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Love Your Body, Love Yourself

© 2014 by Jennifer Read Hawthorne

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be
afraid of it or of what other people think of it.
It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.
Kurt Vonnegut

I sat in my therapist’s office, crying. “It doesn’t matter how much I do—it’s never enough!” I shouted angrily. “I take my supplements, I do yoga every day, I come regularly for my appointments. I still can’t balance my pH, and my cancer still won’t go away.”

Ali, my therapist, sat in compassionate silence while I sobbed. Then quietly he said, “I think the problem, Jennifer, is that you make healing an item on your to-do list. You think it’s something you can ‘do’—like going to the grocery store or picking up the dry cleaning—then check off your list when you’ve completed it. But you’re not willing to change anything about your routine, your habits, your workaholism, your thriving on adrenaline. You don’t make taking care of yourself a priority, and you’re not willing to live your life any differently.” I left his office in despair, knowing he was right.

Three years earlier, a doctor had discovered I had a basal cell carcinoma on the side of my nose. Chemotherapy had cured it—for one year. When it came back, I knew I had to do more.

So I had determined to change my diet and work with Ali, a psychologist and health practitioner, to see if I could uncover the cause of the disease. At this point I had been trying for a year and a half, but the cancer was visibly growing. In complete frustration, I finally scheduled an appointment to see a doctor for a biopsy. I felt that I had failed.

I was relieved to be going on vacation to Hawaii before the appointment. I desperately needed a break, having worked twelve to fourteen hours a day in the final days before meeting a work deadline. I was exhausted—physically, mentally and emotionally. I knew that what Ali was saying was true, but I didn’t have a clue how to change my life.

Once in Hawaii, I did almost nothing but rest. I walked on the beach at beautiful Lanikai on Oahu, then slept, then walked some more. I cried every day. I prayed for answers and met frequently with friends in a support circle.

One day I met Ginny, and she told me her story. Several years ago, Ginny was diagnosed with Stage 3 advanced breast cancer—and what a shock! She had always been in great shape, almost qualifying as a teen for America’s Olympic swim team. Though she didn’t make it, for the next 30 years she swam regularly, coached swimming, spent lots of time in nature, ate well, and stayed in tip-top athletic condition. She even broke five national Masters records!

Once diagnosed, she tackled her healing with the same zest for life she did everything else. She added alternative healing therapies to the traditional surgery and chemotherapy, including acupuncture, meditation, even a macrobiotic diet.

Finally, her doctor recommended a risky new treatment called “stem cell rescue,” in which stem cells are extracted from bone marrow, frozen, and later put back into the body after high doses of chemotherapy have theoretically destroyed all cancer cells. She elected to do the treatment as an outpatient.

The treatment was brutal. She lost 15 pounds in less than two weeks and, after the stem cells were reintroduced, she was just waiting for Day 10, when the stem cells are supposed to kick in and start rebuilding the immune system. But on Day 9, her white blood cell count was so low that she had to be admitted to the hospital.

That night, alone in her hospital room, Ginny stood in front of the mirror and looked at herself. She saw her bald head, the dark circles under her eyes, her emaciated frame. All of a sudden, looking at her wounded body, a deep feeling of compassion arose from deep within her belly, and she started to cry. She began to bathe her body with a hot washcloth, pressing it against her skin gently, like a mother would bathe an infant, saying “I love you” and “thank you” to her body. And then she went to bed, feeling very happy.

The next morning, after having her blood sample taken as usual, her doctor came in and picked up her chart. He threw up his hands and started yelling, and all the nurses on the ward came running to see what had happened. “Yesterday, her blood counts were 600/ Today, they’re 7700! They’re normal!”  Two days later, they were still normal, and they sent her home. Today, nine years later, Ginny is still cancer-free.

Ginny ‘s story went so deep into my mind and heart that I began talking to my body, appreciating it in a new way. What had been missing for me was the understanding that in order to heal the body, you actually need to have a relationship with it. If not making friends with it, you’ve at least got to open a dialogue.

And you cannot put your healing on your to-do list. So much of what we do today to “take care of ourselves,” has the same flavor of everything else we do in our adrenaline-driven society. For example, maybe you know someone who goes to the gym three times a week to work out, and refuses to let anything stop her even though she hates it. This is not self-love. This is the mind telling us that we’re doing something good for ourselves! Better to go the gym once a week when you can bring love to your body, nourishing it with your presence and awareness.

Believe me, it will make a difference. One month after meeting Ginny, I canceled my doctor’s appointment. My cancer was gone.