How Gratitude Saved My Life
After being diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer at the young age of 30, I found myself shocked and confused. I was “Miss Prevention.” I embraced all the right habits that were supposed to keep me healthy and disease-free throughout life; I exercised, ate well, and talked to others about wellness constantly. Now I was facing disease as a young wife and medical resident who was thinking about starting a family, despite all my best efforts on prevention.
Of course, after the diagnosis I launched into wondering what I did wrong in my prevention routine, what I missed. But I realized maybe I didn’t do anything wrong and I began asking what more do we need to understand about the body? How does it all connect and what more can we learn to help women prevent this? I also had to really identify how to prevent a recurrence for myself and I discovered new wellness practices for myself, and my patients, on that journey
This personal experience was the best education I could have gotten on understanding the many facets involved in healing, despite how difficult it was to receive in the beginning.
I knew when I was diagnosed that I had to deal with how I was reacting to stress, because now it was a matter of survival. So while I had always focused on what I could actively do to take care of my body, I realized how important it was to just let go sometimes. At that point in my life, my reactions to stress were having a large impact on my immune system, which really made me realize how much I needed to focus on this area. Finding that balance can be tricky, though, and in the process I discovered that joy, thanks to its ability to counteract stress, is another piece that needs to be nurtured in a daily wellness routine.
So, I began trying to understand stress and how most humans handle it, and at that same time I happened to see an episode of Oprah suggesting the practice of a gratitude journal. This was revelatory for me. It just made perfect sense to use gratitude as a way to focus on joy and therefore reduce stress, and I began trying to keep a gratitude journal for myself. At first, it was hard. I wouldn’t be able to think of anything I was grateful for! So I’d write down the basics: the sun, food, shelter. But over time it got much easier.
This practice was imperative for me in getting through the stages of grief pertaining to my diagnosis, especially that of depression. This allowed me to move forward to accepting the fact that I had cancer. It allowed me to overcome the deep grip of sadness and confusion about my situation and instead feel empowered about my recovery and what the future held for me.
I would start my daily gratitude practice with the challenge to find three new things to jot down. Not only was this key in expanding my perspective on all the good I have in my life, but it really helped to shift my focus away from the fear I had surrounding my cancer recovery. It changed the way I live on a minute-to-minute basis for the better, giving me more joy in every moment. And after learning more about mind-body medicine, I can see why this had such a positive impact on me. We know that the body is more supported in healing when the mind is in a positive place. It’s all connected, down to a cellular level, and without cultivating a better attitude and decreasing toxic stress, the rest of my body wouldn’t have felt ready to shift into a healing state.
Around the same time, my mom gifted me a session with a Reiki practitioner, Carol Lovely. I saw her once a week for a year and it completely change my life. It changed me in ways I can’t even explain and provided me with deep energetic healing. I learned to release the fear, trust my body again, and regain internal balance. I found it so helpful that I’ve suggested Reiki for many of my patients and seen equally as stunning results.
As a Functional Medicine doctor, I always want to understand the shifts that occurred over time to impact a patient’s health, what their triggers for disease are, and how we can remove those and help the body heal much more effectively. I believe incorporating these kinds of modalities is a major part of the healing process because our body, mind, and spirit are all connected and dependent on one another for balance, but often the body is the only piece of health we focus on.
Many of us choose to eat organic, exercise daily, avoid toxins, etc., but sometimes the stress we put on ourselves to live as healthily as possible can actually create stress that does the opposite. It all depends on your outlook, and for me using Reiki and celebrating all I have to be grateful for changed that outlook and allowed me to heal in ways I never expected. I also included guided meditation, visualization practices, breath work, and yoga into my treatment plan and found them amazing tools for energetic, mental, and physical healing.
After my own experience in beating cancer I was excited to help others do the same using these healing resources as part of an integrative treatment protocol. I now see the good in what was such a bad diagnosis, as I’m able to help my patients heal and discover new tools for lifelong wellness. Whatever your health goals and challenges, I highly recommend incorporating a gratitude practice into your wellness routine. You’ll feel less stressed and more joyful, calmer, and be able to more easily recognize the amazing moments that create each and every day. I’m certain you’ll find these tools as beneficial as I did on your personal health journey.