It was the 80’s, and I had recently moved to LA where I caught the movie business bug. At the time, I was working for Cheryl Ladd as an assistant in a guest house all on my own – answering calls, reading scripts, fighting boredom, and occasionally heading down the hill with Cheryl for lunch or shopping on Sunset Boulevard - And then, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Every instinct told me not to have the surgery, but everyone else was intent on me going in for the surgery, including Cheryl.
My assigned Oncologist, at a women’s clinic, recommended it. He forgot to take the class in bedside manner, and I didn’t feel comfortable with him, making my decision easier.
While my friends were out partying, and hitting the newest LA restaurants and clubs, I was home juicing moving into an organic lifestyle. I was probably one of the first people in line at the new Beverly Juice Club for a daily shot of wheat grass. I was also douching with wheat grass, and getting colonics in the one clinic I could find doing the task. I embarked on a macrobiotic diet, which some liked to refer to as, macro-psychotic.
Cancer was taboo in my family, we never talked about it. My mother passed away when I was three-yrs old of breast cancer - and now, I was labeled with the ‘C’ word.
So, I was going to fight it, beat it and not do the surgery which could’ve resulted in a hysterectomy at twenty-eight. I was excommunicated from the women’s clinic for going rogue. I gave myself 6-months to do this cure. I was also doing yoga, rebirthing, which at the time, was very in. And I did beat it and have never had an irregular pap smear since. I’ve stayed on the healthy diet and lifestyle, but it furthered my role as an outsider because I was on a different path. A genetic autoimmune condition, not diagnosed at the time, caused fatigue. It was my mission to find my way into great health because I had a lot of dreams, and wanted to see those dreams manifest.
I had cured myself from cervical cancer, but continued to struggle with pain and fatigue causing me to schedule my life around the symptoms. It began a questioning of my mental stability… by me and others. Even though I was fun when I did go out, I was still an outsider, never really finding my way into the LA inner circle.
Decades later, after life took me in a different direction in Santa Barbara, I’ve stayed on the healthy path for all these years. Way past divorce, and working on finding a new niche for myself, I went in for my annual in July, 2013. I’ve never missed one. A lump was detected. I was absolutely convinced it would be a cyst. There was no-way it was going to happen to me because I did all the right things-- sacrificing good times out, strict routine, exercise… maybe a glass of wine and piece of chocolate a week. I went in the next day; organic optimism in tow, for 4-hours of excruciating breast biopsies. Still convinced results would be benign.
I got the call - Not only did I have a stage one cancerous tumor in the right breast, but one in the left. A 5% category, something I didn’t even know existed! Immediate assumption of a genetic disposition. Now, not ever knowing my mother, I was angry with her for the genetic inheritance. Regardless of my best efforts, cancer caught up with me again. When I returned home with my diagnosis – a defeated warrior - I walked out on the porch, looked to the sky where hawks fly, and threw my hands in the air yelling, “That’s it, I’m off God!” - I was off sugar, and now I was off God…
A week later, further tests in an MRI showed another area more than an inch of pre-cancerous cells. How does all this happen in one fucking year? - Going rogue this time was not an option. - I was facing a radical double mastectomy. As I began a painful journey, a sadness swept over me thinking of my mother. I longed to have her with me. She must’ve felt so isolated too, esp. going through it in an era where there was little support, and even a sense of shame surrounding breast cancer.
I decided to be fierce, as I always am, in honor of my mother. But I was living on another planet, an alien, living in a medical world. I was on auto-pilot, often driving with drains and traces of pain meds… not recalling how I just arrived somewhere. - An auto-pilot alien who got through seven major surgeries, long recoveries, reoccurring staph infection in the breast that nearly took me out, and 60-days in the hospital.
I found solace in nature’s beauty to get me through. I continued to use my humor, and a biting humor was fitting for the journey. I never forgot to put my lip gloss on even when I went out the door with drains in me where it would be just another dr. appointment. It’s fascinating what we humans can endure. Strength would run out though, and there were dark nights when I wanted to just give up. And yet, there’s something so deep inside me that kept forcing me to put one foot in front of the other… even if it was moving from the bed to the sofa where hummingbirds chirped outside the door.
I continued my juicing, organic eating, but I couldn’t drink wheat grass ever again… I can still taste it from 30-years ago. I’m staying on the healthy lifestyle, and still want to believe that my dreams can come true… maybe not as many of them as I had in LA, the producer I’d become with my love for story – the underdog finding their way through insurmountable challenges to rise triumphantly.
And then, I’ve come to realize… I’m the underdog, and I found my way through. I’m getting on the other side, and nearly recovered from a three ½ year journey. - I’m looking to those dreams again, that idealistic faith, and a way to believe in the divine positivity of life on this planet.
I’ve come to a full acceptance that I am a truthful troublemaker, cementing my ‘outsider’ title, and perhaps that’s how I’ve conquered all that’s been before me. Isolation has given me a great deal of time to reflect, and be very observant of all that is around me –
My spirit was fed by the beauty of nature, the beauty of friends by my side; including my colorful hummingbirds, that would take nectar from my hand. These tiny bird angels are fierce, they’re territorial, observant, they’re often solo… and they carry on in this most spectacular energetic way. They’d connect by looking directly into my eyes. They were my teachers, and I believe they are a part of the reason that I’m still alive today. I was giving to them as they were giving to me.
And now, I look out to the ocean with that never-ending boundary, and hope that I’ll be on a sailboat soon… feeling free, and doing those exotic travels and creative adventures I always imagined myself to do.
________________________________________________________________________________ *Note: This personal story was initially voice recorded in a stream of consciousness and then transcribed in writing for a Speaking Stories event I performed on April 5th 2017. Keep on swimming through life, Valerie