Your body. How carefully are you listening? Where in your body are you receiving unusual signals?
In 1996, at 41 years old, breast cancer woke me up in the middle of the night. A sensation in my breast I had never experienced before. “Activity” is how I described it to my boyfriend. I was treated at the time but then when it returned years later it was my intuition that something was seriously wrong that saved me.
I remember each time as I was told everything was fine in 2003. It was spring when the nurse at the Westwood hospital who was interpreting the results of my mammogram and ultrasound looked very sincere as she told me “all was well.” Later that year I was still concerned, so my Beverly Hills OB-GYN had his assistant help with a breast biopsy in his office. Once again I was told everything was “fine.” And a few months later, a warm December day in Southern California, the cancer center’s mammogram was reviewed… “Everything is normal,” they said.
But they were all wrong. Thankfully, I listened to what my body was telling me. I kept asking and pushing for further tests.
Yes, I had breast cancer. But the fact that I believed in my own intuition and not in my high-priced doctors, my cancer never went beyond my breast. It was caught before it reached the lymph nodes, the gateway to the rest of the body.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep pushing medical professionals to confirm their “good diagnosis” when, if they are wrong, it means what you fear most is true?
But push you must. Because the real fallout of their rosy assessments becomes your problem. These medical professionals will go home to family and friends. They will see other patients. They will just carry on. But without a correct diagnosis you have cancer growing inside you undetected. And if it is a fast-growing, invasive and aggressive type of cancer you have just upped your odds of having to have serious surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and facing life with a chronic condition or even death. This is no time to roll over.
I wish doctors would ask their patients, “Do you think something is wrong with you?” And then actively listen. Listen for the clues intuition had planted in the patient. Listen when they say, “I have been having a hard time sleeping,” “I sense activity in my breast…off and on but it is a strange feeling,” “This area here, along my collarbone and neck…it feels different than it did before…don’t know why.”
Many studies have shown how animals intuit storms and danger way before humans. They feel it in the vibration of the earth, the smell of the wind; they can detect the slightest change in temperature, their innate senses finely tuned for survival. But we humans have distracted and insulated ourselves to such a degree that our instinctual responses are muted at best. We have so many other ways to account for a pain in the leg (I banged it on the car door), a ringing in the ear (that music was so loud), a sensation that seems odd (I took the sleeping pill too late) that we easily dismiss what our bodies are communicating. Unfortunately cancer doesn’t care. Due to the stealth-like behavior of most early cancers (you don’t know they are there until major intervention is a necessity) it is essential that any early signs are picked up.
The conventional 21st Century medical model is one of specialty and elimination. A lung surgeon looks for what is wrong in the lungs. When she’s unsure, she starts to eliminate possible causes as they review the X-ray or MRI. Is the X-ray clear or is there a mass? Is the mass solid or liquid? They weigh medical history and family pre-disposition. But when the medical issue is not clear or the testing information incomplete, the voice of the patient needs to be even more seriously evaluated. Voicing the variable could be the answer to the medical equation, the X-factor = intuition, that something is seriously wrong.
Tune in to your body. And then force your doctor to listen too.
Susan Armenti is the author of Sensation in the Night: Waking Up to Breast Cancer, What You Still Don’t Know. She lives in Los Angeles and is a 17-year breast cancer survivor.