Waking the Warrior Goddess

How was your time spent this October? Apropos to Breast Cancer Awareness Month, part of mine was spent sitting in a breast surgeon's office, awaiting the results of a 3-D ultrasound of my breast tissue.

After speaking with Christine Horner, M.D. on the topic of breast cancer prevention a few months back, I took it upon myself to have a thermogram, which takes an infrared picture of one's breasts to allow the reader of the thermogram to look at heat differentials within the breast tissue. The results came back abnormal. Given my research into the best screening options available to young women like me, I decided against getting a mammogram and instead chose a 3-D ultrasound for my follow-up.

After a slightly anxious hour of waiting in the surgeon's office, I was relieved to find out that the lump is cystic. I am glad I got the test, not only to confirm that I am cancer-free, but also to give me a clearer understanding and baseline reading of my breasts. This information will help me monitor my tissue in the years to come, which is critical, as I am the daughter of a woman who died from breast cancer. She was diagnosed with the disease when I was 18-years-old, and she passed away just a few months before my 25th birthday. She was only 50.

As I push 30, it is becoming more apparent that I am a prime case of "do as I say, not as I do" in all of my talk about self-care and R&R. As my mother's caregiver, I spent copious amounts of time researching my mother's illness, micromanaging her medical treatment, and otherwise tending to her every need. To the contrary, I spent little time caring for myself -- a habit that has continued after her passing. Not wanting to suffer the same fate as my mother, and knowing that stress is a friend of cancer, I know it is time to start paying attention to and taking better care of myself.

We live in a world that emphasizes treating a disease once it has occurred, while giving inadequate attention to preventing the disease in the first place. As Susan Love, MD -- author of Dr. Susan Love's Breast Book -- puts it, the preferred approach to breast cancer is "slash, burn, and poison," ie, surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, all options I wish to avoid.

For this reason, I have spent countless hours reading about the relationship between inflammation and cancer, as well as looking into anti-inflammatory diets and other lifestyle changes that can help prevent breast cancer. When I finally picked up the newly published book, Waking The Warrior Goddess: Dr. Christine Horner's Program to Protect Against & Fight Breast Cancer Third Edition, by Christine Horner, M.D., F.A.C.S., I hit the jackpot of information.

To say Horner is a badass is an understatement. As a surgeon, Horner consulted hundreds of women of all ages, who sought out breast reconstruction following mastectomies but were denied coverage by their insurance companies. Frustrated and outraged, Horner took it upon herself to spearhead federal legislation that now requires insurance companies to cover the procedure -- the Woman's Health and Cancer Act, signed into law by President Clinton, on October 21, 1998. "My mother died of breast cancer to be a beacon of change for the world -- through me." Horner says in her book.

Four years after this ground-breaking accomplishment, Horner left her plastic surgery practice and moved full-time into educating and writing about complementary and alternative medical therapies that, when used in conjunction with conventional medical treatments, help women lower the risk of breast cancer. Waking the Warrior Goddess is Horner's latest -- an easy-to-read guidebook on how to change your daily habits, in the interest of preventing breast cancer.

Reading scientific based books often leave me feeling confused, overwhelmed, or downright guilty about decisions I have made in my past. Horner's writing, however, is warm, inviting, and even funny. She breaks down scientific concepts into metaphors that make perfect sense for laypeople, and she constantly reassures readers that any recommended lifestyle change is better than no change at all.

After a clear introduction to how breast cancer grows, Horner delves into the world of Ayurvedic medicine, which translates into "the science of life" and is an ancient holistic medicine system originating in India. To this end, much of Horner's book approaches food as medicine, with chapters that include "Fats that Poison and Fats that Protect You," "Specialty Foods with Spectacular Powers," and "The Anticancer Power of Anti-Inflammatories." Equally as important, Horner discusses implementing lifestyle changes, such as reducing sugar and stress.

As someone who always needs to know why, I particularly appreciate Horner's consistent explanations of "eat this because," or "avoid this because." When we have a true understanding of why it is in our interest to make certain lifestyle choices, we are better primed to actually make those choices.

Not only does Horner teach everything you need to know about food, exercise, sleep, and emotional wellbeing, but she takes it one step further, with a 30-step program to help implement the changes discussed throughout the book. Even in this program, Horner reassures the reader that there is no right way to go about making these changes and that any change will improve our odds against breast cancer.

Horner has compiled a masterful guide, chalk-full of research studies, resources and references. Although Waking the Warrior Goddess is a program to protect against breast cancer, it is truly a fantastic guide to an all-around healthy, happy lifestyle, and I highly recommend reading it.