My Basic Cancer Overview

photo: Fuzzy Gerdes

photo: Fuzzy Gerdes

“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.”
—Cayla Mills


Just over 2 years ago, upon returning from a dream yoga retreat in Costa Rica, I found out that we lost (not cancer related), my only sibling, my sister who was my absolute best friend. And I got really, REALLY sad. Three weeks after that, my boss proposed that I become the new owner of the business where I had been working as manager and yoga instructor. It was within a week of my birthday. He made me an offer that made sense and after taking some time to ponder the enormity of that reality on top of my then recent new reality, I said, 'Yes!" Within less than a year's time from that moment, I was the owner of a fully functioning yoga studio – where I continued to work and over work in attempts to make it mine. Too much of a good thing, can often be great and it can also not be so good at the same time... (But I so love the work.)

Serving others, the staff and teachers that I manage, the students I teach, and the customers who I enjoy seeing, was a way for me to move out of the intensity of my grief about losing my sister. As such, I was becoming my work and, my work was over taking me. Basically, I was working hard and tired, but feeling pretty blessed all the way. I love what I get to do for a living. I’m fully committed to the cause and the vision that I had put on my new business venture. I became more focused on it, how it affected others and I honestly neglected a healthy balance for my own life —which is true of many who care for others.

Its not news that healthcare industry is a dicey topic. The entity is part champion in its task and purpose to take care of and heal people, and it is also incredibly compounded by the big business that it has become. The system is one that works really well for some people and for others, not so much. There is a range. When pharmaceutical companies get the green light to sell and market medications that have a list of side effects longer than the symptoms that the drug is meant to rectify, that doesn't seem healthy to me. We scramble (or not), to afford premiums; wait for over 2.5 hours past our appointment time to be seen; find out that the doctor we want to see is out of network, not available to fit us in for 4 months from now;  in some cases doctors are too busy to return our phone calls or simply not taking on more patients at the moment?? True story: it's a mess, but it often does work? And that's what we got, but even that depends on a lot... Thankfully despite my not having health insurance, I enrolled in a remarkable program years ago that allowed me access to yearly doctor’s visits. I was diligent about keeping up with them. It was during one of my follow up visits for a mammogram/sonogram that I was told that I needed to have a biopsy on the tiny lump that I had discovered a couple months prior. The biopsy results came back positive and on January 14, 2016. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. After an unfortunate and uncomfortable experience with my first doctor, that in hindsight, has become a truly fortunate result that caused me seek out a second opinion. I found a medical team I could not only work with but trust. That second opinion, which included a 3D-Mammogram and MRI, actually confirmed that I had 3 cancerous legions in my right breast that needed to come out, and some other stuff that the first doctor would not have discovered, (but that's another cray-cray story). And, it was because of all of that, I would not be a candidate for a lumpectomy. In order to become cancer free, a mastectomy was recommended.

EARLY DETECTION IS IMPORTANT and even at that, there are some less than ideal choices to decide between. And...EVERYONE'S CANCER IS DIFFERENT. Luckily mine was caught early enough that it did not make me a candidate for Chemo-therapy. And, I refused the radiation treatment that was only expected to yield a 2-5% chance of benefit for me. That was a really difficult decision as my oncologist held firm that the treatment would help lessen the possibility of recurrence. Ultimately, the small percentage, and the negative toll that radiation would have had on my body and worse, the detrimental drain on my spirit, did not sit right with me. Literally, while I was laying in the machine being measured and where I received my 6 pin pointed dot tattoos to accurately align me for each radiation treatment, I realized that I couldn't make the reality of radiation make sense for me. And that is where I made that quality of life decision for myself. Refusing radiation allowed me to get off the sick train and energetically take some responsibility for my own healing and get back to living my life. In the end, because of the low risk of recurrence, my oncologists were "not uncomfortable" with my decision against radiation. In that moment I was able to move forward with gratitude and determination towards my work to become more disciplined in more healthy eating, regular meditation, yoga practice, and in attempting to get more sleep. In lieu of the 6.5 weeks of daily radiation therapy that would have exhausted my essence, instead I chose to have MY (absolute favorite season) summer! I spent invaluable time with friends, celebrated my parent’s 50th Wedding Anniversary with them at their house in Maine; did a Yoga for Cancer Teacher Training in Massachusetts, (which helped me to better understand in real time what was happening in my body). I returned to my yoga practice and went back to teaching even if only on an abbreviated schedule; flew to Texas to visit my friend Jackie —and as it turns out, meet a man along the way who reminded me that I am pretty damned special! All in all, post cancer I've resumed normal living and am working towards creating a quality of life that appeals to me and my needs. And though, I remain on the fence about how I feel about the very surreal idea of being referred to as a ‘Survivor’. I was lucky. In this entire year,  which is soon to be over, (Hallelujah and good riddance!!) I have truly experienced and lived through so much. Now for many of us who have fallen through the healthcare cracks of the past, the future and uncertainty of what is to come poses considerable concerns not only for us, but for all.


Teri Gandy-Richardson