A Cancer Survivor’s Friend Speaks

During the 2 years I have spent in Colorado, I have earned one best friend.

Best friends do not come into our lives often, and sometimes we can go years before making a new one.

My Colorado best friend is Nicole.

In my personal experience, adversity allows people many opportunities for change and growth. When it comes to picking a best friend, I am drawn to those who have meaningful things to say about life, and can talk about their heartache and pain in a way that shows their strength for life and un-ending sense of humor for all things good and bad. This is why I love my friend. She is strong, and kind, and laughs about life in a way that makes my heart smile. She is a cancer survivor.

Nicole was diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2014. She had recently met the love of her life and been married several months before. The diagnosis came as a shock to her, as it does for so many other women who pay attention to their health and do many things to stay healthy. Nicole had a regular exercise regimen and was eating healthy regularly. When she received the diagnosis of cancer in her breast, she was at the doctor by herself, un-expecting of the news she would receive that day. When asked what the first thing she did after the prospective diagnosis, she said “I drove home and called my Mom.”

She described the process as very rapid, from initial prospective diagnosis to biopsy, to ports installed for chemo and beginning of 5 months of chemotherapy. I asked my friend what she experienced as she continued her treatment with chemotherapy, before she had surgery.

“Fatigue, hope, determination, humbling, sadness, if I didn’t make it through my kids would grow up without a mom.”

The depth of this statement, coming from someone who is very important to me…resonated. The emotional implications in a process of personal sacrifice that is brought about by the challenges and heartache of cancer, are some that last a very long time. Nicole has confided in me and shown such humility and openness about her experience. She has struggled with the grief, the lasting effects that her illness had on her children, and the fear that pervades all other important things in life, when she does not do things regularly to center her body, mind and soul.

This struggle came later, as her battle with cancer had only just begun after 5 months of chemotherapy. Nicole was blessed with a great deal of support from her family and friends during her time with cancer. However, she had this to say about the health resources made known and readily available to her:

“I wish they gave more emotional support. Cancer is a very emotional disease – coming to terms with how that affects your life and what comes after, and it’s hard to talk to others about it because unless they’ve been through it, they don’t really empathize.”

Nicole is one of many cancer patients who may not be fully informed about the options available for supportive treatment. She receives acupuncture treatments now, but unfortunately was unaware of the benefits while she was undergoing cancer treatment.

When I asked her if she would have used acupuncture during her illness, she responded “If it was recommended by my primary physician, I would have. It’s not a treatment that they talk to you about, but I would have done it for pain, fatigue, relaxation, nausea, anxiety.”

Nicole stays healthy with acupuncture and Pilates

Me: “What do you like about acupuncture?”

Nicole: “It helps me with emotional balance, fatigue, and pain.”

I have began treating Nicole for acupuncture and have also integrated pilates into her program.

Me: “What do you like about pilates?”

Nicole: “Pilates helps me with stress release, it helps me be active and strengthen, and its easy, safe and comfortable movement considering my physical limitations from surgery”

When it came time for Nicole’s mastectomy, she was worn down from 5 months of chemo.

“After 5 months of chemo, weak and tired leading up to it, I prepared myself mentally for what was happening and went through the motions. The day of surgery I went in for 8 hours, woke up hooked to morphine and an IV. The next 2 days were the most excruciating pain of my life. The extreme pain lasted 2 weeks and total healing time was about 8 weeks. I had 2 ports installed, sewn into my chest to drain blood and blood clots every two hours for 2 weeks. I had to measure cc’s of blood and fluid so the surgeon could measure. I wore special t-shirts to hold the drains and ports. They are sewn into the skin, its gross. I had to push blood clots through the tube to measure.”

This is a very real account of someone who experienced the trauma and heartache of cancer. But, be that as it may, Nicole pushed forward. Her surgery was in March of 2015 and when she was done, she went back on IV chemotherapy treatment until November of 2015. The doctor’s recommended radiation as well, but Nicole was weak, and the cancer was undetectable, so she decided not to do radiation.

So, the process of healing began. The physical healing came first, then the slow process of emotional healing. She was in an overwhelming and complex emotional place, and now it was time to move forward.

“My experience of cancer hasn’t changed me for the better at this point. The emotional downfall that I have had to deal with has made my life harder, more complicated, and the anxiety is something I continually manage.”

However, I had this to say to Nicole, and her answer shows her strength:

Me: “You are one of the strongest people I know, why do you feel that I see you this way? What makes you feel strong?”

Nicole: “I don’t know, I just try to get by with each day, because I don’t have another choice. I feel strong when I hang out with my family and kids and my dog.”

In this life that is never guaranteed, Nicole finds happiness in the things that matter most. She loves loving her family, and making her friends laugh with the kind of humor that shows her true strength.

My gratitude goes to my friend, who is open and willing to share her story. She shares so others may understand, and also be educated on the therapies that can make a difference in the path to healing from cancer.

If you or someone important to you is interested in the benefits of acupuncture and pilates during cancer treatment and recovery, please reach out to our clinic, Life Long Acupuncture in Arvada, CO.

~by Heide Manns