My journey through cancer to healing

Faithful friends and a faithful Lord

Has your job ever saved your life? Mine may have.

As the founding CEO of The Banyans Health and Wellness, I lead an organisation that provides wellbeing transformation and personalised health treatment for stress and burnout, mental health and other chronic health conditions.

After all, if you just ignore it, it goes away … Right?

In this role, I regularly speak at business or community events about wellbeing, stress management and leadership performance. My aim is to help demystify this concept, and show that it can be improved with simple changes. I outline six key facets of wellbeing and one is physical wellbeing, which includes getting medical attention when you need it. It’s a presentation I have given regularly.

When I noticed a lump in October last year, you might be bemused to hear that I ignored it! I didn’t feel like I had the time to get it checked and it was easier to live in denial.

After all, if you just ignore it, it goes away … Right?

However, the next night, when I was once again ready to ignore it, I heard the very words I usually deliver to audiences playing back in my own mind. “Part of physical wellbeing is getting medical attention when you need it”.

In that moment, I realised I needed to practice what I preach, so made an appointment to see my GP, convinced it would be nothing. She checked it and suggested I make an appointment at the Breast Clinic. I dutifully did so, once again convinced it would be nothing. After all, I live a relatively healthy life. I value nutrition and exercise. I am in my forties and I don’t use tobacco or alcohol. My risk profile was fairly low.

Yet on 11 November last year, I was given the news that I had breast cancer.

The doctor told me that it was early stage and fairly contained. She explained it was the best version of bad news you could get. Nonetheless, I needed to plan surgery and treatment.

Anyone who has walked this journey will know that the next few weeks were a whirlwind of tests, scans and consultations. In the pre-surgery consultation, not all of the films and photos had arrived for the surgeon to review. He only had the written report of some of the technicians, and it threw a lot of doubt on the initial diagnosis that the cancer was fairly small. This raised the prospect of a much more invasive treatment approaching, including some radical surgery and many months of chemotherapy.

We settled on a staged approach, starting with a smaller surgery to remove the tumour and one lymph node before regrouping with those results. Needless to say, we left that consultation with our heads and hearts spinning. Sleep was difficult to come by that night.

The next morning, a dear friend who knew I was battling cancer – but who had not heard the latest news – sent me a text with one verse from the Bible. It read, “But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion’s mouth. 2 Timothy 4:17”.

In that moment, an indescribable sense of comfort came over me. I knew I was not alone. I had faithful friends, and a faithful God. Whatever the future held, I could hold onto the promise that the Lord would stand with me, give me strength and deliver me from ‘the lion’s mouth’ – however that looked.

One of the worst things about cancer is the unknown, and the uncertainty of how to navigate the journey. Being the patient, rather than my usual position as someone who serves patients, was a powerful learning opportunity for me.

It reminded me of the power of words. Small encouragements from health staff during important stages in my journey were magnified. Unfortunately, so were the unthinking and offhand comments that fed anxiety.

It reminded me of the power of presence. Whether people stood with me in person, or virtually by sending me notes, flowers or thoughtful gifts, I felt supported and uplifted.

I ended up needing two surgeries, the second to sample some extra nodes. I then met with a medical oncologist to review the next steps. As she reviewed all the results, the doctor said that if the tumour had been just 2 millimetres bigger, I would have needed chemotherapy. However, we got it early enough so I only needed radiation therapy.

I have never been so grateful for 2 millimetres!

Some people experience healing and some faith-filled people will experience their healing only in eternity. Everyone’s journey is different.

If I hadn’t spent my last four years talking about the facets of wellbeing and what they looked like, I would likely have put off getting that first medical appointment. Who knows what the treatment journey would have looked like or what the prognosis would have been? My job definitely helped make my life (and health) better! And now, I am cancer free, strong and positive.

My experience has deepened my understanding of how difficult it is to walk through treatment journeys – whether that’s for cancer, mental health, addiction, eating disorders or other chronic conditions.

I know that not everyone catches their cancer early, or even if they do, it may be more difficult to treat. Some people experience healing and some faith-filled people will experience their healing only in eternity. Everyone’s journey is different.

This health experience has enhanced my passion at The Banyans to help people, through exceptional care, respect and joy.

While most of us won’t lead a healthcare organisation like The Banyans, we can all be part of someone’s health support team.

As people of faith and goodwill, we can be those who speak life and encouragement into people while they are battling health challenges. That may look like opening the Bible to someone by sharing an encouraging verse. It may look like being a positive and non-anxious presence for someone while they walk through anxious times.

It may be encouraging someone to get treatment rather than putting it off.

It may be speaking words of hope in the midst of difficult days.

Who can you speak life into today?

Ruth Limkin is Founding CEO of The Banyans Health and Wellness.

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