A true story by Alison Moncrieff
It was June, 2014, life was very ordinary. My children, two daughters, aged 7 and 5 had a random school holiday week and we were about to go to England to visit my Mother. My Dutch husband was back in the Netherlands where we lived and my stepdaughter Emma, 18 was busy with her first year at Amsterdam University.
However, my ordinary life had just got a little bit extraordinary. In the week before the holiday, I was sitting on my bed with the girls, laughing about something when Jennifer accidently hit me in the chest with her elbow. Instinctively putting my hand over where she had hit me, I discovered something I had not noticed before. A lump, a very small bit clearly malleable lump. I dismissed it immediately and went on with our packing for the trip making a mental note to keep a check on it. I checked it a lot in the following few days, I was hoping it would just magically disappear. I thought maybe it was just hormonal, something to do with my cycle. I told myself it was nothing to worry about.
I specifically did not mention it to my husband. I married a widower, his first wife, Emma’s mother, died at the age of 39 from Breast Cancer. Telling him was not an option. Not until I knew it was nothing sinister. Then I would tell him.
During the week in England, my instincts started to kick in. I realised I had to do something, even my Mother had noticed that I was touching my breast a lot. So I was clearly worried. I rang the GP to make an appointment only to find they were closed for the holidays. Immediately on my return from the UK to my home in The Netherlands, I rang the doctor. I explained in my best Dutch that I had found a lump. They gave me an appointment that afternoon. The trainee doctor gave me an examination, She felt the lump, she did not seem concerned but decided to refer me for a biopsy, just to be sure.
The next day the hospital rang and I agreed to have the biopsy done the following Monday. Still keeping the whole thing secret from anyone I arrived at the hospital for the mammogram and biopsy. After the mammogram the radiographer walked in to the room. He announced that he had looked at the mammogram and it was clear, nothing to worry about. I felt relieved. Then he asked about the lump and I explained where it was. The ultrasound machine moved easily over the lump and found it quickly. Not very big, it measured 2cm, but big enough to need a fine needle biopsy just to check there was nothing to worry about. The results would be available within two days. I went home feeling much better. Nothing on the mammogram, only a small lump. Two days later there were still no results at the GPs office. Three days later and the GP called, I was in the bedroom, she had seen the mammogram and she said I had nothing to worry about. She was 99% certain it was nothing. The relief came over me like a warm blanket and I sunk onto the bed in tears. I realised I could now tell my husband that evening about the last few days and have good news to end it with.
That evening, my husband was out with friends so I didn’t get a chance to tell him my good news, which great because the next day everything changed.
Lucy was sick the next day and I had to take her via the GP to hospital for a check. On the way back from the hospital the GP called. They had the pathology results from my biopsy. They told me that they needed to talk to me, that they had made an appointment for me at 1pm that day and that it would be a really good idea to bring someone along with me. Within 24 hours my relief at knowing all was well had turned into fear. They had clearly found something, it was time to come clean to my husband.
At this point I was freaking out somewhat so I simply called my husband at work and luckily he answered the phone:
“You need to come home”
“I can’t tell you over the phone”
“at least tell me what it is related to.”
“I can’t, please come home and I will tell you everything then.”
“I’m on my way.”
At 12pm I sat at the kitchen table opposite my husband and made his world fall apart for the second time in his life. His whole body sank and he started to shake. He felt that history was repeating itself. He couldn’t believe that it was possible that I also had breast cancer. We didn’t have enough information at this point so at 1pm we were in the GP’s office being told that the results of the pathology were inconclusive. There were some abnormal cells so more tests were required.
Monday afternoon at the hospital, sitting in front of the surgeon, he said we need to do more tests, he planned a core needle biopsy and an MRI but he then added that he was 90% sure that it was breast cancer.
Just hearing those words was enough to make me fall apart. Not emotionally, there were no tears immediately but just a massive dose of fear, lots of questions ran around my head, what is going to happen next, will I survive, what do I do about the children? I tried to attach myself to the 10%. If he is 90% sure then there is a 10% chance that he may be wrong. That is what got me through the next few days.
MRI and biopsy over, one week later we were sitting once again in the surgeon’s office. Invasive ductal carcinoma was what he said. I didn’t know what that meant so I just said, “so it is cancer then…” Actually it was a rather large cancer, much bigger than the 2cm lump we found. The MRI showed a large spider like mass towards the back of the breast, attached to the chest wall, which is why it wasn’t visible on the mamogram, 5cm of tumour with other smaller lumps in other locations in the breast. An HER2 tumour plus another tumour and a few other lumps in the breast that would need to be investigated further. He then outlined that his recommendations would be lymph node extraction, a course of chemotherapy followed by a full amputation (mastectomy) and radiation. The chemotherapy was to shrink the tumour to make it operable. A few lymph nodes would need to be removed as soon as possible to see how far it had spread. I also needed to have a PET scan to see whether the cancer had spread to any other parts of my body.
Despite the news I was trying desperately to process I suddenly found myself explaining that this was terrible timing because I was due to start my summer holiday at the end of the week. I had planned to be away for 5 weeks and I didn’t want to cancel. I think I was in denial!
Looking back, I think the surgeon was surprised by my reaction. He explained that holidays were also important and that he could work round my dates. He also suggested that he did the lymph node extraction on Friday, which would be the day before I left for my holiday.
At this point I surprised myself. Somehow, somewhere from deep inside a voice came up and I said “No.” The surgeon did not press me further on the lymph nodes.
In the car, the tears came as the enormity of what was happening finally sunk in. I had Breast Cancer. I was 46 years old and my youngest child was 5. My emotions ran all over the place, from the possibility of dying to the enormity of the treatment plan, to the violation of the surgery that I was to have in the coming months. So much to take in, so much to process, life as we knew it was falling down around us and I knew Paul was suffering as much as I was. He had already been here once, how on earth could this be happening again.
Once home I tried to come to terms with everything, called my Mum and my brother to tell them my news and tried to be as normal as possible for the children. We told the children the next day.
There was one thing that I was adamant about. I kept saying over and over again to my husband that I did not want to have chemotherapy. Then there was a further complication. I received a call from my GP saying she was coming over that evening for a chat. When she arrived she explained that she had talked to both the Oncologist and the Surgeon and that both of them were keen for me to start treatment rather than go on holiday. Apparently the surgeon did not want to say this to me the day before because he was worried I was going to walk away from any treatment so he was being gentle with me. I felt totally lost, I didn’t know what to do, the medical team wanted me to cancel my holiday, my husband wanted me to cancel my holiday so I started thinking that maybe it was for the best and I should cancel my holiday.
I realised I needed some help, a sign, anything that might help me know for sure what to do. The problem was, everyone who was near or dear to me agreed with the doctors so I looked elsewhere. This may sound a bit strange but I asked the universe for help, I just put it out there, ‘help me’ I said, ‘I want to know what the best decision is for me.’ The next evening I was putting my daughter Jennifer to bed. She asked me about the cancer.
“Are you going to die?” she asked
“I don’t know, but I don’t think so.” I answered
“But what if you do?” she said
“Well, then it will be my time to die.”
We hugged and I turned out the light and moved towards the door.
“Mummy,” Jennifer said, “ I read a book in the school library about a woman who had breast cancer and she cured it in 5 weeks.”
I stood there looking at her in astonishment. I didn’t know what to say, my mind was racing, I was a library Mum, there was no book in her school library about breast cancer, how on earth could she come out with a statement like that?
“Thank you Jennifer,” I said, “Thank you for sharing such an inspiring story. Goodnight”
As I left her room I realised I had my sign, I would go on holiday and I would somehow work out exactly what my next steps should be.
I told my husband my decision and he was devastated. He didn’t understand why I would not just do what the doctors recommended. But I needed time. I didn’t want to have chemotherapy, Chemotherapy was in my opinion totally unspeakable, it did more damage that it helped. It was no cure. I was convinced I could find something else, I just needed some time to research and ask my community for help, someone had to know something that would work for me. I also made a decision to focus inwards, to try and connect with myself and what I needed at this difficult time. I knew what everyone else wanted for me, but what did I want? Strangely enough that was not easy to answer except for the mantra in my head that I was not having chemo.
I left as planned that weekend with my two younger daughters and after picking up my mother in London, arrived in Bermuda to stay with my brother and his girlfriend. The weather was beautiful, the beaches fabulous and the girls were very happy to be back on the island paradise. It was great that my mother was with me because she could help with the girls, which allowed me time to focus on research and meditation. I was also having coaching sessions over skype with an amazing coach, Ruth, who agreed to coach me just before the diagnosis. Ruth had had some experience with Journey work and she suggested this for me to help with releasing any emotional traumas that I may be holding on to in my body. I had been reading about the link between emotions and illness and I wanted to try anything that may help my body to get through this. I had cancer, the hospital wanted to cut out the tumour and give me drugs to get rid of the symptoms but it could not provide me with a cure. My immune system had still failed, if I didn’t work out how to switch on my body’s natural healing system, it would only be a matter of time before the cancer returned.
Having recently trained as a coach, I had a coaching community that I immediately reached out to and asked about natural treatments for cancer. My entire focus was how I could avoid the chemotherapy. A few ideas came back, diet was a strong one, but this did not resonate with me since I was already a vegetarian and eating a lot of green superfoods. I hadn’t always had a good diet but in the last two years I had been tuning in more to the needs of my body through my coach training and I simply started to listen. My body was craving vegetables, juices, quinoa and anything that was freshly grown so I had simply included more of these items in my diet.
Other cancer cures that I found included cannabis oil, apricot kernels, GcMaf, raw food, excluding dairy food, tooth bacteria and various other cures that had worked on at least one person. I found plenty of articles about the dangers of chemotherapy which I duly forwarded to my husband to defend my position that I did not want to have that poison in my body. But as I moved forward with my research I realised two very important things, firstly I realised that the internet was a very dangerous place, anything you wanted to prove or defend could be found on the internet. The second thing was that for every person who had cured their cancer with something other than conventional medicine, there were a handful of dead people. This last point was brought home to me when I went out to meet one of my Bermudian friends Clare, for lunch. She had also invited a friend of hers, Debbie to the lunch. Debbie had had breast cancer three times and she was convinced that she had now beaten it. It was actually really great to meet someone who had been through the treatment and I told her that I was not going to have chemotherapy. I asked her whether she knew of anyone who had tried to treat their cancer in a natural way and Debbie explained of a friend of hers who like me was looking for an alternate way of treatment. I asked her what happened and Debbie explained that she spent a lot of time looking around for the right natural medicine but never really found it and she died two years after diagnosis.
My research continued but I was getting very frustrated by the fact that I was not able to get what I would call and ‘aha’ moment when every inch of my body would know instantly that I had found the right treatment plan. I was looking for a spark of excitement that would let me know I was on the right track. I was also busy meditating and asking the universe for help and I was also having some deep coaching sessions from my fabulous coach, Ruth. The Journey work was incredible. One session in particular was transformational for me. It was about love and how a child receives love. I have a loving family but they were not very demonstrative emotionally. In this coaching session I realised I wanted to really feel the love of my family, but because they were not so emotionally led, I decided to take what I needed instead. So after the coaching I went into the kitchen and told my Mum I needed a hug and without waiting for a response, I hugged her. I then went to my brother and did the same. It felt a little unusual but I decided to continue. A little while later I repeated the exercise and hugged them again and I continued with this over the next day or two. Then on the next day I must have looked a bit down because my Mum came over and said, you look like you need a hug and she leaned in and hugged me. This was such a profound moment. She had never done that to me as an adult before and it felt so amazing. That evening I cried and cried whilst repeating my Mother loves me, my Mother loves me, over and over again. My logical brain had always known this to be true but my emotional side had not been sure until that moment. It was an incredible feeling and a big learning for me, that sometimes when you need something from someone you just have to ask for it.
I spent the holiday doing a lot of work and soul searching but the weeks were coming to and end, my husband had joined me and we left Bermuda to spend a week in the US before travelling home. My husband had been very efficient and had set up lots of appointments for me to see the oncologist and the surgeon in the week after the holiday but I still did not have a clear answer for myself as to what I needed to do. I was lost, I had been sure that there would have been some sort of sign from the universe, some feeling of excitement whilst researching that would lead me to believe I had found the right way forward but here was nothing. I began to doubt myself. I felt the pressure mounting, I would soon have to make a decision.
Once at home the hospital visits started. First the oncologist explained the chemotherapy regime, then the surgeon explained they were going to put in a port for the chemo, since there would be so many chemo treatments. Then I went to another hospital for a PET scan, to see whether there was cancer in my bones, liver or ovaries. I still said every day to my husband that chemo was not an option.