Our very own Cathy Brown was recently featured in Wellbeing Magazine. Read her story here;
My Answer to Cancer
by Cathy Brown
It is hard to imagine that in 1989, a tiny red dot on my arm could have changed my life so dramatically. I had always been very careful with my skin and very aware of melanoma.
When a small pimple-like spot appeared on my right forearm, initially I was not worried. It didn’t look anything like the typical warning photos in skin cancer brochures. I knocked it a couple of times and it sent a shock of pain up my arm, so I went to the doctor and asked his opinion. His comment after examining it was “No, that’s alright, don’t worry about it.” For some unknown reason, I insisted on having it removed. I’m not sure why, but I just knew I would be happier without it. His response to this request was “Oh alright - if it will keep you happy.”
The following day he rang me and asked me to come and see him at the surgery, as he had just been contacted by the laboratory who informed him that the biopsy was malignant. What a shock! By the time I visited him, he had already made an appointment with a plastic surgeon to remove a greater excision, just to make sure that all the malignancy had been removed. After visiting the surgeon, the results confirmed, that as far as the doctors were concerned, they had removed all the offending melanoma.
Life went on pretty normally for another six months until I had an uncomfortable feeling under my arm. After getting this examined by the doctor, I was assured that there were no lumps and that it might have been a pinched nerve reacting from my previous surgery. I accepted this explanation and carried on quite happily for a further four months until my legs broke out in the most disturbing looking blisters.
Back to the doctors again where I was placed on antibiotics on one visit, steroid cream on another and finally on the third visit, two more doctors were called in to inspect the blisters. They all examined me and said that they hadn’t seen anything like it before, so suggested that I should visit a dermatologist. While visiting the dermatologist I queried whether this problem might be linked to the melanoma, which was the same question I had previously posed to all the other doctors. The dermatologist assured me that there was no connection. He wasn’t sure what these blisters were, so excised one and sent it for further pathology.
I received a phone call from him and was told “It is a condition called Bullis Pemphigoid, but don’t worry, it won’t kill you. It is extremely rare, although normally it is only seen in very old people.” Why I might have this condition at the age of thirty-three could not be explained.
After a couple of weeks, the spots started to disappear and I was glad to see the end of them. About the same time, I noticed that the tightness under my arm was increasing and I wasn’t sure whether I could feel some swelling or not. Within a week I was certain that it was not my imagination. When I lifted up my arm, a golf ball size lump would bulge out. When I put my arm down, it would disappear.
I was having another small skin cancer removed by the plastic surgeon I had visited before, so asked him about the lump under my arm. He suggested that I return to my GP who examined me again and this time referred me to a surgeon. After the surgeon examined me, he confirmed that I did have a large mass in my right axillary and insisted that it must be removed immediately. He spoke to a fellow surgeon who informed him that the operating list was full. He replied, “Get rid of someone!” My stomach dropped.
Dread was filling me when I looked down at my file and saw a big red URGENT sticker displayed across it. This is when I knew things were starting to go very wrong for me. I mentioned the Bullis Pemphigoid and asked for his opinion. He did not hesitate in explaining that my immune system was so locked into fighting the tumours, it had broken down and the Bullis Pemphigoid was a reflection of this struggle. At least I had an answer now, although I was certainly not thrilled with the reason.
On the 3rd May 1990 I had surgery to remove the tumours and was hospitalised for five days. It was very challenging to stay optimistic, but always in the back of my mind I was secretly waiting for someone to walk in and say, “Sorry Cathy, this has all been a big mistake and there is nothing wrong with you.” Unfortunately, that person never turned up.
A week later I anxiously waited for the test results from the surgeon. My thoughts were terrorising me as I sat in the barren waiting room. It felt like I was being sent before a judge to hear whether I was getting a death sentence for some crime I didn’t know I had committed. Guilty or not guilty? What had I done wrong in my life to deserve this? Why me? Anger was starting to surface at the injustice of it all. My children were only six and eight years old. They needed their mum. It just wasn’t fair. After waiting for over two hours, my nerves were shot. Finally, the results were delivered.
The report stated that, from the group of lymph nodes removed from my right axillary, metastatic tumour was present extensively in two of them. The largest mass was five centimetres in diameter. Most of the following conversation was a blur. The few words that registered became etched into my mind. “How long do I have to live?” I warily enquired. He replied, “I’m not sure, maybe a couple of months, perhaps a couple of years.” I then asked what would finally finish me off? “It will go to either your lungs, liver or brain. You will be referred to an Oncologist. He will monitor your progress. In your situation chemotherapy is unlikely to help. Since you are young, with a young family, you would be better off going home and enjoying whatever time you have left”. I was devastated and felt totally shattered.
Two days later was Mothers’ Day and one of the hardest days of my life. Facing my children and not knowing whether this was my last Mothers’ Day with them was emotional torture. What would they do next year when the other kids at school were preparing gifts for their mothers? The pain in my heart was incredible. It felt like it had been ripped out of my body and squeezed tightly in a vice. There was nowhere I could go to escape this horrific pain. There was no one who could take it away. I was lost.
I remember waking up during the night shaking. The images flashing through my mind can only be understood by someone who has been in this situation. No words can accurately describe what I went through. I went to see my GP for help. He prescribed me Serapax, a sedative for my nerves, and invited me to send in the rest of the family to see him if they needed anything to help them cope. This wasn’t the type of help I was looking for. I needed more!
When I finally visited the Oncologist, he looked at my file, shook his head, clicked his tongue in a disapproving manner and simply said, “You’re in the hands of fate.” I was shocked with the bluntness of his response and remember being aware of a feeling rising up like fire from somewhere deep within me and thinking “You don’t know who you’re dealing with mate!” As fate would have it I was thankful to him for being so blunt and triggering off a response inside that said “If fate has anything to do with this, I’m going to give it all the help it needs!” I realised that there was no one else who could heal me and now it was up to me to find ‘my answer to cancer’.
This experience opened my mind to all sorts of possibilities and instigated an incredible healing journey. I became aware that there was so much more I could do for myself and found I was connecting to a deep sense of empowerment and belief that I could make a difference to the prognosis given to me.
I received a wonderful letter from a woman who had heard of my story from my aunty. Her husband was given a 50/50 chance of surviving melanoma 2 ½ years previously and after taking responsibility for the management of his own illness, he was now happy and well. She advised me to contact Cancer Support WA (now known as Solaris Cancer Care Cottesloe, Western Australia) where she assured me that I would find the most loving and wonderful group of people who would be able to understand what I was going through. She also suggested that I see a Naturopath, read Ian Gawler’s book “You Can Conquer Cancer”, and Louise Hay’s book “You Can Heal Your Life”. The body/mind connection was becoming very clear to me now and this is exactly what I needed. I rang Cancer Support WA immediately and was invited to attend their group. My next phone call was to the naturopath and I managed to get an appointment for the following week.
I was willing to eat cabbage leaves for the rest on my life or stand on my head three times a day if that was deemed necessary. I was greatly relieved when I met the Naturopath. He gave me a wonderful array of foods from which I could choose. Body brushing, castor oil packs, magnetic treatment and vitamin therapy were the order of the day. His accuracy with iridology was incredible. It was almost as though he had read my medical history from when I was a baby. I was so encouraged by his incredible understanding that I was determined to follow his instructions exactly and without any deviations. For the first twelve months of my recovery, not one thing passed my lips that weren’t on my food list. It really wasn’t that hard because my desire to live was far greater than my desire for anything else.
I attended Cancer Support WA with a friend and received some counselling. Although I had originally felt that I wouldn’t need it, the counselling gave me an incredible insight. It revealed to me, my emotions had suppressed my immune system and allowed the cancer to develop inside of me. This revelation was tremendously beneficial. During meetings with other cancer clients, it was wonderful to be able to relate to people who knew exactly how I was feeling. They could give me empathy, instead of sympathy. The mediation was fantastic, and to find a library full of books about healing and the body/mind connection was like finding a gold mine. I meditated every day and will do so for the rest of my life.
Through Cancer Support WA and also the Naturopath, I was informed about a Cancer Patients Retreat to be held. This was also a very large aspect of my recovery process. We were taught the Silva Method of Mind Control and in between sessions, we learnt about other methods of complementary medicine. This I found very interesting. There were guest speakers about Bach Flowers, allergy testing, diet and also a Reiki practitioner.
Reiki is hands-on healing and when the practitioner gave me a session, I felt as though she had touched more than just my arm, I felt so at peace. I had seven more Reiki sessions and finally decided to become a Reiki Channel myself. I find this to be a very important part of my life now and it helps me continue to be positive about all aspects of my life.
I felt like a sponge, willing to read everything and anything which could help me. There was a mountain of books by my bed. After reading several of these books I said to my husband, “I could be doing some pretty weird things in the next twelve months” to which he replied “I don’t care what you do, as long as you get well”. Not necessarily understanding what I was doing but giving me the freedom to try anything without criticism, was the perfect support. Another piece of my recovery puzzle was my attitude. I wouldn’t have succeeded if I had merely just tried. I viewed it as a challenge and I was 110% committed to conquering the cancer. It became my reason to make all of those changes in my life that I had always “been going to do.” I became open to new things that I had never been willing to explore previously.
Several check-ups later, 22 months after having the secondary tumors removed from under my arm, the Oncologist informed me that he didn’t need to see me anymore. At every opportunity I told him of the complementary therapies I was exploring but he wasn’t interested. As I left his office he said to me, “Don’t think that it’s because of anything you’ve done. There is such a thing as spontaneous remission.” I was highly offended. He was not interested in anything that I had explored and was completely oblivious of the dedication and commitment I had made towards my own recovery.
I felt that because I had received so much from Cancer Support WA, it was time for me to give back to the organization and to the amazing people I had met on my healing journey. In 1991 I completed a course as a Volunteer Carer and spent considerable time in providing telephone support, making visits to clients in hospitals, supporting group participants and I also giving Reiki regularly on a one to one basis to clients.
I attended the support group for five years as both a participant and a carer so in 1995, when the Group Facilitator went on long service leave, I was asked to stand-in for her during this time. At first, I was very apprehensive but during the three months she was away, I gained confidence and absolutely loved it. The original facilitator decided to resign and not return from long service leave, so I was employed by Cancer Support WA to work as a Group Facilitator.
This was a huge opportunity for me and I knew I needed further education and professional development. I approached the Wasley Institute and was fortunate to be accepted into their two-year training course as a Groupwork Leader. This course was fantastic and explored many aspects of the responsibility of being a group facilitator. It gave me to confidence to know that whatever happened in a group, I was capable of handling it. I also went to the Gawler Foundation in the Yarra Valley and trained as a Cancer Support Leader. This training enabled me to facilitate weekly Cancer Support Groups, Wellness Courses, and a Women’s Support Group. In 1996 I started the Rockingham Cancer Support Group. I facilitated this group for the following five years.
In 1996 I initiated the development of Reiki clinics. I had found Reiki to be an integral part of my healing and felt that a clinic would be appreciated by members of the group if it were made available. These clinics were very well received and expanded rapidly. With the support of an average of ten Reiki practitioners, we were able to help many people relax and allow them to enjoy some very peaceful and healing time after the support meetings.
I enjoyed representing Cancer Support WA as a Speaker and gave many presentations at a variety of different forums including conferences, schools, Rotary Clubs, health centres, as well as to hospital and allied health professionals. I was always pleased when people came up to me at the end of the presentations and shared their personal experiences with cancer, either as someone who had experienced it themselves or as a close family member or friend. This reinforced the value of having someone to listen to their story - everyone has a story.
In 1999, it became apparent for the need of a one-day seminar for people newly diagnosed with cancer. I specifically designed the inaugural “Meeting the Challenge” seminars to introduce various holistic options, to better manage treatment and the recovery phase, and also sustain an improved sense of health and well-being.
After leaving Cancer Support WA, I decided that I wanted to reach people earlier with this message about health and well-being, so I created and presented corporate wellness programs for the following four years. I have always had a fascination for the power of the mind. In 2005 I decided to nourish this fascination and I commenced training as a Clinical Hypnotherapist. It seemed to be a natural extension of my previous work, only now, purposefully utilising the power of the subconscious mind. I use Hypnotherapy for healing, as well as for the many other physical and emotional challenges in life.
In 2010, I returned to Cancer Support WA (now known as Solaris Cancer Care Cottesloe Western Australia) for two days a week, where I continue my role as a Wellness Facilitator. I work two days a week doing Hypnotherapy in my private practice LifeXL and in 2017 published my full story of healing in a book – My Answer to Cancer. My wish for this book is that it gives hope and inspiration to many people and helps explain the importance of the body/mind connection.
My life is amazing now. For the last five years I have been privileged to escort groups of people to an Ayurvedic Retreat in India with a Western Australian tour company called Journeys of the Spirit. This year my retreats are expanding to Hawaii where I will be taking people to experience the spiritual and cultural magic of these beautiful islands.
The deep love I feel for my children fuelled my will to live. I wanted to be there for them and see them grow up. The added bonus is that I am now the proud Nana of four beautiful little souls and I express gratitude daily for this privilege. Over the last twenty-eight years, it has been an honour to witness thousands of people on their healing journey. Not all have healed physically but many have healed emotionally and spiritually. I have supported them, cried with them, encouraged them, challenged them and most of all loved them unconditionally. I found my purpose and can’t believe all of this has happened because of a little red dot on my arm.
Cathy Brown www.lifexl.com.au
Author ‘My Answer to Cancer’
FaceBook: My Answer to Cancer