Being told you have cancer is a shock.
Despite decades of working with clients with life challenging conditions, nothing prepared me for being diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2013.
Fast forward more than six years and I’ve been incredibly lucky. Early diagnosis, more than anything else, is the reason I dodged the devastating odds of this disease. But recovering from the effects of conventional treatment, took time and all my naturopathic skills.
How cancer changed me
I remember swearing “Cancer won’t change me” after I was diagnosed. In many ways it hasn’t. But of course, whether we like it or not, most major life events inevitably do.
What it has done is ignite a passion to advocate and speak up for those who can’t.
One of the problems with a disease where 70% relapse in the first three years and the five year survival is a paltry 46%, is that most women with ovarian cancer are too unwell or not alive long enough to ‘form the army of advocates’ needed to campaign for better outcomes.
Being a survivor has spurred me on to work with researchers to find better treatments, share my story with medical students and be a consumer on cancer forums.
Has cancer changed me as a naturopath?
While some cancers may be preventable, the majority still aren’t. Naturopathy and lifestyle medicine plays a huge role in supporting clients change habits and live a healthier life. As a naturopath I’ve supported countless clients through first line conventional treatments for their cancer.
I chose the standard conventional ovarian cancer treatment, as there were no proven alternative treatments. But where naturopathy really shone was in helping my body recover from surgery and chemotherapy. Together, they can be an awesome combination.
The lived experience has deepened my understanding of what it’s like to be diagnosed with cancer, navigate the health system and go through treatment. It’s empowering to be in charge of my own recovery and help people find their own way. Even after decades of naturopathic practice, I’ve learned so much.
Supercharge your recovery
My personal experience reinforced how important naturopathy is in assisting recovery from conventional cancer treatment.
A few weeks after finishing chemo your blood tests and energy levels start improving but some degree of fatigue and other physical symptoms can last for many months or years. Unfortunately some side effects of treatment can be permanent.
After surgery, chemotherapy or radiotherapy, it can be a relief to take a break from the constant rounds of medical appointments. I get it, you just want to forget about cancer. But it’s not a wise idea to delay naturopathic support at this stage.
I believe starting my naturopathic recovery strategy as soon as my treatment finished, made a significant difference in my recovery, so I strongly encourage my clients do likewise.
Proactive cancer recovery
It was a shock to realise my oncologist had no proactive strategy to try to improve my chances of remaining cancer-free, let alone recover from the negative effects of chemotherapy. All they offered was a three monthly blood test and check-up to see if the cancer returned.
Doing nothing, other than waiting for a recurrence, felt scary and lonely. It wasn’t helped by well-meaning friends telling me that I’d be ok and not worry, especially when I knew the statistics weren’t in my favour.
Fortunately my training and experience as a naturopath kicked in. I knew that simple lifestyle changes and a few well-chosen supplements could help rebuild my energy, and physical and emotional resilience.
Doing something, working with an exercise physiologist, psychologist and naturopath along with practicing mindfulness and eating well, made my mind and body feel a lot better than doing nothing.
How naturopathy can support your recovery from cancer treatment
We’re all different, so too are our cancers, treatments and recovery.
Personally I don’t want to take dozens of supplements every day, or maintain a lifestyle regime that’s too rigid or as time consuming as a full time job. Realising the text book complementary medicine approach to working with someone with cancer can be too expensive or difficult to fully comply, was also an eye opener.
I needed to individualise my recovery and long term wellness strategy to to make it sustainable. It involved finding enjoyable ways to exercise regularly, triaging the amount of supplements I take each day and reinforcing my existing healthy habits around mindfulness and conscious eating. Stress management is always a work in progress!
As a result of treatment, sometimes there are new challenges to deal with. Other than “mopping up” after chemo, I found my naturopathic toolkit especially useful for dealing with some unpleasant menopause symptoms as a result of surgery.
Of course, just because we’ve had cancer, it doesn’t mean our pre-existing health conditions miraculously disappear. Even if not actively pursuing a recovery plan, there are still natural ways to reduce the symptoms of many ongoing health issues.
How I work with people recovering from cancer
When helping my clients recover from cancer treatment and generally improve their health, my focus is on creating a plan that’s sustainable, effective and affordable. It’s individualised with an emphasis of what you’re able to do and as minimal or expansive as desired. I want you to get the most bang for your buck!
My approach is based on almost 30 years of naturopathic practice is empathetic and sensible. If you’re interested in exploring this further, please book an initial consultation either to see me in person, or a Wellbeing Plan via Skype/Zoom/Facetime.