Surviving lung cancer has helped me embrace the connection between body and mind

Surviving lung cancer has helped me embrace the connection between body and mind

As told to Nicole Audrey Spector

I started experiencing shortness of breath in my late 20s. I have gone to several doctors over the years who have all listened to my lungs and said they were clean. Eventually, I was diagnosed with asthma.

Every healthcare professional prescribed me an inhaler and then sent me on my way. But the inhalers didn’t help much and my shortness of breath gradually got worse. When I was 31 and pregnant with my daughter, I felt a lump in my throat and coughed it up. It was bright red blood. I was amazed. She shook me to my core and I immediately called my doctor.

“You probably coughed too hard,” the doctor said.

I explained that I didn’t feel the need to cough until I felt the blood clot. But because this was a single event, she recommended waiting until after giving birth to get an X-ray due to the radiation. I was comfortable waiting – I had no reason to object – and it didn’t happen again.

I had a chest X-ray after my daughter was born, and it came out clear. There seemed to be nothing to worry about.

For many months I was fine, apart from shortness of breath. I lived on a farm and was a pet groomer, so I decided I just had allergies.

When I was first diagnosed with asthma, I started seeing an acupuncturist to help me with breathing and fatigue. In the months after I coughed up the blood clot, she recommended me cupping – an alternative medicine procedure in which a therapist places special cups on the skin to create suction and draw fluid into the area. Some believe it can help with a variety of health issues, including back and neck pain, migraine attacks, and immunity. It helped my tiredness a lot and she believed it could help relieve my shortness of breath.

But a couple of days after cupping, I coughed up a huge amount of blood. And this time he didn’t stop.

I called my mom, who was a nurse, and she basically ordered me to go see my doctor. It was Thanksgiving weekend. I visited several emergency rooms only to be given another inhaler and sent home when the xrays came back clear. Once my doctor could see me after the long weekend, I went in with my still nursing daughter in tow. My doctor took my symptoms seriously and ordered a bronchoscopy for me the next morning.

And that was the day my life changed forever.

Susan and her daughter, 1998

The bronchoscopy revealed that I had a tumor behind my back bronchi which had started to bleed. The tumor had probably been there for a while, but the x-rays didn’t show it because he was hidden. We needed 3D images to see it.

I was partially sedated and pretty freaked out when I heard the word “carcinoma.” I knew that maybe it meant cancer. My mind and heart raced as best they could under the sedation.

A little later the surgeon arrived and gave me the news. It was the worst-case scenario: I just hadn’t done it lung cancer, but the tumor had to come out or I would have literally drowned in my own blood. She said I should be hospitalized immediately and operated on the next day.

Upon hearing the awful news, I went inside shock. I started shaking uncontrollably and couldn’t breathe deeply or think clearly.

All this seemed completely impossible to me. My baby was in the waiting room. All I could think was, “What if I die and she has no mother?”

I listened to the medical experts, as well as my family and best friend who supported me enormously, and stayed in the hospital for two weeks. I underwent an eight-hour operation called a thoracotomy. Two-thirds of my right lung has been removed.

During the weeks and months following the surgery, I thought a lot about what had caused this terrible disease. I had smoked for three years during a super stressful job as a social worker. But I quit smoking seven years before my diagnosis. Doctors told me my relatively short smoking history was “medically insignificant.” In other words, they didn’t think my smoking habit was serious or long enough to cause lung cancer.

Luckily, it turned out my cancer was stage 1, meaning it hadn’t spread to any other organs. The surgery was a success and the doctors removed all of the cancer. I didn’t need chemotherapy or other treatments and am cancer free today.

Since all of this has happened, I have deepened my understanding of the inextricable bond between the body and the mind. I thought about my experiences and what I was going through when I probably first developed lung cancer: I was finally going to therapy to process the abuse I had experienced many years earlier.

The trauma had lived inside me for decades. In the end, I think, it literally took my breath away.

I believe that there is something not only in the concept of “mind over matter”, but also in the idea of ​​”mind”. Under matter,” which means that stressors in the mind can manifest in the body. That’s why I’m a big advocate of processing and healing trauma to help prevent and/or cope with physical illnesses.

That’s not to say I don’t appreciate Western medicine. He saved my life, but so did that acupuncturist who, I believe, through cupping, inadvertently triggered the bleeding that prompted me to seek medical attention.

I now teach yoga and own a yoga studio – something I never would have envisioned for myself before cancer – and advocate for a holistic understanding of self. I work to support other women living with or surviving cancer. I encourage them to process their thoughts and feelings and to find their inner voice.

There is a wise woman in each of us. Listen to her.

This resource was created with the support of Merk.

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