Degree in Cancer
In the Words of a Graduate
In spring of 2014, I thought I had the world by the tail. I could come home for lunch from my job as accounting manager at a nearby gas processing facility. I had built a horse farm from the ground up – bought raw land, built a house, paddocks and a barn for my 22 horses. I completed a two-year Equine Gestalt Coaching Method™ program and I was running clinics and workshops in equine assisted personal development. I hired a horse trainer to come from Peru, and bought my first motorcycle. Everything was going my way. My mantra was: ‘this sister is doing it for herself!’
The Unexpected Tailspin
In June I went to see my chiropractor and he found a marble-sized lump on my neck. I told him it had been there for some time, wasn’t bothering me, said I’d have it checked at my next doctor’s appointment. He suggested I have it looked at now. I went to my family doctor who sent me to an endocrinologist for a fine needle aspiration. When I went in to talk about the results my doctor was confused, she said the results showed squamous cell carcinoma – a type of skin cancer – but she couldn’t see the signs of it. She sent me to an ear, nose and throat specialist. I went to this appointment alone – not expecting anything scary. When I walked in I was handed a form asking for my participation in a head and neck cancer study. That’s when wheels started turning. The walls in the exam room were covered in head and neck cancer posters. As the door closed behind the nurse, I felt those posters closing in on me. I wanted to run. I was afraid of what I was going to hear. The doctor walked in and asked me about my support systems. I told him I have a lot of support. Then he said the two words nobody wants to hear – it’s cancer. I knew that the fight for my life had begun. After that there were Pet Scans, CT scans, a couple of surgical biopsies. They couldn’t locate the primary tumour – the lump was a metastasis, they called it neck cancer with occult primary. Eventually they found the primary tumour on my right tongue base – stage 4A – which in Oropharyngeal cancer is not as devastating as some cancers. I had 33 Radiation treatments and chemotherapy. Side effects were devastation of my taste buds and salivary function. I was unable to eat because of the damage to the tissues in my mouth and throat from radiation so I was tube fed for two months and on a liquid diet for another six months following. That was two years ago. NOW I’M OK.
There have been no signs of reoccurrence at all and my progress continues to improve.
University of cancer
When I tell my story, I don’t call myself a survivor, I say I am a graduate of the school of cancer, 2014.
I am a believer that all things happen for a reason. I still don’t know for sure why this happened to me, and I may never know, but I was absolutely committed to learning whatever lessons I needed to learn, and make whatever life changes I needed to make, so I could put cancer in the rearview mirror and never visit it again.
The biggest lesson I learned was to become a gracious receiver. Doing it for myself would not serve me (or my animal dependents) well in this situation. I had to accept help. If I had tried to maintain my usual degree of independence through cancer treatment and recovery, I would not have made it. When someone offered to do something for me I had to realize that graciously and gratefully accepting their offer was a gift to us all – them, me and the animals. This was hard learning.
Also, as much as I appreciate my brain, I came to see that it had become somewhat of a hindrance to me. I always thought of my intelligence as my greatest asset and I relied on it – used it for everything. This is where chemo was a gift to me. I may never go back to work as an accountant. I can’t think and juggle information the way I used to be able to, so I’ve had to search for other ways to show up in the world. I’m exploring how I can do that.
Horses represent an interesting mix of power and vulnerability. They are prey animals who crave peace and safety, and they continually test to see if you are worthy of being their leader. The only way to earn your leadership position is to be calm and real. You must stand quietly in your power and create a safe space for them. It takes great strength to be vulnerable. You have to let down the walls. Horses see through them.
I discovered my love of horses in my thirties. They taught me important lessons that I wanted to share to help others. I had no idea the coaching program I selected would push me to do so much personal work with my own grief and vulnerability. This was more hard learning for me.
Now looking back, I believe I was intended to complete that program two years before my cancer diagnosis because it gave me the tools to face my cancer. I needed to be vulnerable to survive. The Equine Gestalt Coaching Method™ program was the grade school that prepared me for the University of Cancer.
The Wellspring Effect
The first program I took at Wellspring was The Healing Journey. I loved it. It provides the tools most of us need to change our lives… to slow down, be more mindful, be more cognizant of self. For me this was particularly meaningful because I am such a cerebral person – very analytical. My brain has always been so busy studying and learning it forgets to be in touch with my body. This created a huge disconnect.
Healing Journey took the lessons of life, solidified them, and integrated them from my brain to my heart and soul, allowing me to reap the benefits of my studies. This was profound learning for me.
Now I live more mindfully. As much as possible, I live in the moment and am more self-aware. I took iRest® yoga at Wellspring recently and for the first time I am able to quiet my busy mind and just be.
At Wellspring, I meet people who have experienced many of the same challenges as me. A cancer diagnosis has caused us to face our vulnerability – we know we are not invincible. There’s no need for pretending, I can just be myself. It feels authentic.
I truly do believe I was put here to make a difference in the world, and preparing a kickass set of financial statements is not the difference I am intended to make. My purpose is to achieve mind-body balance, and if I can lead others to do the same, the value will be immeasurable.
- Grief comes in many forms, for instance when I was diagnosed and treated for cancer, I grieved the belief that I was invincible.
- Balance is not about sitting quietly in the middle; it is about becoming comfortable on the edges.