Column: What I Learned From Breast Cancer
By Julia Chiappetta
In 2009, I was interviewed by Aviva Patz for Natural Health Magazine. I am sharing that interview this month in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Taking a look back floods me with gratitude and thanks to God for His healing touch and peace during that time. After such a powerful experience of healing, there is no going back for me. When I chose that less traveled road, I essentially had to become the CEO over my own body and did so with a positive vision for total healing.
Natural Health Magazine
I never thought I’d get cancer. I ran six miles a day, and did mini-triathlons and in-line skating; I ate a sensible Mediterranean diet. I managed to take care of myself even while working 80 hours a week and traveling the globe as a successful meeting planner. I thought I was in perfect shape.
Then I felt the lump. I was 45 years old and single, living in Connecticut. It was like a mosquito bite, on the outer edge of my right breast. Since I’d been doing self-exams for years I knew immediately that this was different. I’d never felt anything like it.
My doctors performed a mammogram, but it came back negative. I wasn’t satisfied. My gut told me something was wrong. But when I asked for a biopsy, the doctors gave me a hard time. “You’re fine,” they said, but I insisted, so they squeezed me in the next day. Twenty-four hours later I got a call from the surgeon. His first words were: “I’m very sorry, I learned a really important lesson: I need to listen to my patients more.” Then he dropped the bomb: “You have Stage II Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma. It’s aggressive, and you need to do something right away.”
Everything stopped. It was the most shocking and terrifying thing I’d ever heard. I immediately thought I could die. When I met with an oncologist, he told me that I would die—if I didn’t have a double mastectomy followed by radiation or chemotherapy and a year of Tamoxifen. But I’d watched five people close to me die from what I believe was an overuse of radiation and chemotherapy. I saw them suffer slow, painful deaths—not from the cancer, but from the treatment.
I left the oncologist’s office in tears. When I got home I sank into the sofa and prayed. I said, “God, I don’t know what to do. You’re going to have to help me.” The next day, my cousin called to recommend a top breast cancer doctor in Houston. My sister called to say she was sending a nutritional video series she thought would help me. I felt my prayers were being answered and it gave me peace and fortitude.
I decided that before I accepted—or rejected—any medical treatment, I was going to do my own research. With no time to lose, and with the guidance of a scientist friend, I pored over medical journals and abstracts, watched videos, and surfed the Web to learn everything I could about my condition and how it could be treated.
One of my first moves—inspired by my research—was to chuck everything in my house that contained hormones and antibiotics and toxins like lead, parabens, and sulfates that could have contributed to my cancer. I tossed out all my food, my makeup, my shampoos, and my microwave. I threw it all away and started using only organic products with all natural ingredients.
I made over my diet, too, trading my beloved bread, cheese, pasta, and chicken for an all organic, vegan menu. I started juicing—carrots, beets, kale, spinach, cucumber, celery—and doing shots of wheat grass three times a day (just 1 ounce provides the nutrients of 2.5 pounds of organic green vegetables). Within two weeks, I felt amazing. Everything was stronger—my hair, my skin, my nails. I could feel my body healing. I felt so much better that I couldn’t even believe I had cancer.
By the time I saw the Houston oncologist my cousin had recommended, all my tumor markers and a lot of my blood work showed levels that were back in the normal range. This doctor recommended a lumpectomy, where they remove just a margin of tissue surrounding the site of the tumor, and a sentinel node biopsy, which removes only the lymph nodes involved. This sounded right to me. He also recommended following up with radiation and Tamoxifen, but at this point I was sold on a more natural approach. I opted not to do chemotherapy, radiation or drugs.
I flew home two days after the lumpectomy and continued my new diet and lifestyle regimen, all while constantly seeking the advice of experts, nutritionists and naturopaths along with my oncologist, who was on board with my protocol.
Was it difficult? It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done in my life. Was I scared? Absolutely. I had friends, colleagues and doctors all saying, “Are you crazy?” But I felt total peace with my decision.
I also knew that both of my parents had beaten cancer without radiation or chemotherapy. My mother had uterine cancer and a hysterectomy at age 30, after her third baby. When the doctor suggested she get chemo, she said, “I don’t have time for chemo, I have three young kids.” I was 5 years old at the time. My father had prostate cancer 15 years before me and chose not to have radiation but to completely change his diet instead. Both of my parents completely supported my decision.
Several years have passed and I am healthy and happy. I’m still juicing and drinking wheat grass. I take an array of herbs and supplements based on what my body needs through diagnostics and exercise and pray every day.
I work about half the hours I used to. I feel free and have learned to live with so much less. Having a big house and closet full of designer clothes and shoes mean zero when your doctor says the word cancer. You start seeing things through completely different eyes.
Now I see beauty every day. I see how green the trees are today. I see the little flowers growing on the lawn. But at the same time I can also see pain in someone’s eyes, and I get the most joy in my life from counseling other women with breast cancer, which inspired me to publish what I’d learned in Breast Cancer—The Notebook (Gemini Media, 2006).
Cancer didn’t kill me. It woke me up to who I really am and empowered me to make my own choices. Was it a gift? Yes. It helped me find the real me.
Since the printing of this interview, my father Charlie passed away, so Daddy, this is for you, for loving me, showing me right from wrong and for always having my back. I miss you so much.
As always, try to do something good for your body this week, drink a nice organic green juice, hike the beach or your favorite trails, lift some weights at the gym, take a dance class, watch the sunset, pray for peace and love your body with gratitude. Thank you Jesus for your healing touch in my life!