by Anna Keck-Tomasso RN, Family Nurse Practitioner
Mine is a story of shock, synchronicity, and surrender. Twenty years ago, I had just been given a wonderful 50th birthday party by my three adult children, ex-husband and friends. I felt wonderful, healthy and balanced.
My private practice as a holistic women’s-health Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) was fulfilling. I blended mind-body-spirit with a focus on healing the whole person, not just their symptoms or “disease.” I had just begun a loving new relationship with the man who was to become my husband. And the routine mammogram that followed my recent physical (“lumpy breasts,” the doctor had noted) was not on my radar as something to worry about.
The mammogram was negative for malignancy; the notes mentioned only “fibrous breast tissue.” My doctor minimized my lumps as fibrocystic breast disease, and I willingly colluded. After all, I had no known risk factors for breast cancer. I decided to have alternative treatments for the lumpy breast, knowing personally and professionally just how powerful and effective acupuncture, herbs, homeopathy and visualization can be. Using these modalities, I had successfully shrunk a large fibroid tumor in my uterus the year before, and felt confident that I could do the same with my breast lump. In addition, I had no health insurance. As a single-mother, and a health professional in private practice, I had been denied coverage. So my own form of health insurance, I thought, would simply be my alternative treatments and heightened self-care. I deepened my spiritual practice of meditation and visualization. As a FNP, I knew and taught that food is medicine and cancer preventative. I ate mindfully.
After eight months, a dear friend, fellow FNP and massage practitioner noticed the hard breast lump after giving me a massage, and insisted I see a surgeon ASAP. My denial was completely shattered with the surgeon’s phone call.
“Your biopsy shows interductal breast cancer.”
Shock and fear consumed me. Then the phone rang again. This call, from another dear friend who knew I had just had the biopsy, calmed, empowered and centered me. Her first words:
“Well, now you know exactly where to focus your healing energies.”
I did. First, I wanted to immediately hear the voices of long-term survivors, women who had survived breast cancer for many years. I was fortunate to know three women who I trusted, including Caryle Hirschberg, an author, who had just completed the book Remarkable Recoveries, listing characteristics of long-term survivorship. Next, I wanted to put in place my healing team of practitioners I would use in addition to Western cancer treatment. It would be and-and: Western and alternative treatment. I would have to practice everything in my medicine bag for this, my most significant, healing journey.
Life became a blur of synchronicities and miracles in the midst of treatment and confusion. A well known San Francisco breast surgeon, who had been a resident when I was a student nurse in Oregon 30 years before, learned of my uninsured plight and offered to treat me…for free! My community held a fundraiser which helped with other medical expenses. A friend who was a skilled hypnotherapist guided me on an inner healing journey. The experience and imagery that arose gave me the inner strength to embrace the mystery that lay ahead of me. I surrendered to the unknown, knowing that I was held by something bigger than my mind and its fearful thoughts. While I didn’t consciously know the outcome of the surgery, the imagery told me, correctly, that I would undergo a successful lumpectomy. (The surgeon had thought I would need a mastectomy.)
Next came another powerful and unforgettable experience: being helped to accept chemotherapy, despite a belief system that completely rejected it. My fear and resistance were overwhelming. Surrender to this alien idea meant truly letting go: of control, of fear. Surrender meant trusting. Trusting that I would heal, even though I couldn’t know whether or not I would be cured. Trusting that there was something to which I could let go. Surrender felt like dying and then returning, deeply changed, to a new life. What I experienced is with me still and helps me, day to day, as I remember to accept “what is.”
Twenty years have passed. I live in gratitude for all the miracles, grace and love that surrounded me then and continue to surround me, including my grandchildren—there are now eleven of them! I am so thankful that I could face the strong fear I had about Western treatments and accept chemotherapy and radiation as my allies.
I am also thankful for the years of friendship and work with Jan Adrian that preceded breast cancer. Again, synchronicities occurred. We both became breast cancer survivors. Jan asked me to assist her in the creation of the first Cancer as a Turning Point conference in 1994, and I served as a founding board member of Healing Journeys for 10 years. I will never forget feeling the palpable healing power at our first conference where I was honored to share my own cancer story.
I give heartfelt thanks to all my human angels who supported me on my personal healing journey both in visible and invisible ways. I am grateful to be alive and healthy today.
Bio: Anna Keck-Tomasso was a Founding 10-year Board Member of Healing Journeys and creator of the Turning Point Symbol. Now happily retired from 35 years as a health care professional, she is enjoying life as an artist, bee-keeper’s wife, and grandmother for a growing tribe of 9 little ones (2 of the 11 are grown).