My Cancer Journey
I often work with people facing serious illnesses, but I’d never walked that path myself. Now, after a diagnosis of breast cancer in July 2019, I suddenly found myself on the other side of the conversation.
This page contains a series of posts from my healing journey, with the most recent post at the top.
I’ve been grateful to have a place to share what I experienced, and I hope it will be helpful for others on this journey.
Many thanks for all your love and support,
April 18, 2021
I have some not-great news to share. After my journey with breast cancer in 2019, I thought I was out of the woods. Unfortunately, I have another tumor.
The news isn’t good, but it’s not as bad as it could be. For that I’m very grateful. My lymph nodes look clear, the tumor is small, it’s slow-growing, and not aggressive. But it’s still cancer. It’s in the same breast, close to where the first tumor was, so it was likely there before, but undetected.
If you were with me on the journey last time, you’ll know how much I appreciated the enormous and heartfelt support I received. It made all the difference in the world to me, and was just the medicine I needed. In order to figure out what I thought and felt, I had to write and share about what was happening. This warm and welcoming community was
the perfect place to do that.
This time around, it’s been a much more internal process. My amazing family and my close friends have been the people I needed to talk to, and I haven’t been called to make the news public until now. I’m not sure how I’ll feel going forward, and if I’ll be sharing and writing much or not. I’m taking it day by day.
I’ll be having surgery on April 30th. Fingers crossed, I’m planning for a quick recovery. I still treasure my healing crystals, and I welcome all prayers, support and well-wishes to be sent to me, through them. I’m a sensitive soul, and I need a clearing station for all that
I don’t recommend doing this twice, but I’m finding it to be much easier the second time around. I know the path, or at least the general trajectory, and I’m much less distraught and anxious. I was undone last time. This time, I feel remarkably undaunted.
I’ve been working on lots of exciting projects, including a new website (the image below is from a recent photo shoot.) I have another online class planned for May 31st, and life is generally really good. I joined the local breast cancer dragon boat team before I go the news, and it looks like I will just have to sit out a season before getting started.
If, at some level, cancer is here to teach me what parts of my life need healing, I’ve been a dedicated student. I’ve done a lot of work on myself since this process began, and I feel quite transformed as I meet it this time. Again, I don’t recommend getting cancer, but it has brought me some amazing gifts, most notable being how much more “me” I feel after 18 months of applying myself to its teachings.
My friends, life is nothing but unexpected. Thank you for being part of my world as I navigate this most recent turn. I hope you’re feeling resourced and able to navigate whatever your lives are bringing you.
With much love,
ps. Yes, I’m sitting in my bathtub in the photo, surrounded by the houseplants that have been my pandemic hobby. 🙂
May 19, 2020
I’ve been quietly back in social media land for a bit, but I wanted to make a post to really arrive here after my hiatus.
July 9th will mark one year since my diagnosis of breast cancer, and it’s hard to believe that I’ve almost made a full cycle of the seasons with this experience. In my first appointment, my surgeon told me that I’d have several hard months, but then things would settle down and I’d feel normal again. Happily (very happily!) she was right, although normal isn’t what it was, and that’s a good thing.
It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve tried to approach cancer with curiosity, staying open to what it has to teach me. I’m still unearthing the lessons, but it’s clear to me that part of what cancer is offering is a chance to become more true to my authentic self. To that end, I’ve been in a deeply therapeutic art-making process for the last several months.
I took watercolor paints (a new medium for me) to Mexico, and spent hours splooshing colors around, I’ve been drawing more, and am dabbling in clay again. The new mediums are fun, but the issue isn’t about the medium, it’s about finding the truth of the voice that’s working through that medium.
This has been art therapy in the deepest sense of the word. The way I show up in the world is my art, and when I move things around at the level of color and texture and shape, it has an impact on the larger me. It’s like reading a dream, as the images on the canvas shift, I can feel reciprocal shifts in me.
Much of the process has been incredibly frustrating, in a bang-my-head-against-the-wall kind of way. I’ve had a visceral feeling that there’s something very specific and particular that wants to come out, but I just haven’t been able to find a channel to let it come. Something really wants to be born, and I have to make myself into a shape to allow it to come through. It’s a whole-being renovation process.
After months of work, often several hours a day, I actually don’t have anything visible to show for it, but I’m finally beginning to feel the glimmers of something shifting inside. The old outdated structures are cracking a bit. Things are flowing with more ease, and images that have been percolating (sometimes for years) are starting to make sense with each other in a way they never did before.
I’m still not sure what’s being born, and I’m sure I can spend the rest of my life exploring it, but there’s a spaciousness in me that I haven’t felt in a long time. I can feel myself forging my being into a shape that lets me be me.
It’s a lifetime journey, but I’ve taken an important step in the process.
I’ve been quiet for many months, and that’s been an important part of the healing. I’m excited about coming back into conversation, and into the world (pandemic notwithstanding,) and am grateful to have a place and a community to share my process.
With much love,
February 4, 2020
(There’s an explanation for the fuzzy photo, read on.)
I’ve been under the radar for a few months, as I navigate this journey with breast cancer. Here’s a quick update before I disappear again.
I’m happy to announce that I’m finished all my treatments, and I’m officially no longer a “cancer patient” in the mainstream medical system. It’s been an intense time and, looking back, it’s hard to even remember how difficult some of it was. The diagnosis was shocking, and I felt overwhelmed and vulnerable. I had to dig deep, and to lean into all my support systems (including you, my online world) to find the energy to make it through.
But I’m through. There will be ongoing monitoring, of course, but now my energy can turn towards deeper, more holistic and systemic healing practices and lifestyle changes. The worst of the storm has passed, and I feel free, happy, and able to face what life brings me
There’s a profound sense that this huge chapter of my life is ending, and I’m not at all sure what the next chapter will look like. Who is “Sarah After Cancer”? I am no longer who I was, and I’m not yet who I will be. It’s both uncomfortable, and exciting.
As I teach my clients and students, there’s nothing like a brush with mortality to make you re-evaluate everything in your life, and to focus on what’s really important. Before life starts rolling again, I have an opportunity to re-make myself, and to decide how I really want to live. What actions and practices are most true to my soul? I don’t know any of the answers yet, but I’m incredibly grateful to have the chance to explore the questions.
I have an exciting opportunity to give this new me a chance to emerge. As I write this, My Sweetie and I are sitting in the airport, headed to a sweet beach town in Mexico for two months. The goal is to find a warm, inspiring, nurturing space to regroup and reimagine ourselves. We’re going to eat mangoes, meditate, walk on the beach, and do yoga. Stephen is wonderful company, and this trip is just the medicine I need right now.
Now about the photo… We’re travelling very light and low budget, and decided to simplify things and leave our big phones at home. I bought a small, inexpensive old phone and was totally pleased with the purchase. I’m logging out of Facebook for the trip, and have put auto responders on my email. Why would I need a fancy phone? For the camera, that’s why! I tested everything else on the phone except the camera, and you can see how good it is. I guess I’m going to be even more screen-less than I thought. Perhaps it’s the world telling me to slow down and smell the roses.
I’ll be going back to radio silence while I’m gone, but look forward to connecting again when I return (just don’t expect any photos!)
Thanks so much for all your warm support on my journey, it’s meant the world to me to have so many wonderful people on my healing team.
I’ll be sending you warm thoughts from Mexico.
November 30, 2019
I’ve been quiet for a few weeks, incubating in the healing process as I move through my journey with breast cancer. I’ve decided to take a break from active work with Soul Passages while I do this. I’ll keep sending newsletters and updates, but will be re-posting old videos instead of making new ones. Thanks for your patience and support throughout this process.
Thanks also, for all the kind support I’ve received since my diagnosis, it really means the world to me. It’s taken me ages to be able to find words for what’s happening, but here’s a video update for those of you who are following along.
I’ve given lots of thought to death and dying, but less to illness. This process is a big learning journey for me on every level. As I explain in the video, I’ve been doing lots of reading, and I’ve listed below three books that have all had a big impact on how I’m now thinking and feeling about cancer and healing. They’ve given me a lot of confidence and inspiration to move forward. I hope they’re useful for other folks, too.
I’m in a very solitary and internal place these days, not seeing clients, and not running programs or developing courses. I’m rarely on Facebook, and it takes me ages to return an email. I feel like a caterpillar in a cocoon, and that’s exactly where I need to be. Thanks so much for your patience and ongoing support!
The Healing Power of Illness: Understanding what your symptoms are telling you, by Thorwald Dethlefsen and Ruediger Dahlke MD
Narrative Medicine: The use of history and story in the healing process, by Lewis Mehl Madrona, MD, PhD
Paradox and Healing: Medicine, mythology, and transformation, by Dr. Michael Greenwood and Dr. Peter Nunn
November 5, 2019
I spent part of this afternoon in a new patient orientation class for cancer patients. I spent the rest of the afternoon prone on the couch, recovering from the intensity of the class.
The content of the class was great, the instructor was wonderful, and the array of resources and support available (all for free) was inspiring. I’m incredibly grateful for all the people and systems that I can lean into during this process (including the friend who came with me to the class.)
At the same time, it’s amazing how much emotional energy it takes to walk this path. The class was 90 minutes long and, when I got home after it, I spent 2 hours flat on my back, with a cat on my chest, incapable of any kind of coherent thought or action. I didn’t sleep, it wasn’t that kind of body-tired. I just needed to rest and integrate. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced this kind of soul-exhaustion before I began this process.
I’m relieved that my prognosis is relatively good, and I marvel at people who navigate even more severe journeys with cancer. I can only imagine how difficult that must be.
I’m working hard on giving myself permission to take the time and space I need. I keep reminding myself that, while things don’t look that different for me on the outside, they are pretty much in upheaval on the inside. It’s OK to be undone by it all.
October 21, 2019
Many thanks for your patience with my silence as I’ve been recovering from surgery last month. I needed to take a complete break to let myself heal, and it’s been well worth it. I’m feeling healthy and strong again, although I still tire easily. This is a marathon not a sprint.
The good news is that I just got my pathology report back, and there’s a lot to be very happy about. My lymph nodes are clear and my hormonal markers are good. The cancer is Stage II, and slow growing. Overall, my situation is very treatable (Yeah!) On the not-so-great side, the tumor was larger than they expected (4cm), and of course, it’s still cancer.
I’m exploring mainstream and complementary treatments and healing therapies, and have many appointments booked in the next few weeks.
I feel really good about the diverse team supporting me through this, and incredibly grateful for the support of my family, friends, and wider community.
I’m not sure what the future looks like, in the short or long-term, but I feel able to meet whatever it brings. The word “grace” is newly defined within me each day.
Here’s a photo of me on one of my first forays out into the beyond-the-couch world, visiting beautiful old Douglas Fir trees near Bowness Park on the Elbow River here in Calgary.
September 16, 2019
Recovering from anesthetic is harder than I expected! I’ve been off the radar for a few days, but have been very well cared for by Julie Kerr and others.
I can finally keep water and food down, I’m able to have marginally creative conversations, and today I’m contemplating a shower. These are huge improvements, and things will just get better from here.
Many thanks for all the notes and well wishes. I haven’t had the mojo to respond, but I receive and appreciate them all.
September 13, 2019
It’s Friday the 13th, tonight is a full moon, and I’m beginning the process.
I’m in pre-op now, with surgery at 9:50 Mountain time.
Many thanks for all your love and support. I’ll see you on the other side.
September 13, 2019
Sarah’s sister Julie here with a status update from the recovery room.Sarah is doing great. Surgery went well, and she’s had a 1/2 a turkey sandwich and a couple of Tylenol 3’s and is resting well.
She needs to rest and recuperate, but the worst is over and we’re all on the other side.
Thank you all for your support 💗
September 13, 2019
I’m out the other side, and very grateful for the kind and skillful care I received all day. I’ve never had this much experience with the provincial healthcare system, and I knew we were lucky to have it, but I’m even more convinced of that now.
Many thanks for all the wonderful love and support that came from so many of you, I felt buoyed by it all day. Surgery went well and I am, happily, feeling better than I had expected to. I’m tired and sore, but not in pain.
I had great company with me all day, and Julie Kerr just made me a delicious dinner. Netflix here I come!
The photo is of a bouquet and vase by my dear friend Evonne Smulders, I’m soaking up its beauty as I write this.
September 12, 2019
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
It’s hard to find words to express my gratitude for the incredible response to my video yesterday. The love and generosity that’s flowing towards me is filling me in ways that I didn’t know were possible. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
The timing is perfect, because this is when I really need a support network. Two months of thinking about and preparing for surgery, and now it’s here. The train has left the station.
I’m sitting in the hospital, waiting for the radioactive dye injected my left breast to make its way to my lymph nodes. When it does, I’ll have more imaging, and then return at 6 AM tomorrow. Surgery itself is at 9:50 AM and will last about 90 minutes.
I’ve had some big epiphanies in the last few days, thanks to deep conversations with good friends and colleagues. My most recent realization has fundamentally changed how I am approaching this surgery.
I realized that I’ve never felt a victim of cancer, nor have I ever really been afraid of it. What I have been afraid of is surgery, and I’ve had a kind of victim-y response to it. “Woe is me, they’re taking part of my breast.” “I’m so sad about how I will feel/look/be with a post-surgery breast.” “This is a terrible, scary thing, and I don’t want it to be happening to me.”
As I came to recognize this pattern, I also found a new, more empowering way to hold it. Rather than seeing this as something that is “being done to me,” I’m approaching tomorrow’s surgery as a sacrifice, one that I am making willingly. This new perspective changes everything.
I spoke in yesterday’s video about offerings, and about how the more of ourselves we give on behalf of a healing intention, the more powerful that ritual gesture is. Many years ago, Deena Metzger taught me about sacrifice, and about the power of sacrificing more than we think we are able to lose. This feels like more than I can do, and yet I am choosing, wholeheartedly, to do it.
First Nations People here in southern Alberta hold Sundance Rituals. They pierce their skin and dance for days in the hot sun without food or water. I imagine that must feel like sacrificing more than one is able to lose. It’s painful and scary, but it’s in service to healing. That’s the kind of energy I’m invoking in myself for tomorrow. I’m digging deep, and calling up a fierce, brave, and powerful version of myself. She is the one who will carry me through.
A sacrifice is a ritual. Tomorrow I will put myself in the hands of my surgeon, a high priestess of this healing tradition. I will lay down on the altar of the surgical table, and submit myself to her sacrificial knife. I will willingly give a piece of my flesh, on behalf of my life.
September 11, 2019
Good News! I just got the results of the biopsy on my right breast, and the lump there is not cancerous. It still needs to be removed, but it’s a less complicated procedure, and they’ll do it when they do the left-side lumpectomy this Friday. What a relief.
Also, here’s a video I made this morning, which may be the hardest video I’ve made, and it may also be the most important to share. I hope you understand when you watch it.
At the community healing ritual for me last week, a wise friend said “I don’t wish you ease in this journey, I wish you depth.” This is taking me deep.
Many thanks for being with me as I walk this path.
(YouTube has decided that the word “breast” in my video is an issue.)
September 9, 2019
Here’s a huge gratitude-filled update for all of you who have been sending love and healing to me through my prayer crystals.
I’ve taken the crystals with me everywhere, and I sleep with them each night. They bring me great comfort, and I feel a strong connection to all of you who love and support me through them, as I navigate this journey with breast cancer.
A couple of nights ago, I was sleeping on my side, with the crystals tucked between my breasts. It was the deep, deep middle of the night, and I was sound asleep.
Suddenly I was woken by the sensation of a ball of energy coming out of the crystals and into my heart. The energy was warm, and glowing, and golden, and it’s almost impossible to put words to the experience.
There was a kind of deep “Voom” sound and feeling, as what I can only describe as a transmission popped from the crystals into my heart, and then flooded my entire body with love and light.
The whole experience probably only lasted 10 seconds, and then it was done. Afterwards, my entire body felt deeply changed, and I was awash in gratitude.
I can’t explain how this happened, or what the energy was, all I know is that it was real. And that it came from beyond me.
I am in awe of the healing power of love.
September 5, 2019
Many thanks to all the dear ones who gathered around me yesterday in an amazing healing ritual. The intention was to prepare me for surgery (a lumpectomy) next week, and to help my confused cancer cells come back into health and balance. 50 of us gathered on a sunny September afternoon, and shared prayer, singing, rattling, laughter, tears, and lots and lots of love.
I’m used to being the one leading this kind of ritual, and it was an incredible gift to be able to relax in to this container of love, and just receive. My crystals were passed around, and each person spoke to our connection and history together, and then voiced their prayers and vision for my health. The Bridge to Peace Threshold Choir taught the group a beautiful healing song, and as I lay in the middle of the circle, 50 people stood around me, and for a long time, sang their hearts out for my healing. The energy of the singing felt like it rearranged me at every level of my being.
At the end of the event, each person shared a word about how they felt. “Gratitude,” “Awe,” “Connection,” “Love,” and more. My favorite word was “Normal,” meaning that this kind of gathering should be as normal as having a birthday party, that coming together when someone in our community needs support is the most normal and natural thing for us to do. It’s part of the essence of being human.
I’m so incredibly grateful to those who facilitated the ritual, to those who attended, to those who couldn’t attend but were there in heart and spirit, and to the teachings and teachers in my life who’ve helped me understand how important and how powerful events like this are. What we did was simple on the outside, and profoundly rich and complex on the inside. I am deeply changed, and I know others are too.
As I’ve said before, I don’t recommend getting cancer, but if experiences like this are the side effects, it’s not all bad. In fact, coming together in ritual space, around a meaningful intention, when emotional and spiritual support is deeply needed and generously offered, may be what makes the hard parts of life bearable.
September 5, 2019
I had a needle biopsy on my right breast today, to explore a suspicious spot that showed up on an MRI last week. It wasn’t the most fun way to spend an afternoon, but I’m OK.
This is my second biopsy (the first discovered the tumor in my left breast.) I found this one much less physically difficult, but much more emotionally and energetically intense. I think it’s because I’m getting closer to my surgery date (a week from tomorrow) and everything is more intense.
I was more able to be present and intentional in this biopsy, and I think that also increased the intensity. I brought in my phone, and listened to an amazing mantra by Deva Premal. I closed my eyes, and literally leaned into the ancient strength and power of the prayer. I reminded myself that this feels scary, but that it’s not actually dangerous. I remembered that I was here on this bed by my own choosing, that this is not something being “done to” me.
I said prayers of gratitude to all the beings and forces that made this experience possible – to the incredible skill and kindness of the doctor and the techs, to the engineer who designed the machine, to the person who washed the floor in the room, to the earth for providing the metal, to the sun for the electricity that powers it. I turned my physical and energetic body towards the procedure, inviting my cells to collaborate with the anesthetic and to slip easily into the biopsy punch.
Tears poured down my face as they pulled the tissue samples from my breast. They were scrambled-up tears of fear and beauty, of love and grief, of gratitude and loss. It got to the point where I couldn’t even tell what I was feeling, I was just feeling. Completely and fully.
It’s so clear to me that this experience of cancer isn’t good or bad, it just is. Sometimes it’s really hard, and sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s messy, and sometimes it’s incredibly beautiful. But it’s not wrong.
Illness is not a mistake or a problem, it’s a natural part of having a body. The more I can be with cancer without judgement, the more grace I can find.
(Edited to add that I had a friend accompany me, and that my crystals were with me the whole time; I don’t go anywhere without them!)
August 27, 2019
Cancer is tenderizing me. Everything is more poignant, both the beautiful experiences and the difficult ones.
The MRI found a small “enhanced area” in my other breast and the radiologist wants to check it out more closely. It may be nothing, or it may be something.
I’m waiting at the hospital, for an ultrasound appointment that was scheduled for 90 minutes ago.
The nurse tells me that the first two cases this morning are very complicated and the doctor is still busy with them. My heart goes out to those women, and it also quivers a bit. I hope I don’t end up being a complicated case.
I came down to the cafe to order breakfast and discovered I’d forgotten my wallet. The kind man who owns it (and is the reason they have a cross cultural selection of both bagels and yummy East African curries) pats my hand and tells me I can pay next time I’m in.
I’m now eating bacon and eggs off a styrofoam plate, and crying.
I’m OK when I’m feeling capable and optimistic. And I’m OK when I’m feeling scared and overwhelmed. The kindness and love I’m experiencing makes it all bearable.
August 13, 2019
It’s been an interesting experience, speaking so often and so publicly about my breasts. They’ve always been a fairly intimate and private part of my body, but that’s changed. I guess breast cancer does that.
I didn’t do regular self exams, but if I did, I would likely have caught this lump earlier. I think one of the reasons I didn’t do them is that I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I read the handouts and tried to follow the directions, but it felt a bit random.
It doesn’t feel random now. I know what a lump feels like, and I want other women to, as well.
As a public service to this end, I’ve been inviting the women in my life to feel my lump, so they’ll know what to look for in their own breasts. Teens, grandmothers, and those in between have touched my breast, and when their fingers find the lump, a little light goes on for them. Now they know too.
If we’re standing in front of each other, and you’d like to feel it, don’t be shy to ask.
If I can meet what’s happening to me in a way that helps others, my own journey becomes more meaningful. It’s about me, but it’s also in service to something larger.
August 12, 2019
I’ve been thinking about how healing happens, and I’m curious to hear people’s experiences about “miraculous” or “inexplicable” healings.
At one level, there’s the Newtonian approach to healing, in which _things_ move around, changing shape, or quality, or relationship with each other. A broken leg heals when the bones knit back together. An infection heals when the body’s immune system defeats the germs.
High blood pressure comes down when you take medication that thins your blood.
This kind of healing obeys the rules of linear time and 3D reality. It can only happen as fast as matter can change, and it follows the logic of materialist science. It’s certainly real but, for me, it’s limited because it only acknowledges one part of the picture.
Then there’s a more Quantum approach to healing, which works by shifting the patterns of _energy_ underlying the affliction. This kind of healing fascinates me. It leap-frogs the limitations of the 3D world linear time.
As I see it, Quantum healing works because it aligns with the great mysterious wisdom of creation; it works on an operating system that’s deeper than the material. This is the realm of non-linear and non-material healing modalities like prayer, ritual, and energy healing. It’s also the realm of the spontaneous and miraculous.
On my own journey with breast cancer, I’ve been learning a lot about these radical or spontaneous healings, where things change in ways and at speeds that mainstream medicine can’t explain. Sometimes it involves using holistic healing modalities, and sometimes it doesn’t. Evidently it happens more than we might expect, but it doesn’t make it into the literature because each case seems so anomalous.
I’d love to get some inspiration on this path. Can we gather a crowd-sourced collection of anecdotal miraculous cancer healings? Have you experienced or witnessed one? Please, only share from your own experiences, not random links from the inter-webs.
(View the replies on Facebook here)
July 20, 2019
In this update, I talk about how I discovered the tumor, and why I’ve decided to delay surgery for a bit, so that all the different parts of me are integrated and ready when it happens. (My surgeon is fine with this, the tumor is growing very slowly, and a month or two won’t make a difference.)
I’m so grateful for all of you who are with me in this difficult process. Thanks for listening and holding me, and I hope this is useful for you.