In which I give you a brief overview of my struggles in juggling chronic illness and an over-achieving brain.
This is me in a nutshell: Music Freak, Miniature Schnauzer Lover, Poetess, Devourer of Fiction, Guitar Hero Goddess, Proud Nerd, Mistress of Silly, and Doctor of Oriental Medicine
When I was 23 years old, I was diagnosed with a rare form of ovarian cancer (stage 2b ovarian dysgerminoma). That moment — when I saw the CT scan results with the words ‘ovarian cancer’ written in bold at the top — is seared into my brain. My heart was racing, and my body went into pure survival mode. My heart still aches from the devastation the news and consequent struggles brought to my family.
Shortly after the diagnosis, I had surgery to remove the tumor. It was the size of a 5-month old fetus. The external scar I carry is wide and slightly jagged, and wanders upward from the pubic bone to three inches above my navel. I declined chemotherapy from the kind oncologist, and chose to doggedly follow a non-traditional path (albeit a sometimes wandering one since I’m not always good at taking care of myself) to vibrant health.
I didn’t want to settle for survival. I wanted to thrive. To be strong enough to live a full and loud life, and fulfill my heart’s deepest desire: to connect with others who struggle. To be a facilitator for their wellness.
The good news: I made it through. I also was blessed with more ease than most women coping with cancer experience. I’m grateful for this, even though I have a profound sense of guilt calling myself a cancer survivor, because I didn’t suffer enough. Not like other women.
I know. You’re right. I realized a couple of years ago that comparing myself to other survivors and not measuring up was a huge red flag. It was a signal from my psyche: I was carrying a deep sense of lifelong shame that I’d buried behind my emotional armor. I don’t know if your armor is like mine - I hide behind Take-Control Akemi, I’ll-Kick-Your-Ass Akemi, Make-You-Laugh Akemi, Learn-More-Things Akemi, No-Really-I-Don’t-Mind-Being-Alone Akemi, Disappear-Into-Fiction-For-Days-At-A-Time Akemi, and Fix-Everyone-At-All-Costs Akemi.
I’ve realized vulnerability is a critical step in deep healing. To learn more about vulnerability and dealing with failure, pick up Brene's book below.
The circumstances through which the cancer was found were not typical. It started with an acupuncturist who fought for me when I was desperately trying to ignore all the signals my body was giving me that something was wrong. This is one of the reasons why I have profound respect for both traditional and what is often called alternative medicine. The combination of both saved my life.
Throughout my adult healing journey, I’ve struggled with thyroid issues, immune deficiency, adrenal dysfunction, heavy metal toxicity, autoimmunity to neurological tissue, chronic infections like Epstein Barr and Cytomegalovirus, LGS, chronic fatigue, back pain, TMJ, debilitating menstrual pain, low libido, migraines, and panic attacks.
This doesn’t take into account my childhood, which was full of chronic bronchitis, debilitating asthma, and emotional trauma that led me to become a master of emotional repression. I was born in Venezuela in the early ‘80s, and lived through severe instability in my immediate family life.
My parents’ marriage was… difficult. When I was 9 years old, I lived through, in short succession: my parents’ separation, my brother’s kidnapping by my father, and my father’s attempted murder of the man who would soon become my dear stepfather. During this time, Venezuela was going through an attempted coup. We often had no running water, and there were nighttime curfews.
I remember anxiously waiting for my Mom to get home from her evening computer science classes, because I was scared of the army guards that loitered on every corner. That summer became a terrible blur, because it felt like I lost everything. Because of my father’s instability, we had to leave the country quickly. We moved to the United States in a panic, which was both exciting and traumatizing. I had grown up around both sides of my family, often living in apartments full of laughter and dozens of family members. I went through culture shock when we arrived in Florida.
What amazes me when I slow down enough to listen to my husband (who is right 100% of the time, so he says), is how much I was able to accomplish while struggling to heal. Shortly after surgery, I finished my professional master’s degree, started an acupuncture practice, managed a wellness center, and helped my husband with the administrative and financial side of his business.
I often forget to give myself credit for being a badass. I think about the countless women I’ve seen in my practice, all struggling with serious health issues, and they’re badasses too! They remind me to give myself and my body credit for doing so well.
I started my healing journey by getting acupuncture and weekly massages. I was incredibly lucky to marry one of the best qigong teachers in the country, and started practicing meditation and tai chi, which have been a critical part of my healing. I later added on chiropractic, and in particular began using Neuro Emotional Technique (NET, my favorite tool in practice). I took herbs and supplements. I started playing around with food, including low glycemic index-based diets, the Weston A. Price-recommended diet, Slow-Carb, Primal, Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS), and Paleo.
I was getting better a little bit at a time. Every once in awhile, I would suddenly backslide. I was so tired by 6 p.m., I would fall asleep on the drive home. Weeping episodes hit me without warning. I was scared. I reached out to functional medicine specialists who helped further diagnose and treat my conditions. I started counseling and decided to learn to love myself unconditionally (this is still the hardest one for me).
Looking back, I realize I was so focused on being successful and helping people that I was ignoring critical parts of the healing journey. I’m not all the way healed. Not by any means. But I have made immense strides in my health and my ability to embody my true self.
I’m baring myself here because I want you to know that I’ve been there. I’ve had perplexing medical problems and have seen what feels like every type of practitioner out there. I’ve tried all the diets, taken all the supplements, and cried alone in the closet when nothing worked.
As I finish writing this, I’ve celebrated 11 years of being given a new chance at life. Ten years of more than survival. It’s been 10 years of dedicated and passionate work in my practice as well. My purpose is to facilitate your own personal realization.
May your suffering be decreased, and your joy increase a thousand fold. Thank you for letting me be a part of your healing team - from the deepest, sassiest, joyous depths of my heart.