"Some women are lost in the fire. Some women are built from it."
—Michelle K.
The Fire Within Blog
Finding Life in the Midst of “The Pain-Cancer Connection”

In 2019, when I first heard my worst diagnosis, Triple-Negative Breast Cancer – yes, the rare and aggressive kind – I instinctively knew it was tied to my 37-years of high-impact pain. Indeed, for a couple of decades, I’d commented often to my partner, John, that I didn’t understand how my body could take the toll of never-ending torture without getting terminal cancer.

Like so many of us with pain, my chronic depression kept me wondering if that scenario might be a blessing. In fact, my greatest struggle was endlessly debating whether life with pain was worth living.

Here’s the stunner! After hearing my grim diagnosis, I ultimately deduced it was. So much so, not only did I choose to fight, I took a deep dive into discovering the best chance at surviving my cancer well with the quality of life I still had intact. In short order, I armored myself with a boatload of education and committed to using integrative care all the way. Making bold, unconventional treatment decisions upped my chances to stay on the planet.

I won’t sugar-coat it; fighting breast cancer while trying to keep 19 overlapping pain and fatigue conditions in check was the hardest thing I ever did, and the jury’s still out as to whether I’ll survive. But I’m damn happy and proud to be here today, and want to share what I’ve learned.

Enter “The Pain-Cancer Connection,” the theme of For Grace’s 2021 Women In Pain Conference on Friday, September 24.

Last year when I sat down via Zoom with my sisters in pain that make up our event planning committee, I was in the midst of chemo, bald and very ill. After pitching the theme and telling these badass women about the connection between pain and cancer, I was deeply touched that they wanted to move ahead.

None of these women have had a serious cancer diagnosis, and executing a conference, especially in the midst of COVID, is damn-near impossible work. I love these women! They play a critical part in helping me turn suffering into meaning, my primary life force.

As some wise woman shared, “All good things come in time.” As such, this virtual conference is a year late due to my rough recovery. That’s another thing about my sisters – they unconditionally supported, even insisted on, my need to take time to ramp up to this frenetic pace.

Well, here we are, and what a first-of-its-kind day we’ve got in store.

After a warm welcome from our Director, John Garrett, I’ll start by divulging my cautionary tale with cancer treatment. Oh boy, I’ve got a ton to say about western medicine failing miserably at every turn – and how taking control of my cancer care got me this far.

Next up, integrative oncology chaplain Michael Eselun will share a touching, personal story about loss and letting go. Michael is a gem of a storyteller who brings his audience to laughter and tears, whilst stepping into the dark side with ample tenderness.

Sprinkling in some For Grace vibe, woman in pain and comedian Anna Polack will drop a witty take on the self-help movement. Later, she’ll host interactive “fun breaks” to bring in lightness.

Also, throughout our day, we’ll spotlight woman in pain and artist Radene Marie Cook’s exquisite pieces that depict the pain-cancer experience in endless passion and color.

Then we’ll launch into our four themed sessions: Problem, Solution, Experience and Moving On.

Dr. Wayne Jonas, Executive Director of the Samueli Foundation’s Integrative Health Programs, will present the “Problem” – how the inflammation of pain can lead to cancer and how cancer treatment can spark persistent pain. Dr. Jonas will also delve generously into the benefits of integrative care. His brilliant, positive take on healing is eye-opening, and I’m forever grateful for his steady guidance.

The “Solution” session will kick-off with one of my all-time favorite people, Christin Veasley, co-founder of the Chronic Pain Research Alliance. Simply put, Chris is the best, full of information and care. She’ll explore effective tips about how to become your own best advocate, including how to partner with your practitioner for best outcome.

Next up, one of my heroes, Dr. Keith Block, founder of the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Treatment, will go in-depth about how to keep one’s “terrain” healthy throughout active cancer treatment as well as the all-important post period to avoid a recurrence. Tragically, western medicine doesn’t acknowledge the terrain, but this is the stuff that saved me! In fact, Dr. Block’s book, Life Over Cancer, was my bible during treatment.

Dynamite wellness expert and fellow sister in pain, Dr. Susan Nyanzi, will follow with how common-sense, self-care lifestyle choices can help prevent most cancers. I say, “Amen to that, Dr. Nyanzi!” Just wish I’d heard this talk five years ago.

A dynamic panel of real-life pain and cancer patients will make up our “Experience” session. Moderated by the no-holdin’-back Rhonda Smith, breast cancer survivor and executive director at California Black Health Network, these folks will share, with us and each other, inside advice about getting best care, handling adversity, the importance of self-management, and improbable “gifts” along the way.         

We’ll end with the inspiration to “Move On” despite the challenges of these epic diseases. Yes, it’s all about hope and movement with Dr. Melissa Cady, DO. Also known as “The Challenge Doctor,” this force-of-nature will teach us how to reframe illness and use movement to find joy and less suffering.

To put a bow on the day, cancer survivor and Bump In the Road podcaster, Pat Wetzel, will share how illness and misfortune drove her to transform her life into one of helping others, traveling the world and prompting folks to hit the road to find wellness and meaning. Seriously, there are no brakes on this full-speed-ahead woman, guaranteed to inspire!

There’s no denying that cancer and pain are upending, life-altering, sometimes terminal diseases. But as this conference will illuminate, we can fight the good fight with dignity and grace.

Last year, during my darkest hours of chemo and COVID when I actually forgot why I wanted to live, people from my circle of support bolstered me by phone, email, text and good ol’ snail mail, to keep me keepin’ on. Truly, I don’t know if I would have made it without them.

I want this conference to be that kind of support system for those who are wrangling with pain, cancer or both. I want its shared education to make it possible for one disease not to springboard into another. I want the day to remind us that there’s enough love in this world to make life worth fighting for.

Seeing so many beautiful people come together, volunteering their time to help others avoid my fate, humbles me – and makes my heart swell.

I look forward to connecting with you on Friday September 24 at 9am PDT (12pm EDT). You can watch the entire conference for free on our YouTube channel.