As I neared 30, I began experiencing shortness of breath. Over time, I visited various doctors who all confirmed my lungs as clear. Finally, asthma was confirmed as my condition.
Each healthcare provider prescribed me an inhaler, yet my shortness of breath grew steadily worse. At 31 and pregnant with my daughter, I suddenly experienced severe shortness of breath that began with coughing up bright-red blood that stunned and shocked me – prompting me to call my doctor immediately.
“You likely coughed too hard,” explained the doctor.
I explained to her that I hadn’t felt any urge to cough until I saw a pool of blood; because this was only an isolated incident, she suggested waiting until after my due date to get an X-ray due to radiation concerns. While waiting was uncomfortable at first, but ultimately didn’t occur again – which gave us peace of mind that everything would go fine after delivery.
My chest X-ray postpartum came back clear; nothing appeared amiss.
I thought everything was fine — except my shortness of breath. Since I lived on a farm and groomed pets professionally, I figured my condition must just be allergies.
At first when I was diagnosed with asthma, I sought help from an acupuncturist for breathing and fatigue issues. Shortly after coughing up a glob of blood, she suggested cupping as an alternative therapy procedure: specially-designed cups are placed onto your skin to create suction that draws fluid into specific areas, providing relief for back and neck pain, migraine attacks and immunity issues – something which significantly helped my fatigue levels while she believed it could reduce shortness of breath as well.
But several days following my cupping therapy session, I coughed up an unbelievable amount of blood that refused to stop.
My mother, who was a nurse, instructed me to visit my physician immediately. Since it was Thanksgiving weekend and emergency rooms couldn’t see me right away, they gave me more inhalers before sending me home with clear X-rays. Once my regular doctor could see me after the long weekend had ended, my still breastfeed daughter and I visited our regular doc who took my symptoms seriously and ordered a bronchoscopy for the following morning.
That was the day my life changed for good.
My bronchoscopy revealed a tumor behind my bronchi which had recently begun bleeding. Although likely present for some time, X-rays did not show it due to being hidden behind my bronchi; therefore we needed 3D imaging in order to locate it.
“Carcinoma,” as I understood it to mean cancer, sent shockwaves through my body while my mind and heart raced against its effects of sedation.
Soon, my surgeon came in and broke the bad news: Not only was I diagnosed with lung cancer, but the tumor needed to come out or I’d literally drown in my own blood. He advised that I be admitted immediately for surgery the following day.
Once I heard the horrendous news, I went into complete shock. My body began shaking uncontrollably and I found myself unable to breathe deeply or think clearly.
My baby was in the waiting room. All that ran through my mind was “What if I die, and she doesn’t have a mother anymore?”
Listening to my medical team as well as to my family and best friend provided great comfort, I decided to stay in hospital for two weeks. An eight-hour thoracotomy surgery removed two-thirds of my right lung.
After surgery, I struggled to comprehend what had caused this terrifying disease. For three years during an especially challenging job as a social worker, but then quit seven years prior to being diagnosed. Doctors informed me that my smoking history wasn’t significant enough to lead them to believe lung cancer had developed; they believed my smoking had only been serious or long enough to lead to my condition.
My cancer was discovered to be stage 1, meaning it hadn’t spread to other organs. Surgery went smoothly and doctors successfully extracted all the cancerous tissue; I didn’t require chemotherapy or any other forms of treatments; today I am cancer-free!
Since my experience, I’ve come to appreciate more fully the connection between body and mind. Reflecting back on what may have caused lung cancer for me personally: finally attending therapy to address abuse I had suffered over many years prior.
Trauma had festered inside me for years; eventually it proved too much and nearly took my breath away.
I firmly believe in both the theory of “mind over matter” and its opposite, “mind under matter,” meaning stressors in your mind can manifest physically in your body. Therefore, I’m an avid proponent of processing and healing trauma in order to avoid or manage physical disease.
Western medicine certainly saved my life; yet so too did an acupuncturist who unintentionally caused an outbreak of bleeding through cupping therapy, prompting me to seek medical help.
Now, I teach yoga and own my own studio — something I would have never envisioned before cancer — while advocating a holistic understanding of oneself. Additionally, I work to support women living with or surviving cancer by helping them process their thoughts and emotions as well as discover their internal voice.
Listen to her. There’s a wise woman in all of us. Listen and take note.
This resource was produced with support from Merck.
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