How Cancer Paved The Way To Self-Love
My earliest memory of being kind to my body followed a viewing of the movie What the Bleep Do We Know!?. In the film, I was introduced to the work of Japanese researcher, Masaru Emoto. His research focused on the effects that different messages had on the structure of water. These messages of intention were spoken, or written and taped to a container of water.
Messages of peace, kindness, and love showed beautiful geometric patterns in frozen water samples. Conversely, the messages of hate, disease, or war showed broken and fragmented crystalline structures. I was struck by the underlying message.
On average, our bodies contain 57%-60% water. What if the negative messages that I said to myself about my fat and beauty were changing the structure of the water molecules in my body?
Years later, I experienced a dramatic shift around the idea of being kind to my body after I developed an aggressive form of breast cancer. At the time, I believed that I was in the best health of my life. I had recently completed a marathon, I ran several miles a week, I’d been eating a largely organic vegetarian diet with lots of “anti-cancer” foods like turmeric and leafy greens, and I had a consistent meditation practice.
Then one day I found a lump in my armpit. I dismissed the idea that it could be cancer. Completely. After all, I was only 32 years old, the “healthiest” I had ever been, and had no history of breast cancer in my family. I didn’t look or feel sick.
I went to see a doctor who was also unfazed by the lump. He told me to monitor it and follow up within 3 months. Between the time I discovered the lump, and sought follow-up care, Lumpy, (as I affectionately called it), had tripled in size and was now taking over my armpit. On news of the diagnosis, I sat in disbelief repeatedly asking myself REALLY?! Cancer? I have cancer?
Over the next few weeks and after more testing, the doctors determined that I had stage IV breast cancer. It’s the especially scary kind, the kind where people assume that you’re going to die.
After consulting with both eastern and western doctors, I began chemotherapy in the same week - a “therapy” I previously said that I would never do. After all, I was entrenched in the natural health culture for over a decade.
Initially, I felt like I had done something wrong. Maybe I didn’t eat enough turmeric-coated cruciferous vegetables. I had a sense of shame, like I was a bad "natural health person" for getting cancer, and then again for choosing to go through chemo. I knew I had several natural options for cancer treatment, but what I didn’t have was a lot of time. Lumpy had taken over my armpit and I had 6 other tumors to worry about.
I lost my hair within 3 weeks. It hurt as it fell out. It was surprisingly and astonishingly painful. Once I wrapped my brain around the inevitable hair loss and shaved my head, the pain went away, strange though that may seem. To combat the nauseating effects of chemotherapy, I was given steroids which made me rapidly gain weight. My high levels of physical activity were grinding down to 2-3 slow walks a week. After chemo, I had surgery, which left new scars on my body. I had never in my life felt so ugly.
It hurt to look at myself naked in the mirror.
One day I realized that I have a smile for everyone else. No matter who they are, human beings deserve this small show of kindness, but I didn’t show the same kindness to myself. I began smiling at the mirror and slowly it began to change my self perception.
Nothing changed on the exterior, but I could show myself some love too. I use an aromatherapy roller every day, and I began to apply it to my body by drawing little hearts. You don’t have to love your body to be kind to it.
I then realized that the majority of my interests like yoga, fashion or nutrition focused the imagery in my social media feeds around a narrow demographic. To a startling degree, the majority of pictures were of thin, white women. I wanted a broader exposure to beautiful people so I started to follow pages that displayed a wide variety of beautiful bodies, skin tones, and lifestyles. I followed a lot of body-positive people and LGBTQ+ people.
It began shifting my perception of what bodies in our culture actually look like. I began to give gratitude to my body for keeping me alive all these years, and especially while I poisoned it with chemo.
Day in and day out, all that my body does is keep me alive, no matter what crappy thing I do or say to it. That is unconditional love.
I also learned that my body is not here for decoration, only to be admired and only to be valued for its beauty. It is my vehicle for this life and my home. It houses and protects my brain so that I can think, it keeps my heart beating so that I can love, and it allows me to navigate physically in this world, sharing my gifts with others. When our loved ones are sick, or tired, we generally are much more kind to them than we are to our own bodies.
We deserve this, too.
I am learning to be more gentle with my body, especially when it requires rest or quiet time. I am learning to say no when something doesn’t feel right, and I am learning to trust more and stress less. My body has changed, and so has my heart and mind.
I like to look at cancer as a gift. I was able to learn more about who I am, what deserves my attention, and what is worthy of my time.
To show myself love, I have a daily practice of self care. Some days, self care will take several hours. I’m privileged to have the time to devote to the things that make me feel better, centered, and calm. My particular flavor of cancer has a high risk of recurrence, and while I’m not expecting it to return, it reminds me to get enough rest, spend time in nature, meditate, and practice yoga.
For that I am grateful.
About the Author: Kelly Gillotti
Kelly Gillotti is Ayurvedic health practitioner and massage therapist living her best life on a boat in San Diego. She enjoys cooking, yoga, meditation, and traveling. Kelly is the co-director of CAMP HEAL, Project HEAL’s first weekend retreat taking place September 27-29, 2019 in Southern California. Check out her blog and services at www.naturallydiy.com.