Originally published in icon Volume 7, Issue 1
Breast cancer 11 years on mending a life
When Janice Day developed breast cancer she asked her Doctors an important question. What difference would having the chemotherapy make to my chances of survival? The answer surprised her: Just 5 per cent. So she embarked on a thorough learning curve and built a complete programme of therapies for herself including diet, supplements, exercise, energy therapies, healers, indeed everything we recommend everyone with cancer attempts to use. After all you are merely trying to increase your personal odds of survival. As Janice says, Its a pity CANCERactive wasnt around 11 years ago she could have saved herself a lot of time. This website has it all on there. So, in keeping with our 5-year survival theme, and our belief that everybody should build their own personal therapy programme using the best of Orthodox, Complementary and Alternative Therapies (after all it is YOUR life), who better to tell us how she survived, than journalist Janice.
I was shocked to be diagnosed at the age of only 39 with invasive ductal, multifocal cancer in my left breast (the one whose nipple I never really loved, obviously causing it to want to pack its bags and leave home).
I had had a milk cyst after the birth of my first child in 1991, which was picked up by my GP at the six week check and identified as a cyst at the Royal Marsden Hospital. Thereafter I examined myself every couple of months, having been made aware by this experience that lumps could appear in my breast and it was a good idea to look out for them. That was lucky and probably saved my life.
So when I felt a change in my breast a thickened area - in August 1996, I was not unduly alarmed. I went to see my doctor and he booked me in for a mammogram three days later. To my surprise, the radiographers were worried. They said they could see a density.
After several tests at the breast clinic, the registrar said that if I did have cancer the team would probably be recommending a mastectomy, but that I could have an immediate reconstruction.
At that time it was quite unusual to offer a simultaneous mastectomy and reconstruction. It was more common to leave a gap of six months between the operations. But it sounded good to me; because it meant that I would never have to cope with the idea of losing a breast. I would go into hospital with two breasts and come out with two
I had to wait ten days from the first breast clinic for a diagnosisThough the results of the tests were highly suspicious, the consultant oncologist was on holiday and his registrar would not reveal whether or not I had cancer until he returned. So I had to wait ten days from the first breast clinic for a diagnosis. This waiting was the worst time of my entire cancer experience. I couldnt help hoping that there had been a mistake.
But the consultant eventually confirmed that I had a grade 2 invasive ductal multi-focal cancer of the left breast. Ill translate that:
Grade 2 = moderately aggressive
Invasive ductal = travels by passages rather than the invasive lobular which creeps through the system. I felt that this was a better class of cancer more up front since it travels rather than creeps.
Multi-focal = several lumps, all over the breast, which made a lumpectomy an inadequate response
My oncologist offered me pre-operative chemotherapy and radiotherapy, which I declined.
On the first day I took home some leaflets given to me by the cancer counselor attached to the hospital and rang all the contacts: Breast Cancer Care, Backup, and Cancerlink. They were very supportive and sent me yet more leaflets and information such as How to Tell the Children and descriptions of the operation that I might be having.
Cancerlink put me in touch with a lady who was on their support register: a volunteer with experience of cancer who could talk to people who had just been diagnosed. She told me about a self-help group which was meeting every Tuesday in Shalford, just outside Guildford and its still going strong even now. Its called the Guildford Cancer Self-Help Support Group and the contact number is 01483 421 661.
I later discovered another helpful organization called New Approaches to Cancer (0800 389 2662) which offers more information about alternative ways to approach healing for cancer.
The first night after my diagnosis I went home and opened an exercise book, which I titled Getting Abreast of Things. I decided that I would mount a Mind, Body and Spirit Campaign to organise my survival. In this exercise book I wrote down everything I was learning: notes, quotes and useful telephone numbers. And I continued to read everything I could find about breast cancer. If only the CANCERactive website had been available then, the research would have been so much easier.
I preferred people to behave normally around me.. not pity meWithin the first week or so I attended a support group at the health clinic, which was run by the breast nurse and which I didnt like. Everyone seemed to be showing off their badly made wigs and talking about dying. It seemed to me that there was an atmosphere of despair in the room. As a cancer patient I hated it when people talked softly at me and put their heads on one side. I preferred them to behave normally around me; maybe even to crack jokes, but never to pity me. It turned me into an invalid and a victim, which I wasnt. I didnt go back to that group. And I never attended the follow up groups, except once, to talk to them about spiritual healing.
I went to my first meeting of the Guildford Group. It was a complete contrast to the NHS one. They were, if you like, medical mavericks, and set me on a path of discovering alternative approaches to cancer treatment. They told me about the Bristol Cancer Centre. They introduced me to a magazine called What the doctors dont tell you. They had photocopied articles from that magazine about chemotherapy, which exposed evidence that it causes secondary cancer.
Several members of this group had refused conventional treatment altogether, although most had undergone surgery. It hadnt occurred to me before meeting them that I could refuse the chemical treatments too. They put the idea into my head. They had refused chemotherapy and survived. Of the four that I met in 1996 that refused chemical therapy:
One died two years later. This lovely lady already had emphysema when she got cancer and had been a chain smoker. She got secondaries in the lungs.
One died of pneumonia 20 years after having cancer.
One I lost touch with, so I dont know if shes dead or alive, and
One is alive still.
And then, of course, theres me!
There was a general attitude of rebelliousness amongst that group that appealed to me. And after studying the subject and thinking very carefully I decided I was not keen on chemical intervention.
So after my operation, when cancer was found to have spread to three of the thirteen lymph nodes that were taken from my armpit, I decided to question the oncologists recommendation (or rather the teams recommendation, because he was working with a chemotherapy consultant from the Royal Marsden) that I should have a six month course of chemotherapy, a short course of radiotherapy and a five year course of tamoxifen. I asked for more than one interview with the chemotherapy team. I felt it was a very serious decision and that I had to get it right.
The chemotherapy treatment that was offered to me was:
Or a trial of cysplatin.
In my second consultation, this time with the chemotherapy expert, I asked the all-important question
What difference would having the chemotherapy make to my chances of survival?
He said 5%.
The 10 year prognosis - 50% would die.Chemo would only improve this by 5%The prognosis they had given me was that after ten years, if they were to review the situation of 100 women in my age group who had the same disease as me, 50 of them would be dead. And then he said that chemotherapy would only change that statistic by 5%. To me it seemed ludicrously low.
My arguments against having chemotherapy were as follows (but bear in mind that this was in 1996 and the situation has changed since then):
The consultant said that the evidence that chemotherapy had improved survival in breast cancer patients was only empirical and not based on scientific studies. They may have survived because of the surgery alone.
- It occurred to me that they may have survived because of other reasons. I wondered what is known about the changed lifestyles of the 5% whose chances of survival had been improved by chemo i.e. how many of those women had boosted their immune system and changed their lifestyle. Surely this has to be an influential factor which was not being quantified?
- Since all the macroscopic (i.e. detectable cancer) had been removed and the microscopic cancer was undetectable, it was only an assumption that I needed chemotherapy anyway. I thought, If its not broken, why mend it? it was only an assumption that I needed chemotherapy
- Chemotherapy kills healthy as well as unhealthy cells and weakens the immune system. It seemed to me, with my laymans clarity, that this was a completely illogical approach. Since cancer had occurred in my body because my immune system had failed, why should I treat it by attacking my immune system?
- There is evidence that chemotherapy treatment starts cancer in other organs (see issues of What the doctors dont tell you)
As a result of my cogitation, rumination and careful study.and despite the protests of my friends and family I refused the chemotherapy, tamoxifen and radiotherapy treatments.
Eleven years later, Im still here.
Dr Patrick Quillins book Beat Cancer with Nutrition influenced me heavily. He said that if you had mould growing in your bathroom, you might be able to remove it with chemicals, but if you didnt change the environment in which the mould thrived, then sooner or later it would return.
I set about changing the environment in which my cancer had grown.
Personal development books. The most significantly helpful books were:
- Louise Hays You can Heal Your Life. (Louise Hay also had cancer and produces a very helpful relaxation tape called Cancer. www.louisehay.com;
- Susan Jeffers Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway www.susanjeffers.com and
- Brandon Bayes The Journey www.thejourney.com ( I have experienced The Journey and found it enormously helpful in learning how to experience and process feelings something which emotionally dysfunctional people find extremely hard to do, and which has a significant effect for reducing stress levels)
I have had many kinds of therapy to deal with my psychological issues and hugged my demons
- I have regular spiritual healing as offered by qualified members of the National Federation of Spiritual Healers. I personally believe that this has been the most significant therapy in my survival to date. It is not expensive as the healing centres only ask for a donation. Contact the NFSH website and find your nearest healer or healing centre. (www.nfsh.org.uk)
- I repaired my relationship with the God of my understanding, and walk a spiritual path to the best of my ability
And I am alive, and living proof that despite having no chemotherapy, radiotherapy or tamoxifen and given a 50/50 chance of surviving ten years, my actions of changing my diet, losing seven stone in weight; taking vitamins, anti-oxidants and essential minerals, exercising regularly, drinking lots of cold and boiling water and taking a house-cleaning approach to all aspects of my life, in mind, body and spirit do actually work.
As for what I gained from having cancer
I walked a mile with Sorrow, and neer a word said she;
But, oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!
I have always thought and still do, that whilst the whole experience was painful and difficult, it has also been both beneficial and positive.
It brings life into sharp focus, which is a gift.
As a result of getting this cancer, I have systematically sorted out my major physical and emotional problems and turned my life into a masterpiece. I have pruned away unsupportive people and filled my life with joy. I am doing the work that I have always longed to do, which is cabaret singing and being a professional writer full-time.
I have survived. And I feel more attractive and contented than I ever did before I had the mastectomy.
Cancer is a wake-up call, as is any life threatening illness. As Patrick Quillin says, it is a light shining on your dashboard which says pull this car over and mend it now. And thats exactly what I did.
Read about Janice´s fight in her hilarius book "Getting it off my chest". Click here to read a review of the book.