“Compassion is a feeling deep in the heart that you cannot bear someone else’s suffering without taking steps to relieve it.“ Dalai Lama
What does it mean to me to come to You Can Thrive? I am not sure I can put it into words and give it adequate justice, but I will do my best. Here is my story. I have a feeling that, if you ask any client of this special place, you will get many unique stories with the same thread. When you come to You Can Thrive! you are healed, you are loved, you are empowered and you are changed forever.
What is the lesson to be learned when a health teacher gets breast cancer? I have always been interested and involved in natural health, nutrition and alternative medicine. In addition to being a health teacher in public schools, I recently went back to school to become a holistic health counselor. In recent years, I have become a “wellness worrier” against the increasingly toxic environment that we are inundated with, educating others on the importance of reducing their toxic load –from food, cosmetics, cleaning chemicals and bedding to construction material. This was my life well before I was diagnosed with cancer. It almost seems as if I was preparing myself for the fight.
It was late April, 2011. I had just put my two year old son, Jack, to sleep and was laying in bed with my husband. I scratched my chest and felt a large lump. I wasn’t too concerned because I was 32 years old. I was not even due to have a mammogram for eight years. Besides, if anyone was going to get cancer, it wasn’t going to be me. I knew how to protect myself, and had been doing it for years.
However, after several weeks of testing and waiting, I sat in my kitchen and listened as my doctor reported my diagnosis. My life became a terrifying stream of appointments, procedures, sadness and grief.
I knew what it meant to have breast cancer. I watched my beautiful aunt Noreen’s eight year battle from the time she was diagnosed at 40. I watched her illness slowly wore her down. I put cream on the scar on her back, from when it spread to her lungs. I saw her head stapled shut, from when it popped up in her brain. I laid in bed with her the morning she took her last breath. I watched them lower her into the ground. I could not imagine how my family would be able to get through this again. But, it’s amazing how brave people can be when they don’t have a choice.
In July, I had my right breast removed. I began an intense chemotherapy regimen in August. I was handling it, but my body and spirit were broken. Although I felt, in my heart, that I would survive and be OK, the marathon of chemo is like swimming in a rough ocean. You get through one wave and come up to find another one about to pummel you. It was the most physically and mentally drained I had ever been. I wondered if I would ever be as strong as I was before cancer. I needed more than my own will to feel better.
In October, I found You Can Thrive! through a dear friend and immediately contacted Luana. I had my first visit just a few days later. The wellness center has a warm, calm and loving energy that is so powerful and healing, it is difficult to describe in words. For the first time in a long time, I felt peaceful.
I sat with Luana to review my history, treatment plan, concerns and my symptoms. We worked together to begin to create my Survivorship Plan. Then, I was treated to massage therapy, Reiki and Acupuncture. I was introduced to the power of essential oils. I watched a presentation on nutrition and cooking. I left feeling balanced, refreshed, calm and empowered–the best I had felt in months. I should also mention that I smelled so wonderful that my family commented and my son nuzzled into my chest and laid there for hours.
The only motivation for a practitioner to come to You Can Thrive! is to share his or her gift of healing and to be part of this exceptional community. In my opinion, the treatments are more powerful because they are done with a pure and focused intention. The client receives powerful love and healing from every treatment she receives.
It is incredibly important that a person healing from cancer learns skills and receives holistic treatments, not only to support their body’s own ability to heal, but also to counterbalance toxic side effects of certain treatments. As soon as I began to receive weekly Acupuncture, many of my symptoms were alleviated. I started sleeping through the night again. Any medical person will tell you that sleep is critical to the body’s ability to repair and to manage stress. Being able to get a restful sleep truly improved my quality of life. Receiving treatments such as Reiki, Reflexology and massage is not only relaxing, but also shortened my recovery time between chemotherapy treatments. I felt less tired and physically weak. In turn, I was more able to keep up with my son and do things like taking him to the playground, to the library and for walks around the neighborhood. For me, this was a tremendous gift. I chose to be a stay at home mom when I had my son so that I could enjoy these years with him. Cancer was an incredible disruption and made it difficult to be an active mom. Luana gave me back the ability to be the kind of mother I wanted to be, even through chemotherapy.
There is also an element to this program that focuses on building skills to help the client create a plan for long term health. Some of the components to this are nutritional counseling with certified health counselors, personalized aromatherapy and essential oil consultations, including treats to take home and try and educational presentations on various topics. Clients are also taught a skill called “tapping” that they are able to do any time, anywhere, and are given a free DVD to take home and literature on how to properly do it. It is great for emotional balance. Once, when I was there, I learned from a raw food chef about the benefits of raw kale and how to incorporate it into my diet. It was so easy and delicious, I have been making my own almond milk and kale smoothies for my family. During Advocacy, I am able to talk about things that concern me and to ask questions about anything related to my personal health and medical plan.
Luana’s intention is to provide healing modalities when you “need it the most and can afford it the least.” This was true for me. I have a lovely, generous friend who is a Reiki Master and a fellow breast cancer survivor. She was kind enough to provide me with Reiki treatments once a week almost immediately after my diagnosis. I would have loved to have also gone to a Reflexologist, a massage therapist, an Acupuncturist and a holistic health counselor. However, paying privately for these therapies was absolutely out of the question. I was unable to work my usual summer job because of the treatment regimen. I had been counting on that income to supplement my husband’s and help pay for bills and for the house we recently bought. I was not eligible to receive unemployment or for disability. All my savings had gone to the house and to the fertility preservation treatments I underwent after my diagnosis. There is barely enough for mortgage and living expenses, let alone medical bills. Being holistic minded, I already knew these treatments would help me heal my body and mind but they simply were not within my financial means.
But, even if I had the financial means to pay for these therapies weekly, it would not be the same. There is something about coming to You Can Thrive! that brings a peace and healing into my soul that can not come close to being matched. I think it’s the synergy of so much healing taking place at one time, and the therapeutic aroma in the air and the empathetic environment where you know that whoever you are connecting with has “been there” in one way or another. It is a true community of love and support.
I feel so fortunate to be one of the people profoundly helped by this organization. At the same time, I am sad that a place like this is so unique. Why isn’t there a You Can Thrive! in every city? Why is it that it can only be open once a week? You Can Thrive! deserves a permanent space and a home every place where cancer exists. Think of how world changing it would be, and the positive ripple effect that it would create. I wish every person going through serious illness could experience something like this to help them along. I know, from coming here, that my life is going to be even better than it was before I was diagnosed. I wish there had been a place like this for Noreen. It might have given her the peace that can only come from being surrounded by people who really know what it is like to live with this diagnosis in your life. I wish she had been exposed to the healing modalities that I have been getting to know through this organization. I wish I could rewind and show her all that I know about all that is out there. I know I can not change her path. I can only be grateful for mine. The lesson when a health teacher gets Breast Cancer is that she can use all her knowledge and skills, old and new, to help others in a way that she couldn‘t before her diagnosis. I can not tell you how much I look forward to coming to You Can Thrive! as a volunteer.
UPDATE: Christine just had another beautiful baby boy!! She is now working as an Integrative Therapist and owns “Thrive East” to help people in her area Thrive after a breast cancer diagnosis. Kudos to an amazing woman.