Thriving and Surviving: The Final Pages

Jan. 25, 2020

It's nearing time for me to bring this cancer chapter to an end. It has served its purpose and has taught me so much along the way. Particularly, as I experience this brand new version of my life, equipped with new uncertainties and adventure.

Currently, I continue to experience healing complications, which I'm hoping will remedy itself soon. I still have further surgeries that I'll need to undergo this year to rebuild my left breast. Yet, through it all I will and am thriving.

In the middle of November last year, I had to undergo an emergency surgery to remove the left breast prosthetic (cancer side) due to an unresolving infection, which I'm still battling. Despite the stumbles in my healing path, I was still able to reach my goal of travelling back to Ballymena, Northern Ireland for Christmas to visit our family. This ambition was something I determined early on in my diagnosis. When I was in the beginning stages of chemotherapy, my husband, James asked me what I most looked forward to after chemotherapy (other than being cancer-free). I told him that I wanted to have Christmas with the entire family in Ballymena. With that, we immediately booked 2 tickets to Dublin and every time I searched for motivation during a difficult moment in my cancer journey, I was reminded that by the time I'm in Ballymena in December I would be commemorating the ending of all my treatments and being cancer-free.

With such celebratory motivation, the particular image I held in my head was one of me getting onto the plane. Actually, it was not just the image of getting on the plane, but it was me doing something that I seem to do whenever I get onto a plane. Over the years, I've travelled frequently, whether it was for work, vacation or visiting family. Each time I would step onto a plane, I place my hand on the outside of the plane briefly just as I'm getting in. It wouldn't look like much to anyone who would notice me. I would deftly place my hand on the entryway, lift my carryon suitcase, and then take a step onto the plane. To an onlooker, it would just appear that I'm using the aircraft entrance as support to either lift a heavy carryon or to step onto the plane. When I was younger, I did it because I was fascinated by the thought that the outside of the plane got to be directly in contact with the clouds and sky. So by touching the plane, I somehow got to experience it as well, and not just from a seat inside viewing the skies. As I became older, I would place my hand on the aircraft in acknowledgement and gratitude for the flight, as well as a wish for our safe journey. The vision of being able to complete this secret ritual became something that helped me in the moments of my deepest struggles.

This vision became the source of my thriving power. I wasn't going to be just a survivor, I was going to be a thriver! Thriving for me meant that I not only got to travel to Ballymena, but that I envisioned many aspects of my new life: I was going to return to practicing as a Naturopathic Doctor in Ontario, I was going to return to live, teach and research in San Diego, and most importantly it meant that I was going to share my story with others. As such, I now see patients through my home in Brampton, Canada. Then, on January 5, 2020, I have moved back to San Diego (James will be here soon) and back to being a professor at Bastyr University. I split my time between Brampton and San Diego. Lastly, I have been sharing my story of integrative cancer care, which combines treating the mind, body and spirit through conventional medical care as well as a range of other practitioners, such as Naturopathic Medicine, yoga, acupuncture, meditation, psychotherapy, and so on. I've spoken about my journey at my local cancer support centre, Wellsprings Chinguacousy, and on Saturday January 25, 2020 I will be speaking the the Susan G. Komen Metastatic Breast Cancer Conference.

By sharing my story, it's my hope and prayer that someone may benefit from it. I aim to normalize the discussion around the fear and anxieties that come up with cancer or any chronic/difficult condition. Also, it has been healing for me to share my journey to this community. My final upcoming pages on this chapter will include all the resources and avenues I explored throughout this path For now, I look forward to the conclusion of this chapter and eagerly await the beginning of the next.

Until next time, for now be sure to please take your seat and fasten your seat belt. And also make sure your seat back and folding trays are in their full upright position.

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