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Those two words still sting in my mind. Although I have spent many years reading about the ever-growing epidemic of breast cancer diagnosis’s, survivors, and even deaths I never quite comprehended the devastation of the disease until it hit close to home.
As women, we are continually examining, researching and hearing about how to “watch” for signs and symptoms of breast cancer: The lumps, any changes in the shape or appearance of our breasts, nipple changes and redness/ soreness. Once we are over the age of 40, mandatory mammograms are ordered from our physicians. However, these days more and more women are being diagnosed before the age of 40 from a self-discovered lump. There are many different forms of breast cancer and reasons behind it. Women are at risk due to family history/ genetics, other types of cancers, Estrogen / Progesterone abnormalities, and much more. It is through series of testing such as physical examinations, ultrasounds, mammograms, biopsies, CT scans, MRI and PET scans do we find relief or the diagnosis we all fear.
I know personally how scary this can be. The ultrasounds, the mammograms at the age of 34, the googling of signs and symptoms and then the waiting. Breast cancer has such a hard and robust effect on you when you hear those words or diagnosis. We are talking about our femininity, our nurturing for babies, our body. Cancer does not discriminate. It is vengeful, fierce and destructive.
Almost two years ago, however, the scare came from another source. My dear aunt found out she had incurable breast cancer. A conversation that I know I will never forget. What seemed so shocking as she spoke was followed by the immediate plan of care and commitment to beating the odds.
My aunt was in her early 70’s and knew that she wanted natural measures done for her treatment. What seemed to be forever in the Dr’s offices, CT appointments, oncologists, double mastectomy operations and blood work, time flew by fast. Her first diagnosis seemed to have been treated, and she was clear of breast cancer a short nine months later. It was the sigh of relief. Momentarily, until this last January, when the reality of her disease came back. A follow-up CT scan, delivered quite the punch as her cancer had come back and spread to her lungs and liver. Her words took the breath out of me, as she whispered my name into the phone to say ” we knew this day was going to come” She was right, we did. The reality of something we had hoped wasn’t the truth.
It was from this day that my life changed. My focus was on her, caring for her, loving her and making sure that I could offer her the very best for the time we had together.
Cancer is very unpredictable, and when the Dr’s are trying to estimate the prognosis of the disease sometimes, they are right and sometimes they just aren’t sure. We were given six months if she decided to do an aggressive form of chemotherapy through infusions. The side effects were immediately against everything that my aunt wanted to have during her end of days. She knew that living her life the best she could with the time she had was all that matter and didn’t want to do treatments only to prolong the inevitable. It was five weeks later from her phone call that afternoon to me she lost her battle with Stage 4 Breast Cancer in the comfort of her home surrounded by her children, myself, her sister and the rest of her fantastic care team.
When I think back to those five weeks, I remember the incredible strength, compassion, humility, vulnerability, love and courage that we all went through together. We followed her wishes after her death. As a group of 4 women, together we watched her through her most vulnerable time in her life, and it was so powerful! She maintained her integrity until the time of her death and brought us all together in the end.
It wasn’t until she had passed that I felt like I could breathe again. I had spent hours and hours catering, nursing and counselling family members during those five weeks. I had pushed all my feelings aside, neglected my needs, my own family, my sleep in care of her. I felt lost weeks following her death, as I just didn’t know how I could back to living the way I was before she had passed. In all honesty, you just can’t. It was then I realised that caretaking takes an enormous toll on you. You may not notice it during the time of crisis, trauma or whatever it may be that you are experiencing. However, when the time comes or it ends what you are left with is often a shell of yourself. It is during this time you need to understand that caring for yourself is just as important. I had many people ask me what I was doing for myself in the weeks following her death. I submerged myself into Yoga, meditation and endless naps in the afternoon for the many sleepless nights I had endured. Although I knew that her suffering was over, the grief I felt was starting to overtake my thoughts.
It was during this time I spoke with other members of my family and through my practice realised that when we forget to look after ourselves, the effects can be troublesome. I have spoken a great deal in my seminars, private practice the importance of self-care. A simple bath, yoga, meditation, prayer, getting outdoors, a run, an evening with those you love or a making a healthy meal. A time to reflect on yourself, hear your thoughts, feel your emotions and come back to YOU.
As life dishes out stressful situations, unexpected events and tragedies, we must make sure that we always take care of ourselves. There are many ways to take care of ourselves, honour our needs and allow ourselves the time we need to stay grounded.
My suggestions for those who find themselves struggling through difficult times, illness or even just life, try incorporating these helpful tips:
I often like to recommend to my clients to add in supplementation during these times as we usually aren’t eating right, our bodies are stressed, and we need some extra TLC. A few great products from Organika that I use daily are :
This month holds a special place in my heart, not only for my aunt who lost her fight on February 22nd this year but to the thousands of women who are battling their disease today and to the other women we have lost along the way. Their strength, integrity and courage are what shines the light for those who are newly diagnosed, and the families affected every day.