One of today’s most important fields of research is the new science of epigenetics, which literally means “control above the gene.” It is a discipline that studies how external environmental signals select, modify, and regulate internal gene activity.
“Genes are simply molecular blueprints used in the construction of cells, tissues, and organs. The environment serves as a ‘contractor’ who reads and engages those genetic blueprints and is ultimately responsible for the character of the cell’s life. It is the single cell’s awareness of the environment, not its genes, that sets into motion the mechanisms of life.” (Lipton 2008, Xììì)
Life happens. Certain events cause genes to be expressed or silenced; in other words, they can be triggered or become dormant depending upon the relationship we have with our bodies and their natural cycles, what we eat, where we live, the quality of our interactions with others and ourselves, our ability to deal with emotional stress, and the depth of our spiritual connection to life. In other words – genes reflect our potential, not our destiny.
Fiorenza Bertini, aged 63 was diagnosed with breast cancer for the first time in 2003, a second time in 2010 and a third in 2015. During this inspiring interview Fiorenza explains how, after the second diagnosis, her decision to participate in holistic counseling helped her recognize and transform an unconscious, negative impulse of self-denial, a characteristic which appears to have influenced her internal biological behavior and gene activity, resulting in breast cancer, twice of which was treated with surgery while the third tumor receded naturally through Self-Healing.
Bardolino, Italy 18th September 2017
Q. After being diagnosed with breast cancer the first time in 2003, can you describe your state of mind?
A. After the first diagnosis I felt like the earth had been taken away from under my feet. I didn’t know what to do, I felt powerless. A dear friend of mine came to the rescue. She thought to put me in contact with the oncologist that followed my case during the whole procedure and it was she who dealt with organizing the date of my surgery. Basically I left everything up to my friend and my doctor. I did nothing except follow their lead, my life was totally in their hands.
Q. So you did not, in any way, actively interact after the first diagnosis?
A. Not really. I was happy to let them take over because I was going through a very difficult moment of my life. I didn’t know what to do so, so I just let them decide for me.
Q. What was happening in your life at that moment?
A. I was going through a messy divorce, the separation was traumatic and I was having difficulty adjusting, what made matters worse was the fact that my youngest child, Andrea, chose to live with his father. My daughter was already independent and living away from home, the fact that Andrea had decided to live with his father was devastating, I just couldn’t understand why!
I had decided to sell the house and move away because my x husband had already started a new relationship, even before the separation was decided, and worse of all, they were living in the house directly in front of mine with only a little country road separating us. I wanted to create as much space as possible between us, but when my son chose to live with his father, I was forced to put the situation on the scales and choose. The option was to stay and face the emotional turmoil, or move away from it and my son. I made the choice to remain so I could see him every day. Although I have to admit it was a painful and distressing situation, in time I came to understand that it was a choice based upon opportunity, my son was still young and his father, economically speaking, was able to offer so much more than I could.
Q. After diagnosis what treatment did you receive?
A. I received a Quadrantectomy (a partial mastectomy, or removal of approximately quarter of the breast tissue, with 2-3 cm of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor, a wide excision of the overlying skin, and of the underlying connective tissue (fascia). (Medical explanation mine).
I still had my periods so cessation of my monthly cycle, by inducing premature menopause, was advised, but I declined. I was prescribed 20 sessions of Radiotherapy and the drug Tamoxifen, (a class of drugs called selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERMs) which I took for about 20 days and then suspended going against the doctors’ orders. At the time, I wasn’t aware enough to understand what this illness was communicating, I just hoped everything would go well and it did for seven years, and during that period, I never questioned once why I had developed cancer, or if I had played an active role in its manifestation.
Q. Did something happen to make you become more aware of the role you possibly played in developing cancer?
A. Yes. In 2010, after preforming a routine check-up (mammogram and Eco scan) in hospital, the wakeup call came when I was diagnosed with breast cancer for the second time. The tumor was in the same breast. It wasn’t a relapse, it was a new tumor! This time round my reaction was completely different. I felt really confused and wanted more time to reflect, but I was under a lot of pressure from the doctor who urged me to consent to a full mastectomy because it was a reoccurring tumor in the same breast. It was then I heard a voice inside said “no, a full mastectomy is not what you need”.
My decision was not met with appreciation; the doctors’ reaction was arrogant and pushy. I wanted to try an alternative path, but he kept using terrorizing tactics instead of being understanding and sympathetic. I wanted to postpone the surgery; I wanted time to view my options. The head Surgeon ridiculed me saying “Only doctors perform miracles” and the “miracle” he proposed was a full mastectomy followed by a classical pharmacological cure – no augments! So I gave up the idea of an alternative path and accepted the second surgery, although I insisted on another quadrantectomy rather than a mastectomy and I refused the prosthesis (implant), they proposed to correct the form of my breast.
Q. After the second diagnosis in 2010, what made you more aware of a possible correlation between breast cancer and your emotional state of mind?
A. I started to notice that when it came down to how I felt, I always found myself in conflict with what others considered to be the right thing I should do, so after the second surgery I started a journey of self-discovery with a Holistic Counselor, and my first auto-interrogation concerned recognizing how my desires and needs were always reputed wrong, silly or inappropriate, and how I always allowed others to decide for me. In the case of cancer, I felt angry because it was happening to me, to my body, so why couldn’t I decide how I wanted to proceed in tune with how I felt? Why did I always have to do what others forced me to do?
Q. Did you notice that handing over your personal power was something that happened in other circumstances other than health concerns?
A. Yes. I stated to become aware that this was a sort of vicious circle. Thinking back, in many very different occasions, even in the smallest of choices, I started to notice how I desired to act differently but instead I did what others wanted, and the more I thought about it, the more incidences came to mind. The only time I really fought to attain what I wanted was when I decided I wanted to become a professional beautician. My x husband was immovable; he said my desire to go back to school meant I didn’t care about our family and being a mother. He said I must choose, or school or the family. Luckily for me, a friend of ours persuaded him otherwise, so although I was victorious, I didn’t manage to stand up to my husband alone, I received help.
Q. When you recognized how you lost your personal power to others what feelings came to the surface?
A. So much anger, because thinking about it, I had lost out on so many opportunities in my life because I was always doing what others wanted instead of what I desired. So yes, there was a lot of anger that surfaced both towards others and myself.
Q. Did awareness trigger a desire to understand and transform this negative characteristic?
A. Yes…as I said previously, it all started to come together after the second surgery. I had stared a course of Holistic Counseling with Caroline; this helped me recognize how my actions were out of sync with my inner desires. I started taking responsibility for what I felt and needed. Reflecting upon my personal responsibility, I started making new decisions, sometimes making mistakes, because personal transformation doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and effort, but slowly things started to change. What was important to me was recognizing the moment in which I unconsciously and automatically acted against my inner desires, and then gradually, becoming more aware, I was able to recognize the impulse before I acted against my own wishes, avoiding the error and consequently maintaining my personal power! Counseling helped me see myself in a different light; more clearly, I began to consider there was an emotional and spiritual connection between my breast cancer and this negative impulse to throw away my personal power.
Q. With this new level of awareness, how did you react when you were diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time?
A. The third diagnosis happened by chance. Five years after the second tumor in 2010, I decided to have plastic surgery, to insert a breast implant improving my physical appearance, because I felt uncomfortable about having one breast larger than the other. I took all the various tests require for surgery, and immediately after the operation I as informed, although small, there was another tumor. I was stunned at first, because when you’re told you have breast cancer for the third time, it’s not easy, but the feeling didn’t last long, it dissolved as soon as I left the doctor’s office leaving me with the certainty that everything was ok. It was a strange feeling, it didn’t come from the mind it came from deep inside, it’s something really difficult to explain, it seemed to be coming from the heart, it was so strong and I felt so, so sure – cancer was no longer part of my reality.
Q. What treatment was prescribed after the diagnosis of breast cancer for the third time?
A. After plastic surgery, which took place at the end of January 2015, the histological examination confirmed the presence of a new tumor, which was communicated to me, as I mentioned, on the 17th of February. The doctor informed me of the necessity to perform a mastectomy within the next couple of weeks, which meant the plastic surgery had been useless and worse still, I would probably lose the nipple of my left breast; I was still recovering from surgery so I said I would think about it and let them know my decision.
Q. After reflection, what did you decide to do regarding this third diagnosis?
A. To start with, I openly refuse the prescription of the drug Tamoxifen which had been prescribed as a therapy for each tumors. After the first prescription I had signed a paper in which I took full responsibility for the side effects of the drug. Initially I took it for about 20 days but a voice inside said “you don’t need this”. Being a little timorous of the oncologists’ reaction, I asked my GP to pledge the patient doctor privacy and refrain from informing the oncologist of my decision, which at first he did, but then against my wishes, he wrote informing the hospital. The opportunity to openly voice my opinion was presented during the visit to the oncologist after being diagnosed for the third time, straight after plastic surgery. I announced my refusal to take Tamoxifen as well as a mastectomy, voicing my intention to try an alternative homeopathic cure to strengthen and reinforce my depleted immune system; of course the doctor laughed and insisted I was going to regret my decision. This time I remained firm and started the homeopathic cure at once which I followed rigorously because I felt that reinforcing my immune system was fundamental.
Q. At what point did the hospital discover the tumor had disappeared?
A. After plastic surgery, about 3 months later I had an Eco scan and mammogram which both resulted negative, the tumor had disappeared.
Q. What medical explanation was given concerning the disappearance of the tumor?
A. None whatsoever. The oncologist made no comment about the disappearance of the tumor he simple said: “rest assured, sooner or later it will return”. Now I have a routine eco scan and mammogram check-up once a year like all women. I should go the oncologist every six months but I go once a year. I have just got the results back last week and they are all negative.
Q. Do you feel the regression of the third tumor was connected to your transformation and new found ability to remain within your own personal power?
A. Yes I have no doubt. When the oncologist told me that sooner or later the tumor would return if I didn’t’ have a mastectomy and follow a pharmacological cure, I replied “ok, if it comes back I will accept the situation and decide what to do in the moment”. Although I feel sure it will not come back, I am human, and sometimes my mind asks questions like “what will you do if it does come back?” The answer is: I will do exactly the same as I am doing now, reflect and make my own decisions regarding my body and my life, and ask myself: “what more do I need to learn from this experience? What have I not yet understood?” Because if it comes back it means I need to interrogate deeper within myself.
Q. Based upon your experience, what advice would you give to another woman diagnosed with breast cancer?
A. My advice would be – don’t let fear restrict your options like it did me the first time I was diagnosed in 2003. Listen to what the doctors say because it is important, but on the other hand, parallel to treatment, open up a line of communication with your inner voice with the help of an holistic professional who can guide you in the process, because working on yourself will aid in recovery and it will also help prevent relapse. I truly belief from personal experience, holistic awareness is fundamental, especially during cancer, because we enter into an intimate relationship with ourselves, which helps recognize and transform certain characteristics within the mind that are not in harmony. Personally, becoming more aware gave me strength, it allowed me to contact my authentic self, and it gave me the power to accept.
Q. After your experience with breast cancer, today, are you able to feel gratitude towards what cancer has taught you?
A. I believe it is possible to be grateful to a disease like cancer, I know I am. Cancer showed me how I was passive and resentful, how I never took responsibility concerning my own desires and needs and how I was easily influenced and swayed by others opinions. Cancer taught me to take responsibility for my own personal power and use it to my own advantage, ironically, cancer helped me take back my life, and for that I shall always be grateful.
Thank you Fiorenza for your testimony.