Forging a Path through Breast Cancer: Bridging the Gap between Conventional and Holistic Treatment

This article appears in the May 2015 issue of Natural Awakenings Orange and Rockland.

You could say I spent my life waiting for the other shoe to drop. My mom got breast cancer for the first time when I was 17. Her mom died of cancer that started in her breast when I was 23. Part of me believed it was a matter of time.

Yet I never believed it was inevitable. Genetics are not destiny. We know genes turn on and off all the time.

I was a poster child for how to minimize risk—I ate an impeccable diet, and was vegetarian for five years previous to my diagnosis. I practiced yoga and meditation, took the right supplements and made my living teaching others to be healthy like me.

So why did I get breast cancer? As I reminded myself: babies get cancer, saints get cancer. All mammals are vulnerable. No one is immune.

But I believe it was trauma.

In 2009, I experienced unexpected, devastating loss. I’d been through difficult times before, including abuse, rape and chronic illness. I always bounced back and considered my life blessed, with two wonderful kids, a thriving holistic health practice and a full, happy life.

This was different. The bottom dropped out. For the first time in my life, my resilience deserted me. Fifteen months later, still struggling, I found a lump in my left breast. Studies show it’s a frequent aftermath of trauma.

And so my journey began. I found a surgeon who combined holistic and conventional techniques and respected my right to make an educated decision, informed by his experience. He gave me his blessing to explore holistic options first.

I abandoned the vegetarian diet on which I’d never felt good–it was high in carbohydrates and insulin resistance contributes to cancer. I bought an infrared sauna, did daily coffee enemas,  juiced, used essential oils and a specialized supplement regimen, continued daily meditation and a rigorous and sweaty 90 minute Ashtanga yoga practice, did visualizations, used acupuncture and hypnotherapy, and read 100 books on cancer. I worked with a therapist who recovered from it and two healers with impressive reputations.

For a while, it seemed to be working. And then, it clearly wasn’t. I got more tired. The lump, which had seemed to be going away, started to grow and then a second lump appeared. It was time to return to the surgeon.

Despite a positive BRCA1, I did not want a mastectomy. Instead, I chose chemo to shrink the tumors followed by a lumpectomy. I found an out-of-state integrative center that added supportive nutrients and holistic therapies to conventional treatment. I’d fly out Thursday, do chemo Friday, return home that night, rest all weekend and be back at work Monday. During the sixth of a planned eight treatments, I had an anaphylactic reaction and decided I was done. The lumps were undetectable and my surgeon agreed to proceed to the lumpectomy.

Why did I refuse a mastectomy? Women often make the decision out of fear, regardless of the facts. Mastectomy does not eliminate metastatic disease and it does have a high complication rate. It usually means an extended surgical process and can leave women with compromised self-esteem, body image issues and loss of sexuality, not to mention loss of sensation. I wanted to keep my breasts. I did not consider them “enemies”, or toxic, or dangerous. I considered cancer something that did not belong there, that I could eliminate and be healthy again.

I refused to be run by fear. I did the research and took responsibility for my choices, along with the risks and consequences. Then I did everything I could to improve my outcome.

Along with the daily regimen I used during my illness, I added a whole body vibration plate to rebuild muscle and bone and stimulate lymphatics and a vascular therapy mat for cellular health.

Recovering from chemo wasn’t easy or fun, but I got through it.

Three years later, I feel amazing. I am healthy and my doctors concur. My focus, vitality, libido and resilience are intact, as are my breasts.

There are no guarantees. No one is invincible. We all live on borrowed time. Our resilience is in our relationship to that unfathomable truth. My mission now is to help women find their own resilience, whatever their choices.

Fran Sussman is a holistic practitioner who provides non-invasive holistic solutions for issues such as healthy weight loss, hormonal issues, Lyme disease, food sensitivities, ADHD and more. Her office is located at 29 Goshen Rd. in Chester. For more information, contact 496-0385 or or visit

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