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Breast Cancer or Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

Breast Cancer or Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition
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By Joie Jacobsen

I’ve always been a bit concerned over the secret goings on underneath my skin; all those THINGS and functions that I can’t SEE and that I don’t have much control over.  Exams, check ups and tests usually comfort me because, up until February of this year, I almost always got decent news.  So even if I couldn’t SEE what was happening underneath my skin the tests showed that I was doing okay.

I found out I had breast cancer while getting on a bus in the middle of a rainstorm.  I was fumbling with my metro card, my purse and my phone when I heard my gynecologist, say “Miss Jacobsen, its not good news.”

This diagnosis was a direct result of my annual mammogram.  I was NOT expecting to hear anything afterwards but “looks good, see you next year.”  I was not expecting the Spanish Inquisition.

That was a Friday, by the following Wednesday I was at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.   My gynecologist, Dr. Ketly Michel, whom I trust and adore, recommended I meet breast cancer surgeon Dr. Virgilio Sacchini.  I was all for surgery.  I just kept thinking GET THIS OUT OF ME!

I heard good news and bad news at that first appointment.  Good news, totally treatable, totally curable.  Bad news, there’s another site we need to check out.  That biopsy also came back as “invasive carcinoma with lobular and ductal features”.

At this point in my story you may be surprised to hear that I’m a practitioner of several different energy healing modalities.  I wholeheartedly believe in the efficacy of this work.  It’s changed my life and I’ve seen first hand the positive changes it’s made in the lives of others.  What you should also know is that I grew up in a family of nurses and I’ve attracted more along the way.  My mother was a nurse, her sister taught nursing, my partner Tim just graduated from nursing school, I have two cousins (one on each side) who are nurses, another who is a doctor and one of my best friends in the world is a nurse practitioner.

This is why I chose to treat my cancer with traditional western allopathic methods while at the same time supporting myself (body, mind and spirit) with integrative, complimentary healing modalities.

While sorting my options, Mastectomy and reconstruction, Lumpectomy followed by radiation, chemo if the lymph nodes were involved, I did something I hadn’t been able to do before.  I asked for help.  Traditionally I’ve been more comfortable as the doer and the giver, not as the receiver.  In my work as a healer I’ve been taught to see the opportunity every problem offers us and to create whatever shifts are needed to seize that opportunity.  The universe had just offered me an enormous opportunity to become as comfortable receiving as I was giving and I said YES!  I started letting people know what was happening and asked for help.  I asked my healer friends to work on me whenever they could.  I had in person sessions; phone sessions and lots of distance healing when I wasn’t consciously aware people were working.  I asked my family and friends to think positive thoughts in my general direction, to pray and to see me going through each stage of this process with ease and grace.

The Process and Options.

It turned out having a lumpectomy wasn’t great for me.  Too much tissue would need to be removed since I had two sites.  Also, if I had a mastectomy I wouldn’t need radiation or chemo as long as the lymph nodes weren’t engaged.  So mastectomy.  I really wanted a nipple-sparing (subcutaneous) mastectomy.  Scoop out the inside, pop in an implant and you’re good to go.  Unfortunately I was not a candidate for this procedure.  I also learned that once the inside tissue is removed they have a lot of difficulty getting the nipple to point in the right direction.  You could have one pointing up to the left, the other down and to the right.  Yeesh!  No thank you.

To find out what my options were I needed to meet with my plastic surgeon, Dr. Joseph Disa, also at MSKCC.  I went in thinking “get an implant, seems easy, let’s just get this thing done”.  Then one of Dr. Disa’s team reminded me that implants need to be replaced every ten years or so.  I vividly flashed on me, age 83, getting my third replacement.  Suddenly this option became much less appealing while the other options seemed very complex, scary and intimidating.

That’s when I had my first real melt down.  Not about having cancer, but about how to get back from it.  How to get started on the person I’d become.  Up to that point I’d been mentally dodging the understanding that nothing would ever be the same again.

This was a point where the alternative, complimentary modalities made a world of difference for me.  I left the appointment with Dr. Disa in a terrible state, shaking with anxiety, thoughts flying all over the place and terrible fear that I’d make the wrong choice.  I reached out for healing help, for friends to talk it through with, for everyone to pray and send me those uplifting positive thoughts.  And I got it and it really made a difference.  All that lovely support helped me feel clearer, more confident and happy to make a decision.  In the end I chose the absolutely most complicated reconstruction possible, the muscle-sparing free TRAM flap.

So, why did I go from ‘just get it out of me and get it done’ to choosing this complicated procedure?  Over the long haul, women who’ve had the TRAM flap are happier with their reconstruction than women who get implants.  It’s your own tissue and while it’s in a different spot your body recognises it as its own.  They remove tissue completely from the belly and reattached it at the breast site, doing microvascular surgery so the new breast gets good blood flow and stays alive.

I had my mastectomy first and then three months later had my reconstruction.  I’d wanted to do it all at once but my surgeons’ schedules didn’t match up for ages and I wasn’t comfortable waiting to get rid of the cancer.  The mastectomy went very well, my pathology was perfect, no need for radiation or chemo.  It took me a good seven weeks to start feeling mostly normal but again I got lots of great support.  I’d also begun weekly acupuncture shortly before surgery and when I was able to resume that it helped my energy level enormously.

Something else I’ve learned in my work, as an energy healer is that BELIEF is a truly powerful thing.  When we believe something it just IS.  I knew that my second surgery was way bigger than my first.  I knew I’d have to stay in the hospital 5 days instead of over night.  I knew that the recovery time was longer.  I knew it, but I also believed that, for me, it was going to be easier.  All the energy work I received in preparation for this second surgery, all the thoughts and prayers held the intention that I’d sail through and recover quickly and easily.

And sail I did!  Even now, over two months later I’m amazed at how well it all went.  One big plus was that I became the first patient that Dr. Disa was able to use a particular pain medication on.  The hospital had okayed its use a few days before my surgery.  It’s administered at the end of the surgery by injection and lasts up to 72 hours.  Abdominal surgery is notoriously painful.  I’d been warned that on the pain scale of 0 to 10 you’re looking at an 8.  Honestly I never hit greater than a 3 or 4 and that was usually because I hadn’t hit the pain pump in quite awhile then I’d move and think ‘oh yeah, pain pump’.

My sister came to be with me when I got home from the hospital and honestly it felt more like a visit than convalescence.  Three weeks after surgery I took a five day class.  I started seeing my clients right after that.  Never doubt the power of intention.

Most of the time I’ve managed to stay quite positive throughout this process.  I had a lot of help doing this.  I asked and was answered.  So many people regularly emailed, sent cards, called and texted with encouragement, offers for help, and with much appreciated humor.  Now I’m getting on with becoming this new version of me.  For decades my mental and emotional wellbeing was what held my attention.  I want this new version of me to have it all – to be healthy in body, mind and spirit.  After all this is what I’ve always wanted for everyone else as well!

Joie Jacobsen is a Practitioner  of Energy Healing Modalities.  Check out her website:



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