Recently, I was approached by “Rani” wanting to share her story of breast cancer. Rani is a doctor, and you just don’t think it can happen to a doctor – or at least I didn’t. Since hearing Rani’s it’s made me rethink what’s important, and what’s not, and also how important it’s up to us as individuals to take control of our personal health, life and wellbeing. I’ve made the decision to go ‘clean’ – ummm after the festive season of course. Here’s Rani’s story.
Rani worked in a full-time role as a GP and an injecting doctor, supporting her two children as a single mum. Not only that, both of Rani’s children have Asperger syndrome and the youngest is diabetic as well. Yes, Rani was living the life of an accomplished career woman all the while juggling the responsibilities of her two children. She was doing it all quite successfully, until she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011.
“I was working like a lunatic and especially as a single mum.. I was running around on nervous energy – but then I was diagnosed with breast cancer and I had to take stock of my life.” Rani explained.
As part of her treatment for breast cancer, Rani received a double mastectomy – with no breast reconstruction. For Rani it was about saving her life. “I read the writing on the wall and took the diagnosis as a very serious sign. Whatever I was doing, leading up to the diagnosis of the cancer became obvious to me that the way I was living my life was not in a manner that was healthy for my body and I have totally revamped my lifestyle.”
And so far so good for Rani, the actions she seems to be taking are helping her to stay healthy all the while changing the course of the direction that her life was headed in before her diagnosis.
“After exploring every single avenue about cancer I ended up having a few disagreements with the doctors I was seeing because I started to believe that the stress hormone cortisol had a lot to do with it.” Rani referred to stress and its release of the hormone cortisol to be a bit like putting the wrong fuel in a car and not servicing it regularly.
“If you don’t look after it (your body) so it doesn’t break – you can’t just go out and buy another body”, said Rani. “I introduced meditation, diet change; I became vegan; I went through a complete mind, body and spirit overhaul,” she explained. “I found I was being a complete hypocrite. Here I was, in my profession, telling everybody what to do to take care of themselves, but not doing the same for myself. I had a ‘to do’ list that I was going to get to, but I never actually got there”.
Rani’s story is something we can all relate to. These days we find ourselves just getting busier and busier, trying to accomplish more and more but when are we ever happy with where we are at? Rani said it became apparent when, “I realised that being on a treadmill for your career and trying to acquire lots of things – you never get to where you want to be and all the things you have in your life don’t make you happy. So you end up just trying to get more and more things, but you never get time to really enjoy them”.
Rani explained how she feels about where cancer treatment is headed in the medical industry; she made the emphasis that it is slowly changing. But the most important issue to Rani is that we are not looking at how cancer is actually caused.
“Slowly, they (the western medical system) are starting monoclonal antibody treatments for cancer. These are targeted therapies like “Herceptin” for certain types of breast cancer, and as they’re starting to use these things – you’re thinking ‘hello, you’re kind of admitting that the immune system is involved’. They (the Western medical system) are not actually admitting not it – but surely if you have a lot of stress with high cortisol levels – that is what is compromising your immune system.
“So if you have endogenous cortisol it has to equate to the same thing, but western medicine is not prepared to accept that yet because it’s not been proven in the pharmaceutical manner that doctors like.”
This textbook way that doctors look at this situation has Rani frustrated. She wants women to educate themselves on the how they can help themselves in this situation.
“I just feel there’s so much more that women can do for themselves to empower themselves, rather than purely be the victims of the medical system.”
So, Rani’s surgeon advised her to have a full mastectomy. And she told Rani to take 6 weeks off work. “I said I couldn’t take 6 weeks off, what’s the minimum? She said oh well, 2 weeks. I said I could do that, which is absolutely ridiculous because after surgery it’s onto the chemo – and you can’t do GP work when you’re brain is taxed and your body is pushed to the limit!”
Rani says it’s been a crazy journey; the way she saw it was that her medical system had failed her. Here she was a doctor, and that still wasn’t enough to keep her cancer free. This is why she believes there’s so much more to be learnt with what creates good health. “I’m living a more authentic, happier life. I have learnt more in the last 4 years than I’ve learnt in my whole life”.
So what advice does Rani have for anyone else out there sharing a similar journey to hers? “I’ve had to create a medical team that works for me and just because a doctor is a good doctor, it doesn’t mean they are the right person for you as the individual.”
Rani initially chose a surgeon who she said did a very good surgical job. But she felt the love, care and after-surgery support was not there. It was at this time she made the difficult decision to change surgeons. She also changed private health funds in the middle of her chemo treatment, as she discovered too that that certain health funds don’t cover certain hospitals and you don’t notice this until you get sick and you’re then stuck with daily co-payments.
“So make sure you know what your health insurance covers you for” explains Rani, “because on top of not working, with financial commitments etc, you can be landed with many other costs you aren’t prepared for… you really need income protection. I was probably the only one out of the women I know who had very good income protection”. Something to keep in mind. You may have income protection through your super fund, but this may in fact only give you two year’s cover.
Rani explains with passion, “It’s been a journey in self development and self exploration and a lot of women without having insurance don’t have the luxury to look after themselves properly.”
In the end Rani gave up being a GP and the clinic she worked at. “I’ve slowly got back to doing very limited amounts of work. I am now a clinical trainer – I enjoy teaching and training”. Over the last couple of months Rani has set up a (cosmetic) injectables business with a colleague. She’s all about getting a quality of life back after treatment.
“I found it bizarre when women, particularly younger women get diagnosed – they get offered this surgery straight away, they get their reconstruction, and they haven’t had time to digest what’s going on. They go straight back to the same life that landed them in the position of getting sick in the first place.
“I went to the Ian Gawler Foundation; Ian has survived 35 years beyond his terminal cancer diagnosis. There are a few oncologists who launched into him about his cancer stating it wasn’t really at the stage they said it was. But at the end of the day it was this organisation that gave me the tools to really be able to understand what is good for me in my life and enable me to make choices, give me some kind of control in what I do and the way I treat my body”. Rani made changes by trying all the stuff she has always wanted to do: pole dancing, water skiing, yoga, Latin dancing, and kite surfing. She has really gone and made happiness for herself.
Rani emphasises that support is a big necessity. Although she had no family support, Rani says she has people who were “incredible” in the support for her. “It was just amazing – when you’re living in a world (as a GP) where you feel like you’re giving all the time and you don’t think people appreciate it. It was an unbelievable feeling that I had made such a big difference to someone, for them to go to the effort to give back to me”.
So what now for Rani?
“My main aim is to stay alive; earning big money is probably in a past life. But you never know. This new business may take off and maybe over time I may be able to employ people.
“My whole feeling is some people are going to die no matter what, but you can choose the way you live and you can also choose the way you die. You can only have the choices once you have the knowledge and the knowledge is power. But if you don’t find the knowledge you are in a limited position to be able to choose.”