Empowering Breast Cancer

A mutual friend referred Kitty, a 53-year-old divorced career woman to Empowered Health Foundation because she sensed she needed “something else” in her life after struggling with the aftermath of breast cancer. She had been diagnosed seven months earlier with DCIS and was HER2+, an aggressive form of the disease. She followed a very traditional treatment approach and immediately had a left side mastectomy three months later followed by chemotherapy every three weeks for the next year. The continual treatment gave her a list of undesirable side effects including nausea, numbness of the extremities, hair loss, absentmindedness, fatigue, hair loss, dry mouth, black, painful nail beds, runny nose, stomach cramps and diarrhea. She felt horrible and as if that wasn’t enough, she was taking steroids, as well as medication to treat anxiety and depression. Overall, the entire experience left her feeling fearful, depressed and sad.

The first day we met, Kitty limped into my office with a huge smile, a gentle handshake and disheveled presence. Her energy was flighty and ungrounded, leaving her accident-prone.  Hidden behind a long, tousled wig that covered most of her face, I sensed such a sweet soul trying hard to keep it all together in her professional, fashionable attire while awkwardly trying to get around with her broken foot encased in a walking boot.

I felt that it was important to start our work by focusing on positive targets and wanted to understand where Kitty was and where she wanted to be. I asked her to describe a healthy version of herself.

“A non-workaholic, not so overly optimistic, my hair grown in and fifteen pounds lighter,” she listed.  “But most importantly, I want to be aware of my body and help my body to not have cancer.”

The power behind those words resonated with me.  It is, essentially, the mission of Empowered Health Foundation. She needed that peaceful warrior attitude for her journey to be successful.

Kitty is a driven, hard working tax accountant with long hours under hard deadlines.  At the time of her diagnosis, she worked 65-80 hours per week, for a boss who was a workaholic. She felt he made poor decisions, didn’t listen to her or respect her, was terribly unorganized and overworked her with his constant demands. She was exhausted and finally complained to upper management. Two months later, she had a new boss that was very organized and productive, but that time also came with something else: her breast cancer diagnosis.

“Gina, you know what my first thought was when the doctor told me that I had breast cancer?” she asked. “I was relieved to get a break!”  She was tearful.  How courageous to admit the truth; she was worn out and needed a pause in her life so she was willing to take cancer as the excuse.  “I feel like I just want to have a nervous breakdown and no one will let me,” she said.

Kitty wanted more than anything to talk with her friends and family about what she was going through, but they appeared uncomfortable with that kind of emotion so she did what she had done her entire life and bottled it up. She grew up in an emotionally repressed and authoritarian home where she was told who to be, what to do and how to live her life.

It wasn’t easy for Kitty to draw connections and see patterns in our initial session. She was confused and hesitated to journal. I thought a good place to start was to have her write a letter to her soul that included people and situations along the path to her breast cancer diagnosis. She returned the following week with this journal entry and read it aloud:

“Dear Soul,

It is the hurt, sadness and anger I feel when I was ignored and dismissed as a child. My parents raised me to do the “right and appropriate” things on the outside. The inside of a person did not matter as long as the outside appeared happy, normal and without problems. I was silenced and not allowed to speak or have a difference of opinion. This left me questioning my feelings and then being overwhelmed by my thoughts. I have spent my life seeking the approval and respect from others that my own parents and sisters did not give to me. I’ve also spent a lot of time giving others the time, respect and feelings that my parents could not give me.  I was set out to prove that you could still be a happy person without all the “appearances.” Plus who is to decide what is right for everyone?

My quest to nurture led me to want to have a child so I could show my feelings regardless if happy or sad and ultimately how to love. To prove that it wasn’t abnormal to have emotion. I never got that opportunity so I nurture others by listening, being committed, loving and caring for others.  In the past when I had “wrong” emotions such as anger or sadness I wouldn’t say anything but get angry about a different subject and still refuse to express my feelings because they were bad! So I kept all the hurt, anger and lack of love buried inside myself. It is hard for me to associate with my feelings so I just leave it to thoughts.

I know I will not get what I need from my mother and I am angry and hurt by her all the time.  Work was a replay of the family dynamic where my co-workers are like my sisters and my boss is like my parents. I am constantly trying to get love and approval and it is my quest to be at peace with that decision.”

For as much as Kitty thought she was puzzled about the patterns in her life, she laid it out beautifully. She had a lifetime of the hurt, anger and lack of love buried right into her fourth chakra: the energetic area of the heart and breast tissue where we naturally nurture and feel love.  She never felt the love in her heart and has spent her life desperately trying to receive affection by nurturing everyone around her except the most important person…herself. This led to anger, which is one of the strongest emotions associated with cancer.

It was emotional for Kitty as she courageously read her innermost feelings. Her voice cracked and I could feel her humility as she recognized the Wounded Child. Her Sacred Contract reveals this archetype in the ninth house of “spirituality” and truly one of her highest callings to heal. Kitty delved deep inside her soul and acknowledged how she was never heard as a child and not allowed to “feel.” Her parents told her what to do, who to be and how to live her life. Choices were not an option because the only choice was to do what her parents told her, leading her to an angry inner world of darkness.

Kitty is a first generation Chinese American. Her parents were in an arranged marriage in China and came to the United States to live the American dream. Three years prior to her diagnosis her father passed away and she described him as an angry, stoic person–the enforcer of the rules of the home. Her mother was a dutiful wife who took care of Kitty and her three sisters, often dismissing Kitty’s opinions, including her college and career aspirations. Her parents wanted her to be a doctor and Kitty wanted to study fashion or archaeology, so she compromised with accounting since it was a financially sound career. She explained that life in her house, growing up, was about keeping up appearances of success: wearing nice clothes, going to top colleges, working hard in a powerful career, getting married, living in a big home with a white picket fence and two BMWs parked in the driveway. Kitty did in fact live that dream by actually saying that she “lived the life of her parents’ dreams.” And it started by marrying the man of her parents’ dreams.

Kitty had been married for 13 years and was divorced 13 years before we started working together. She’d had three in-vitro procedures and never got pregnant. Deep down she knew the relationship was not right because he was too emotionally unavailable for her. He was an excellent provider with a stable career and showered her with gifts. This was not the life she wanted. She yearned for a more meaningful relationship versus the material manifestation of a happy marriage. After accepting the fact that she was not going to have children with him, she admitted that she was unhappy. Kitty told her husband she wanted a divorce and the first thing he said was, “You must need a new BMW convertible.” Since the divorce, Kitty has felt like a failure, but it was honestly the first time she stood up for herself and took action.

The Prostitute archetype is in her “highest potential” house on the archetypal wheel. Meaning, one of her biggest lessons in life is to learn how to be herself and to never negotiate her spirit and what she believes in. This lesson kept showing up in her life with her parents, her sisters, her marriage and her career. The core of this archetype is to refine self-esteem and self-respect, something Kitty struggles with since she was told who to be and never given choice to develop her own voice. As a child this never gave her the belief in herself that she needed in order to learn how to navigate her own soul.

The Prostitute is an archetype that will surface over and over again in Kitty’s life and one that is pertinent for her to recognize and find the light so she doesn’t negotiate her integrity and spirit based on fears of physical and material survival or financial gain. And Kitty began to see the weight of the decision: if she wanted a peaceful, loving life she was going to have to start finding ways to work less and find time to enjoy things that make her happy, but this was going to involve her starting to say, “No.”

Each week Kitty explored more deeply into her soul and made stronger connections to her internal pain. She made a long list of times she compromised her own beliefs and happiness; when she had constantly negotiated what she loved and desired. Among this list was her old high school boyfriend. She said he was the only one in her life who cared for her. Tears welled up as she told her story of heartbreak. Always the dutiful daughter, she’d listened to her parents and broke up with that man because, according to them, it would not be considered “right” for her to support him while he went to medical school. After her divorce she told her parents that she had truly loved her high school boyfriend; years later she found a letter that he’d written and had translated into Chinese as an appeal to her parents to try and convince them how much he did love their daughter.

An extremely important house within her Sacred Contract is the sixth house of “Occupation and Health” where her Bully archetype resides. This house is physically associated with the immune system where its health is crucial to be free of cancer. The Bully is also known as the coward and backs down from challenges due to fear. Kitty had loads of fear because she had been told what to do her entire life and never given a chance to make a decision, trust it and know that frightening feeling within her body. Instead she held back and it became lodged inside her soul. She recognized that she bullied at work by not using her voice, even when she attempted to delegate to her team. She became overwhelmed with the workload and would lash out at her co-workers in fear of them not completing the assignment correctly and creating more work for her. Now, she said she had more people and a new boss that helped with workload distribution.

After some months of working together at EHF, in walked a strikingly gorgeous Kitty with a short salt and pepper pixie cut, stylish black skirt and red heels. I knew she was on the road to wellness, despite still spinning about the Bully archetype.  Things began to click for Kitty and I knew it when she told me a friend invited her to stay at a plush home in Mexico that included a chef and other relaxing amenities. She was reluctant to go because of the unsafe water and frightened she would become sick, but she stopped herself of the fear. She realized she needed to just be smart and cautious and allow herself to savor the moments. It was a clear decision, one that she trusted and one that gave her a wonderful time that she hadn’t experienced in forever. Change.

Six months after we first began our work together, Kitty was cancer f-r-e-e! Her blood work was clear!  When she first came in “she was so lost in life,” she felt like she had been holding her breath, and now she felt like she could breathe again.  She admitted that she was hesitant to step into a cancer free life for fear it would return. She needed faith and strength in her life and in herself, and felt fortunate to have a strong spiritual Buddhist rooting.

At 53-years-old, Kitty is ready to live her life as she always imagined: a life filled with dreams and loving people. The Lover archetype resides in her first house of “ego and personality.” She is a lover at the core and it is her very existence, which is why she is always helping everyone. As the Lover with boundaries, she can fill her heart tank and give love while learning how to receive it, create some balance as the joy overrides the pain and she can live a life she loves free of heartache and full of health.