I arrived at Living Valley Health Retreat in October 2015 feeling depleted, exhausted and broken after a year of intense Chemotherapy and Radiation treatment. Here I share with you my story of survival, a story into my life last year, how I felt at the end of my treatment and the transformation that I experienced after 14 nights at Living Valley Health Retreat – A very different girl to the one that arrived!
The Diagnosis, Surgery & Treatment
It was February 17th, 2015. I remember the date clearly. I was told the news that you don’t ever believe that you will hear ‘Beck you have Breast Cancer and in my honest opinion you need immediate treatment and surgery.’ My life in that moment in time, changed forever. My cancer was already at a very advanced stage and the tests were showing that it had started to spread. The tumour was grade 3, stage 3, triple negative and for those that don’t know what this means, it means that the cancer was at a very aggressive stage.
I carry the BRCA1 gene which is a genetic mutation passed on at birth by a parent, my Mum in fact. This gene is very strong in my family and we have lost many relatives both females and males, however many have survived – just like myself including my beautiful mum! Because I am a carrier of this gene, I have been having ultrasounds and mammograms for the past 10 years. I was three months off my yearly scans when I found a lump. It was rock solid and protruding out of my left breast. I had been feeling run down and very tired, which was unusual for me. But when I found that lump I got that anxious sick feeling, I just knew what it was. I went to the doctor straight away, a biopsy was booked and within one week I was laying in a hospital waiting for a double mastectomy. My life as I knew it was about to change, life was heading in another directly on fast forward. After the double mastectomy I started weekly chemotherapy for a gruelling six months, with daily radiation treatment to follow over 5 weeks and a few other surgeries thrown in as well. It felt as though I was trying to drowning and struggling to keep afloat.
The months to follow were an absolute blur and the surgery was tough, really tough! I woke up in a lot of pain and then everyday to follow. My body was struggling and so was my mind. The drive that kept me going was the huge support network that constantly surrounded me, my gorgeous friends and family, the amazing team of doctors and the nurturing natural healers that strengthened my heart and body. These beautiful people kept me focused and made everything that much easier to deal with and accept. One thought that never left my mind was to live! I remember calling my mum and one stage saying I have to stop treatment, I just can not go on, it is too hard, it hurts, I feel sick and I just need to stop. She told me to never, ever give up because the world needed me! So I thought of those words so often.
After my surgery I spent the next few weeks with drains protruding from my chest, consistent mind numbing pain, and not being able to sleep. I felt odd, like a part of me was missing and there was the endless mind chatter but that was nothing compared to the restless, painful, sleepless nights that followed.
On top of all this was the stress of money, money was tight. If I chose to go the public system it could of been too late. So I decided to go privately and due to this I had to continue to work part time to pay the out of pocket expenses. I can honestly say this was a struggle in its own right however I was lucky to have such a supportive family and friends to help me. Fortunately after surgery I had some annual leave available to use, so I was able to spend the next few weeks recovering. It was after this time I started Chemotherapy, I had to go back to working three days to earn just enough to cover rent, food, medication, surgery, natural therapies. All of these necessities are not not cheap, but I had no option but to follow this path. Through my continued support of family and friends I kept focused on the end result thus helping to keep my mind strong. My dear friend Michelle who is a Naturopath would spend hours with me, nurturing and strengthening my mind and body through natural medicine. Every day throughout this journey I meditated, every day sometimes all day as much as I could. Often the mind chatter would not stop but it helped and Yoga was a huge part of my healing also.
During the months that followed surgery and chemotherapy I focused all of my energy on a holistic recipe for recovery and strength. The ingredients consisted of good whole food nutrition, lots of sleep and rest time, walks by the ocean, laughs with family and friends, mindfulness, meditation and yoga as mentioned. Mixing these the right way was such an integral part of my healing. I also dropped in the mixture a Chinese Doctor, herbs from my Naturopath and regular acupuncture. Fortunately I also had an incredible Oncologist that supported my choice to continue with Natural Medicine during my treatment, I believe this played a major part in my recovery in the end.
A couple of months into recovery I was told I had to go back in for a few more surgeries, this rocked my boat and I started to panic, I felt anxious thus leading to bouts of depression. All my strength and the goodness that had gone into my body I felt draining away. I now felt emotional, depleted, stressed, anxious and depressed and and I was tired oh sooo tired it had been over 6 months of gruelling treatment and I felt like I had barely slept. Lack of sleep thrown in with drug induced menopause was not a good mix. Yes you heard right I was now in full blown menopause. My head and body had changed and I felt like it was spiralling out of control and I couldn’t control it.
My body was now in full menopause from the drugs and that alone is not a nice process to have to experience on top of everything else. However, as I am a stubborn and determined person I pushed myself as hard as I could to rise each day with a grateful heart and to smile because at the end of the day I was alive, I was fighting this and I was winning! My strong and determined mind never let me down, I constantly thought about my future, about feeling well, about sleeping soundly, about having fun with my family and friends. I knew I had so much to live for, so much to look forward to and that I was loved by many and this drove me to push forward.
Let me tell you, My Mum was my rock, my hero, I called her many times because I needed her, I needed her to help me, listen to me, to give me that hope. At times I felt I was falling, I felt I could not take it anymore, then she would help me push forward and climb that mountain a little bit more. I couldn’t take the drugs, the pain, the sleepless nights, everything was going in slow motion, I was sick of hospitals, doctors, blood tests, appointments and I just wanted my normal health life back! I was exhausted and I was so over it.
My mum was my saviour she kept pushing me, she told me to stay strong, that I was a fighter and that I could do this. She said the world needed me, that I had too much to give and to never, ever, ever give up. So I didn’t!
Once the journey had finished all I wanted to do was escape, I needed to feel the sun on my body, I needed good food and loads of rest. Actually I felt like running away and just being on my own. My amazing friends organised a fundraiser and I used the money to book a 14 night detox retreat to Living Valley Health Retreat in the Noosa Hinterland on the Sunshine Coast, QLD. I had heard about the medically designed detox programs that they offered for pre and post treatment and I just knew that it was the perfect escape for me.
This turned out to be the BEST DECISION I have ever make. It changed and saved my life all at the same time.
So one week after finishing treatment I packed the car, hit the road, spent some time recovering on the gorgeous beaches of the Sunshine Coast, immersing myself in sunshine and yoga and then I headed over to Living Valley for 14 days of recovery.
I often think back to how I felt when I arrived at Living Valley – my head was foggy, I was crying a lot, I was not sleeping still, I had gained a lot of weight from all the steroids, my skin was severely burnt from the Radiation and I felt just unwell and not my normal vibrant self.
On my second day I met with Toby (John Tobin), Living Valley’s head Naturopath and I was amazed at his knowledge about Breast Cancer. He knew a lot and he had great advice and he genuinely cared about what I had experienced and wanted to support me with my recovery. Together we created a life long plan of health moving forward and to this day I am very much on journey.
He placed me onto a Ketogenic diet, cut out all sugars and encouraged me to have detox clay wraps and steam up to twice a day in Living Valley’s russian steam bath, which I did. My two weeks consisted of 4 days of cleansing both weeks, detox mud wraps, facials, massages, steam baths, sunshine, beautiful bush walks and even a hike to the top of Mount Cooroora, twice!
During my two weeks I had three appointments with Toby, he also did a live blood analysis to check my cells and gave me a detailed plan to take home. The information he shared and the research that he did to help me understand this disease so much better and it gave me the tools to work with to make positive changes to my nutrition and life moving forward.
I am sharing my journey in the hope that this reaches out to the many women and men suffering not only from breast cancer but many chronic illnesses and diseases and to let you know that Living Valley can help, it honestly changed my life and I do not think I would be as well as I am if it wasn’t for my two weeks here!
When I arrived I was depleted, I had no energy and when I left I felt as though I could have run a marathon, the transformation was unbelievable! I had completely regained my health, I was exploding with vitality and I was ready to start my new, healthy life.
I was able to take all of the lessons and education that I gained from my time here and make them a part of my life. From the moment I left the anxiety and depression went, never to return and the burns from Radiation had completely healed after 10 days.
My heart is full of so much gratitude for the wisdom shared here, for the devotion of the therapists and to all of the staff for caring for me and supporting on my journey to wellness.
Thank you Living Valley Health Retreat.