There was a time when I just KNEW that natural-alternative-vegetarian-non-conventional-medicine living was simply the best. For everyone. All the time.
I would pound my fists on the table in righteous indignation, preaching the gospel of fundamentalist-holisic-ism. When other people fell ill, I secretly wondered where they had gone wrong and thought “everything happens for a reason.”
And then I got sick. Well, it’s funny to say that, because I felt just fine.
But there was the lump on my thyroid. And now that I’d noticed it (after my herbalism teacher pointed it out), I could barely see anything else when I looked in the mirror.
And it took 3 visits to the acupuncturist before I finally relented to his insistence that I get a biopsy.
Uninsured, under-employed, over-confident that I would have noticed it if something real was wrong, I went the local community hospital emergency room.
After waiting 5 hours in the ER waiting room, I watched my pathologist walk calmly, quietly and, somehow, reassuringly, into the room. He was a long-time yoga practitioner, he mentioned as he wielded his needle to take a sample of the lump with a hand so gentle I almost (almost) didn’t feel the point going into my neck. He seemed concerned and grave, but kind.
A few days later, when I called the pathology lab, he came on the line hesitantly. “Um…don’t you have a primary care doc?” When I replied that I didn’t, he cleared his throat, “ok, well, I think you should know as soon as possible: your sample had papillary thyroid cancer cells in it. You have cancer.”
I thanked him, as you do in these situations, and as I put down my phone, the walls came shattering down around me.
And so began the most challenging months of my life.
I dropped everything and made “healing myself” my full-time occupation. If I could just figure out where I had gone wrong, I could follow the trail of breadcrumbs back again.
Except that in this case I couldn’t. Or I didn’t, anyway. Six months into my heroic alternative regimen, the lump remained, resolute—and maybe a touch bigger.
And so, finally I relented. I let them cut me, and irradiate me. And I felt guilty–that poisonous platitude “everything happens for a reason” dancing through my head. I imagined I had failed. Like I had brought my cancer on myself (even though my dad had had the same cancer at the same age) and then didn’t have the strength of will and the courage of soul to visualize it away.
I hated the little blue pill I now had to take every day for the rest of my life to replace the hormone no longer made by my absent thyroid.
I tried another, “more natural” form of the medication (derived from animal thyroids :-/) briefly, only to find myself crazy and menopausal.
And then something happened. I decided to be grateful for the miracle of that little pill, and for the brilliance and years of research and development that went into its production.
I learned to find tools from my holistic healing medicine bag to help my body recover more quickly and completely from surgery and radiation.
I stopped pounding on the table and I started listening to the pounding of my heart.
Because “alternative” and “conventional” medicine aren’t actually 2 opposing, warring camps. They are each composed of many tools (some overlapping) for working with what is actually showing up.
The art and the science is in tapping into the wisdom to know which to rely upon, and when. (If I get hit by a car, please don’t take me to the acupuncturist.) And real healing usually can’t come from a complete refusal to consider your alternatives.
Even when, for you, alternative medicine means surgery and medication.