An article by Patty Cook as published in
Spirit Seeker Magazine, February 2002
Breast cancer is something I never imagined I would personally encounter. There’s no family history, no reason to even suspect that I would be one to receive such life-altering news. The biopsy results were inconclusive, so a lumpectomy was scheduled. I was on a terrifying emotional roller coaster, anxiously waiting to either confirm the doctors’ suspicions or breathe a sigh of relief.
I was married to a warm and wonderful man, Bill, who loved me unconditionally and had been my unwavering support since we met on a blind date in 1974. His presence, especially during this scary time, gave me much needed strength. His tender looks, warm embrace and encouragement were just what I needed, and he never minded me getting his shoulder soggy, though my pain always causes him distress.
Needless to say, when we finally got my test results, we were shocked. At first, I couldn’t even believe it was true – this must be happening to someone else! Disbelief was quickly followed by tremendous anger that this should be happening to me. Me, a vegetarian for 5 years, who retired from a stressful construction career 6 years before and became a massage therapist, following my passion for natural healing; me, who listened to the small voice of intuition that led to the discovery of my lump in the first place. This was just not fair! My anguished prayer was, “Please, God, take this away from me!”
Over the next week or so I did a lot of soul-searching, and accepted that like it or not, I was going to go through this experience. I realized, too, that I had a choice: I could stay in my anger, resisting what was, and be a victim to my cancer, or I could live my life full out in spite of the cancer and proactively seek the results I wanted. It was then I was called to pray a different prayer; “Please, God, open me to the life lessons this experience must surely contain.”
Here was an opportunity to examine all areas of my life for what was working and what wasn’t, and though I’ll never know for certain what caused my cancer, I played a game of ‘What If.’ What if there were things that I could impact, here and now, that would have me be cancer free?
- What if nutrition was a factor? How would I eat now?
- What if lack of movement was a factor? What activities would I put in place?
- What if continually overriding my body’s signals to slow down and rest was a factor? How could I retrain myself to listen to this wonderful machine’s feedback?
- What if my independence, which generated so much success in my life, also hindered my ability to be nurtured and contributed to by others? How would I reach out to others? How would I let others nurture me?
- What if I could deepen the trust I have in my inner wisdom and act upon that?
- What if I could combine my passion for natural healing with western protocol to support my process?
After hours and hours of research and deep self-examination, I designed my healing protocol:
- Traditional Chinese Herbs to support my immune system, rebuild blood cells, and support my reproductive system
- Nutritional supplements, including anti-oxidants, to replace the nutrients destroyed by my treatments
- Massage and energy work after each chemotherapy session and regularly throughout my radiation schedule, to speed toxin elimination, and to nurture myself while feeling tired and run down
- Maintain my vegetarian lifestyle, choosing simple, healthful foods
- Keep participating in life – doing massage, playing golf and volleyball, volunteer work
- Ask people for help and receive it graciously
- Look for the lessons and embrace them
Once I learned I would lose my hair I decided to create a head-shaving ceremony. No watching it come out in bits and clumps for me - I wanted to choose my baldness. Three days before my hair was predicted to fall out, Bill, my sister and several dear friends gathered in our home in front of a crackling fire to share in my transformation to a beautiful bald woman. We were guided by Jim, no stranger to spiritual head-shaving himself, and everyone participated in some special way: getting fresh, warm water; holding the warm, wet towels on my scalp to make shaving easier; slathering on shaving cream; lovingly and carefully shaving my head; rubbing healing oil into my newly shorn scalp; keeping my wine glass full; taking pictures for posterity; making jokes; crying and laughing with me.
Wow! This process altered what could have been a traumatic beginning into a powerful and wonderful one. In fact, I was so comfortable with my baldness that I wore a wig for about an hour before choosing to just be bald for a while, which prompted many terrific conversations with strangers I encountered along the way. Some saw new possibilities in being with their circumstances from how I was being with mine; others went out of their way to tell me how striking or beautiful I looked; many inspired me by sharing experiences of victory over cancer, and some shared their grief over the loss of a loved one to this disease.
I discovered that it takes great strength to reach out to others, and all along I thought it was a weakness! I reached out to family and friends for support, and though it was very difficult at first (I actually cried the first time I asked someone for help), I finally realized that I had been withholding a precious gift from people for most of my life. We all want to make a difference, and my independence-at-all-costs attitude had me reject many loving and wonderful gifts from the people in my life. I was actually taking something away from them. No more!
Creative visualization during my chemotherapy treatments made a huge difference for me. I would imagine that the fluid entering my vein was magically restoring health and vitality to my body, mind and spirit, and I embraced rather than resisted the chemicals. God only knows the difference it made…. but I will say I never threw up once! I stayed active throughout the process, while finally learning to honor those times when my body asked for rest.
I celebrated my one-year anniversary in July of 2000 by taking part in the Avon 3-Day, put on by Pallotta TeamWorks, where my childhood friend, Mary Beth, and I walked from San Jose to San Francisco (60 miles) in three days, joining almost 2000 others committed to eliminating breast cancer. I could think of no greater affirmation of life than to walk this great distance for a cause that touches each of us in some way.
Many said I inspired them, being a survivor and taking on such a journey – one woman, struggling with a steep hill outside San Francisco, said, “I know if you can make it up this hill, I can, too.” Besides every soul who walked, I was inspired by the volunteers who policed our route, moved our gear, prepared our meals and enthusiastically cheered us on at the pit stops, and was totally blown away by the people who honked and cheered, turned on sprinklers for us, fed us Popsicles and ice water and painted signs of love and support. One man stopped his car, cranked up his stereo, got out and danced wildly, singing “Pretty Woman” at the top of his lungs!
Bill’s unconditional love and support throughout my healing journey, all that came before and all that is to come, warms my heart each time I think of him. Friends and family kept me smiling and the cards and letters I received kept my spirits high. The groups I was active in kept me connected and provided much needed support, and the many, many prayers said on my behalf were surely answered. None of this would have been possible if I hadn’t learned to reach out, to share myself with others.
Life continues to be a celebration of the human spirit, and the lessons I learned continue to bless my life every day.
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Written by Patty Cook, Owner
Life by Design, LLC... creating success from the inside out