IN DECEMBER OF 2013, I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH STAGE IV METASTATIC BREAST CANCER. I WAS GIVEN THREE MONTHS TO LIVE BY THE ONCOLOGISTS AT WAKE FOREST BAPTIST CANCER CENTER IN WINSTON-SALEM, NORTH CAROLINA.
If you’re reading this, sadly you too may know that feeling of helplessness that comes over you when you first hear those terrifying words: “You’ve got cancer.”
At first, I thought I was going to die. After all, the expert cancer doctors told me I was. They immediately began talking about “quality of life” for the time I had left – three months.
Their “quality of life” discussion always included pain management, chemotherapy and radiation, with the possibility of surgery.
When one of the most decorated and respected cancer specialist puts a time limit on my remaining days on this earth, who am I to disagree? I’m not the expert, the doctors are. I was in shock and probably at the lowest point in my life.
My husband though, would have none of it. To put it mildly, he went “viral.” He demanded that the doctors immediately stop putting a time limit on the days left in my life. I remember well as he raised his voice to the oncologists – over and over again – saying “How dare you tell my wife she is going to die in three months! Who the hell do you think you are, God?”
Why was Rick so convinced that I was not going to die?
Didn’t he understand that I was at Stage IV and very few come back from that? Did he not hear the doctors tell us that once the cancer had learned to travel from my breast, it took over my spine and was present in my ribs, sternum, and the head of my femurs? Was he ignoring the fact that I had compression fractures in my vertebra, three cracked ribs, a fractured sternum and the cancer had weakened my femur necks putting me at great risk of breaking a hip? Were I to break a hip, my chances for recovery would be slim to none.
Did he not even consider the national survival rate statistics for stage four breast cancer patients?
According to the National Cancer Institute’s Seer database, in 2013, there were close to 250,000 new breast cancer cases, with over 40,000 deaths in the US alone. Most of those cases were localized, meaning they were confined to the primary site, the breast for example. The five-year survival rate for localized breast cancer, or stages one and two, is over 98 percent. But I had Stage IV, and the five-year survival rate for my advanced stage and type of cancer is less than five percent.
Still, Rick kept telling me I was not going to die, regardless of what the doctors said and you know what? I began to believe him.
I agreed to the 10 radiation treatments the doctors recommended immediately after my diagnosis. These treatments targeted my right femur neck, which was the most involved, and compression fractures in my back. They told me it was mandatory to stabilize the areas worst hit. When I had completed radiation, they told me I needed to begin a regimen of chemotherapy, a monthly injection to help rebuild my bones, and, possibly, additional radiation.
I was wheeled, that’s right, in a wheelchair, to the pod where I received my first bone building injection. This was also the area where chemotherapy is administered. It was decorated in soothing colors and looked brand new. The nurses were very nice and supportive. But, what struck me most were the looks on the faces of the other patients. For the most part they looked worn out, and many looked lost in hopelessness. Those who made eye contact with me expressed sorrow and pity that I was about to join their ranks.
That did it. I knew right then that chemotherapy was not right for me. If I only had three months to live, I was not going to live it like this. Normally, as anyone who knows me will attest, I respect authority almost to a fault. If an authority figure tells me that I have to do something, I do it. Once I made my decision though, I immediately felt at peace with it.
So, Rick and I both became obsessed with researching other treatments to fight, and beat, this evil disease.
We found that there were countless treatments, supplements and protocols available, all claiming to “heal, cure or prevent cancer.” If you’ve done any kind of online search, you know what I’m talking about. I’m not here to recommend or condemn any of them, although there is a list of some of the sites we utilized and you can feel free to contact us for that information.
After narrowing the options down to a more manageable size, we came up with our own course of action to beat this beast of a disease.
Now, please understand, I am not a doctor. I would never recommend that you ignore the advice of your oncologist. We chose to try a more natural healing path over the past 20 months, and it appears to be working for me. This path I am now committed to hasn’t just given me an additional 17 months from the doctor’s original diagnosis, it has “stabilized my cancer,” according to my oncologist. While other doctors might claim I am in “remission,” my doctor doesn’t like to use that word. I will never be “cancer free,” but I believe that I can live to old age by continuing the path I am now on. The cancer will not conquer me or end my life.
Not that long ago, I needed a walker to move around the house and a grabber to pick up my socks from the floor. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t go up or down stairs. I couldn’t cook or clean or play with the dogs. I couldn’t do any of the basic things we take for granted every day. Thankfully, I had the help and support of my wonderful husband, Rick. He did everything for me, including being my chief advocate, an absolute necessity for anyone with a health issue.
In short, today I no longer even know where my walker is. I actually walk distances for exercise now. I still have to be mindful of my limitations, but have started physical therapy to increase my strength and range of motion. But, the best part for me is that I have plants! This Spring, I planted more flowers, vegetables and herbs than any one person should. It just felt so good to once again get my hands in the dirt and be able to create beautiful designs with plant material, that I went a little crazy. Ok, quite a bit crazy. Everything is planted in containers so that it’s easier for me to help maintain them, and I still need some help from Rick, but I don’t care. I get to play in the dirt!
My purpose here is to encourage all breast cancer patients and, maybe more importantly, those who have not heard those terrible words: “You’ve got cancer.” The changes we’ve made in our lives aren’t earth shattering. They’re just things that made sense to us as we moved forward in our battle for wellness. We believe that everyone can benefit from these changes. And the best thing is, you have nothing to lose by trying it.
If I can help encourage you in any way, I would love to talk to you!
So, what exactly is the path we’ve have chosen for my fight against breast cancer? To keep it simple we’ve condensed it to these four things: Lifestyle, Attitude, Food and Faith.
Here is a summary of each piece of the LAFF path:
We did an overall assessment of what emotions and triggers could have played a role in cancer setting up camp in my body. Lifestyle is sort of a catchall for things you do in your everyday life that can have a detrimental affect on your well-being.
Number one on the hit parade is stress. Everyone has stress. It’s a fact of life. But, we can all do little things to alleviate the level of stress our minds and bodies have to deal with on a daily basis. It will take some conscious effort on your part, but it can be done.
The other part of the stress equation, is how you react to it. Do you get even more stressed just thinking about how much stress you’re under?
This is a vicious cycle that many of us find ourselves in. We even become stressed when we think there isn’t enough stress, assuming that something must be wrong. How out of whack is that?
Worry is another energy sink. We waste so much of the present time worrying about what may or may not happen in the future. The same can be said for wasting our energy worrying about the past. If you’re letting the past or the future monopolize your thoughts, you’re not really living in the present, and you’re certainly not enjoying it.
As simple as it sounds, a good nights sleep is vital for a healthy mind and body. I know that this is easier said than done, but it’s another one of those things that we became more aware of and made a concerted effort to work on.
Physical activity helps with a lot of the other things in the lifestyle category. It’s a great stress reliever, it helps you sleep if you’ve had a good workout earlier in the day, and it helps keep the many systems of your body working in tiptop form. The alternative lack of activity can lead to many physical problems, plus, you won’t get the kick of endorphins to brighten your mood.
We will expand on all of these and offer suggestions later, but let me just state right now that there is one little word that you will need to use more regularly. You will need to learn to say (and mean) no!
Having a positive attitude is so important in everything you do, but is huge in the healing process. I don’t mean being so overly positive that you become delusional about the fact that you are ill. The old “if I ignore it and say I’m fine, it’ll go away” tactic doesn’t usually work in real life. It didn’t for me anyway…
Rather, don’t dwell on the illness, or whatever your problem may be, and ignore all the good things that may be happening in your life. I’ve always been an upbeat person, so maybe this one was easier for me than it may be for you. I just never let myself wallow in self-pity or let my disease define me.
I appreciate even the little things more now than I ever have. I enjoy my time with family and friends. I appreciate the antics of our four furry kids. I plant and nurture beautiful flowers just because I can. It doesn’t matter if anyone else sees them. The bees, the butterflies, and I enjoy them to their fullest.
What we put in our mouths has probably been the biggest change for Rick and me. We will get into the particulars later, but suffice it to say, that when we started analyzing what we consumed in the name of nutrition, we were appalled.
We switched to a diet that consists of organic whenever possible, much less animal protein, little added sugar, less processed/packaged foods, and no Diet Coke. That last one was a biggie for me. My first thought when I was admitted to the hospital was that Rick would have to bring me one in the morning or I wouldn’t be able to get through the day. Pretty sad, huh?
The first thing we did when we heard those terrifying words: “You’ve got cancer,” was pray. We needed God to lay His healing touch on me and we needed His guidance. We also asked for prayers from family, friends, and the tens of thousands of followers Rick had acquired over the years from his writing. We had, and still have, thousands of wonderful people lifting us up in prayer every day.
We felt a sense of peace knowing that we were covered by His grace. Although we didn’t know what the future would hold, or even how much of a future I had, we knew that God was in charge and everything would be okay.
Without this faith we may have bought into the prediction of the doctors who said I only three months to live. We knew that only God knows when we will breathe our last on this earth, and although doctors have lots of knowledge, this sort of proclamation was above their pay grade.
Update: December, 2016: I wrote the preceding post over a year and a half ago for my website, LAFF2LIVE.com. So, what has happened in the past year and a half? Well, the cancer is no longer stable or in remission as Rick and I both thought it was. I am a bit weak from a low hemo count, and I can feel the cancer starting to take over my body, but I am still here! Yes, the cancer is beginning to take its toll, but I have not given up my fight and never will! I will keep fighting! I will not die today! I love you all! Becky.
Rick Update: Easter Sunday, 2017: Four months after Becky penned this update, and 40 months after she was given just three months to live, Becky peacefully passed to her Heavenly home on Easter Sunday morning at 4:58am. The doctors at Wake Forest Baptist Hospital, who originally thought she was delusional for believing she could live longer than three months, today use Becky as a case study in how organic food, positive attitude and prayer may indeed extend the life of a terminally-ill breast cancer patient who refuses chemo or drugs.
In those final minutes that I had with her, I doubt she was aware that I was holding her hand and kissing her forehead. Then, suddenly, I watched her smile, as she took her last labored breath on this earth. No more pain, only joy for her now. Her journey was complete and my loss was Heaven's gain.
Two weeks before Becky passed away she suddenly said to me, “I’m just sorry that no one will ever remember my name.” I was stunned.
So, I promised her right then that ‘no one would ever forget her name.’ I deposited the one-million-dollar life insurance check from Becky's policy into and account to pay for 5,000 free mammograms and thermograms and launched The Becky Baker Foundation. To date, the FDN has paid for over 2,100 free mammograms for the underinsured and uninsured.
A few hours before Becky left this earth, she asked me to do three things: First, she asked me to "Take the dogs back to Colorado." We were in NC and the humidity is not good for Great White Pyrenees. Second, she asked me to "Spread her ashes in the Pacific off the 18th green at Pebble Beach. So, I headed to Pebble. I had played there most of the week and after my final round, I walked out into the Pacific to spread her ashes, knowing she was sitting at the feet of Jesus, and her ashes were, just ashes. As I was about to toss her ashes to the wind, I heard someone behind me frantically yelling, "What are you doing?" I turned, and there stood a stunned security guard on the shore. I replied, 'I'm spreading my wife's ashes.' He said, "You can't do that!" I said, 'Watch me.' Hey, it's what Becky wanted. Third, she asked me to "Go and find Barb, she has been your dear friend for many years and I don't want you to be alone." So, in due time, I did. Here is what happened in Dr. Barb's own words:
"Rick and I have been friends for almost 20 years. I was part of Becky’s journey all along the way. I helped Rick and Becky connect to naturopathic doctors and information about healthy lifestyles to help her with her healing.
"We connected frequently as various options were researched and considered for Becky. They even looked at moving back out West so we discussed options for a center for healing and reviewed properties together. She kept the faith and we kept in touch.
"After Becky passed, Rick stayed connected and it was not until he actually came to find me that I realized how he felt about me through the years and what Becky had mentioned about me. She was looking out for Rick’s happiness.
"I saw Rick’s tireless efforts to help Becky with her healing and work back towards a healthy body. No stone was left unturned. Through the years I saw Rick give every challenge 110% and I knew that finding and connecting with me was no different.
"We became engaged and married in a short period of time but I knew then and know now in my heart he will always have my back. I love his passion and love for me and reciprocate the same love in return as we travel together now to save as many lives as we can. Becky is always smiling down on us, we just know it…." (Dr. Barb Hughson)
In 2020, the FDN begins a new chapter as a 501(C)(3) non-profit charity with the goal of providing 5,000 mammograms in 2020, and doubling that number every year until we reach one million per year in 2027. This will change the national breast cancer conversation from “Awareness” to “Prevention,” and hopefully alter the somewhat corrupt culture in the breast cancer foundation industry. At least .95 cents of every dollar given goes for a mammogram or thermogram. The FDN is a simple one: Money in, mammograms out.
In her passing, Becky has saved hundreds of women who otherwise might have been lost. She will always be my hero. Please schedule your checkup today. Do it for you, for your family, and for Becky.