Until cancer, I’d led an uneventful life, health-wise. One small broken bone in my hand was the extent of the injuries incurred through 10 years of year-round competitive athletics, from middle school through college. In adulthood, over the course of 25 years, I only stepped foot in a hospital to pay a visit to someone else, the birth of my son being the sole exception. In short, I didn’t think about medical care because I never needed to. Other people got sick, not me.
Then cancer struck, and settled in for a long stay. And I quickly became acquainted with the medical hierarchy (doctors are higher than residents who are higher than interns), the layout of a very large and confusing hospital, and a whole bunch of acronyms (RN, LPN, PCP – who knew?) I was a babe in the woods and, like any child, I clung to my “parents,” the doctors and nurses who were going to make me better. I did exactly what they told me to do, and never questioned a thing. Surgery, chemo, radiation, drugs… whatever you say. Thank God for the big pharmaceutical companies who spend so many millions of dollars making these drugs to save our lives!
Then, one day during a visit with my oncologist, I asked about possible treatments for hot flashes. He got out his yellow legal pad, and patiently wrote down a list of things to try. First on the list: Vitamin E. Hmmmm, that’s not a drug. Vitamin B6 was next, then evening primrose oil, soy… Hey, wait a minute. Am I in a doctor’s office, or a natural foods store? And that was my introduction to alternative therapies. After assuming, for years and years, that doctors and drugs went hand in hand like mothers and advice, I found that there are doctors who look beyond the bounds of accepted medical science and manmade drugs, and actually nudge you towards something that’s never been proved in a lab, who suggest to you that you might try ingesting oil from a flower. And suddenly, I opened my eyes and began to look beyond the pharmacy counter at CVS.
First, I tackled a chiropractor. Well, really, it was more like he tackled me, with the unexpected physicality of the treatment! I’d had this dubious vision in my mind of chiropractors operating outside the bounds of acceptable medical practice; I discovered I was wrong, as our local chiropractor assuaged my son’s back pain, after 6 months of traditional treatment had failed; and then pushed and prodded and yanked away my shoulder pain. No drugs. Just hands.
Next, I did yoga. While I couldn’t manage all the movements (that downward dog was a killer!), somehow the studied, gentle movements, combined with the instructor’s meditation cues, gave me an incredible sense of emotional wellbeing, which then transferred itself to my body. I felt better, both mentally and physically. Then, when offered a Reiki treatment by a friend, I accepted. And it changed my life. (Thank you, Sybil!) In studying Reiki, a type of spiritual healing that many might categorize as therapeutic touch, I completed the journey from obedient patient to a woman fully invested in directing her own cure.
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