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A Survivor’s Journey – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

A Survivor’s Journey – The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

I will tell my story because I believe is it priceless to hear firsthand from a holistic person who has survived cancer. There were four related surgeries, thirty-four radiation treatments, and four months of chemotherapy infusions with each treatment two weeks apart. Then there was another drug with infusions every three weeks for the next year. I am not only a survivor of all this, but I am also the healthiest and happiest I’ve ever been perhaps in my entire life.

There is life after cancer. There is great healing on many levels. There is great freedom in my daily thoughts that remind me to be grateful, stay fluid, and let the stuck things go. I am freer to pursue my life on my own terms. It may be a rite of passage, it may be age, but something is clicking and life continues to unfold in better and more satisfying ways.

Embrace the Holistic
I have been in the holistic health field forever (almost forty-five years and counting!), forty-two of those years as a certified Rolfer. I work with clients’ body alignment to restructure bodies that have seen surgeries, trauma, and countless injuries, so through my studies and my own personal experiences and explorations, I feel I know a lot about many alternative methods. I have studied nutrition and exercise for years and coach my clients in those areas. In my training as a Rolfer, I developed a very holistic way of seeing health, the physical/emotional/spiritual world, and our part in all of it.

The Diagnosis
In December of 2006, I was reeling from a traumatic relationship breakup and was trying to emerge once again as myself, apart from this man I loved. I sought therapy for the emotional roller coaster I was on and was trying to move forward with a shaky, immensely sad foundation. My yearly mammogram had been scheduled at least six months prior to this unfortunate life event and even though I was fragile and questioning everything about myself, my life, and my future, showing up was a no-brainer.

Two days after my appointment, the call came that I needed to go back for more views. The same thing had happened a year or two prior, so I wasn’t particularly worried. I, along with most women, have dense breasts, and so more images were needed.

Right after this second round of mammograms, I was told I needed an ultrasound to further rule out any issues. Then, after the ultrasound, I was advised to see a surgeon for a biopsy immediately. My world began to spin.

I had the biopsy in the office of an amazing breast surgeon I had met a few years earlier when my mom had a scare and I accompanied her on her visits. I found out two days before New Year’s Eve that I was positive for cancer and would require surgery.

I was pretty much alone. My dad had passed two years prior, my mom was living in Florida, my relationship had ended two months before, and my sister was busy with her own life. A cousin suggested that I ask my departed relatives for help in talking to God because they were so much closer than I was. I went to the cemetery where my dad and many ancestors were buried. I asked them to speak to God on my behalf, to say that I was not ready to join them because I still had much to do on Earth. I remember sobbing and praying, my dog howling as we walked around the graves of my ancestors asking for guidance. We must have been quite a sight.

The Beginning
Soon, the medical machine took over and I was rushed from one appointment to another. I had known three women before this who had tried nonsurgical and other alternative treatments for their breast cancer, and they had all succumbed to the disease. It quickly became clear that if I wanted to live—and boy, did I—I would have to fight to do so.

My lumpectomy was scheduled for the end of January 2007. I was told about a new, five-day radiation technique that involved a port being inserted in my effected breast, once the results of the lymph nodes tests became known. Unfortunately, I had one effected lymph node and was therefore not a candidate. I now faced chemotherapy and full radiation treatments afterwards.

My head was spinning. How could this be happening to me? I ate well, took vitamins and supplements, exercised, and otherwise took good care of myself. There was no history of cancer in my family. I was scared and shaken, but I was determined to fight to live.

Seeing an oncologist, a radiologist, going through a battery of tests to determine that I had an estrogen-positive breast cancer…this all seemed to suck the light out of my life. I was full-tilt into the standard treatment of the allopathic medical world and found it frightening.

To organize all this information, I kept a large notebook listing each appointment with each specialist. I had so many questions written down and had left space under each question to write the answer, because in such stressful circumstances it’s hard to remember what is said. My notebook was my new bible, guiding me through the maze of appointments and information I never knew I would need to know.

My oncologist was a slight man with a broad, kind smile, who I trusted immediately. And the questions began. Through eight rounds of chemo, two different cycles of drugs…would I lose my hair? When, and for how long would I feel the effects of the chemo? Together we mapped out treatment that would work for me, as I wanted to keep working. There was mutual respect immediately, and he really listened to my concerns. My work as a Rolfer has always brought so much satisfaction to me, but now we were talking about survival. Not just surviving the cancer, but more basic worries: who would pay my mortgage, who would pay my bills? Through all this, I still had to work or risk losing everything.

I made it clear I did not want to be a statistic. I had cancer, but I did not want to be that person who loses their home, their way of life, their freedom or, simply, their life.

Sklar with mask

The Big Push
In many ways, all the training I had done since I was twenty-five years old—the physical, emotional and mental—were called into play during this time. I was choosing to not be a victim. I did not cause this to happen. I was not sulking. I was determined to survive this and learn from it.

For the first four chemo treatments, which took place on Thursdays, the effects would set in within 24 hours. They began Friday afternoons when I was on my way home from finishing my work week and getting my affairs settled. I would begin to feel as though I had cement drying inside my body—an acute, achy stiffness and extreme fatigue that would put me out of commission for two or three days.

Monday mornings I would wake up, get into the shower, and feel my stiffness lessen. By the time my first client arrived, my joints were again moving and I could begin my week.

I was told my hair would begin to fall out between days 10 and 14. And, just as I had been told, it did. My long hair had already been cut to chin length, but that morning in the shower, clumps of hair were sticking to my hands and all over the shower walls. Even though I knew it was coming, it was frightening. You can’t really prepare yourself for something like that.

Two days later, a friend came over with her son’s hair trimmer and she buzzed my scalp clean.

I had decided I was only going to be bald once in my life, so I bought a variety of wigs ranging from lavender with bangs to a long motorcycle-mama wig. I had a short curly wig, a red wig that was brighter than Ronald McDonald’s (we compared them at a breast cancer walk!)…I was determined to have some fun with it! I wore big earrings and turbans—my clients never knew what I would look like when they came in for their sessions.

The next four rounds of chemo took much longer and required a whole day to be administered. I would go in on Wednesdays, work Thursday and half of Friday, and boom—the exhaustion and drying cement sensation would hit, right on schedule. I am so thankful my oncologist took the time to see what schedule was best for me so I could receive treatment and continue to work.

Radiation started soon after the chemo was completed and again, I took charge of what I wanted for my schedule. Lunchtime was preferred as radiation required me to be there Monday through Friday for seven weeks. My lunch was often eaten in the car.

I chose this allopathic route to surgically remove the tumor and blast out any remaining cancer cells in my body. I chose to go to a plastic surgeon who skillfully reduced my other breast so I had a matching set. I chose the year of the special new drug to inhibit my estrogen levels, since I had an estrogen-driven breast cancer. I was told there were no known side effects from this year-long drug, but they were sure known to me. Instead of feeling better after the chemo stopped, I felt worse. Nothing felt normal to me.

Early in this process, my breast surgeon told me not to go on the internet for answers, to ask her instead. And for a while, I did. This time, I had to find out what was happening. I eventually found a list of side effects for this drug—and I had every one of them. The body ache and joint pain were unbelievable; my entire body was tender and sore. Prior to this, perhaps due to a lot of Rolfing sessions over so many years, I’d had very little pain. Now I was in pain every day, all the time.

Sklar with dogs

The Long Haul
I saw that year-long treatment through, and my health slowly returned after having had three surgeries to correct tissue damage from this drug. Thankfully, it was over…or so I thought. A complication led me to a surgical biopsy, where it was discovered I had necrotic tissue from the radiation. Another surgery to remove it and to match my other breast—again.

I refused to go on Tamoxifen, a drug that inhibits estrogen levels that is commonly taken for five years. I knew it had serious side effects, and I’d had enough. My naturopath had told me she could provide supplements that could do the same thing, and after a conference with my oncologist and a promise sealed with a handshake, we would try it for a year. The results were astounding—I had no side effects, I was back to my normal way of being, and my estrogen levels remained low. We tested for many years, and we were both beyond happy! To this day, fifteen years later, I still take those supplements. Why not?!

My journey through surgeries, chemical interventions, and lots of self-reflection ended with a healthier, stronger, smarter, and more determined self. I have a greater appreciation for life and it’s easier to forget the small annoyances. Taking charge and determining what was best for me, with guidance from my trusted physicians, made all the difference.

Take the time to know yourself, care for yourself, and trust yourself. Find professionals who will listen, whose ideas align with yours, and who are open-minded. The bottom line for a successful healthy life is to be prepared for what may come your way. Here’s to you and navigating your
own journey.

Sharon Sklar is in her 42nd year of private practice as a Certified Advanced Rolfer. State licensed and the only Rolfer in Central CT, Sharon works with direct manipulation of the soft tissue of the body and movement re-education over a ten-session series to help her clients feel freer, get more balanced, and reduce chronic pain. Great for athletes, children, and adults recovering from the stress, injuries, or traumas of life. Inquiries are encouraged! Call 860.561.4337 for more info or to schedule a consultation. Inquiries are encouraged!