Reprinted courtesy Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman and The Townsend Letter – May 1998: http://www.townsendletter.com/index.htm
A New Year’s Surprise
We hope we don’t disappoint all of you avid homeopathic practitioners and enthusiasts, but we chose to write this month about another personally compelling health matter: my (Judyth’s) successful healing from breast cancer. It has been a tremendous learning experience for us and, we hope, may be for some of our readers. The diagnosis, as probably happens with most women, took me by surprise to say the least.
About to turn 50, I felt healthier than ever before. I had gotten down to 120 pounds thanks to the Zone Diet. I have a wonderful husband and friends, love my work, feel quite inspired spiritually, and live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.
For the past five years I had a nagging, pulling sensation around my left armpit, but my mammograms and ultrasounds were consistently normal except for an increasing tendency to benign cysts in the left breast. The sensation began shortly after my fifth miscarriage, so I attributed the changes to the hormonal fluctuations of the pregnancies. I did, however, develop a fear of breast cancer at that time.
In January my saga began when I was awakened in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in my left breast. The burning pain intensified over the next few days along with chills and a slight discharge from the nipple. It sounded to us like an acute mastitis.
I took homeopathic Carbo animalis which fit the local symptoms, and the pain improved dramatically within two days. I called my favorite radiologist, Irv Schiller, who had read all of my past mammograms. Irv, a benevolent, fatherly Jewish man who prays at his synagogue every morning, assured me that all was probably well but that he would like to repeat the mammogram as soon as the inflammation had subsided.
Then he took us aside and inspired us with some heartwarming Jewish stories and shared with us the Hebrew mantra Gam Zu La Tova, which means “May Everything Work Out For the Best.” It was a beautiful experience, not what you would expect to find at your typical mammogram appointment.
When the pain and discharge had largely subsided, I went back shortly afterwards for another mammogram. Although the mammogram still did not appear suspicious, the change in the breast tissue and the intensity of the recent symptoms bothered Irv.
An expert at reading mammograms day in and day out, he sensed something was wrong. With the aid of a magnifying glass, he carefully inspected my mammogram and was able to detect microcalcifications in the symptomatic area. Or so he thought because he still wasn’t sure if they were really there.
“You know,” Irv confided, “I don’t want to alarm you, but I think this is a carcinoma in situ.” The words we had dreaded. “You need to see a breast surgeon right away. If you were my wife,” he continued, “I’d send you to Diane Jones.”
Diane squeezed me in the next day after her surgeries. The breast examination and slide were inconclusive. Maybe a benign growth called a papilloma, maybe carcinoma in situ. The only way to know for sure was a stereotactic biopsy, an elaborate and expensive digital mammogram done in a hospital outpatient setting.
A ductogram, Diane recommended, was also advisable in order to rule out a papilloma or other ductal involvement. We left her office feeling positive and upbeat then called the next day to schedule the procedures. The tests would hopefully set our minds at ease.
We continued meditating and hoping for the best. The ductogram was no fun. They say that the breast is not a nerve-rich area, however inserting five tubes of gradually increasing size into the nipple in order to insert dye into the ducts was one of the more uncomfortable experiences of my life.
Whoever says there’s no significant nerve sensation in the breast should try a ductogram. Or maybe it was a man who came up with that theory. The stereotactic biopsy came next. After a rather gruelling hour of attempting to localize the microcalcifications in order to perform the biopsy, the radiologist ultimately met with success. I was assured that I would be called with the results the next day.
There was no phone call. Now I know that life or death feeling that many patients feel as they wait by their phones for their doctors to call. Diane did call the next day. The test was conclusive, she explained. No doubt about it. Every sample came back positive for ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). She guessed it had been around for five years or so.
You Get What You Need
Those first few days were pretty shocking. The first realization I had loud and clear, which has persisted throughout the entire experience, is my strong desire to live a long, healthy life. I love life and feel like I have many more years to enjoy and contribute. Lots more books to write, patients to help, unexplored travels, flowers, sunsets, precious moments with Bob, puppies, opportunities for contemplation and bliss.
There was a momentary flash of feeling sorry for myself, of wondering why I had lost the odds of one woman in eight who develop breast cancer. Then it became evident that I simply needed to move forward, to seek out every appropriate avenue that came to me, to find the healers that could best help, and to remain as positive and spiritually connected as possible at every moment.
It worked. From that time on, I received absolutely everything I needed and lots more. Susan Love’s Breast Book helped enormously as did the internet. For a cancer the size of mine, the universal recommendation was mastectomy. With a mastectomy alone I would have only a zero to two percent likelihood of recurrence in the same breast and a 12 to 15% chance in the other breast, which is not much more than the one in eight risk of any woman getting cancer.
The odds with mastectomy were excellent. I adopted a practical, survival-seeking attitude towards the idea of a mastectomy. I could live with one breast. Most of all I wanted to live. Since, by definition, DCIS was noninvasive, no radiation, chemotherapy, or Tamoxifen would be necessary.
I still wonder if I could have remained as positive and life-affirming if I really thought the cancer was invasive. The amount of support with which I was blessed was phenomenal. Every friend and patient who I told about the cancer was as shocked as I was.
One of my closest friends was convinced that the radiologist must have read someone else’s slides. “How,” everyone asked, “could someone who seemed so healthy” get breast cancer? That remains as a big question for me. I have heard that many women are diagnosed with breast cancer just when they feel they are most vibrant and alive.
Ultimately, however, few of us ever learn specifically why we develop cancer. And, unless removing the physical, environmental, emotional, or spiritual cause is possible, it may not ultimately matter why we got cancer. What seems most important to me is what we learn from the experience, how it brings us closer to God and to our own truth, and how it enhances the love in our lives. My family, friends, and patients, with very few exceptions, assured me that I would be fine.
Within a day or two of being diagnosed, I happened to see a patient of mine who is a breast cancer survivor. She shared some words of wisdom that still remain deeply imprinted on my mind: “One thing is sure. Being diagnosed with breast cancer helps a woman to get her priorities straight. And fast.”
I have found that women who have had breast cancer themselves are a tremendous source of information, encouragement, and wisdom. They are willing to take time out of their busy lives to listen and share. I hope that I never forget that, when friends, patients, acquaintances, and strangers with breast cancer seek me out for support in the future.
Speaking about priorities, being diagnosed with breast cancer was not on my 1998 “to-do” list. I had planned a wonderful celebration of my 50th birthday with friends followed by a three-week trip to New Zealand. We had signed up to hike the Milford Track, one of the most gorgeous hikes in the world, and had planned to drive New Zealand tip to tip, and to give a presentation at an international homeopathic conference in Auckland.
It became obvious that we would need to cancel the trip and that the three weeks would instead be a time for surgery and recovery. Ironically, it was the first trip we had ever taken where we purchased trip insurance, only because of the precarious health of my elderly mother. That call to Quantas to cancel our reservations was agonizing.
A Team of Healers
I had heard others with cancer talk about their network of healers. I knew that I could attract to me exactly those people who could best serve me in my healing process. It became quickly obvious that I wanted a breast reconstruction at the time of surgery and that the state-of-the-art procedure was called a free flap.
An eight to nine hour surgery in which a new breast was fashioned from a tummy tuck then the circulation reconnected with microscopic surgery; there were few surgeons expert in the method. I found Rena Wong, an extremely talented, upbeat, and positive plastic surgeon who had assisted Dr. Shaw at UCLA, touted by Susan Love as the master of the free flap.
Rena assured me that, because of my health and because I had just enough of a tummy left after losing those 20 pounds, for one breast, that I was an ideal candidate for the procedure. Though her office and her hospital of choice were nearly an hour away, she was definitely the right surgeon. Her success rate with free flaps was 100%.
That’s just what I wanted to hear. I did have a momentary weakness the night of our meeting with Rena. Trying to be as candid and doctor-to-doctor as possible, she explained all of the details of the surgery in order to prepare me. We escaped to a movie that night, me doubting whether I could actually go through with it. Bright and early the next morning, at Rena’s request, a patient of hers called who had just undergone the same surgery six weeks before. She was such an inspiration that I knew I, too, could do it.
I was also fortunate to meet with Dr. Glenn Warner, a compassionate, courageous, and wise oncologist who tragically lost his medical license in Washington. A pioneer in the field of holistic oncology, he offered helpful advice from his years of practice.
Through other fortuitous circumstances, I was able to contact two spiritual healers who came highly recommended, both, as it happened, from Encinitas, California. The first, Amsheva Miller, is a lovely, softspoken , angelic, and direct woman who learned a technique called cellular repatterning from a healer in Madras.
She just happened to be in the Seattle area teaching her technique the weekend I was diagnosed and had time for a healing on her way to the airport. The first time I sat with Amsheva, I drifted in and out of a gentle trance. The overwhelming feeling was profound peace. The most impressive result of the healing was that any fear I had of the cancer was released. When it began to return in a milder form a couple of weeks later, I had a telephone session with Amsheva and again the fear was lifted and has not returned.
The following weekend I had another remarkable experience. As I sat on an airplane next to a friend who also healed herself of breast cancer, I devoted the hours it took to fly from Seattle to Washington, DC to reading Deepak Chopra’s Quantum Healing.
I tried very hard to put his recommendations into practice on that airplane and had a type of out-of-time-and-space shift. It is very difficult to express in words, but those few hours truly convinced me that I could heal myself in a different way than I had known before.
When I arrived at the hotel and changed clothes, I was astonished to find that I had a profuse discharge from my breast. This only happened two other times. The other spiritual healer who worked with me may be a familiar name to some of you, Gene Egidio. Although I had never heard of him, I was given his name by two different people.
He is quite a famous healer and has been able to help many people with serious illnesses worldwide. Following each of Gene’s brief telephone sessions in which he emphasized I was a perfect child of God, he instructs his clients to sleep for an hour so that the healing can take effect. When I awoke from each of those sessions, I experienced the same heavy discharge. I hoped this meant that the cancer was leaving my body.
Support, Support, Support
My friends, family, patients, and, most of all, my husband, Bob, really came through in a way that filled me with deep appreciation. I received beautiful cards and flowers which reminded me of the bounty of love I have in my life. Some offered healings, others to arrange meals for us after my surgery, and still others a willing ear to listen. And Bob, my husband, he was just there. All the time.
The funny part about those six weeks between diagnosis and surgery was how clear and spiritually connected I felt. Having just returned from a four-day New Year’s retreat at Mount Madonna Center in Watsonville, California surely helped. As the days passed, I felt more and more in tune with my higher self. I was not depressed or angry or wanting to change places with anyone else. A friend joked that if I kept going in that direction, maybe I’d gain enlightenment out of the cancer experience. That I did not, but it did bring a renewed peace and love of life.
As a homeopath, I wanted to find the most appropriate colleague to assist me. I chose Divya Chhabra of Bombay, a highly perceptive, insightful, and brilliant physician as well as being a charming and beautiful woman. I am also lucky to have Divya as a friend.
When she heard about my situation, she said she would be happy to treat me and that I could see her in Hawaii where she was giving a seminar two weeks before the scheduled surgery. That was a wonderful experience. Divya not only took three and a half hours to take my case in depth, but then refused to let me pay.
The same thing happened with two other naturopathic doctors, experts in cancer, who gave me recommendations free of charge. The day before we saw Divya we kayaked out to Kealuakekua Bay near Captain Cook monument on the island of Hawaii. We had taken the trip twice during an earlier trip in search of the elusive dolphins. This time we found ourselves in the midst of 20 or 30 spinner dolphins who put on a delightful show for us for about 40 minutes. Bob said they came to heal me.
Several people were convinced that the powerful spiritual healings I was given had cured the cancer. At moments I, too, believed that and certainly hoped for it. I was always certain, however, that I would go ahead with the surgery unless I had evidence that the cancer was gone. Although DCIS is non-invasive, no one could guarantee that it would not turn into an invasive cancer sooner or later. It was the sooner that troubled me and studies showed that that could even occur within five to ten years and I probably already had it for five.
A physician told me about another woman who underwent a type of metabolic healing at a Tijuana clinic. She, too, had DCIS. When she returned from Mexico, her physician, having no confidence in the treatment program she had chosen, insisted that she have a mastectomy. She followed his orders and the biopsy of her breast revealed no cancer.
Not wanting to experience the same disappointment, I asked Diane if she could do a biopsy on the table in order to make sure I still had breast cancer. She replied, “Sure. We can do a frozen section. We all need to believe in miracles. If there’s no cancer, there won’t be any mastectomy.” This was extremely reassuring. It also meant that once I went into surgery, I could either come out in an hour or two cancer-free with both breasts or eight to nine hours later with a mastectomy. I was actually able to surrender so that whichever ended up happening I could accept.
One of the high points of my week before surgery was a terrific 50th birthday party where I was surrounded by loving friends. So many blessings. The party concluded with a healing circle in which I not only received prayers and more love, but friends even sang to me. The atmosphere was truly magical, one which I will never forget.
A couple of family crises interrupted the uncannily perfect cancer experience, if such a thing exists. Bob’s wonderful cousin, a saintly-type art teacher of inner city kids in New York who was born only four days after him, was diagnosed with an extremely aggressive glioblastoma (brain tumor).
It was a terrible shock to us and to his whole family. Then, two days before the surgery, my mother’s nursing home called to tell us that my 88-year-old mother appeared to be dying. Her pupils were pinpoint, her breathing very labored, and her lower extremities stiff and filled with fluid.
We went over immediately to assess the situation for ourselves. My mother was unresponsive, we could not wake her, and she looked like any breath could be her last. It seemed certain that she would die either that day or while I was in the hospital. I spent the day, in between patients, calling her sister and arranging with mortuaries and rabbis to transport her body to St. Louis. I couldn’t quite believe all this was happening to me. It seemed too absurd to be real.
The Surgery and Its Aftermath
I was supposed to fast on clear liquids and take a couple of enemas the next day. It was odd because this was just the regimen I followed in the past during my many juice fasts. We arrived at the hospital very early the morning of the surgery. It was at this time that I really began to realize I was the patient. Gown, tight stockings, IV’s, the whole bit.
Bob was a godsend at the hospital. He read to me from a very wonderful book, Silence of the Heart, by Robert Adams, a realized being who was able to merge with divine consciousness from the age of fourteen. By the time I went into that operating room, I felt so calm and relaxed that I was probably halfway anesthetized already. I could hear the tape of Primordial Sound which I had brought in, playing in the background, and after the anesthesiologist cracked a joke, I was out cold.
The next thing I knew someone was gently shaking me announcing that the surgery was over. I awoke with the thought “I am that I am” and then asked what time it was so I could tell whether I had the mastectomy or not. “Five o’clock” was the response. Okay, I thought, no spontaneous healing after all. I was so happy to be alive.
The next four days in the hospital were just fine. Instead of being on the ICU, I was given a private room. With a free flap surgery, this is most practical since the room must remain at 85 degrees day and night and the breast must remain uncovered so that it can be monitored hourly with a doppler.
There were also temperature strips to monitor the breast to make sure that the reconnection of the circulation was successful. The nurses were very helpful and caring, the staff allowed Bob to set up a VCR in the room so we could watch movies, and I didn’t have to deal with hospital food because I was only on liquids the whole time.
I even had a view of Mount Rainier and Puget Sound, although I couldn’t appreciate it until the morning I left since I basically couldn’t get out of bed. A private room with a VCR, around the clock room service, a morphine drip to keep me pain-free, and a spectacular view. What more could you want?
On day three I started to go stir crazy. Living in a sauna, having my legs bound in pneumatic stockings to prevent clotting, being catheterized, and swimming in an IV, drains and an oxygen tube suddenly got to me.
Despite all of the amenities, I was ready to go home. I missed my bed and my golden retrievers. Not to mention fresh air. I realized that discontinuing the morphine and being able to walk around was my ticket to freedom. After a couple of foiled attempts to even sit up in bed due to overpowering lightheadness, I finally accomplished a successful 5-minute walk around the nursing station. I felt such gratitude for even being able to walk that far after being flat on my back for three days. The next morning I promptly requested that the IV and catheter be removed and was ready for home.
Recovery: One Step at a Time
I am such an optimist and I’ve seen homeopathic and naturopathic medicine work such wonders with patients after surgery. A couple of days of Arnica, I thought, and I’ll be pain-free. Wrong. Recovery has probably been the most humbling experience of all. Finding a comfortable position to sleep was impossible. Bob had to wash my hair for me for the first week.
I greeted the friends who delivered delicious meals in my bathrobe. The pain was intense. Percocet made me nauseated and taking homeopathic Tabacum to relieve the nausea got old. I tried Ibuprofen for the first time ever and it gave me heartburn. The side effects were worse than the cure so I opted to deal with the pain without drugs.
Day by day things slowly improved. They say you feel after surgery like you’ve been hit by a mack truck. That didn’t happen to me. Other than a nap here and there for the first week to ten days, my energy was surprisingly good, especially my mental energy. I enjoyed reading from the very beginning and within days I found myself back at the computer working on our next book.
But I kept my commitment to not see or even discuss any patients for three weeks. Bob took ten days off his practice beginning with the surgery and met my every need. Then he went back to the office and cared for my patients as well as his. It’s no wonder that, by the time I eventually went back to work, he was exhausted.
Even though my recovery is ahead of schedule according to my surgeon and she’s thrilled with my progress and has already had two prospective free flap patients call me for encouragement, I’m amazed at how long a full recovery takes. As I write this article, six weeks post-surgery, I am back at work full-time. We travelled to San Diego a week ago to give presentations at a national homeopathy conference.
I continue to work on our book, cook meals, and am even starting to pull weeds, do yoga, and have a tennis lesson scheduled this week. However the pain persists more than I would have thought. A patient I saw last week had a tummy tuck. “Give it three months till the pain’s gone and a year till the scars are no longer red.” And my surgery was much more extensive than hers. It was very helpful to have a reality check.
An Attitude of Gratitude
I am thankful in many ways for having had cancer. It has brought me much closer to friends who I have sometimes neglected due to what I thought were higher priorities. It has made me feel a closer bond than ever with Bob. I believe that I am much better able to understand what people go through who have cancer and other serious illnesses.
I feel more committed than ever, despite my positive experience, to help my patients avoid surgery if at all possible. I thank my healers and every person who in any way helped me through this challenging time. I am so grateful that my mother has not only survived but, thanks to her being taken off of her own pain medication and to our giving her a homeopathic remedy, is doing better than she has in months.
Instead of being too confused and disoriented to even understand that I had breast cancer, she is a delight and has finally asked for a television, radio, to walk again, and I can read her the letters from the 1930s that my father wrote to her.
Unfortunately, Bob’s cousin, John, did not fare so well. He died two weeks ago of his brain tumor at 46 years old. Diagnosed within a week of each other, only by the grace of God do I live and did he die. I have been forced to confront my greatest fear and have found the greatest peace.
Sure, my body’s a bit rearranged but women who have gone through it assure me that in time I will forget about it entirely, although I do want to remember the personal lessons I learned about love, God, friends, and courage. Already, in clothes, no one could ever tell what I went through. I will surely get twice-a-year mammograms for awhile and Irv will undoubtedly take a magnifying glass to each of them. And we did reschedule our trip to New Zealand for next year. In fact it’s an even better trip. Truly the only words I have to say are “Thank you.”