Published on January 3, 2020
When I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer in 2017, the furthest thing from my mind was the word “heal.” Heal was a word for people who had curable diseases, not to be used by someone who was merely treatable for a time, like me. How does someone heal from an incurable illness? What is the cure for an existential crisis?
I’m still here two-and-a-half years later. Why? I have no idea. Cutting-edge medicine, for sure. I’m on my third line of treatment, a pill I take at night before bedtime, which directlytargets my type of mutation and keeps the cancer from spreading. Whenever this treatment stops working – months or years from now, nobody knows – I will likely move on to a sophisticated cocktail of chemo and immunotherapy or a combination of off-label drugs which will continue to extend my life. I have faith all these therapies will be effective because the ones that came before it stopped the cancer! But these solutions don’t work for everyone and many have lost the battle with lung cancer; some of them were my friends. Patients can achieve NED (no evidence of disease) yet the cancer will reappear again later. So, I realize I’m not in control of when my disease advances or when I will die but I am in control of my attitude and willingness to be open to new ideas and influences. I think that may be one of the reasons I’m still here. I wondered, what wouldn’t I do to help myself heal?”
I’m currently being co-parented by two oncologists; one of them is Dr. Ross Camidge, the most well-known in the world for treating my specific disease. How lucky for me that he’s located in my hometown of Denver! I interviewed him last year for Patient Power and we talked about his advice for new lung cancer patients. Dr. Camidge said cancer patients don’t want to feel like they are simply being ordered around, poked and prodded, shuffled from appointment to appointment. Many of them want to have a say in their treatment plans. And for me, that’s where my agency comes into play. After I recovered from the initial shock of my diagnosis – which took several months – I got inquisitive. And I did A LOT of things (which I will list below). I spent a lot of money and I learned some valuable lessons. My takeaway: cancer is a part of you. It’s a part of you that you don’t want to be there, but it is, indeed, a part of you. And it’s giving you a signal – what is out of balance? – and a reminder: live life.
Here is a list of things I did after my initial diagnosis:
- Switched to a vegetarian diet (that didn’t last long, but I’ve recently picked it up again)
- Visited an MD naturopath (who recommended I begin the paleo diet)
- With the approval of my special pharmacist,started taking a long list of herbal supplements (none of which I am taking now)
- Started making and taking FECO oil (full extract cannabis oil [CBD oil].) By no means do I recommend this for anyone as it’s a personal decision. There are no FDA-regulated CBD oil products that are used in the treatment of lung cancer that I know of. (I still take this occasionally even though it magnifies the side effects of my cancer medication.)
- Watched the documentary Heal (www.healdocumentary.com) and then bought a copy! Turns out a friend knows one of the healers featured in the film, Rob Wergin, and I started working with him for hands-on healing sessions. I still work with him to this day and have attended one of his retreats and numerous healing sessions.
- Read the book Radical Remission (HarperCollins, 2014). I also attended the Radical Remission workshop run by Kelly Turner, PhD, who authored the book. The workshop helps people implement her key takeaways into their daily lives. Certified teachers, most if not all 5-year-cancer survivors themselves, now teach the workshops.
- Became a certified holistic coach by attending coaching school at Wisdom of the Whole Teaching Academy. Although I’m not actively coaching, attending the year-long program greatly impacted my way of thinking.
- Enrolled in a spirituality school where I rubbed elbows with mediums, healers, channelers and divine beings.
- Started receiving sound healing. These sessions include instruments like singing bowls or tuning forks, and the sound is thought to help calm the mind and heal the body.
- Began floating in isolation tanks. This is not as terrifying as it sounds! Floating for 50 minutes in a pod is believed to be equivalent to 4 hours of restful sleep. (Plus, floating is fun, and the saltwater is great for your skin and detoxing.)
- Started attending meditation sessions in a salt cave. Salt caves are usually affiliated with a spa and offer help with respiration and relaxation.
- Started meditating again. About two years before diagnosis, I was introduced to meditation through the book Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself by Dr. Joe Dispenza, who is now a world-renowned meditation guru. I was also fortunate enough to attend one of his two-day workshops, which reinforced the importance of the mind-body connection.
- Sought the guidance and healing of a Reiki master. I also attended a virtual class to help me try to rediscover my purpose after my diagnosis.
- Bought countless books about healing, nutrition, spirituality, philosophy, religion.
- Attended a lung cancer conference and joined an online support group. The connections I made through these two simple actions really shaped the next two years of my life.
- Started working again.
- Started dating again.
- Threw some parties.
- Took some vacations.
I’ve come to the conclusion that recovering from incurable cancer is really a healing journey of the mind. I follow my doctor’s orders and take my daily cancer-fighting pills, plus a whole bunch of others to offset the side effects, but calming my mind is the best way to help heal an incurable diagnosis.
– Laura Levaas
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I could just feel this whole audience being uplifted in hope and in survivorship and getting the message from all these professionals. This just opens medicine up tremendously.