[draft, to be submitted to WNC WOMAN]

Dancing with Cancer

by Julie Savage Parker

This morning I discovered the cure for cancer. Yes, I did.  I am sure it will make the headlines shortly.

You see, a little over a year ago I was diagnosed with Stage IIIa ovarian cancer. (It only goes up to stage IV).  Funny thing though, it never scared me – not really.  I did run the other way when my doctor first suspected cancer last summer, denying my symptoms, but when cancer finally landed with a thud in my lap, it was no biggie.  By then I was ready to dance with it. In fact, even when I found a voice mail from my doctor after my blood test results came in last fall that said “Get to the emergency room now! I think you should go right now. Please go right away.” I still wasn’t particularly worried. When my roommate and her boyfriend gave me a ride to the emergency room, our ride in from Fairview was full of laughter and silliness.  As we were about to walk in the door, I decided it was imperative to wipe the smiles off our faces so they would take us seriously – and not check to see what we were ‘on’.

Surgery was not scary either.  They removed just about everything but my tonsils, but there was zero pain.  The stay in the hospital was delightful – kind people everywhere. It quickly became clear that cancer was a blessing, not a curse. Yes, my oncologist wanted me to do chemo, but I would as likely submit to that poison as I would dance naked in Pack Square. It is my firm conviction that when you have cancer you want to BUILD the immune system, not destroy it.

As soon as I got home from the hospital, I started googling everything I could think of that might support my healing. My first thought was food, herbs, vitamins, etc. – as Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine”. I was surprised to learn that exercise is especially important for people with cancer.  I did the LiveStrong program, I am taking a qi gong class, I even had a fling with belly dancing.  But not until I came across Kelly A. Turner’s Radical Remission did I fully recognize the scope of what I had been doing to heal.  Kelly Turner travelled around the world studying over a thousand people who had healed from advanced cancer without (and sometimes in spite of) conventional slash/burn/poison cancer treatment. In many cases they had been told by their doctors to ‘get their affairs in order’, but instead they experienced what Ms. Turner calls ‘radical remission’. She found nine things they had in common: they radically changing their diet (check), they took control of their health (check!), they followed their intuition (check!), they used herbs and supplements (check), they released suppressed emotions (working on it), they increased positive emotions (check), they embraced social support (check), they deepened their spiritual connection (check), and they had strong reasons for living (working on it). Yes!  That has been my cancer journey, these nine things – and more. Last week I was given a clean bill of health yet again by my oncologist, but I have no intention of stopping my cancer treatment. I intend to continue with points 1-9, every day for the rest of my life.  (And may I ‘live long and prosper’!)

Kelly Turner’s book is full of rich stories of healing.  I also highly recommend Lissa Rankin’s Mind Over Medicine, and Kris Carr’s Crazy Sexy Diet (she also made a movie Crazy Sexy Cancer about her own dance with cancer.)  All three books have a deep understanding of healing and are a must read for anyone, cancer or not.

These days I delight in doing anything I can to let the air out of Big Pharma’s tires. I have always been appalled at the 20th and now fourteen years into the 21st century’s dependence on pharmaceuticals.  The prevailing attitude seems to be choosing to pop a pill (all of which have lengthy warnings of side effects) rather than embrace all that the earth has to offer for our healing… many times literally in our own backyards. But big pharma has a death grip on our psyches, it seems. And those who heal with the gifts of Mother Nature are being tormented by the FDA – you know, the organization that gave the thumbs up to things like thalidomide. And when they do find something healing from nature they spend millions of dollars searching for the ‘active ingredient’ and strip it out of its environment – or even worse, try to synthesize it.  They have no understanding of the healing power of whole foods.

If I had a magic wand I would use it to wipe out the pharmaceutical industry entirely and instead pay homage (and big research bucks) to the herbalists and the nutritionists and the naturopaths and the few doctors who play happily in this arena. We are so fortunate in this area to have so many practitioners who do! Never-the-less, when dancing with cancer, we do need to take control of our own health and not give it over entirely to anyone.  We need to follow our intuition in choosing what is best for our healing. And I feel we need to band together, those of us who choose to heal naturally, and so I have started a support group to that end and a Facebook page (Healing Cancer Naturally) and who knows what else will unfold. And I am very excited to start Plant Spirit Medicine with Dr. Lisa Lichtig… stay tuned for details.

Okay, the truth is, I did not really discover the cure for cancer this morning.  That is, not as pill or potion.  The cure for cancer is right in front of our faces. As Michael Pollan advises, “Eat food. Not too much.  Mostly plants.” The cure for cancer is eating plants that have grown with love, not pesticides.  Breathing clean air. Celebrating  the earth and her gifts. Working and playing and sleeping in equal measure. And so on. But Big Pharma can’t profit from that, so I doubt it will ever make the headlines.

A ‘magic bullet’ cure for cancer would only be to our detriment.  Suppose one day, along with our cancer diagnosis they could say “But you’ll be just fine. Take two of these and call me in the morning.” That would totally rob us of our healing journey. If you just took the pills and did not do your own version of points 1-9+, you might be cured, but you would not be healed. Cancer is a beautiful opportunity for learning to live mindfully, learning to choose wisely, learning to celebrate fully. So a diagnosis of cancer need not be the end of the world. Indeed, it can be the beginning of a whole new life. Your choice.