It now seems cliché to say that 2020 has brought unexpected challenges. We have all adapted to the constant of change. Personally, my biggest change was a diagnosis of bilateral breast cancer. Initially, I responded with calm analysis, keeping reality at arms-length by “doing” what needed to be done. I made a notebook, set up second opinions, read extensively, set up Zoom chats to tell family, and calculated the best days for treatment so I could still work, but below all the management and brave face, were two strong feelings – betrayal and knowing.
Anyone who has gone through cancer seems to have experienced shock that this is happening to them. As someone who teaches wellness and lives a very healthy life, it felt as though I had missed something, and this diagnosis had to have had a cause. That’s where the knowing came in. Ayurveda’s ancient teachings see cancer as originating in the soul and then expressing in the physical body. I was pretty sure that for me, the soul part of the equation was where I was out of balance.
Soon after my diagnosis, I came across Laura Nasi, MD’s book Cancer as a Wake-Up Call. She describes cancer as having four contributors, and this perspective helped me tease apart the impacts in my own life that created an environment that allowed this cancer to grow.
Psychologic. My family of origin has always focused on service. We lived in places of poverty, and the needs of others were visibly profound. I count this background as a blessing, but it also made it easy to see my only value was in serving others. It seemed wrong to have needs or prioritize myself when it meant another child might die, or someone would go without health care because I needed my parents. I trace my calling to be a physician to these years and have a clear sense of purpose for my life. What I didn’t develop well was the ability to have compassion and priority for my own needs. I’m learning how to set boundaries and how to ask for what I need. My reminder right now is a phrase, “Stop feeling guilty for doing what’s best for you.” This mindset will be a life-long process, but I believe I can do it and learn a new harmony between care for others and myself.
Nervous system. It took pulling away from my work to recognize that I am an “adrenaline junkie,” unaware that I am running on elevated cortisol. A few weeks after my diagnosis, after clearing my schedule of unnecessary work, I wanted to celebrate a friend’s birthday with a socially-distanced lunch. I needed to pick up a gift and time the food pick-up to meet her at noon. Everything took longer than I had allotted…and I could feel my anxiety rising. I realized suddenly that this was how I had been living most days of my life – expecting myself to do more than is reasonable in limited amounts of time. I took special notice of how my anxiety felt and made a commitment to recognize my built-in alarm system. While I know my tendency is to work like an energizer bunny, I know I’m going to have to be just as diligent at refilling my batteries and living life at a gentler pace.
Immune and endocrine systems. Initially, I dismissed these parts of my story because I have such a healthy lifestyle. But as I’ve thought more about it, I realize I have had little clues along the way that these systems were suffering the consequences of over-work and living in the “fight or flight” state of elevated cortisol. Stress has been the fuel to the fire for me, and I ignored it. My antibodies indicating reactivation of the Epstein-Barr virus, along with early menopause, had been clues to slow down. I missed the messages and kept on pushing until cancer stopped me.
Cancer has indeed been a wake-up call for me. I am going through a broad treatment approach that includes chemotherapy and surgery, along with qigong, Ayurveda, acupuncture and naturopathy. I know I will come through this with a new understanding and ways of living.
If my example can help you, please know that health is multi-dimensional, and the efforts you make now to build wellness in ALL areas of your life are worthwhile.
Jeralyn Brossfield, MD, is the founder and physician of XO Health and medical director of Brain Treatment Center both in Rancho Mirage. She can be reached at (760) 573.2761 or www.BrainTreatmentCenter.com and on Facebook @XOHealth.
Dear Jeralyn, thanks a lot for your testimony. I am SO happy my book has added to your finding your way back to health. I am thrilled there are now more health care professionals helping to delineate this emerging new paradigm in medicine. My feeling is people have understood we need a broader view on health and disease, and that our current “a-pill-for-a-symptom” approach needs to be thoroughly revised. Now it is time for us MDs to define this new paradigm and re-define our “treatment protocols”. Hope you continue your “flower-ishing” way towards health. I will be delighted to talk to you further.
Thank you for reading Desert Health, Dr. Nasi! Since this article from Dr. Brossfield, I have recommended your book to many and, as a cancer survivor myself, look forward to reading it as well. I will make sure Dr. Brossfield sees your message!
Lauren Del Sarto
What a lovely demonstration of our human connectedness to have you reach out and send me well-wishes! Thank you! I am indeed blooming in health and the reminding myself often that my number one purpose is to “flower-ish” and to fill every need for self love and care.
Your message and words resonate deeply with me. I am an OB/GYN who shifted into a path of wellness medicine and after training with IFM.org and Dr. Dale Bredesen, now have a practice centered on creating whole-person health with our main areas being gut/hormones/Bredesen Protocol. Our premise is that by supporting health in every aspect of our patient-partners, the body and soul can heal and thrive – so-called “upstream medicine.” Your book spoke this message so eloquently and I thank you!
I have just completed my 6th cycle of chemo and now the western medical path ahead is a bilateral nipple-sparing mastectomy/reconstruction and the remainder of one-year of cycles of herceptin and perjeta.
Over the next couple of months as I gain strength and am able, I would love to continue our discussion and certainly am supportive and open to how to be a channel to share with others.
Happy New Year and blessings and joy to you!
Thanks Jeralyn for your kind words.
Indeed we are learning much about the value of human interconnectedness this past year. This is something I believe we need to emphasize in our profession as well. I will be happy to continue our exchange whenever you feel like it. I will be happy to offer you my perspective from a multidimensional view, if this can help you on your path. My best wishes for 2021. Laura