The Spiritual Side of Illness

I have known Cindy Greb for over 25 years and am gratified to have been able to witness her journey from diagnosis to successful living as a breast cancer ‘thriver’.

She shares her initial experience the first time she knew that something was amiss. “It was very unexpected. I had always been healthy. It was scary. The waiting to have the biopsy was the hardest part. My dear friend, Julia, who had had breast cancer about twenty years ago had said as much to me. She said that the waiting to know was the hardest part. After that, I just dealt with it. She was right. And it was a longer wait for me than for many because 1) I didn’t have insurance and so there was red tape involved in trying to get me medical assistance, and 2) I got clear I needed to change doctors and so I had to have a whole additional set of appointments, etc.

According to Cindy, “I think when any woman (or man) first suspects cancer, there is fear. No matter how much my rational mind and larger spiritual self can rationalize that ultimately all will be well, we have a tendency in this culture to associate cancer with death, and we have the tendency to be afraid of death. It was a very long process for me to work through those fears. It took me about ten months from the onset of my symptoms to come to a place of deeper peace.”

She explains: “A turning point came, once again, when I received some wisdom from my friend, Julia. She said, in essence: “Most cancers grow very slowly. You have time to make the right choice for yourself. You don’t have to hurry with your decisions. After I got that advice, I felt some palpable relief. It can feel like a whirlwind to go from symptom to primary doctor to mammogram to specialist to ultrasound to other doctors, etc. And the surgeon I was initially sent to essentially told me “this is what we are going to do.” That did NOT sit well with me, although I was too shell-shocked and, surprisingly, timid to question him at the time. But a day or two later, I eventually came to the realization that I needed to take some time to sit with my feelings and decide a proper course of action. I actually took myself to the shore so I could have some “time apart.” Once I did that, my next course of action became clear to me. And first on the list was to get a new doctor.

There were four primary things that got her through the process.

Friends. I did have friends I could talk to, thank God. And in particular, friends who had gone through (or were still dealing with) breast cancer were the ones I sought out the most.

Taking time off from the workaday world proved very helpful. I needed lots of time to reflect on not only a correct course of action for me, but what brought me to this place and what I might learn from the experience.

Writing about my experiences, feelings, dreams, research, etc. also helped me a great deal. It enabled me to process things. Early on I realized that I wanted to use my experience as a way to educate others, and so I began a blog. _


_ I think this helped me to see some sense in it all. If I could help others as well as learn things about myself, then these were good things.

Faith. This is not something anyone can give to you, but I seem to have been blessed with ample amounts of it. I had a sense that my time on the planet was not complete. And even if it was my time to die, I knew that ultimately everything would be well. Whether on this side of the life/death threshold or the other side, I know, deep in my being, that all is well. (I love Julian of Norwich’s declaration: All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.)”

She educated herself about good self care as well.

“ It became immediately clear to me that I needed to make some radical changes to my diet. I had allowed myself, over time, to get complacent and indulgent with my food choices – even though I “knew better.” I knew I’d been eating too much meat, dairy, wheat, and sugar.

As soon as I got my diagnosis, I switched to a vegetarian diet. After a few months, I realized I didn’t feel the need to be that strict. (I personally think that some body types do better with occasional animal protein – as long as it’s healthy, organic, and especially free of hormones.) But I did begin to eat in a significantly healthier way.

I began paying a lot of attention to my meals. I incorporated as many vegetables in my diet as possible. For instance, if I cooked a pot of brown rice, I’d toss in chopped onion and kale or spinach as well. If I made soups or chili, I always, always added greens and carrots or red peppers. I learned that many fruits and vegetables actually prevent cancer or retard the growth of cancer. Some detoxify, some neutralize the effects of artificial hormones, and some even cause positive changes at the level of our DNA.”

Stress relief was crucial. “I slowed wayyyyy down. I didn’t go out as much, I didn’t work so hard, I stopped taking care of “the whole world” and began taking more care of myself. I was much more reflective and much less active.”

She has learned that “I am capable of knowing and discerning what is right for me.”

“I also learned, big time, that although it is well and good to care for others, to “take care of them” – ie, to feel responsible for their well-being – especially when it is at the expense of my own well-being, is terribly unwise. I had to learn that I was as worthy of care as everyone else.

I am also learning that it is quite all right for me to follow my own path even when it appears others have a different image of what my life should look like. This is HUGE for me. I am beginning to live a more authentic life. And that feels sooooooo good!”

She advises the readers here: “Please, please, start eating “real” food. Eat as many vegetables and fruits as you can. (Some say that as much as half of our diet should be fruits and vegetables.) Supplement your diet with legumes, whole grains, and nuts and seeds. Whenever possible, eat local and/or organic food.

Avoid any kind of toxic exposure to the best of your ability. This includes cleaning supplies, weed killers, pesticides (bug spray), cigarette smoke, radiation, even some hair products, makeup, nail polish, etc. And then (because it’s too hard to avoid it all), take supplements and do things which help you to detoxify.

Maintain a health weight, exercise, keep oxygenated – especially if, like me, you have never born or nursed any children. You are at a significantly higher risk if your breasts have never prepared themselves for lactation. “

Remember that you are worthy of excellent self-care.

Most of all, STOP doing the things that cause you distress and anxiety and START doing the things that your soul is urging you to do. If you have “always wanted to do something,” please stop procrastinating. FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS!!! Not only is it the way to greater happiness, it will most definitely impact your health in a positive way.

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