“I imagine you sitting still in the face of a fire-breathing dragon. Hair rustled back with the force of all the air. Knowing you are perfect. You are safe. You have a deep knowing that is accurate. It is not a dragon.” – Michelle Gerenscer, MS, oncological nutritionist at Nutritional Solutions
It was terrifying to get an ovarian cancer diagnosis at 51, in February of 2020. I’ve been low and scared many times since. Not always, but many times. Before I was a cancer patient myself, I used to think of cancer as one of the biggest bullies of all. Rogue, mutant cells attacking unfortunate bodies from within. Cancer was THE enemy to beat…to kill. A war, with us on one side and cancer on the other, a fire-breathing dragon that required our biggest guns.
- I was grateful that “cancer didn’t run in my family”… until it did.
- I was relieved to have escaped the fight I saw too many people waging…until I didn’t.
- I was glad I had so many tools for taking good care of a human body…until all that wasn’t enough for mine.
I have over a year of dealing with ovarian cancer under my belt now, and I see things differently.
Cancer is a cry for help.
Our bodies are beautifully designed to live healthy, productive lives. It’s incredible really. When our daughter was born, my father-in-law marveled, “built to last 100 years! Isn’t that amazing?!” Yes, it is. None of us knows exactly how long we’ll get here on earth, but we don’t expect to be stopped short by disease at the scope and level we currently see. Who out there doesn’t have experience with cancer now – personally, in your family, or in your community? Our bodies are indeed assaulted by bullies, but I see them more clearly now:
- Toxic chemicals are bullies. Our bodies were never meant to process what we do now. Those of us who are more susceptible to toxins than others are not mutants. In fact, perhaps we are less epigenetically evolved/mutated than others whose bodies have adapted to safely process and remove pesticides, herbicides, industrial chemicals, endocrine disruptors, etc. Some of us (perhaps canaries-in-the-coal-mine) get overwhelmed by these toxins and our immune system gets distracted, so we are unwittingly susceptible to more damage from what we take in (food, water, air, environment). As Nasha Winters, N.D. and Jess Kelly write in Metabolic Approach to Cancer, “Cancer is a disease of genes mismatched with modern lifestyle.” With chemical toxicity already challenging our bodies…
- Pathogens are bullies. There are good and bad guys in the microbial world, as far as our body is concerned. Many of the parasitic actors (toxic molds, yeast, and pathogenic bacteria) are abundant in our food and homes because of unnatural practices, that put expediency and profit ahead of health. Sustainability and green, clean buildings are not just good for the planet but crucial for our health and survival. Kids feel this truth in their bodies, so we see them getting active. Thank goodness, because being thrown into the disease management of western medicine can be brutal…
- Western medicine has many wonderful people, but many of the usual tools are bullies. At the first cries for help, what we are offered too often shuts our body up and our intuition down. Creams. Pills. Procedures. They take away the pain or the itch, but the fundamental struggle remains…to not just eat well but to live an actively detoxifying For those of us who grew up in the 20th century, this news has seeped into our consciousness in the background of going to school, working, and raising families. We did the best we could with what we knew, in our spare time. Our kids know better. They are also more in tune with emotional wellbeing and boundaries, which is great because…
- Bullies are bullies. Whether they are triggering you in the media, your workplace/school, or even your family, toxic relationships have very real impacts on our immune system. What we take in is not just food, water, and air, but also emotional energy. Our kids know that trauma that is not transformed is transmitted. They might understand why people act with zero empathy, but they will hold boundaries. They won’t put up with a lot of what we did. And that’s great because their immune systems will not be on high alert with the potential to dysregulate and let cancer cells grow. And, yes, sometimes the bullies are even oncologists…like the renowned “expert” who offered her opinion without studying my case or bothering to listen to us. No collaboration? No thank you. Our bodies are the real experts, and they must be included in the conversation. I’m lucky she was a bit player in my journey but shudder to think of her actual patients. It’s hard to learn a better way when we are years into doing things a certain way, even if that way isn’t working. Here is something I learned the hard way…
- Chemo is a bully. When our bodies cry for help in such a profound way as cancer, the predominant answer is still more toxic chemicals. Chemo is one of the biggest bullies of all, coming at us when we’re at our most vulnerable. It literally kills. Yes, it kills fast-growing cells. There is utility in that to some extent. My lab at MIT studied the mechanism of the chemo drug cisplatin 27 years ago, and I can’t help but wonder why, after all those years, chemo is still the best answer for fast-growing cancers. Chemo is a big bully. Having been on a healing journey for some years, I have lots of standard and functional test results before and after chemo. It took courage to redo the tests and assess the damage, but I’m glad I did. Knowledge is power and key to preventing recurrence. Chemotherapy has serious systemic consequences that have to be more openly considered along with its impact on the cancer cells. Chemo harms our immune systems and gut microbiome, giving toxins and pathogens the upper hand for a period of time. Time heals, but proactive, strategic, bio-individualized healing interventions can heal our bodies and prevent a recurrence, faster and more completely. “Gold standard of care” is not, really. Let’s be honest; we all know it’s cut, poison, and burn. Patients and innovative healers are pushing cancer care in more holistic directions. Someday, healing information will be standard, and care will be golden. For now, patients have to be resilient entrepreneurs, nonstop treasure hunters, and courageous scientists in throes of western medicine, not least because…
- Cancer markers can be bullies. Many of them are poorly understood and not well correlated with the state of cancer development. Not just ovarian cancer’s CA125 which is notorious for false positives, but others too. Cancer patients are routinely terrorized by the numbers yet flummoxed by the fact that their markers do not relate to scans, how they feel, and progress on other dimensions. As one long-time ovarian cancer survivor put it: “That marker?! Oh, honey, I threw that out with the trash!” I’m not saying markers aren’t useful, but that they aren’t everything. Even more, I’m saying we need to do a much better job of understanding what they really mean…and so, how to heal. I’m working on that and will share what I learn.
Seeing the bullies clearly gives us a chance to address them, personally and communally. Do I regret taking chemo last year? Sadly, no. With my type of cancer in 2020, I didn’t have a choice at the beginning of treatment. Believe me, I tried mightily to get out of it! Am I sorry we don’t have better choices, after decades of a “war on cancer,” billions and billions of dollars, countless hours in labs, human and animal trials, and so many profitable drugs? Hell, yeah. Follow the money and you’ll find the deliberate winners of this war on cancer; It’s not the patients or their families. Our focus on genetics has been part of the problem. Proteomics is part of the answer. But it’s bigger than that.
“A patient is unlikely to die from cancer, but from toxins accumulated in the body.”
– Dr. Max Gerson
Cancer is a Cry for Help, Not Just in My Body
Fifty years of creating the next patented chemo drug haven’t gotten us very far. Real answers require listening to our bodies. Some people are doing just that. Curious, humble, and empathetic oncologists, tired of seeing patients suffer. Collaborative functional doctors who use meaningful tests to help us heal from the assaults of oncology and the upstream dynamics that led to cancer in the first place. All-in nutritionists who address body and soul, with tenderness, experience, and curiosity. Naturopaths and others who stop at nothing to heal themselves, developing and sharing new, effective solutions for previously intractable problems like mold toxicity and advanced cancers.
Most of the answers have been developed in a silo. The complexity of cancer really requires interdisciplinary answers. Adding up the pieces can be daunting. Then our bodies tell us when there are holes. We face down the fear, and more answers come. Through friends who channel, showing up at just the right time with what you need to know, even if it’s just that you are not alone. Spouses who research, leaving no stone unturned…even when you don’t always want to see what’s underneath. Prayers answered with revealing dreams that leave you waking with a sense of knowing and peace. Our body and soul lead us in a healing direction if we can be quiet and plug into the divinity inside. That’s how we’re designed. That’s what we can do. One of the biggest gifts of this year for me has been learning to listen deeply. There’s a flow that’s beautiful.
“Cancer has stripped me down and rebuilt me, better, stronger, more authentic.”
– Carrie Kelley Kielty, Ovarian Cancer Survivor
Cancer is a Cry for Help, a Wake-Up Call
There is a blessing in not resting with what is, when what is isn’t working. We all know too many sad stories; too many of us have lived them. We offer whatever support we can, with our hearts breaking as we watch friends and loved ones struggle with cancer diagnoses and treatments. Learning that yet another loved one/friend/colleague/child has cancer is devastating and exhausting. It’s no longer my story that I was lucky enough to avoid cancer. But the truth is we are ALL unlucky to deal with the above bullies; they take their toll in a variety of ways. I’m taking aim there. That’s a fair fight. One we can collectively win.
A cancer diagnosis is awful. The fight is intense and doesn’t always end up the way we would like. But cancer itself does not seem like the biggest bully of all to me anymore. Cancer is not the fire-breathing dragon I thought it was. Cancer is a cry for help. If we are still for a moment and shut out the noise, we hear it.
Many thanks to integrative nutritionist Michelle Gerenscer for her steadfast, empathetic partnership, including the wonderfully clear and encouraging vision in the opening quote. Much gratitude to fellow yogi Mark Domann for bringing that vision to life in illustrations. Cancer entrepreneurship can be lonely at times, so thank goodness for tireless warriors and friends like Carrie Kelley Kielty. Last, but not least, I appreciate John LeMay’s edits to this post and ceaseless partnership in all things.