Many people have asked…so here it is. A complete list of alternative/complimentary therapies I am incorporating into my treatment plan and I’ll keep it updated here. It’s been exciting to see that a lot of these therapies also came as recommendations from my traditional medical doctors. Traditional & Alternative Medicine compliment each other so beautifully and I am so happy to see both disciplines are beginning to recognizing this.
Disclaimer: this info is not a prescription for curing cancer, I simply want to share what’s really working for me in this process. Please always check with your doctor before adding a new treatment. My doctors have been wonderfully open-minded!
This post was created with a lot of Love and most likely, a lot of typos too…ENJOY!
My daily yoga practice is flexible & open-minded ~ it shifts depending on how I am feeling and what’s coming up for me that particular day. Ranging from 20-60 min., my personal practice blends gentle stretching, somatic movement, vinyasa flow (somedays slow, somedays strong), breathing, body sensing & meditation. I love going to classes too. Here are the many ways yoga supports me in treatment & managing side effects of chemotherapy; perhaps some videos will be shared soon!
- Achy Muscles: Gentle stretching & breathing with an extended exhale. If legs are extra achey, I will lie on my back and place my legs up the wall.
- Fatigue: A short, gentle flow with supported back bends & heart openers (I prefer blocks & lots of blankets).
- Processing Tough Emotions: Movement produces endorphins which also act as a “mood booster.” Often, heavy emotions arise in my practice ~ I make time to sit with them in a child’s pose or pigeon and let the tears flow. I feel yoga has the power to unlock stuck belief systems and energetic holding patterns. Crying gives it all an exit strategy and keeping a journal nearby can be helpful. Crying is healing!
- Stressful Thoughts: They will arise; I love to notice the stories my mind will tell me about my body and the future: “My body is losing strength.” “I am too tired to practice yoga.” “This pain will only get worse.” “I’m not good enough.” I invite the thoughts in and ask myself “who would I be in this moment without the thought?” I find I am more peaceful, self-loving, & present. For thoughts with a stronger hold, I’ll write them down and take them to inquiry (The Work of Byron Katie).
- Re-building Connection & Trust w/My Body: There was a period of time I felt betrayed by my body after I found out it has cancer. Spending time just to slow down and be with my body in yoga has helped me see all of the gifts it gives me on a daily basis. This may also show up as gentle strokes on my skin ~ for example, while lying on my back, sweeping my right hand across my heart, down the left arm & hand, back up through the arm pit and breast (where my cancer was diagnosed). It feels intimate and nurturing.
- Nausea: Practicing constructive rest position (lying on back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor) or reclining bound angle pose (lying on back, soles of the feet together, knees wide) has helped me with the stomach flutters. I place my hands on my belly and breath into them. I find slow pelvic tilts, rocking the knees side to side, and child’s pose to be really helpful too.
- Digestion: Common side effects of chemotherapy are diarrhea and/or constipation. My digestion has been wonderful so far and I incorporate gentle core strengthening and twists into my practice.
- Building Immunity: Any type of movement can help build immunity. Incorporating twists and inversions can be helpful for detoxifying, improving circulation/blood flow, & lowering blood pressure. If energy is very low, I’ll simply put my legs up the wall and breath.
- Building Strength & Bone Density: Add standing poses such as Warrior Poses, Triangle, Chair, Tree, Half Moon, & Goddess Pose. Modified Plank, Sphinx, & Cobra for arm strengthening. I also enjoy incorporating light weights once or twice a week. Strength can be lost due to surgery, fatigue, side effects of chemo drugs/pain medication/hormone therapy, so it’s very important to keep it rocking to prevent serious long-term side effects.
Breathing exercises, known as Pranayama in the yoga tradition, have countless benefits: lowers blood pressure, creates more oxygen in body which allows organs (heart, liver, lungs, digestive system) to work more efficiently, releases physical tension & pain, improves circulation, calms the mind & nervous system, better sleep, and best of all….you can do anytime, anywhere for as little as 1 minute. Here are my favorite breathing exercises:
- Soft Belly Breathing: can be done seated, supine, or standing ~ place a hand on your belly and simply focus your breath in this space. Feel the rise of your hand as you breath in while you expand the belly, and feel the gentle fall of the belly towards the spine as you exhale. Perfect anytime ~ even driving in the car.
- Yogic 3-Part Breath: can be done seated, supine, or standing ~ 1st, practice belly breathing as mentioned above for at least 5 breaths. Then place your hand over the low ribs and breath into this space for at least 5 breaths. Then move your hand to your heart. In each space, notice the expansion and contract, be open to any thoughts or emotions that arise without trying to fix or change anything. Then combine all 3 spaces for breathing: exhale all of the air out of the body, then breathe into the belly, low ribs, heart and then a nice long exhale. For more energy: hold the breath after the inhale for at least 2 seconds. For more relaxation: hold the breath after the exhale for at least 2 seconds.
- Alternative Nostril Breathing: This is one of my favorites when I’m feeling like my mind is all over the place. It is best done seated and not recommended when driving. Exhale all of the air out of the body. Place right thumb over right nostril and inhale through the left nostril. Place ring or pinky finger over left nostril and exhale through the right nostril. Repeat for at least 4 rounds: Inhale right. Exhale Left. Inhale Left. Exhale right. At the end, breath in through both and exhale through both. For more energy: hold the breath after the inhale for at least 2 seconds. For more relaxation: hold the breath after the exhale for at least 2 seconds.
For me, anything that brings more awareness and presence into my life is meditation. It’s the act of slowing down the mind by becoming aware of the thoughts, emotions, images that are arising and allowing them to pass through rather than run my life. I am not my thoughts. I am not my emotions. I am not my actions. The only thing that is real is this moment. Everything else is imagination. Meditation brings me back to this space which allows me to be calmer and more centered when dealing really any stress in life, and especially a breast cancer diagnosis.
There are so many ways to meditate, here’s what I love the most: Yoga Nidra, Breathing Exercises, Yoga & Dance as Meditative Movement, The Work of Byron Katie, Silent Nature Walks, Painting, Cooking, & Sex. I find nature to be so grounding and healing and prefer to do any of these forms of meditations outdoors when possible (ok, the sex part might be a little more difficult 😉
Mental Medicine ~ The Work of Byron Katie
The Work, also known as inquiry, is a simple & profound process of identifying and questioning stressful thoughts. It’s a way to clear the mind and fall in love with reality, just as it is. Anyone with an open mind can do it, free of charge, anytime, anywhere.
The Work consists of 4 questions and turnarounds. The questions are:
- Is it True?
- Can you absolutely know it’s true?
- How do you react, what happens when you believe that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
The turnarounds are a way to look at the original stressful thought from different perspectives. Click here to learn more.
I have been a student of The Work since 2009 and am now a Certified Facilitator. Over the years, I’ve tested The Work out on a variety of frustrations in my own life: issues in my relationships, health, self-judgments, work/career, sex, food, judgments about corporations, god, even small things like traffic, lawnmowers, & ATM machines. What I realize is that it’s not the person, situation, or illness that brings me stress ~ it’s what I’m believing about it that creates my suffering. This is good news!
Right now, The Work is my go-to peace tool for dealing with stress around my breast cancer diagnosis; here are some of the many stressful thoughts that have come up for me:
- Painful thoughts about cancer: “I have cancer. Cancer will make my life more difficult. Cancer will prevent me from living a full life. I want the cancer to stop spreading. Cancer is bad. It’s not fair. I’m too young to have cancer. I’m not strong enough to handle this. I don’t want to deal with this. The cancer will come back.”
- Stress about treatments: “I won’t know which treatment plan to choose. Chemo will poison my body. The treatments won’t cure me. People who are evolved don’t choose chemo.”
- Worry about side effects & physical pain: “I will be in pain. The pain will get worse. I am nauseous. I can’t handle it. i will be dealing with side effects the rest of my life. I don’t want to be bald.”
- Self-blame & Body Judgments: “I created my cancer. I’m a failure/not evolved. I should have lived an even healthier lifestyle. I should know how to heal myself on my own. My body betrayed me. My body is too skinny, sick, and unattractive. I will no longer be feminine. I shouldn’t be so upset.”
- Judgments about doctors/medical system: “Traditional Medicine doesn’t look at the whole person. I want my doctors to cure my cancer. Doctors aren’t compassionate. I want my doctors to be equally educated on alternative medicine too. I want the medical system/insurance/labs to be easier and more organized.”
- Fear of death: “This cancer will kill me. I will die young. This is how my story ends.”
- Fear about money: “Cancer is expensive. We will lose all of our money. It will put too much financial stress on our marriage. I can not afford these medical bills.”
- God: “God should cure my cancer. I need God explain to me why I have cancer. God is an asshole. God is punishing me.”
- Relationships: “My husband doesn’t agree with my treatment plan. My husband will not be attracted to me. My mom should stop worrying about me so much. They should have more fun with me. People should see I am ok. People shouldn’t look at me as a sad story. People will not want to do yoga with me.”
By bringing these stressful concepts to inquiry ~ sitting in the 4 Questions and Turnarounds as meditation ~ I am finding my freedom. When I believe these thoughts, I suffer. I panic, freak out, get frustrated, sad, or depressed. My breath shortens, my body tightens up. I treat myself and others poorly. The future looks like a very scary, scary place. Without the thoughts, I am more present, open, relaxed, and feel capable of facing what’s in front with me with grace and ease. I’m kinder to others and myself and trust the universe. With turnarounds, my mind is blown wide open to find that the opposite of what I thought is just as true or even truer. Everything is a projection. The suffering is in my mind, my imagination. It is not reality!
it has taught me a completely different perspective on illness; it’s here to improve my life and enlighten me. I am actually happy that I have cancer; something that I once thought was my worst nightmare is actually a HUGE gift. I will continue to share a lot of my own personal inquiries through the blog so you can see how I got to this space of clarity. I will also be inviting others to share their gifts that they’ve received from cancer ~ through their own personal experience of it and/or watching a close family/friend go through cancer. It will help me and hopefully others gather more proof for the mind that cancer happens For me, NOT to me.
Here are some easy ways to start your own practice of The Work:
Daily walks in nature are essential for me. Depending on my energy level, they range from 20 minutes to an hour. Great for improving circulation, strength, endurance, heart health, boosting the immune system & mood, and so much more. Sometimes I’ll walk with other people for company and extra motivation. Or when I’m by myself, I may listen to upbeat music, call my mom, or listen to a Byron Katie audio disc.
So important!!! Rebounding is low impact exercise on a rebounder (a mini-trampoline). This is the BEST thing you could possibly do for stimulating & draining your lymphatic system which is responsible for removing toxins from your body and manufacturing white blood cells which allow your body to fight illness. My cancer has spread to some of my lymph nodes so it’s especially important for me to do this daily. 10-20 minutes a day is all it takes and I usually turn on my “Dance Pop” Pandora station and do my own “dance life nobody’s watching” party. I also feel rebounding is great when I’m feeling anxious, angry, or have excess mental energy that just needs to be shaken out.
Among so many benefits, Acupuncture has also been scientifically proven to help cancer patients manage symptoms during treatment (mainly nausea, fatigue, low immunity, body aches, headaches/migraines, hot flashes, neuropathy, anxiety, insomnia). In fact, a lot of hospitals now implement it into their practices and some insurance companies are even beginning to cover it (hopefully mine will soon!). I have always loved acupuncture and am having weekly sessions with Dr. S. Ahmad (Dr. Al). I think it’s important to choose someone you really connect with ~ Dr. Al has been in my life for over 8 years ~ we care for him and his family so much that they actually came to our wedding! When I showed up at his office after my diagnosis, he put his hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said “you are perfect.” We determined the best treatment plan for me is to schedule a session the day after chemo and at the beginning of my nadir period (when my white blood count drops and immunity is lowest). He also incorporates acupressure and trigger point therapy.
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” ~ Hippocrates
I have chosen to eat an organic, vegan diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables. I start my mornings with homemade ginger & turmeric tea and a raw vegetable juice or smoothie ~ I feel awesome! For the time being I have eliminated alcohol, caffeine, sugar, soy, meat, dairy, & gluten. There may be a moment when I enjoy a ginormous slice of pizza or a turkey burger…and I’ll love that too. So far, this way of nourishing myself is really working for me.
It’s not about food deprivation ~ it’s all about creating an internal environment in my body where cancer (or any illness) simply can not thrive. Through our research, the following foods are known to be prevent and cure cancer and/or are great for cleansing & building immunity. We are learning and growing this list!
- Brussels Sprouts
- Bell Peppers
- Squash (all types)
- Cabbage & Sauerkraut
- Green & Yellow Onions
- Red Grapes
- Green Apples
- Nut Butters
- Sunflower Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
- Brown Rice
- Sprouted Grains (occasionally)
- Red Potatoes
- Sweet Potatoes
- Black Beans
- Mung Beans
- Garbanzo Beans
Organic Flavor Makers/Spices/Oils/Superfoods
- Himalayan Crystal Salt
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Coconut Aminos
- Olive Oil
- Coconut Oil
- Goji Berries
- Chia Seeds
I am taking the following supplements which have also been approved by my doctor. Doctors say my cancer feeds off of hormones and for this reason, they recommend avoiding most herbal supplements or homeopathic remedies. Most of them contain plant-based estrogens. This is why I have eliminated all soy products as well.
- EuroMedica Cura Pro (Curcumin) ~ studies have shown this concentrated form of turmeric can reduce inflammation and also help chemo drugs work more efficiently. Soooo many health benefits, click here to learn more.
- Garden of Life Organic Women’s Multivitamin
- Garden of Life Raw Probiotic for Women
- Garden of Life Raw Vitamin C
- New Chapter Turmeric Force
- Vitamin Code Raw D3
- Calm ~ Magnesium & Calcium
It’s been really important in my process to honor whatever feelings come up for me ~ whether it be rage, anxiety, terror, depression ~ and let it out. Letting it out can take different forms and I’ve mentioned some ways through movement and breath. Sometimes I ask to be held & rocked by someone close to me or even a stranger while I’m crying. If I’m at home, I’ll also crawl into my bed and let the tears, sobbing, coughing, even vomiting happen if it shows up. I also like to remind myself, “this too shall pass” and notice how sweet and intimate it is to be here for myself in this way. If I’m feeling extremely angry, screaming into a pillow or hitting the pillow helps. Yes, to an outsider (and probably my neighbors), I sound like a crazy person but in reality, this is one of the sanest practices I know. When I hold in my emotions, it’s like I’m a ticking time bomb ready to explode ~ it also manifests in my body as neck tension and migraines. When I let it out, it’s a sort of clearing ~ tension melts away and I feel so much better.
It’s also interesting to me to notice the thoughts that I am believing that are making me feel this way. For example, during a deep emotional release the evening after I was diagnosed, some of my stressful thoughts were: “I don’t know what to do. I will die young. My life will never be the same.” These are thoughts I can later bring to inquiry (or not) after the emotional release is complete.
Writing is so healing. For me, it’s been a powerful source of self-expression in this process. I have been journaling ~ writing down my thoughts, experiences, vulnerabilities and I also enjoy stream-of-conscious writing ~ letting the mind word-vomit all over the paper. I have always thought of writing as more of a personal expression and for some reason, when this diagnosis came ~ I had the overwhelming urge/need/desire/inspiration to share it all in a very public way. This blog is part of my healing process and if it also serves to help one other person who is experiencing stress around illness (or really anything in life), then that makes my heart fill with even more gratitude.
Creative expression is one the most nurturing, empowering, cleansing, & soul-touching activities. As an artist, I have created my own practice called “yogArt” which combines yoga, meditation, journaling, & artistic play (painting, drawing, collaging, & various other techniques). I’ve led workshops and retreats and now I get to offer it all…to me. I’m creating an art journal, a collage of beautiful cards I’ve received from friends and family, and I am also inspired to paint a bunch of boobs on canvases. We’ll see what comes out! When I paint, I feel like a child ~ time does not exist ~ and I love to see what unfolds from a blank canvas. Many cancer centers offer art and art therapy classes which is amazing!
I’ve always loved essential oils. I’ve learned the best oils for curing cancer are lemon, frankincense, and myrrh. I prefer the brand of Young Living. I blend the oils with organic, raw coconut oil or jojoba oil and rub them over my chest and in my left axilla (where the cancer was found). Through some research, I also learned that some oils carry plant-based estrogens (lavender, peppermint, cinnamon to name a few). The article said if your hormones are balanced, it’s no problem at all. However, if your estrogen is already elevated (which mine was), these oils can boost your estrogen even more. I was using lavender and peppermint almost daily for years and am discontinuing their use for now.
When researching many alternative treatment centers for cancer, I was intrigued to learn that sound healing is often used. Using instruments like drums, chimes, Tibeten bowls, & gongs, the sound healer creates certain vibrational frequencies that are healing to the body. “Nationally renowned Oncologist Dr. Mitchell Gaynor, author of “The Healing Power of Sound” in a 2005 New York Times interview cites studies indicating that music/sound can lower blood pressure, reduce cardiac complications among patients who have recently suffered heart attacks, reduce stress hormones during medical testing and boost natural opiates” (source: Dallas Yoga Center). I will be working with Kenny Kolter in Dallas who has worked with many cancer patients. I’m really excited to see what unfolds!