Sporting a Harley Davidson jacket, Kathy Beck swings her leg over the seat of her bike, gearing up to head out for a day trip to Manitoulin Island. Life is good, real good, she thinks to herself, as she draws in a deep breath, taking in the earthy smell of damp leaves scattered around her. She admires her own natural mindfulness – not a trait she would have been defined by a year ago. It's difficult to be mindful if one is filled with anxiety, gripped with headaches and keeled over from fatigue – not to mention just plain old stressed out.
But cancer has a way of stopping you in your tracks, she says, if for any other reason than to shake you, and wake you up to a more mindful way of living.
She has just wrapped up another chemotherapy session and is feeling pretty awesome. Swapping out sugar and white flour goodies for superfoods, veggies and fruits may not have been what her doctor ordered, but for Beck it was just the prescription she needed to help her thrive with cancer. "You eat a lot less when you eat healthy. It actually costs us less to eat healthy. We used to go to Costco and spend $300 to $400 in groceries. When you're getting the nutrition that your body needs you're not constantly looking for something else to eat."
Coupled with a healthy dose of daily meditation and self nurturing, and she found herself well on her way to healing. If there was ever a poster child for thriving and feeling incredible while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, Beck would be up front and centre.
There is no coincidence or luck involved in Beck's outcome, just a sheer determination to do whatever it would take to support her body's cry for spiritual and physical attention. For Beck, a 53-year-old Greater Sudbury resident who was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in April 2016, the cancer was merely a symptom of her malaise – too many years living under stress, physically and emotionally, and practically a lifetime of taking care of everyone else, but herself.
She embraced the cancer, "loving it" for helping her turn her life around, rather than waging a war against it.
Doctors initially planned a course of chemotherapy sessions prior to a mastectomy because one of the lymph nodes was attached to the chest wall, so the intent was to shrink it. After the chemotherapy, she was to undergo a mastectomy, then radiation treatments. It came as no surprise to Beck that her post-chemo report stated they could not clinically detect the tumour in her breast, nor was the lymph node fixed to the chest wall, and it actually felt benign, her doctor had recorded. No mastectomy was required.
"I am learning that so many people go through their cancer with blinders on," Beck says. "They do exactly what the doctor's tell them. They don't research anything; they put 100 per cent faith in the western medical process. It should be a combination of western, holistic, spiritual, and it should definitely encompass nutrition."
Within four months after her diagnosis she had shed 40 pounds, and, although her oncologist stressed that she needed to maintain her weight because she was "ill" Beck took a different stand. Since her diagnosis she has completely revamped her lifestyle, "radically" changing her diet, and approach to living, and the results of her overhaul have been obvious – no sickness or fatigue during chemotherapy, feeling energized and better than ever, and even dropping down to a healthier weight.
"I argued with my doctor because he wanted me to gain weight," Beck says. "I told him I was not going back to eating crap so that I can stay fat.
"I told him I feel better than I've felt in 10 years, and he just looked at me and said 'Well, that's not normal.'" Challenging conventional wisdom has led to one too many arguments between herself and her oncologist, she says. Every time she would ask him about the different approaches she was taking – like vitamins, supplements and superfoods – he would give responses like "who's feeding you this stuff?" Beck says. "I argued with my oncologist one day when I brought up the topic of sugar and the link to cancer, and he just told me "No, we need sugar to survive. He said there's no link between sugar and cancer."
Yet there is too much evidence to ignore the link, she says. "I stopped asking my doctor because it would lead to an argument. I did what I felt was correct. My intuition will tell me if something is not right. I don't believe it has ever failed me. That's where the meditation comes in – calming your mind enough to hear what your intuition is telling you." The thing is, when one really, really listens, the answers come, says Beck, who had never explored spirituality or energy healing prior to her diagnosis.
It was actually after a couple of BodyTalk™ energy healing sessions that Beck felt nudged to begin a meditation practice after her first chemotherapy session. Each night she would sit in silence in the bathtub, and meditate, visualizing her tumours, hugging them and letting them know she loved them, and thanking them for their message, then visualizing letting them go, she says. She has also found meditation beneficial prior to the chemotherapy sessions, she says.
"Before going for treatments I would talk to my body and let it know what was coming and I found that by doing that there were far less side effects." Everyone's journey with cancer is unique to the individual, Beck says. You need to find your own path. "It's incredible what guidance comes to you when you are open; and you arrive at that place by becoming mindful."