I never thought my greatest trauma could become my greatest teacher in life. It all began with a breast and ovarian cancer gene mutation, otherwise known as the altered BRCA1 gene. This untold (“coming out”) story was born out of my attempt to find a community of women who are walking a similar path.
Unfortunately, living with a genetic predisposition to such a demonized illness as cancer has not been a reality of safety, empowerment and health-generating solutions within the Western medical complex. In fact, the opposite has been true. I’m here to share that it is not only possible to seek out new paradigms for those living with an ‘unfavorable gene,’ but also to inhabit a newfound sense of safety, power and belonging in the body when we reframe the natural experience of fear into one of anti-cancer opportunity and longevity.
The cancer gene that changed my health reality
At the age of 23, I was diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene mutation which for the uninitiated is the “breast and ovarian cancer gene” that puts women with this mutation at a higher risk for these cancers. This news didn’t come as a total surprise, as my mother survived breast cancer at the young age of 33. Around that same time in 2013, Angelina Jolie wrote her op-ed article in the New York Times “coming out” about her own BRCA1 mutation story and decision to get the preventative prophylactic mastectomy. This sparked a surge of women electing to remove their breast tissue and implant silicon replacements with the promise to reduce their risk. Those who didn’t feel ready could continue with routine exams and visits to the oncologist. The medically-supported message soon came into clear and painful focus. Years of “it’s not a matter of if, but when [you get the cancer]” dug deep grooves and had me thinking I had two options to ultimately save my life.
The first option, made popular by Jolie is the go-to elimination technique: remove your breast tissue and ovaries before age 35. The second option always seemed to sit in second place, which I call ‘managing your risk with exams.’ On a biannual cycle, you get tested with MRIs, mammograms, pelvic ultrasound, transvaginal ultrasound, blood exams, and breast exams with oncologists — and that’s not including hours spent navigating a complex healthcare system to make it all happen.
This gene mutation triggered a civil war within myself. Not to mention being an Asian American carrier of the mutation was a total mystery to my team of doctors, since the majority of carriers are individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent according to the CDC. I battled between deeply conditioned thoughts of, you will never be safe or responsible unless you follow mainstream protocol with the curious voice of personal truth, where is the holistic option of creating health alongside managing risk? My mind and body were pulling me in opposite directions, as I sat with the potential devastation of losing breasts and ovaries to a system that could not ascertain the long term impact this would have on my life (think: disrupting the natural menstrual and hormonal cycle, early menopause, lost sensation in the nipples, altered sexuality, and severed breastfeeding capacity to name just a few).
Fear triumphed over sovereignty time and time again. I defaulted to the second option for years before I finally woke up.
Searching for holistic answers outside Western Medicine
According to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, “about 50 out of 100 women who have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer and 30 out of 100 of these women will develop ovarian cancer by age 70.” So if you re-read this through a holistic lens, it goes something like: “50% of women with these genes do not get the cancer.” Not to mention, only 5-10% of cancers are attributed to genetic defects. The common cause of most cancer stems largely from lifestyle and environmental factors.
The question that caused too many sleepless nights boiled down to—where is the scientific research and funding investigating that side of the story? In other words, what preventative measures, lifestyle choices and environmental conditions contribute to the other 50 percent who never get cancer in their lifetime?
In 2005, Dr. Bruce Lipton’s groundbreaking book, The Biology of Belief launched epigenetic science into mainstream culture. Simply put, epigenetic science overturns the old belief that DNA controls our heredity, sickness and health. Rather, our beliefs, lifestyle and environmental inputs control the expression of our genes and ultimately, biological outcomes. It seemed truly bizarre that this evidence-based research by a stem cell biologist and former researcher at Stanford University existed universes away from the doctor’s office.
After a minor tumor scare at age 30, I realized this third option wasn’t going to find itself while I waited passively in the dark, living someone else’s life and one-sided medical protocol in New York—an unfulfilling career in advertising, a sympathetic nervous system enslaved by trauma and a lack of community who could relate to this deeply personal life and death quest. Held in the daily grips of fear, I had to shake things up and out massively. Being vegetarian, practicing Yoga daily and reading all the right health books wasn’t going to cut it. That’s when I got the call to drink ayahuasca, an Amazonian plant medicine used by indigenous tribes for millennia to treat the emotional, energetic and spiritual roots of disease.
Transforming the fear of cancer to mind-body healing
Four ceremonies later at Soltara Healing Center in Costa Rica, I arrived at the message I had in some way been waiting to hear, reaffirming everything was exactly as it needed to be.
“You’re here to change the conversation,” she (the plant spirit) echoed loudly and clearly as I emerged out of a week’s worth of purging an entire lifetime of traumas physically, emotionally, mentally, emotionally and of course, spiritually. The message was clear as day. This gene trauma was actually my greatest transformation. My body was coded with new information, as in I no longer carried fear of cancer in my body. The awareness of the BRCA1 mutation was still there, but the devastating charge of fear (a debilitating force that studies show weaken the immune system) was dramatically reduced. To think that just days before, I had been living under the spell of incoherent, low vibrational emotions seemed lifetimes away.
In fear’s place, new space opened in my body (nervous system) and mind (consciousness) to receive what my ancient self always knew simply and profoundly. We are what we consume on all levels of the mind-body-spirit. If cancer isn’t something that can invade us from the outside in, perhaps health is a reflection of our limitless life force generated by all that we allow in. This ranges from our diet, lifestyle, and environment to how we manage our deepest conversations with stress, worry, ancestral trauma, relationships, boundaries, life purpose and everything micro and macro in between. Our capacity to release fear for more love is really at the core of health.
I could feel myself again — whole, perfect and complete, not to mention with a newfound mission on Earth. But the work had only begun. Now what? For an entire year, this gene became my strongest teacher and ally through the blood, sweat and tears of joy and total wreckage — starting with blood, after surviving a near-death bike accident that propelled me forward to seek deeper answers to open-ended reflections:
– What does it feel like to be radically safe and at home in my body?
– How do I wish to relate to my breasts and ovaries outside of any medical system, and embrace my sexuality as a healing force?
– What does it look like to take full responsibility for my health through epigenetic science and create my own holistic path from the inside out?
Proving anything is besides the point. The questions I ask open the healing doors of self-guided inquiry and empowerment. It hasn’t stopped, and I don’t think it ever will to shape what I believe is possible. We are more powerful than we think, and perhaps there is more healing to be found when we consider our health as critically and intuitively as we can only from within our own bodies.
Getting results in open-ended research that lives and breathes
As I integrate all of my discoveries from the last four years, I remind myself that it’s not an either-or reality. For that, I continue to get my MRIs and ultrasounds, with a strong understanding that these tests are just tools in a larger ecosystem of health-regeneration.
Integration of knowledge is our greatest power. With it, I can stand in what I envision is possible for the future paradigm of health, where women diagnosed with the BRCA1 mutation are empowered with a third option. A reality where more integrative oncologists exist than not, embracing the words “I don’t know” alongside their patients while expanding their own knowledge base around nutrition, trauma, mind-body interaction, and epigenetic science. The education I see is one of co-creation, where patients are empowered to enable their highest expression of health and doctors predicate whole human health over quick-fixes and magic pills. I delight in the day proper research is funded to look at the 50 percent of women who don’t get cancer. This future feels closer every day.
The Radical Remission Project stands out as a powerful catalyst. Spearheaded by bestselling author Dr. Kelly Turner, these observational case studies look at 3500 people who experienced spontaneous remission from seemingly ‘incurable diseases.’ The nine common denominators that they all shared in their health recovery include (and should come as no surprise)—changing your diet, owning your health journey, following your intuition, using herbs and supplements, releasing suppressed emotions, increasing positive emotions, embracing social support, deepening your spiritual connection and having a strong purpose in life. Why wait for illness to set in to integrate this wisdom?
As I sit here chewing on organic broccoli and breathing in sacred frankincense after morning Yoga (a few of my anti-cancer practices), I remind myself to accept what I cannot control and focus my energy where I can. I am human after all, and continue to surrender the need to be perfect. When the inevitable incoherent emotional states creep in, I always refer back to the teachers, knowledge, resources, and practices that help me reframe any residual victimhood into proactive health.
The movement to become a whole and integrated women is a lifelong practice of radical remembrance—that our health is what we make of it. How our cells read our genetic blueprint is simply what expresses health or disease. In the truest sense of sovereignty, every woman can learn to feel fully safe in her own body.
Never stop seeking, free yourself from what you can’t control with radical love, travel the interconnected roads less seen and always remember that you are the most powerful activist of your highest health expression.
Let’s change that conversation from the inside out.