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“You’re going to put poison in your body?” a good friend of mine innocently asked when I told her of my diagnosis and treatment plan. “Chemo only creates cancer and kills people” is what I heard from an “expert” in alternative care when I watched The Truth About Cancer on-line series in the beginning of treatment (you know, while it was coursing through my veins).
Seeing my bald head, an old man approached me while I’m was in the middle of a pedicure, “Are you in cancer treatment? My friend was too for xyz cancer and I was with him every brutal step of the way until the end of his life. Can I add you to my prayer circle?”
CHEMO IS POISON. Everybody says it, even some doctors. But have you ever stopped to really consider…is it actually true for you?
In case you haven’t noticed from my blog ~ The Work of Byron Katie has been THE most helpful tool in finding peace during my cancer journey. It’s a way to identify & question stressful thoughts ~ a way to notice the side effects of holding onto a belief and the freedom that fills your body & mind without it.
Stressful thoughts about chemo and conventional treatment came up often for me. A friend & fellow Certified Facilitator, Robyn Povich, facilitated me on the big kahuna thought, “Chemo is poisonous to my body.” After sitting in this meditation, I was able to walk (& often sleep) through treatment with clarity, peace, & even humor. I can honestly say that I ENJOYED much of my chemo experience ~ while I was IN it ~ not just went it was over. What???!!! Here’s how I got to this space…
THE WORK OF BYRON KATIE – THE FOUR QUESTIONS
Stressful thought: “Chemo is poisonous to my body.”
1. Is it true? (NOTE: the answer to the 1st 2 questions is a simple “yes” or “no.” ~ I’ve added mental commentary so you can see where my mind went)
Yes. (Look at how many people are saying it and remember all of the movies I’ve seen? I’ve read the list of side effects and attended the chemo class – HELL yeah, it’s true!)
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
No. (I can’t 100% know for sure that it is poisonous to MY body….hmmmm…)
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
I freak out. Pure panic. A warning siren goes off in my entire body ~ my stomach feels queezy, my shoulders climb up to my ears, my jaw tightens, breath shortens. I worry I’m making the wrong decision and I treat myself as an uninformed idiot playing into Big Pharma. I tell myself I’m doing it all wrong. I feel shame and embarrassment when speaking to others, especially my “all-natural” friends. I’m angry and begin to distrust my doctors ~ they don’t really want to heal me. I take the horror stories I’ve heard from others + the movies I’ve seen and project them into my own future ~ tragically dying young. I get a case of the “what-ifs.” What if they’re right – what if it will kill me?! Or even worse, what if there’s a lifetime of side effects making my quality of life pure shit…forever. I see no possibility of joy, only worse-case scenarios. I treat chemo like it is the devil – it’s out to break me and ruin every part of me – mind, body, and spirit. I see my body as sick and frail, unable to “handle” the poison. I see it seeking revenge on me by giving up and letting the cancer spread further. I’m a terrified, lonely, hopeless victim.
(Sounds like an ideal state for healing cancer, huh?)
4. Who would you be without the thought?
I am back at home in my body ~ I feel my breath…my body is relaxed and strong. I see how well I am doing ~ I feel courage, pride, and gratitude. I realize that I am not experiencing all of the horrible side effects that I heard about in this moment ~ in fact, I feel pretty good. And the side effects I do have (no hair, weight loss, tired, achey) aren’t so bad after all. I remember all of the amazing women I have met who have been through chemo and are living happy, healthy lives. I am more present and positive. I am able to share my treatment plan with others with confidence ~ I trust that I am making the right decision for me. I see my doctors as kind, caring, and truly on my side. I remember my oncologist’s words, “I think we can cure this.” I feel my breast and armpit and can feel the lumps getting smaller and smaller. I am grateful for medicine and scientific research. I see chemo as a gift, as a healing cleanse that is working WITH me, not against me. My job becomes much simpler: show up for the next treatment, relax, and receive.
(Ahhhh…what a relief. But the 4 questions aren’t enough for my mind – it needs more PROOF which takes us to the turnarounds.)
TURN THE THOUGHT AROUND
A statement can be turned around to the self, the other, and the opposite. Sometimes more ways and sometimes less. For each turnaround, find at least 3 genuine examples of how it’s true. For me, the turnarounds really serve to open my mind to so many new realities.
Stressful thought: “Chemo is poisonous to my body.”
TO THE OPPOSITE: “Chemo is not poisonous to my body” or the extreme opposite, “Chemo is healing to my body.”
- I have no solid proof that right now, it is poisoning my body. I only see images in my mind and they are not real. How can I know for sure what’s going on in there?
- I’m getting good reports by the doctors. I can feel my tumors shrinking. I still have white blood cells.
- It helps me to slow down and get plenty of rest, which supports healing.
- It is part of a treatment plan where 85% of women are cured of this type of breast cancer. And oh yeah, it’s called chemoTHERAPY…heheheee, forgot about the therapy part 😉
- I am still able to exercise, do yoga, go walking, work, eat, take naps, have sex, and even travel.
- It is a healing cleanse – it wipes the body clean of what no longer serves it.
- My healthy lifestyle is protecting my healthy cells.
- I am not experiencing crazy, horrible side effects ~ I never even threw up once.
- Because of the side effects listed, I am more motivated to support myself with healing foods, supplements, and exercise. I honestly think I am healthier!
- I know many women of all ages who have rocked through chemo and now live happy, healthy lives.
TO THE SELF: (note – when you are judging an object, the turnaround to the self becomes “my thinking” instead of “I”). “My thinking about chemo is poisonous to my body.”
- When I believe my stressful thoughts, my body is tense, panicked, not breathing fully. It’s in stress “fight or flight” mode which may not necessarily help the healing process.
- I continue to replay the stories I’ve heard from others in my head and gossip about it to other people. This reinforces the “poison” image and leaves me feeling frustrated, confused, and hopeless.
- I heard a story, I believed it. The label “poison” lives in my mind, not in my reality.
- When I go into an imaginary future of pain, suffering, side effects, and an early death.
- Chemo itself is innocent, it’s a clear or red liquid. It’s my thinking about it that creates suffering in this moment.
TO THE OTHER: “My body is poisonous to chemo.”
(This one sounds weird, but I’ll try it on…)
- Ah ha! My lymphatic system collects and moves toxins out of my body ~ it then releases it through sweat, urine, or poooo….
- My body is strong and healthy; the healthy cells have continued to rock regardless of what chemo does. Maybe there are parts of my body that rejected chemo?
- Oh, I did 5 months of chemo and am still alive, in fact ~ I feel pretty great. And there’s no more cancer!
YAHOO: “Chemo is poisonous to my body!” Yahoo! Sometimes the non-traditional yahoo turnaround is available. It’s a way to look at your original thought ~ and assuming that it is actually true, how could this be good? How could this serve you?
(When Robyn mentioned this turnaround, my heart sunk a little. Eek! Then she pointed out the following example:)
- Chemo is poisonous to cancer cells. Isn’t that why you’re taking it?
(YES! One of the many gifts of working with a facilitator ~ they are often able to point out things that are hidden to the mind. Then I could find a few more on my own:)
2. It helps me stay really clear and consistent in my self-care ~ for me, this is a clean diet, daily movement, and taking my “mental medicine” ~ the work of byron katie.
3. It helps me to find all-natural cures for dealing with side effects (and sometimes I used medicine too) ~ check out this blog post for details.
Some additional thoughts that I have worked about chemo:
People who are evolved don’t choose chemo (or any conventional medicine).
People judge me for choosing chemo.
Chemo will give me a lifetime of serious side effects.
Chemo is making me too tired.
It’s been one year since I completed chemo. It just wasn’t poison for me; I actually gave it a new name: C-Love.
A friend once asked, “are you on the RD?” I had no clue what that meant. It stands for the “Red Devil” and is a nickname for the chemo drug called Adriamycin that is responsible for hair loss. I thought to myself…wait a minute, isn’t it the Red Savior? I mean, isn’t that why we’re doing this? Making friends with medicine is much kinder to me than fearing and hating it. And that may not be true for everyone.
Of the many C-Love selfies, these are my favorites!
And I sure as hell had a party when I was done. A full-on Nae-Nae dance party!
Right now as I sip tea in a coffee shop in Dallas, I am just SO grateful I chose this path. Once again, I got to see that the stories in my head were worse than the reality of it. I am humbled and no longer judge others for their choice of treatment. Everyone needs to do what is right for them ~ there is no one way to heal.
I’ve had many more thoughts about medicine as I went through surgery and radiation too. Even after treatment, my mind still comes in and tells me scary stories about the future…they are just thoughts and thankfully, they all have a home in inquiry.
I have been sharing this work in what I call “Mental Medicine” workshops at the Dallas Cancer Support Center and am working privately with clients who are recently diagnosed, have completed treatment, and/or have family members with cancer. It is SUCH a privilege, such an honor….to work in this space, from this space. I get it. I’ve been there. There is a way out of the suffering. And I’m still a work in progress too.
One friend who attended a workshop sent me this message:
“My experience this week (having her first chemo treatment) is a thousand times better than my thoughts about it last week. Thank you for all of your help and care!”
The work works. Now… where do you fear medicine? Are you willing to question your sacred beliefs?
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