To thine own Self be true (Unless you have a cancer diagnosis)

Marcilaughlin
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)
8 min readDec 29, 2020

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Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash — 8 doctors in operating room

As a culture we love to extoll the wisdom of Shakespeare’s “To thine own self be true.” But the reality is, there’s not a lot of encouragement for people seeking their own truth — unless it conveniently coincides with convention. It’s lauded in theory but resisted in practice.

I’ve mused about this many times over the past two years as I’ve chosen a non-conventional route to healing the thyroid cancer that was diagnosed in December 2018. I was taken aback again and again as I met with various doctors — endocrinologists, GPs, surgeons — who treated me like an errant child or irrational fool when I explained my desire to treat the cancer in a holistic way. They could not understand why I would opt out of the prescribed removal of my thyroid and lymph nodes when there was an 80% success rate for this type of thyroid cancer.

My most recent encounter of this nature came in July when I met with an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic. I had wanted to check on the status of the nodules in my neck.­­ Had they grown in size? Shrunk? Remained the same?

As I sat on the vinyl couch waiting for the doctor to enter, I could feel anxiety well up in my stomach. I took a deep breath and told myself to be open to a new experience. Maybe this doctor would be more understanding. After all, I’d heard the Mayo Clinic was more open to alternative therapies.

After 10 minutes, a stout M.D. with gray hair and olive complexion entered the room and introduced himself. I detected a Persian accent. (One of my talents since living in the Middle East.) He sat down and opened the blue file he’d carried in. After a few moments, he looked at me over the rim of his glasses and said, “So you were diagnosed a year and a half ago, but you refused to take doctors’ advice? Why would a still-relatively young and attractive woman like yourself want to throw away her life?”

I felt the knots in my stomach tighten. I found myself knocked immediately into justification mode. I explained that as a former Reiki teacher, I had a more holistic view of healing. I saw the cancer cells as a symptom of an underlying imbalance but not the source of the problem. I found myself talking faster as I saw his right eyebrow arch up. I felt the need to prove that I was possessed of very rational faculties before the look of disdain solidified on his face.

I failed in my goal. But I persisted, nonetheless. I told him I had been exposed to alternative health paradigms, such as German New Medicine (GNM), while living in Rome. I’d learned that some tumors (depending on the type of cancer) appear in the healing phase of what GNM terms a “bio-shock” that the body has been trying to resolve.

As I spoke, I noticed that what little softness had remained in the doctor’s face hardened. I felt that sinking feeling. But I wasn’t to the finish line yet! So I found myself talking not just more quickly but more loudly, as if that would drown out the skepticism that was already filling the room.

“Since healing can only occur after the conflict has been resolved, GNM focuses on identifying and resolving the original conflict.”

“Have you heard about Dr. Hamer?” I asked the doctor.

“No,” he replied. “And there’s probably good reason.”

“He’s more known in Italy and Germany, where he practiced. He devised the 5 Biological Laws which form the basis of GNM. Through thousands of case studies, Dr. Hamer learned that every cancer is biologically linked to a specific conflict. The healer I worked with in Rome explained that during the healing phase the tumor is broken down by specialized microbes. If these microbes aren’t available, maybe because of too many antibiotics, then the tumors can encapsulate and just remain there, inactive.”

I could have kept going, but I could see that speed and volume were no match for my competitor. He appeared to have tuned out and was examining the papers in the blue file.

“It says you lived abroad for 20 years. So you were in Italy?”

I felt some relief with his question. Maybe I could still win him over with some rapport building. I suddenly felt like the Velveteen rabbit, wanting to be real.

“I lived there because I married an Italian whom I met while living in Istanbul.”

His face softened and a glimmer of a smile appeared. “Ah I have spent some time in Italy. Also Rome. It’s a wonderful city.”

“I left the States in 2001 to live in Istanbul. I studied the Middle East in graduate school and fell in love with Turkey. So I lived there for several years, along with Egypt and a few other places. I’m guessing you’re from Iran?”

“Yes, I’m from Tehran, though I’ve been here since the 80s.” With pride, he told me he had been head of the Endocrinology department in the top medical school there for years. He proceeded to list a few other illustrious positions he had held — both there and in the U.S.

I asked a few other questions, which he seemed happy to answer. I found myself beginning to breath more easily. That is, until he abruptly turned in his swivel chair and tossed the file on the desk behind him. When he turned back to face me, his face looked stern again.

“Look, Ms. Laughlin. You’re clearly an intelligent woman. You’ve done graduate studies, you lived abroad a long time, and so have seen more than most. But I’ve learned that there are two types of people in the world: those who eschew science because they’re ignorant; and those who do so because they are very smart and feel like they can somehow find their own answers. So they choose to ignore what science has been revealing for decades.”

The vice in my stomach tightened so hard I winced. Looking beyond an allopathic medicine paradigm was “eschewing science”? Simply because I chose to explore another route, I was now a rejector of “science”?

As I felt the contraction in my whole being, he continued to lecture. “Given your background, it’s clear that you are not in the first category of people. But those that think they’re so smart end up losing. Look what happened to Steve Jobs. He went off to Europe for a year to do alternative medicine, thinking he could heal himself. And now he’s dead.”

As he spoke, I felt 14 all over again. I saw myself standing before the desk of Mrs. Whinnery, my sophomore English teacher. She leafed through the essay I had proudly turned in the week before, revealing red marks all over it. She insisted that my vocabulary was too advanced and accused me of plagiarism. A mixture of hurt and righteous indignation washed over me. I had to redeem myself of this false accusation!

I took a deep breath and with as much calm as I could muster, I explained to him that my decisions have not come from a place of thinking I “know better.” But that it has been an intense journey of following my inner guidance. My inner knowing had whispered loudly and clearly in January 2019, “Surgery is not your path to healing.”

Again he cut me off by turning his back to look at the thyroid imaging on the computer screen. With great finality he announced, “There is no other way to treat thyroid cancer; but if you don’t want to listen to science that’s your choice.”

I had walked into his office as a 51-year old and walked out age 14, feeling like a young delinquent. This was the 6th time I’d walked out of a doctor’s office wearing an old and familiar mantle of wrongness. I was again besieged by doubt and inclined to let my inner authority be taken hostage by the outer authority.

I felt plain weary. At age 51, shouldn’t I be more solid in the face of judgement and criticism? But it has felt like an uphill battle ever since choosing to pursue my healing in a way that makes no sense for so many around me. When am I going to let go of needing it to make sense for others? When will I let go of the part of me that fervently wants others to understand so that I don’t lose their approval?

As I was writing this, I happened across a video of Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, quoting a passage from a book called Way of the Rose:

Nothing in our modern institutional culture encourages us to pursue an interior self-directed criterion for fulfillment. And there is very little support for doing so.”

Dr. Northrup noted that we are encouraged to get a degree, study engineering, make money, and become something that society understands. She continued quoting:

“The purpose of those institutions is to subvert the desires of the individual and replace them with their own.”

And often the favorite language of these institutions is fear and benevolent paternalism.

I reflect now on the irony of what I’ve learned as I’ve walked this alternative route. Indeed, this cancer hasbeen a messenger, that I’m glad I didn’t shoot. A year ago I discovered Gabor Mate’s book, When the Body Says No and wrote an article on the link between chronic illness, cancer and people pleasing. And in my journey, I’ve been forced every step of the way to confront the virus in my programming: my extreme need to please others, to avoid disapproval, and to earn love by doing the “right thing”. I’ve dog-paddled my way through layers of self-doubt and so many instances of giving my power to others. My chosen healing path has forced me to upend the pattern of toxic relationships I’ve had in my life and its genesis in my inability to put up boundaries, and to healthily self-assert.

This journey has been a non-stop process in finding that boundary, feeling the discomfort of assertion, and meeting with disapproval and rejection. A process of feeling the contraction, and then finding a way toward expansion again. Just as I did as I left the endocrinologist’s office. (Even though it took a couple days.) This journey has been a confirmation that some of our greatest teachers come in the most unexpected form. Had I gotten surgery 22 months ago, I might have missed the very necessary, albeit challenging, gifts of the messenger.

I’ve realized that as a people-pleasing empath, it’s f*cking hard to be true to myself. I’ve also learned not to expect society at large to cheer for my self-authenticity, and to be exceptionally grateful to those friends who do. Moreover, I’ve come to realize that finding alignment with one’s truth is a moment to moment process. It’s a choice of self-affirmation that needs to be made again and again.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up and decide to have that surgery. But when I do, that decision must come from my own inner knowing that it’s the right choice for me. Not from fear that has been fed to me or the certainty of others. Not from my deep desire to alleviate loved ones of their fears and worries. Nor from a place of weariness from swimming upstream.

I want my decision to be born from the calm waters of silence from deep within myself. I suspect that this is the source to which we must be true because finding “thy” amidst all the noise and false layers of Self can be a shit show.

So allow me to edit the incomparable Shakespeare just a bit: To thine own deep stillness be true.”

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Marcilaughlin
An Idea (by Ingenious Piece)

Globe-trotter, coach, master of deep conversation. Loves coffee & correctly using the subjunctive in Turkish & Italian. Happiest when opening minds & hearts.