Seven years ago I began aggressive treatment for breast cancer. Since then, I have watched with dismay as more and more women are forced to make decisions as to how they will deal with this horrendous disease. It has achieved pandemic proportions, and ensuing fear has caused many young women to choose to have their breasts removed prophylactically rather than live with the fear of contracting the disease that took out there mother, sister, or aunt.
Until the industrial society we have created takes responsibility for cleaning up our polluted environment, women will continue to reflect the results in the part of us that holds the nourishment for future generations.
Each woman faced with this disease must decide for herself how she will deal with it; whether she chooses conventional or alternative methods, is aggressive or lets the chips fall where they may. More important than what protocol they choose is how committed they are to following their chosen path. When I was given a 20% chance of survival (in the AMA it is a numbers game), I asked my doctors what they thought were the distinguishing factors that determined on which side of the statistics their patients would most likely fit? They seemed to attribute considerable weight to attitude. Their encouragement for my warrior style also bolstered my confidence, especially when it got really hard.
I am seven years clear, and have had time to reflect and discover that the gifts from this experience far outweigh the suffering. Cancer can be a tremendous wake-up call. It forced me to recommit to life, and to make choices about what is really important, often very different choices than I had been making. It taught me to have compassion for those less fortunate, or of limited physical capabilities and to adhere to the limitations that my body imposes on me from a position of reverence and respect. Most importantly, it gave me the ability to help others who are facing similar choices, not because my actions would be right for them, but because I am still alive to share the experience.
I still get many requests for the following article that I published in my newsletter soon after my recovery:
Breast cancer is an epidemic in the United States. One out of nine women will contract cancer in their lifetime, and in some communities, as many as one out of two or three, as in parts of Nassau Co., New York. Why is this happening, and what can we do about it?
Our illnesses are our teachers. Each of us individually attracts the events and illnesses that steer us to appropriate life-changes, or make us miserable in our attempts to resist. For example, with problems such as ulcers, the relationships between our lifestyles and our disease are obvious. When we have poor eating habits and deal with stress in certain ways, we can contract ulcers. We can choose to medicate ourselves to relieve the symptoms; however if we don't change our lifestyles, our eating habits, and our stress levels, the disease returns. With cancer we are dealing with a collective teacher, one that is caused by and related to the way our species interacts with the environment. Studies are emerging that link breast cancer with industrial pollution and agricultural pesticides that have entered the food chain. We have fouled the nest, and now we are paying the price. Each of us who contracts and lives with this disease is in a sense taking a hit for all of humanity. Either we as a species clean up our act and become more respectful of our environment, or we will continue to pay the price, which is rising daily.
Cancer was not part of my personal reality. I had no fear, nor any reason to consider myself at risk. Yet there it was, an olive-sized malignant lump appearing out of nowhere, altering my every waking moment with the sheer knowledge of its existence in my body. I realized I would have to deal with it one way or another, or die.
My first inclination was to look at my calendar to determine how to fit this new challenge into my busy schedule. My book, The Golden Cauldron, had just been published and I was gearing up for a promotional tour to follow my yearly Egypt mystery school pilgrimage. Nothing could alter my plans. My surgeon cooperated by arranging for his son to do a lumpectomy on Christmas day in Eureka, CA, while on route to San Francisco to catch my flight for Egypt. Two nights later I learned that the tumor was malignant and had already begun to spread. I left for Egypt the following day.
Needless to say, the work in Egypt had an unusual flavor, for it was there that the healing began. My personal participation was deep and focused as I guided 30 people on a journey through the ancient mysteries and sacred sites. By the time I returned home, I had received clear guidance and felt secure with my chosen course of action. Back in San Francisco I underwent breast conservation surgery and met with an Oncologist to discuss an appropriate course of action to combat the extremely aggressive cancer that had already spread to my lymph nodes.
When faced with the life-threatening challenge of cancer, my holistic approach to healing included anything and everything that might work within the limitations of available resources. As soon as word got out that I had the big "C", information on all sorts of alternatives began pouring in, however my insurance would only cover the conventional allopathic treatments: surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. I found it extremely important, however, to use many adjunctive therapies to alleviate the trauma caused by chemotherapy and radiation. These included acupuncture, massage therapy, castor oil packs, herbs, and nutrition. The shamanistic and energetic healing work that I practice and teach were a fundamental, integrated part of my treatment program.
Following are some notes from my journal during the intensive chemotherapy protocol. I found the shamanistic monitoring a vital link to my own understanding of and ability to work with this very difficult treatment:
January 28, 1992, in the oncologist's office: I sat in a comfortable, pink lazy-boy type chair. Next to me was a tall stand with a bag dripping a clear fluid down a long tube and into the catheter that had been surgically implanted above my heart, enabling the fluid to enter directly into a large vein with enough flow to keep the chemicals from burning the veinÍs walls. Seated beside to me was my husband, Mark, and on my lap was a Mac Powerbook computer... We were shamanistically observing and recording the process of chemotherapy, while attempting to establish rapport with the barbaric agents of death that would assure my life.
As Mark focused inward, he saw a staging area filling with abstract beings, a force gathering. They came out of shadows in the fog, alien beings with tendrils, horns, claws, misshapen bodies. The first thing he saw was the horn of one that looked like a Viking, with an uncoiling tendril next to it. There was a short one with brown hair and long claws that everyone was backing off from. As Mark described them, the fog began to clear. It is difficult to give justice in the written word of how inhuman these beings were. It seemed as though these were things moving that shouldnÍt be alive, chaotic, base, of low intelligence.
I realised that it was up to me to control this force, to direct this hoard when battle is engaged. My intention to be in charge brought a semblance of order into the ranks, dividing them into platoons as a hierarchy developed.
A serpent-dog was coiled around my legs and feet. It was he who, like a general, barked commands and delegated directions. I knew I must not take the edge off their fighting rage. It was important that I, as commander in chief, remained a rallying point. My commands were passed down through the ranks. At
1:45 PM anti nausea drugs were being dripped into my catheter in preparation for the noxious chemicals which were soon to follow. I find it interesting that the consciousness of these powerful chemicals (on this day I would have Adriomycen, Vincristine, and Methotrexate tomorrow, 5FU and Cytoxin all week) are already present and felt before they actually enter my blood stream.
With prompting from my inner guidance, I psychically reached into my rib cage and ripped my chest wide open to allow them to enter and begin the great battle for my life. They crawled, hopped and jumped in, entering through the opening in my chest, which extended from my Adam's apple to my sternum. We could clearly see their barbaric mentality; they were not into discussions of philosophic ramifications of their task.
At 1:52 sterile water was dripped into the catheter. The serpent-dog flipped from shepherding troops to check in with me, nuzzling my hand. It was observing everything that was happening with keen, sharp eyes. We were aware of rippling earth and roiling seas. All the violent oceans poured into the opening in my chest, followed by a sand storm. The staging area became empty, although additional hoards were pouring in over the hills. Bodies, some still writhing, were left strewn across the field, early casualties from the over-excitement.. Someone blew a horn and the angelic host was awakened. They streamed in like wind driven fog.
Now it was time for the actual chemicals„ the storm began, the battle was engaged...
As that first battle raged within me, we went home from the oncologistÍs office to await the effects. That night as we looked within, we could see where the opened area of my chest had taken on the appearance of a cave, in which an aged crone was laying a fire.
She then set up housekeeping, building shelves, hanging herbs and sweeping the floor. Throughout the entire four months of chemotherapy, in our mindÍs eye I looked like a statue with my arms and hands extended, chest ripped open to form the cave. My staunch allies were the ever vigilant crone and the serpent dog who stayed wrapped around my feet and legs like a boa, becoming a dog at about waist level. In front of me was a stark, rocky plain, the staging area ringed with craggy volcanoes.
While we were connected with the crone that night we became aware of the thunder of distant drums. As we drifted off to sleep, we could see the glow over the horizon from the advancing army, marking the place from where the reinforcements were coming toward the staging area.
The next morning I went for my second day of chemotherapy. While preparing to receive the first injection of 5FU, we looked in and saw that the force that had gathered was breaking camp. These new reinforcements carried big drums. They wore beards. Some of them rode dog-like creatures and went about regulating things. Their campfires were made of the torches that caused the glow across the horizon in the previous night. They dusted off and smeared themselves with ashes, emitteng guttural sounds as they whipped themselves into a frenzy.
The dog-serpent and the crone looked very regal. The crone moved all of her stuff in the cave out of the way, but kept the fire burning. Then she backed off and left the cave, leaving me to tend the fire with my attention and my breath. I realized it was very important for me to be maintain an air of nobility right then and throughout the entire course of chemotherapy. I was in command of the chemicals, and I would keep them focusing on the job at hand. It was not easy.
Within two weeks my hair began to fall out. I had it cut short so that it would not be so messy. It did not take long before I was completely bald, and soon I had no eyebrows either. I continued to support my treatment through shamanic observation, acupuncture, massage, herbs, and psychic healing. The prescriptions I had been given to control nausea were very difficult to take, resulting in a strong feeling as though I were jumping out of my skin. I found pot to be helpful, both for controlling the nausea and providing access to a level of consciousness where I could more easily make changes inside.
On 3/17/92 everything conspired to create a most unusual healing experience. Four close friends who had studied healing with me for many years were working on me, as they did every Monday and Tuesday evening throughout my chemo protocol. They practiced Huna and Cauldron and all the healing work we had learned during the past ten years. Mark had just done a lymph drainage massage and manually cleared my liver.
Music was an important vehicle for journeying during this time, and this night we played a new tape, Voice of the Four Winds, by Dik Darnell. While they worked on me, the music pushed me into a place of prayer, calling out to the spirits and giving thanks. When the music next shifted, I found myself traveling inward, until I entered a level where I recognized what felt like the patterning of genes. A couple of days prior, I had seen a TV show that mentioned the possibility of a damaged gene found in women with a proclivity to breast cancer. With the support of the music, I was able to connect to this gene. But what to do? I have never thought of violence as an appropriate means for making much of anything better. Yet here I was, my body a literal battlefield, filled with a nuclear arsenal of chemicals developed to deal cancer its death blows, without doing irrevocable damage to healthy organs and tissues. I'd tried the ñpac-manî approach, using everything from the chemo to friendly alligator spirits. I'd attempted to connect at the molecular level and transform the cells, but always with some confusion as to whether IÍm killing them in order to do that. I'd spent a lot of time simply dealing with the level of toxins and clearing them out of my systems. But this time, with the magic of the moment and the music, I was able to hold the gene and know it transformed and healed through love. Some basic pattern in the blueprint of my life shifted from life-destroying to life-affirming.
When the music again shifted I found myself desiring to strengthen and protect my organs, particularly my heart. It was as if all of the diverse, eclectic traditions of my experience blended with the eclectic qualities in the music, the hands of my friends, and all events that had contributed to the current moment; I prayed for my heart to be opened. Layer upon layer of bright patterned veils opened to reveal yet deeper patterns until all barriers dissolved, and in the moment of confirmation, the music passed through my whole unobstructed being in rushes as wind passing through a reed; I knew myself in total unity with all of life and all of spirit.
There were many opportunities, even during the most miserable of times, for the magic to enter and nourish my healing process. My spirit guides and totem allies were always available. Sometimes, for many days at a time I could do nothing more rigorous than go to the bathroom. What cannot be taken from us is our intention, our attention and our imagination, whith which we can change our reality.
We have conscious choice from moment to moment in every thought and action. By our responses we affirm or destroy. It is our choice and our rite, and ultimately the measure of the quality of our time. It is now almost seven years since completing treatment. I am healthier than ever, and have fully resumed an intense schedule of travel, offering seminars and leading groups to sacred sites all over the world. I give thanks for the blessing of this opportunity to re-affirm my life and my healing.