The unexpected can surface at any time. At 24, I enjoyed my position in the U.S. Congress, and I had big dreams of attending law school. But on March 18, 1998, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Numb and disassociated, I entered a shocking world.
After much research, many recommendations, and my own decision-making, I had awake brain surgery at the National Institutes of Health. Thankfully, surgeons removed the visible tumor with some surrounding tissue. I felt tremendous gratitude—but also fear about a recurrence and living in the unknown.
Motivated to explore new directions, I also started using some complementary, alternative, and holistic therapies. That included an array of strategies—supplements, herbs, acupuncture, craniosacral therapy, Shamanic healing, dental work, support groups, psychotherapy, and much more. For example, my acupuncturist trained in the Five Elements supported my healing from brain surgery and improved my body-mind-spirit. Shamanic healing was also especially meaningful, as it helped me learn more about who I am and the bigger picture.
In my new world, I used extensive cancer, health, and healing strategies, and had treatments from practitioners across the United States and clinics in Europe. I created an optimized integrative cancer care plan, team, and self-care strategies, which continued to evolve over time. I had to fully embody the concept that healing is not only about the disease but instead about the whole person.
Eventually, I could not escape the unthinkable and needed a second awake brain surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, in 2011. From there, I continued to work with integrative practitioners using cancer treatments. Yet with further tumor growth, I had my third awake brain surgery in 2013, as well as radiation, oral chemotherapy, and a clinical trial for a vaccine developed by UCLA.
Today, I’m an 18-year brain tumor survivor. My journey from 24 to 42 years old has been amazingly transformative as a brain tumor patient, woman, and human being. As I reflect on my quest to heal, here are some of the main reasons I believe I'm still here: