a piece that may be in WNC WOMAN…

“…whatever the complaint is, it’s always the same thing: something beneficial trying to happen. In true medicine there is no conflict, no enemy, no disease, only the opportunity to bring someone out of the dream of strife into the dream of wholeness.”

Eliot Cowan, Plant Spirit Medicine


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. Funny thing though, it never scared me – not really–even though it only goes up to Stage IV. 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. Even when, after an initial blood test, I found a voice mail from my doctor that said “Get to the emergency room now!”, I still wasn’t particularly worried. When friends gave me a ride to the emergency room, the trip was full of laughter and silliness. As we were about to walk in the door, I decided we should wipe the smiles off our faces so that we would be taken seriously – and not be asked what we were ‘on’.

The surgery that followed the next week 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, for me, 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 at noon in Pack Square. It is my firm conviction that when you have cancer you want to BUILD the immune system, not destroy it. Someone once remarked that refusing chemo must have been a hard decision. But you know what? It was not even a decision…a decision implies I was for a moment choosing between two options.

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, teas – as Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine”. I loaded up on local, colorful, organic produce, green tea, green leafies, turmeric, garlic, ginger, freshly ground flaxseeds and all the things I read were important for those of us dancing with cancer. Well, important for anyone really, but with cancer it might actually be ‘a matter of life and death’.

I was surprised to learn that exercise is especially important for people with cancer. So I did the LiveStrong program, I am taking a qigong class, I even had a fling with belly dancing. And while I am doing everything I can afford from bio-optic holography to PlantSpiritMedicine, 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. Turner travelled around the world in the course of completing her PhD, studying people who had healed from advanced cancer without (or sometimes in spite of) conventional slash/burn/poison cancer treatment. In some cases they had even been told by their doctors to ‘get their affairs in order’, but instead, once they walked away from conventional treatment and took charge of their own health, they experienced what she calls ‘radical remission’. She found nine things these people had in common: they radically changed 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. And last week I was given a clean bill of health yet again by my oncologist. 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 called Crazy Sexy Cancer about her own triumphant dance with cancer.) And read Eliot Cowan’s Plant Spirit Medicine. All four books show a deep understanding of healing (from differing perspectives) and are a must read for anyone with cancer or even those wanting to sit out that dance.

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 21st ) century’s dependence on pharmaceuticals. The prevailing attitude seems to be choosing to pop pills (all of which have lengthy warnings of side effects) rather than embrace all that the earth has to offer for our healing… often literally in our own backyards. But Big Pharma has a death grip on our psyches, it seems, and sometimes on our bodies too, as their treatment for cancer can kill as well as cure. In stark contrast, a natural approach to healing cancer nurtures the body back to health.

Many of those who heal with the gifts of Mother Nature are being tormented by the FDA – you know, the organization that gives their seal of approval to things like thalidomide. And when Big Pharma does find something healing from nature, they spend millions of dollars searching for the ‘active ingredient’ and rip it out of its natural environment – or even worse, try to synthesize it. They have no understanding of the healing power of the whole plant.

If I had a magic wand, I would use it to wipe out the pharmaceutical industry altogether and instead pay homage (and big bucks) to the herbalists and the nutritionists and the naturopaths and the few doctors who play happily in this arena. We are fortunate in Asheville to have so many practitioners who do!

Never-the-less, when dancing with cancer, I choose to take control of my own health and not give it over entirely to anyone. Oncologists are not trained in any approach but slash/burn/poison, and primary care doctors―even the holistic, integrative types―are not necessarily knowledgeable about oncology, so we have to do a tricky dance between the two, picking up threads from each and weaving in what we can from our peers who have gone before us and successfully nurtured themselves back to health. I do my homework and consider opinions (as well as second and third opinions) but ultimately follow my own intuition in choosing what is best for my healing. For me, this is incredibly empowering. And I feel that those of us who have chosen to heal our cancer naturally need to band together to share our knowledge and experience, and so I have started a support group* to that end.

What have I learned this last year of dancing with cancer? I heal best from the inside out – not the outside in. Illness―even cancer―is surely a gift. I don’t need to fear it or hate it or ‘combat’ it. Cancer is my call to step “into a dream of wholeness.” When I choose to listen to what illness is whispering to me, I find healing all around me. The very very last place I will ever look for healing is in a poison concocted in one of Big Pharma’s labs. For me, illness serves as a reminder that I am not a victim in a random universe, but rather an active participant in my own Healing.

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 (and always has been) 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 been grown with love, not pesticides; breathing clean air; celebrating the earth and her gifts; working and playing and sleeping in equal measure; nurturing loving connection with the people in our lives. And so on. But Big Pharma can’t profit from that, so I doubt it will ever make the headlines.

It is my (okay, somewhat radical) conviction that a ‘magic bullet’ cure for cancer would only be to our detriment. Suppose one day, along with our cancer diagnosis, our doctor 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 we just took the pills and did not do our own version of points 1-9+, we might be cured, but we would not be healed. Cancer is a beautiful opportunity for learning to live mindfully, choose wisely, love deeply, and celebrate fully. So the moral of the story is, a diagnosis of cancer need not be the end of the world. Indeed, it can be the beginning of a whole new life. It’s our choice.

P.S. I have zero medical training, my oncologist wanted me to have chemo, and my primary care doc says I have blinders on when it comes to conventional cancer treatment (I do), so take everything I say with a grain of Celtic Sea salt. Just please do not mindlessly go for slash/burn/poison without doing your homework, thinking there are no other options. Your body may just be calling you to a ‘dream of wholeness’!

*Julie’s Healing Cancer Naturally support group meets the second Friday of the month, 2pm, at Om Sanctuary. (omsanctuary.org)

Julie Parker’s Excellent Adventure began with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in September of 2013. She is learning to befriend the dragons she meets on her journey rather than slay them. You can reach her for details about her support group at 828-772-8841 or julie@handwovenwebs.com. Her blog―The Vocabulary of Joy: Celebrating the Blessings of Life with Cancer is at julieparker.me.