A Survivor’s Guide to Kicking Cancer’s Ass
by Dena Mendes

                    The following excerpt is taken from the book A Survivor’s Guide to Kicking Cancer’s Ass by Dena Mendes. It is published by Hay House (November 2011) and is available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com.
Diagnosis: When the Shit Hits the Fan
If you’re reading this book, then the shit has obviously hit the fan. You’ve been diagnosed with cancer, or you know someone who has. You’re probably more than freaked out, and you have a million questions that you feel you need the answers to right away.
The most important thing you need to know is that it isn’t as much about the “answers” as it is about the journey and the amazing health-awakening experience in store for you. It is time to reinvent yourself; that’s what this means. Don’t worry, you’re not alone. I am here for you—as are so many others—to guide you through this painful, traumatic, confusing, enlightening, and beautiful transformation.
When I was diagnosed almost a decade ago, I was just as scared and confused as you are now. The perfect way to describe the feeling when you first hear the words “You have cancer” is that you’re burning outside, like you’re on fire—yet you’re bitterly cold on the inside, sort of like a brain freeze after drinking a 7-Eleven Slurpee too fast. It is truly an out-of-body experience.
At first, I was afraid I was going to die. In fact, the fear was so paralyzing that I was ready to do whatever the doctors told me I needed to do to survive, no questions asked. I wish someone had been there to tell me to take a step back; take some time to absorb and process what I’d just been told; and come up with pertinent questions for the “all-knowing, all-seeing” beings we believe our doctors to be. We think that they are infallible and know everything. I’m here to tell you this: they don’t know everything, so take your time and ask plenty of questions.
Being diagnosed truly does feel like “falling down the rabbit hole.” It’s a fantastical trip, that’s for sure, so put on your seat belt and join me in this chance to turn yourself inside out, to dive directly into the present moment like a warrior. I have found that something this big doesn’t just go away until it has taught us all we need to know. So bless it for coming to teach you. Then dig deep . . . but don’t take it too seriously. Trust me, you will be opening to many new and exciting ideas, so have some fun with your awakening as you allow a whole new world to unfold, one that is rewarding and fulfilling beyond your wildest imagination.
Forget words like hope, which, I have come to learn, stems from a feeling of lack and fear. Reaching our breaking point or having the earth crumble beneath our feet is neither a punishment nor a sign that the end is near; it is, however, a sign of enlightenment. Create the gift by holding hands with your fear. Stay with your fear, get to know it—what does it smell like, feel like, look like? The key is to stop struggling against fear, because, like quicksand, the more you struggle, the faster you sink. Instead of grasping or numbing yourself with pills or a drink, let’s dare to wake up and look directly at the scary monster.
Now that you know your fear intimately, you know that it can’t kill you this minute. Welcome to my world—let’s get to work and kick some ass. In this book, I proudly share all my resources, remedies, and protocols that helped me to not just survive, but thrive.
It seems that no matter what kind of cancer they are dealing with, the question is always the same: “Do you have some sort of guide to help me through this?” I’ve come up with just that—a step-by-step guide that serves as a life preserver for you and your loved ones.
Choosing Your Doctor
First and foremost, it is imperative that you find a physician who will be your partner and allow you to become an active participant in your healing process. As you conduct your search, here are some rules of thumb to follow:
You must feel comfortable with the doctor you select, so search for someone who is warm instead of cold and callous. He or she should be patient and really listen to you when you ask questions or have requests, not rushing to get you out of the room.
Your doctor should speak to you on an equal level so that you clearly understand what’s being explained to you.
Look for someone positive and not dramatic in nature. Remember, his or her attitude will affect your healing process and your outcome.
Try to find a practitioner who offers you some alternative health-care modalities, literature on integrative therapies, and new protocols available. Ask if he or she is willing to give you a prescription for complementary health care, such as lymphatic drainage.
Finally, be aware of your specific insurance plan and what it covers.
It’s also extremely important that you follow your intuition. If your gut feeling about some medical professional leaves you unsure, uncomfortable, uncertain, and invalidated, find another one.
I remember when, early on in my journey, I met a doctor I instantly didn’t like. I thought he was cold, impersonal, and impatient—but I stuck with him anyway. Why would I have done that? It is common for people to feel inferior to doctors’ “brilliance,” and to do whatever they say without question. But for me, it was also a gender thing. I was still stuck in the mind-set of a little girl who had an overbearing father. I was afraid to speak out of turn, let alone ask too many questions.
The doctor I ultimately chose to help me through my process is wonderful, open, patient, and understanding; and he didn’t bully me by using fear tactics. He also allows me to create my own healing regimens outside of the hospital, such as combining natural healers, organic foods, alternative supplements, and other treatments.
Always keep this in mind: Doctors work for you. You pay them, and you have every right to demand what you want. I am a total advocate for speaking your truth and expressing your expectations in a respectful way to doctors; they are human, after all, and should be informed if they’re not satisfying your needs as a patient.
I once had a radiologist tell me that she was only allotted so many minutes with each patient, and it was very difficult for her to tell people they had cancer and then shove them out the door. Since hearing that, I remember to tell my doctors, “I won’t be leaving until I’m done.” Don’t forget, you are paying for this appointment. You can sit on that table as long as you like until all questions are answered to your satisfaction.
Write It Down
Here’s another great piece of advice: In the midst of chaos and stress, it can be difficult to stay focused, let alone remember anything. I suggest you write it down. Don’t leave that examining room or let him run out until you’re satisfied. Afterward, go home, think about what you were told, discuss it with other people, and get a second opinion—and then third and fourth opinions if you need them. But be careful. If you solicit five opinions, you’ll get five different answers.
You may be afraid to make any kind of demands of your doctor, or to ask him to spend more time explaining something you don’t understand, fearing that this would make you seem pushy or stupid. Yet I’ve seen firsthand how damaging these feelings can be.
Recently, I went to the hospital to visit a client who was suffering from lung cancer. She was a frail 84-year-old woman who hadn’t eaten in two weeks and had dropped 15 pounds. I was blown away when her family told that me they weren’t allowed to change her diet because any and all natural foods were considered “food supplements” and should not be “taken,” as if they were dangerous pharmaceuticals.
This poor woman and her family were at the mercy of her physician. They felt as if their hands were tied, so they did exactly what he told them to do. This wasn’t necessary. I pointed out that I’d been through the same treatments as their mother, and that because of the tools I used to empower myself and rebuild my immune system, I looked and felt great. Still, the family was so concerned about offending the doctor that they looked like deer stuck in headlights.
In a weak and timid voice, my client told me, “We can’t even get near the doctor—he doesn’t want to listen to us.” I was so shocked and angry that I felt like screaming at this man. All I could think was, Really, who works for whom here? Do we live in that much fear of our doctors? Don’t we pay an astronomical amount for their fees, services, and medications?
Then I remembered how I felt at first. I also felt inferior to the “superior doctor.” I didn’t know that I had a choice or a voice. I didn’t use mine in the beginning either, and it almost cost me my life. But I found that there was a better way, one that required a working relationship with my doctor based on mutual respect. Since then, I never go into any doctor’s office without my trusty notebook and pen in hand. I’ve learned to write down my questions beforehand so I won’t forget to ask a thing. Even if I feel that the doctor is trying to push me out of the room, I just smile and say, “I waited for over an hour to get into this little room, and now you’re stuck with me until I’m satisfied.”
So, take notes and ask your doctor to repeat his comments if necessary. He should slow down or explain concepts more thoroughly so you can better understand what’s being said. Ask for a direct phone number or pager so you can call if you think of further questions after you leave, which you inevitably will. At the end, don’t forget to smile sweetly and say, “Thank you so much for your time.”
Be Strong
When people call me after a cancer diagnosis, I tell them with total confidence that when they’re done crying, they will absolutely pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and live another day. I say that they get to become someone new, not only for themselves but also for their loved ones. The reasons these individuals have been diagnosed can be deep and vast. I assure them that they shouldn’t worry about that now as the answers will present themselves soon enough. I had one client, for instance, who learned everything there was to know about alternative modalities so when the time came, she was instrumental in helping to heal her son when he went through a similar health crisis.
What is important for you to know right now is that you can live a long and healthy life. Many individuals live with cancer today just as people live with diabetes. Prepare yourself just as you would for a test in school. If you don’t study, you will fail. So “know thy subject.” Before gathering the tools you will need for this battle, you must quiet your mind. This might not make sense while you’re in panic mode, but believe me, by the end of this book, it will. For now, suffice it to say that through stillness, the world will be unmasked and will freely offer you the intuitive answers you seek on your journey. You will first need to turn inward to the silence of your soul.
To do this, I suggest you set aside some time each day to sit comfortably in a special space with your spine erect. As you breathe, follow the exhale . . . every time you catch yourself thinking, simply say, “Thinking” and then let it go, like a cloud that floats away, effortlessly. Stay in this present state for a few moments at first; you’ll see how the time expands with your mind. You’ll find yourself craving this space where you can safely observe the chaos and fear, where you can listen to you.
Many people who call me feel as if they have been given a death sentence. When I tell them that it is entirely feasible for them to lead full, healthy, and long lives, I can actually hear them straighten up through the phone line as they begin to picture another possibility. They typically say, “This is the best conversation I have had since this whole nightmare began.”
I then go on to explain that their diagnosis is not a negative thing; it is simply their body’s way of expressing a weakness or deficiency in some area. Cancer doesn’t come out of the blue, it doesn’t just pop up in a random spot of the body without good reason, and it can’t simply be removed without looking at the whole picture. It is an encompassing disease that requires the body’s defense mechanism to kick in—the physical structure and emotional environment must be addressed and treated, not just the disease.
When cancer cells form in a healthy body, they are recognized by the strong immune system and quickly eliminated before becoming a problem. Tumors typically grow slowly, giving the body time to gather its defenses. This is good news for us; we simply need to restore our health on an emotional, physical, and energetic level. That’s not so tough—I know exactly how to do it! Been there and done that. Remember, go with your first instinct and gut intuition, as it’s typically the correct one. Know that for every problem, there is a natural solution. And above all, remember: You can do this.
When the shit hit the fan for me, I knew I had to begin asserting myself and become proactive. I spent hours, weeks, months, and years on research, discovering new alternative modalities so I could empower myself with tools to get in shape for the fight of my life. Would you compete in the Olympics, climb Mount Everest, or play in the Super Bowl without appropriate training or the proper tools and equipment? No, you would not. The diagnosis you have been given is your challenge. It requires you to be in peak performance. This is your call to action. If your life were a movie, how would you want it to turn out?
Be the hero, stand up, and let everyone (including yourself) know that you’re here and present, ready to kick some ass.
Stay Out of the Victim Trap
I always say “the cancer.” I never say “my cancer”—I do not claim it as something I own. When others say “your cancer,” as if they’re tagging you with it, correct them by simply stating, “It’s not my cancer. It’s the cancer, and it’s leaving my body now.” Empower yourself with your words; others will follow your lead. Never take on a victim role or operate from a place of defeat.
When you find out you have cancer, your first instinct may be to tell everyone you know. Be careful, since people can become like rapidly dividing cancer cells and spread your news out of control. As the story gets passed along from person to person, it can become overdramatized and distorted, like the childhood game of telephone. Steer clear of those individuals who like to be saviors (or as I call them, the “brisket brigade”). They’ll keep stopping by to commiserate over your tragic situation, almost as if they want to keep you mired down in the muck of your “bad news.” Some of the things people said to me left me in utter dismay . . . maybe it made them feel better about their own lives.
There is certainly a place for allowing others to comfort you while you process the overwhelming wave of emotions that accompanies a diagnosis; however, you absolutely must avoid those who keep you in the “Poor, Pitiful Pearl” program. This would not be healthy for you. Even so, it’s very easy to fall into the “victim trap”—in which you find that it behooves you to stay sick because it defines who you are.
I quickly discovered that I didn’t have time to wallow and feel sorry for myself. There was too much work to be done. I remember the surprise on one of my neighbor’s faces when I greeted him one day with a huge smile and upbeat attitude. He went on about the horror of it all, while I reported how great I felt and thanked him for visiting me. He almost seemed defeated when he couldn’t save me.
Another time, I received a sympathy/condolence card from someone I barely knew. I remember asking my husband when I opened it, “Who died?” On the flip side, a friend of mine gave me a card that was so powerful and positive, telling me that if there was anyone equipped to deal with this challenge and kick ass, it was me. I loved that card. For anyone reading this who wonders how to console a loved one struggling with cancer, remember that the person doesn’t need sympathy—but rather, strength, encouragement, optimism, or maybe simply an ear.
Ask for What You Need and Create Your Own Support Team
I was so used to taking care of others, being fully competent, and managing everyone’s lives—so many people had depended on me to “fix it”—that accepting any type of help was extremely difficult for me. When a very dear friend asked if she could bring me groceries, it was such a struggle for me to say yes. I just couldn’t allow someone else to do the caretaking. But my friend didn’t give up, calmly telling me, “Dena, let someone help you. Let someone take care of you . . . it’s okay.”
Finally, I was able to say, “Yes, thank you.” I started to practice that answer, and to use it more often. I learned that there is nothing wrong with accepting help from friends and family, or asking for it when you need to.
Most people don’t know what to do or say, so it will be a learning curve for everyone involved. All you have to do is ask for what you need from a place of appreciation and gratitude, and allow the ones who care about you to be the blessing they are.
You’ll need a support team—mine was called “Team D.” Some of them helped me with natural cooking so that I could eat a strict diet of macrobiotic food. Others came with me to chemo treatments and talked me through guided meditation and visualization. Still others were there to shower me with thoughtful little gifts and acts of kindness when I needed it most. One friend even helped me create a vision board with positive messages, such as: I have decided to become fully conscious; I love myself unconditionally; and I am healthy, whole, and free to let go of the past. I am grateful to all the members of my team who rallied and helped me kick cancer’s ass. I bless them all.
In the beginning, I also really wanted to be around someone who had gone through what I was about to endure, but I didn’t know anybody who had. I prayed to my higher power for guidance, and my prayers were answered when I met Vicki, my partner in wellness.
One day I was at Whole Foods Market when I saw a young, happy bald girl. I said, “Hey, Baldy.” She was a little taken aback, until I told her that I’d soon be bald, too. We hit it off; and we went on to meet every week for our “no dairy, no wheat, no gluten,” seasonally correct, organic meals while downing shots of wheatgrass.
Even though our personal lives were completely opposite, Vicki was someone I could relate to on the cancer level. On days when I knew I had to leave her to endure another treatment, I would hold on to her for dear life. Together, we grew healthier and stronger—and then, when our treatments were finished, we went our separate ways with love and gratitude in our hearts.
In finding companionship through your ordeal, don’t try too hard. When I was diagnosed again, I asked my doctor for “another Vicki”—that is, a patient I could relate to or find comfort in—and the patient he connected me with was dying. Ultimately, I felt more depressed than uplifted. I firmly believe that the people you need appear exactly when you need them, as Vicki did for me. (Imerman Angels is a great resource for people who are looking to make what I call a “cancer connection”: www.imermanangels.org.)
My children gave me great strength as well. I’ll never forget when my then-five-year-old son, Jet, told me, “Mom, I was reading a study today.” That in itself made me laugh, but he continued, “It said if you laugh and smile more, you’ll live longer.” He decided that he was going to tell me a joke every day. So at night, I’d ask him, “What time is it, Jet?” He’d say, “It’s time to laugh, Mom.” Even if I didn’t feel like laughing, we would fake it until we could make it. Every single day, no matter how stupid I felt, I laughed so hard with him that tears streamed down my face.
In addition, my stepson Brice brought me DVDs of his favorite comedians, like Dane Cook . . . he’s hysterical. My daughter, Paris, learned how to cook healthy favorites and has been a great friend and companion through it all. My oldest stepson, August, made great music CDs. Everyone pitched in to make my recovery a positive one.
Now that you’ve learned everything you can about your diagnosis, found a patient and supportive doctor, written it all down, and created your positive support team, it’s time for the next step. You’re ready to grasp the nuts and bolts of cancer treatments.