What I Learned From Breast Cancer
By: Julia Chiapetta
I never thought I’d get cancer. I was happy, ate a sensible Mediterranean diet, ran six miles a day and took care of myself despite working long hours in the travel industry as a meeting planner. It was a great time in my life, I felt strong and healthy, achieving goals, running races and hopeful for the future.
Then, I felt the lump! I was 45 years old. It was like a mosquito bite on the outer edge of my right breast. I’d been doing self-exams for years thanks to the wonderful Dr. Carine Klein who taught me the right techniques, so I knew immediately that I’d never felt anything like this one. She sent me for a mammogram, which came back negative, just like the one I had had just 3 months earlier, as part of my annual check-up. My gut was telling me something was wrong and so I asked the surgeon reading my report, if I could have a biopsy. He was unmoved by my request and said “You’re fine, come back in 6 months,” but I had a deep sense that all was not fine. After tearful pleading, he agreed to squeeze me in the next day. Twenty-four hours later I received his call. He began, “I’m very sorry and need to apologize. I learned an important lesson today that I need to listen to my patients more closely.” Then he dropped the bomb, “You have Stage IIB Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma. It’s aggressive and you need to do something right away.” At that moment, everything stopped and I dropped to my knees, praying to God for help.
I went through the motions of meeting with an oncologist, who told me that I would die—if I didn’t have a double mastectomy followed by radiation, chemotherapy and Tamoxifen. I explained to him that I’d seen so many close to me suffer slow, painful deaths—not from the cancer, but from the treatment. I knew that if this was the way I was going to die, I would not be spending my days getting sick to my stomach or losing my hair, rather I’d be in Tuscany to live my last days, taking as much out of life as possible.
So…. I prayed and prayed for answers, strength and resolve.
The next few days were like being on a spiritual high. My prayers were being answered so rapidly that I hardly had time to keep up. First my cousins Joe and Rick Urso phoned to say they would connect me with one of the top surgical oncologists at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Dr. Merrick Ross. Then my sister Charlene called saying she was sending a 12-part video series from a top doctor at San Francisco General Hospital who beat breast cancer, using a more natural protocol. That same day my training buddy Mark Chyrywaty looked me in the eyes and said “I am going to help you navigate the maze of alternative medicine, teach you about your immune system and help you get your brain around this.” A scientist, with a brilliant mind, he stuck with me each day as we pored over medical journals, videos and the Web, to absorb everything possible about my diagnosis and how to implement a plan of care that felt right for me. All of this took two months.
One of my first moves—inspired by my research—was to chuck everything in my house to make my environment clean – parabens, heavy metals, sulfates, GMO’s and pesticides – anything that could have contributed to my cancer. I tossed out all my food, makeup, shampoos, body products, microwave and embarked on a 7-day juice cleanse to purge all the bad stuff in my gut to make it fertile to take in my new health protocol.
I started juicing—carrots, kale, spinach, cucumber, celery—and doing shots of wheat grass three times a day (just 1 ounce provides the nutrients, vitamins, enzymes, minerals & superfoods found in 2.5 pounds of organic greens). These were just a few of the hundreds of other things I changed, took or did to get well.
Within two months, I was feeling so much better that it was hard to believe I had cancer. Soon after I was able to secure an appointment with Dr. Ross in Houston. The day I left, I could feel God’s presence with me every step. My seatmate on the plane had a bible, the taxi driver prayer with me, the coordinator at the hospital held my hand and told me Jesus loved me. After hours of testing, I met Dr. Ross and his team in a board-room style discussion about my body. His team was impressive; they had reviewed everything sent in advance covering 10 years of doctor’s notes, tests and the recent biopsy. During that meeting, I felt so cared for! Then they posed this question. Who was Julia before, who is Julia now and who does Julia want to be in the future? This was a turning point for me and at the end of that long day the nurse told me that my tumor markers were back within normal range. She said “Whatever you are doing, keep it up.” Two weeks later I returned for the lumpectomy and Sentinel node biopsy, they had recommended, which felt right to me. When the surgery was over they told me that my margins were clean and that they did not detect any other cancer! Yahoo!
I had opted not to have chemotherapy, radiation or take Tamoxifen, so I returned home with renewed hope, thanks to God and a firm commitment to continue my regime under the guidance of my team of doctors, many of whom I still rely on today.
I could not have gone through this without the inspiration from my parents who had both beaten cancer, without conventional treatments. My mother had uterine cancer and surgery at age 30. When the doctor suggested chemo, she said, “I don’t have time for chemo, I have three young kids at home.” I was 6 years old at the time. My father had prostate cancer 15 years before me and chose not to have radiation, instead changing his diet and lifestyle. Both of my parents completely supported my decision.
Several years have passed and I can tell you that I am happy and thriving. So, in keeping with Breast Cancer Awareness month, I wanted to leave you with a few nuggets from my research:
• 85% of all breast cancers are NOT hereditary
• Mammography is ONLY 50% accurate
• Ultrasound is an essential COMPLEMENT to testing. (I see Dr. Robert Bard in NYC, an expert radiologist with the most advanced technology)
Cancer didn’t kill me. It woke me up to who I really am and empowered me to make better choices. Was it a gift? Yes. It helped me reunite with the real me.