when I went into the room and met Peter I cannot tell you how at ease he put me. It wasn’t just what he was saying, it was his demeanour, the way he looked at me and spoke to me. It was the way he made me feel that brought me a sense of calm.
When your spiralling in a mental shitstorm, you notice a feeling like this as it is like seeing red in a sea of black and white. It was impossible to ignore. I liked it. It was as close as I could get to feeling my intuition in this time.
We went in with a huge list of questions, most of which he answered on his own accord before we had an opportunity to ask. By the time we walked out he was the only thing in my cancer journey so far I was sure of.
WEIGHING UP ALL OPTIONS
Once we had all of the information we could muster in a period of a week and a half, I sat down and looked over it all, trying to take note of how I felt at the time. It was a headfuck, I’m not going to lie. I was so torn between all of the options. Money was coming into it, but I was determined not to let that influence my decision. I was trying to figure out what made me feel the most comfortable, at ease. It was decision time and fucking hell that felt scary. I wasn’t ready to make it but I had to.
It was a tough time, as the weight of the decision felt like I was carrying a tonne of bricks on my shoulders. My family (bless them) were so supportive and told me that it was my decision and they would respect and support whatever I chose. I mean you can’t ask for more than that.
But with that, came so much pressure I cannot explain. In my mind, if I chose the wrong thing and died, it was all my fault that my children would grow up motherless. What if I chose wrong?! No one had the answers, not even the specialists. They had prior history and a good understanding of my prognosis, but no-one could tell me the outcome as it was up to the universe. It was my decision to make and I was fucking petrified to make it.
A SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE
Something started shifting in me, I felt it. The more we researched about my cancer and the treatments and the more specialists we spoke to (we also met with an Oncologist- Michelle White who I also loved and was very well respected), the more I realized I wanted to take an integrative approach. I believed the mainstream way could help me, but there was absolutely no way I was willing to put all my eggs in that basket.
When I began noticing the shift in myself, I felt uncomfortable as I knew my younger brother and husband were more alternative minded like me. I wanted them to be on the same page with me and see it from my perspective, rather than just going along and supporting me but internally believing I was making the wrong choice.
So I spoke to them and explained it at length and was very happy to hear they really understood. They weren’t just saying it (either that or they are great liars haha). Once I felt we were on the same page I noticed a weight lift off my shoulders and I sank into my decision and got the ball rolling. I started the mainstream treatment while continuing on with other alternative things also.
With giving myself the time to explore the options and not feeling pushed into one direction (as I learned from my mums cancer journey), I was able to feel at peace with my decision before starting my treatment. I felt like I was making the right decision. Was it going to work? Who knows, but it felt like the best decision I was capable of making. There was a sense of peace in that. Don’t get me wrong, I was still shit scared it wasn’t going to work, but part of me had peace with my decision.
I am so incredibly grateful that I was able to mentally reach this place before I had chemo. I no longer viewed it the same way as I did prior. Even some of the international clinics used it, just in lower dose and alongside immune boosting treatments. But it was still used. I felt better entering into the next phase.
MY MAIN ADVICE WHEN DECIDING ON A TREATMENT PATH
COMMUNITY- The importance of having people around you while you cannot think clearly. You really need a solid team. People to come to meetings and take notes for you, people to help ask the questions. People to chat your options through with. Be it family, friends or community members. Don’t try to do this alone.
STRUCTURE- When your mind is scattered and all over the place with no way of knowing how long it’s going to be like this for, having structure is a saviour. Having things to focus on rather than floating around like a lost puppy is crucial. Team this with your support network and if it’s all getting too much, well the research is still being done by others. You can look at it whenever your ready.
GOOGLE IS YOUR BEST AND YOUR WORST FRIEND- We’ve all done it, looked at too much on google and regretted it. Heard and seen things you cant un-see. Try to use your google time wisely. If it freaks you out too much, allow others to help with the research while you focus on other things. Keeping your mind strong is very important. Google had me in tears and deflated me way too many times. DON'T FORGET people don’t often share their success stories post cancer, that’s when they start living again. The positive stories are out there, they are sadly often hard to find.
TRUST YOUR FEELINGS- If you're like me and your thoughts and feelings were intertwined it makes this part harder. However even in the midst of the mental fogginess there are signs, things you will notice. Listen to those. For me it was the Caroline reference, and also the feeling my surgeon gave me. I couldn’t ignore the way I felt. That was a guide for me. So I listened and I’m so incredibly glad I did. Things will pop up for you, try to remain open to see and feel them.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR OWN HEALTH- Ask questions, and ask more. Second guess, don’t trust everything you are told. Even specialists make mistakes. Don’t worry about how silly you may feel. This is your life! You will regret it if you don’t ask and question everything. If you don't feel comfortable, that's what your support network can help with. It HAS to happen.
GET YOUR MIND IN THE RIGHT PLACE- Once you decide on your treatment path, trust it. Trust that you have made the right decision. This is hard. So fucking hard. You will never know if you have or not because there is no 'right decision'. All you can do is make the best decision with the information you have at the time. That is ALL YOU CAN DO. So TRY not to beat yourself up too much about the right one, you’ve chosen, now back yourself. Feel it, know it. Believe it and bring it into your reality.
I truly hope this helps in some way.