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Excerpt from "Embrace, Release, Heal: An Empowering Guide to Talking About...Cancer"

My Story: Episode 3 - Spiritual

by Leigh Fortson


Excerpted from Embrace, Release, Heal: An Empowering Guide to Talking About, Thinking About, and Treating Cancer by Leigh Fortson (Sounds True, May 2011). Used with permission. © 2011 Leigh Fortson


After her third cancer diagnosis in three years, Leigh Fortson was given few options by her doctors and little hope for a bright future. For weeks, she mourned the life she thought she was losing—until she was introduced to an idea that changed everything: Our thoughts and emotions influence every cell in our body. This revelation gave her the hope that would begin her journey to becoming cancer free and more joyful than she’d ever been before.
Embrace, Release, Heal shares her inspirational story and the fruits of her research in one empowering book. Created to help anyone whose life has been affected by cancer, this in-depth resource offers interviews with both allopathic and integrative medical experts; remarkable accounts from people who transcended “terminal cancer” and are now thriving; snapshots of progressive treatment techniques; and insights into other key factors that can affect well-being—including thoughts, emotions, and diet.

In August of 2008, exactly two years after my first diagnosis and one year after the second, a routine CT scan revealed a small mass located next to my sciatic nerve.

“It’s probably nothing,” Dr. R. said sweetly. “We can wait three months and see if it grows, but if I were you, I’d want to know now.”

I put my head down on his desk and sat perfectly still. No tears. No emotion at all. I didn’t need a biopsy to confirm it; I knew what it was.

A week later, it was confirmed. This time, they called it metastasized. That’s when the tears came uncontrollably. I had been through so much—done so much to heal—and now this. Dr. R. had little to offer.

“I’m pretty sure we can take care of the tumor that’s there. But it’s what’s to come that . . . it’s what’s to come . . . ,” he said in a near whisper.

Ed and I spent two weeks, mostly in the privacy of our bedroom, trying to keep the measure of our terror from impacting the kids. I would collapse into tears on the bed, he’d hold me, and together we’d ask why—after we’d been through so much and with such a good prognosis—why was this happening?

I tried to make sense of my situation, yet it all kept coming up meaningless. Still, I had learned by then that it was up to me to find meaning in the situation and to do something with it. I had already decided that I would not cave in to the gloom and doom and do nothing. I’d learn about eating raw foods and work with alternative healers. I simply would not fold into the expectation of a bad statistic.

Ed and I agreed that if the cancer was in my system, I had better fill my system with the very best possible nutrients. I rifled through Kris Carr’s book Crazy Sexy Cancer Tips. At the age of twenty-seven, Kris had been diagnosed with twenty-four inoperable and incurable cancerous tumors on her liver. In her book, she writes that everything came together for her after she went to the Living Foods Institute (LFI) in Atlanta.2

I booked myself at the Institute for a twelve-day rendez­vous with how to prepare and live on raw foods. I also decided that I would start working with Dr. Barre Lando, DC, MICP, a brilliant alternative doctor who employed an eclectic and cutting-edge protocol. I called him early one morning while the kids were asleep. I sat shaking as we talked.

“First, there is no such thing as disease,” he said. “There are conditions that occur, and people put labels on them, then expect these conditions to act the way they did for every other person given that label. These people don’t consider that it’s just a set of conditions, and those conditions can change. It’s all about learning who you really are. You have the power,” he said, “to reverse the conditions right now. But you have to believe that.”

I didn’t.

He then launched into the research he’d done and how he’d put his scientifically based programs together, supported by samples of blood, urine, and saliva. The idea that there was no such thing as disease was a strong statement that took time to absorb, but I wanted to believe in his protocol. Then he said, “You can either engage in war on your body, which you’ve already done twice now, or you can engage in peace. Peace is my approach.”

He reported that he had seen people completely heal from cancer. He assured me that not only was it possible to heal, but also that by working with the body instead of against it (in other words, “burning and poisoning”), the chances of lasting recovery were greater.

“There’s no guarantee this approach will work for you,” he cautioned. “No one can give you a guarantee; it’s just a matter of which way you want to go. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter what treatment you choose. What matters is that you fully believe in whatever treatment you do. Ask yourself what’s motivating you to choose the treatment you’re going for. That will tell you a lot.”

Fear was motivating me to go with whatever conventional treatment an oncologist could find. Hope was motivating me to work with this man and heal. Really heal. I vowed to see him as soon as I could make it out to California, where he lived.

Before I left for Atlanta, I visited Dr. R. again. He was upbeat because of a new type of radiation called CyberKnife, which he felt could handle the latest tumor. Essentially, CyberKnife is the next generation of radiation. Unlike the “wide field” radiation I’d had before, this entered the body at hundreds of different points, all of which received a very low dose of radiation. Consequently, the rays would not interfere with healthy tissue. When all the points converged at the tumor, their combined dose apparently obliterated the cancerous tissue. There were supposedly no side effects and no debilitating burns.

Dr. R. was hopeful about the technology. I was open, but unsure. I liked the idea of working out my health issues with radishes rather than radiation. Painful experience had proven that the big guns just hadn’t worked for me before, so why would they this time? Dr. R. said it was my best option. He reiterated that the cancer had metastasized and there wasn’t anything else he knew to do. His eyes were fixed on the cold linoleum floor. I told him I’d check it out, but I also wanted to share my other plans with him.

“Alternatives,” he said in a soft voice, “won’t help others. If you get on a clinical trial, it might help others in your same situation.”

“But there’s been a lot of success with this diet and other alternative ways of—”

“All that gives you is false hope,” he interrupted.

False hope? What is false hope, anyway? Is it a term that people thrust upon treatments they don’t understand? Or does it mean investing in something that ultimately doesn’t pay off? If so, that’s exactly what happened to me after undergoing chemo, radiation, and surgery! In my case, the scientific promise of a 90 percent cure rate is what hadn’t paid off. That reeked of false hope.

“Alternative treatments,” he reiterated, “give false hope. I’m dealing with reality.”

I flashed back to something that had come to me while in the tunnel of an MRI machine: just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, reality is in the mind of the believer. I nodded with a new and deep understanding. I was on an adventure that had taken me out of Dr. R.’s territory, and now Dr. R. and I occupied completely dif­ferent realities.

I asked the next question purely out of curiosity, because I knew he was a religious man. “What about spontaneous remission? It happens.”

“Well . . .” He took a moment and pondered. I could only imagine what might go on in the mind of a well-meaning doctor whose high-tech science had failed him and who, in med school, isn’t taught how to talk about miracles. “I’m a man of science, but I’m also a man of God—and God can do whatever he wants.”

“Right,” I said. “I think so too.”

We sat in silence. I had grown to love Dr. R. He had done everything he knew to rid me of cancer, but what he knew didn’t work. After one too many beats of silence, we said an awkward good-bye.

A few days later, I was crippled with fear. What if Dr. R. was right? What if I was investing in hocus-pocus that would lead nowhere? What if there was nothing that anyone could do to help?

Motivated by the type of exhaustion that terror breeds, I decided to see a therapist. Diana’s bright eyes and clear pres­ence welcomed me into her office. “I’m afraid I might be dying,” I told her and then explained the situation. She knew my history. She knew the physical agony and emotional suf­fering I had endured. She knew the fears that pushed against me. She knew me, and she also knew that I was not dying.

“Look at you!” she bellowed. “You’re not dying! You have a centimeter-sized tumor in your butt! Other than that, you’re perfectly healthy, and your doctor has no idea what’s to come! This could be the last vestige of cancer within you! It could be all there is, and yet he’s leading you to believe that you could be dying? This is outrageous!”

Her fervor was infectious. She was right. I wasn’t dying! I was alive and healthy in every other respect. I was very much alive! I felt good! I had a small tumor, yes, but I absolutely was not dying.

Diana also told me about a book she was reading by Dr. Candace Pert entitled Molecules of Emotion:The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine.3 The book describes how our emotions can impact our cells.

“You’ve gotta read it,” she beamed. “You’ll understand what your choices are. And you do have choices.”

I told her I was thinking about writing a book. She smiled again, nodding silently. Embracing me, she said, “Yes. You have a book to write. You have choices, and you are not dying.”

This much was absolutely certain; I had no symptoms, and I was in no pain. Diana’s perspective and the condi­tions of my situation had given me the cosmic nod to move forward in a way that I was determined would heal me completely—on every level and in every way. I walked out of Diana’s office with confidence for the first time since my last visit with Dr. R.

Bouncing off the premise in Dr. Pert’s book, I accepted that the cancer must have something to do with the ener­getic tone set within me. Even Einstein said that we’re made up of nothing but energy. I had already done great work on forgiveness and releasing old fears and grievances, but I knew there must be more work to do.

So began weeks of contemplating the puzzle of why the cancer returned. In her book Intuitive Wellness: Using Your Body’s Inner Wisdom to Healing, Laura Alden Kamm describes cancer cells as “fiercely independent and rebellious.” She writes that the core emotional issues usually relate to fear, deep sadness, and grief, and that the spiritual intelligence of rogue cells are rooted in being afraid and restricted in life, a perception of being cut off from love or unable to truly express one’s uniqueness.4

I reviewed my life and soon focused on the time when Eddie and I had come within inches of splitting up. During that time, there had been more conflict than I’d thought I could stomach, and I had often found myself physically stricken with anguish, fearful that we wouldn’t make it as a couple, and equally terrified that we’d stay together, but remain miserable. I felt stuck and angry. I was absolutely experiencing fear, deep sadness, and grief over what I per­ceived as the loss of a good marriage. These were the very emotions that described the energetic nature behind cancer cells, according to Kamm.

Thankfully, we had made it through those difficult years. To this day, I maintain that the intense negative emotions I felt and the years I cast blame against Eddie were part of what broke down the cells in my body, creating an environ­ment for cancer to thrive.

Kamm’s insights graced me with another significant revelation. One day while driving alone in the car, I asked myself, “What part of myself have I left behind so there has to be rebellion?”

In a furious flash, an image came to my mind’s eye. A tall, lean, teenaged girl with long blonde hair appeared before me in a rage. “You abandoned me!” she screamed. “You left me behind, and I hate you for it!”

She didn’t resemble me, but there was no doubt that she was me. I knew instantaneously that she was my cre­ative self.

Since young adulthood, I had dreamed of being a suc­cessful writer. As an adult, playwriting was what attracted me most. The choices I made to marry, have children, and move to a small town in western Colorado catapulted me away from my dreams. Throughout the years, the demands of a life I had willingly chosen slowly chipped away at my creative ambitions, and I was haunted by that lost dream.

I didn’t know how to reconcile the angst within me. My passion for writing was the very stuff that had lit me up in high school. It’s what had driven me in college, where my first play was produced. It had given me the strength and confidence to move—by myself—to Hollywood and take a stab at the entertainment business. My creative heat was also what attracted Ed to me and me to him. He is made up of the same fire. In fact, when I first met Ed, he’d been writ­ing scripts and working as a still photographer on movie sets to pay the bills. He was—and still is—a soulful, talented musician. We met, married, and had kids. The rest is history.

I didn’t abandon my dreams entirely, however. Every year, I enjoyed productions of my plays in small theatres across the country. Still, those remote successes weren’t even close to what I had dreamed. But with a mortgage to pay, a job to keep, a marriage in need, and children to raise, that’s just the way it was. I had resigned myself to a life that was good in many ways, but one that left me feeling, in a very deep and private place, that I had betrayed myself.

I was startled by the rage of the blonde girl in my mind’s eye—and the fact that she was at least partially right. I hadn’t wanted to be a starving artist. I had wanted the comforts of a nice home, a functional car, and I especially craved a loving union with a man and children. I had chosen those things willingly.

“I didn’t totally neglect you,” I protested. “I’ve written plays and done creative things for years. Plus I was never going to give up a family for writing. I wanted that just as much.”

“But you came into this life to create, and now you’re working a job that has nothing to do with me and giving the rest of your time to your kids. You left me behind!”

She crossed her arms and turned her back to me. I couldn’t argue with her. In another quick flash, her name came to me: Raven.

“Raven?” I asked aloud, laughing uncomfortably at the character who had appeared in the confidential world of my mind. “How can your name be Raven? You don’t even have black hair.”

I was just about to turn on to the freeway when two large black crows flew in front of my windshield nearly smashing it. By the time I slammed on the brakes, they were gone. Never before or since have I come so close to hitting birds while driving.

“OK,” I said shaking with excitement as much as with adrenaline. “Your name is Raven.”

Still, her back was to me, just as mine had been to her—my dreams—for years. Although I did what I could in the context of my life, I was ignoring the very calling I had felt since childhood. There were times when I felt sick with sad­ness because I wasn’t living out that part of myself. It was just as Kamm’s book said: I had been grieving the loss of this part of myself for years; I hadn’t been expressing my creative unique­ness. I completely understood Raven’s defiance and anger.

Her expectations had been strong, and I had failed her. Her image vanished, but at least I had a handle on what I was up against. Or, more pointedly, what part of me was so deeply against me.

My journey was well underway by the time I saw an oncol­ogy specialist in Denver. I told him I didn’t want to hear his prognosis; I only wanted his ideas on solutions. He looked slightly perplexed and then explained CyberKnife, the radiation that Dr. R. thought was my best shot. My mind was wide open to whatever could help me. Working with Dr. Lando in California, eating raw foods, and undergoing CyberKnife were all showing up as compatible. They were a combination I could live with, believe in, and fully embrace.

A week later, I attended a five-day workshop at the Shambhala Mountain Center outside of Fort Collins, Colo­rado. It was called “Healthy Body, Happy Mind” and was facilitated by Dr. Mark Hyman. I had signed up for it prior to my last diagnosis, and I was considering canceling, as I was still in shock. Yet I had a strong feeling that it would be good for me to go.

It was the right decision. On the first day of the work­shop, Dr. Hyman said, “There’s no such thing as disease.” I laughed out loud. So Dr. Lando wasn’t the only one who proposed this radical notion. I took this as a very good omen.

The conference was about Dr. Hyman’s belief that physical disturbances, caused either by food allergies or vitamin or mineral deficiencies, are behind emotional issues such as bipolar disorder, borderline personality, and manic depression. His ideas fed directly into my belief in the rela­tionship between the mind and the body and how they are constantly at play.

At the close of one session, I approached Dr. Hyman. “How powerful do you think the mind really is?” I asked. “Can it heal us?”

“This is the most powerful pharmacy in the universe,” he said, tapping on his temple. “Right here.”

That was all I needed.

Leigh Fortson has coauthored and edited numerous books about health, nutrition, and alternative medicine. She spent decades learning about and practicing healthy lifestyle habits and was shocked to find out in 2006 that she had cancer. Today she has a clean bill of health and lives in Colorado with her family.

For purchase information, plus links to the experts interviewed in her book, visit www.embracehealingcancer.com


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