Lessons through Cancer created a Community

Spring 2017, Living Well Magazine

by Jillian Exton

At what point do you really know – or stop to consider – if what you are doing is what you are really meant to be doing in this life?

Entry into a grown-up life can be a haphazard transition; what is easy, what is available, what will be fun, what opportunities are presenting themselves etc.; and just how much our ego plays in those decisions is rarely considered until later in life.

Not that I have a history of haphazard decision-making, quite the contrary I was the textbook control freak. And once I had my life plan it was all steam ahead. I had even planned to fall pregnant during a gap in my sporting events calendar, which allowed me just enough time to return to Hawaii for the following years ‘outrigger race’ across the channel. However pregnancy was not to be, and for the first time in my life I was not able to achieve what I set out to achieve.

Life Lesson #1
‘Appreciate what you have; there is a glass half full in every situation.
Accept the glass half empty and focus on the half full.’

Fast-forward 10 years later, building houses, poodles (child substitutes), overseas ski holidays, International consulting jobs, the expat experience, life was grand on a ‘big picture’ level; but it was also layered with stress – work pressures, managing teams across international time zones, crazy project deadlines and maintaining a 20-year marriage.

Coming from a physical education background, health and fitness was a consistent in my life no matter where I was, so as you can probably imagine, a breast cancer diagnosis came as a complete surprise. In hindsight though, as I review my risk factors, I can see that it wasn’t a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when’ it would happen. Stress, plus gynecological issues, plus hormone issues. I was ticking many boxes.

Thrust into considering all possible outcomes of a cancer diagnosis can really put your life into perspective, defining what is both consequential and inconsequential.
Committing to two of the three conventional treatment protocols offered by my medical team – chemotherapy and radiation – was difficult at first and the internal resistance was very real. My husband and I had a growing concern about what the treatments were doing to the rest of my body – not just my cancer cells – but it became incredibly clear to me that in order to gain the maximum benefit from the treatments that my ‘mind’ and ‘body’ needed to be in alignment. They needed to be on the same team. So I began referring to chemotherapy as ‘liquid gold’ and greeting my radiation machine each day with gratitude – thanking it for it’s vibrations of love and healing. It was what it was. Acceptance was required.

Life Lesson #2
‘How to manage the mindmess’ ‘Trust in intuition’ ‘Acceptance’

It would have been so easy to simply continue with the given medical protocol, however I had learned so much since my diagnosis – my home office, had turned into my own personal cancer research center and I had made important links between illness and hormones, and stress and chemicals – in particular endocrine disrupting chemicals. So I started listening to my intuition and taking a more proactive, personalised approach.

I supported my treatments with complimentary therapies such as acupuncture and herbal supplements, to minimise the expected treatment side effects. I chose thermography instead of mammograms. I also opted-out of hormone therapy, and began managing my hormones with diet/nutrition.

Challenging if the typical medical protocol was right for me wasn’t easy, yet that experience offered another opportunity to grow, through valuing my own beliefs of what I felt was right for me.

It wasn’t until I became a ‘Breastie Graduate’, reviewing my future options, that I began challenging myself about what my actual purpose in life was. Little did I know when I was first diagnosed, how the cancer adventure would take me completely out of my comfort zone and lead to so many positive changes, including my life purpose. It would be one of my greatest, albeit confronting, periods of personal growth.

Cancer led me to become so aware of the impact our modern day environment is having on our health and wellbeing; and I had a strong desire for change. According to Chemical Abstracts Service there are over 130 million chemicals registered for use at this moment, and you can watch this number increase on the website www.cas.org. There are approximately 200,000 more chemicals being added each week. Sadly most have not been tested for their impacts on human health, and yet still end up in our everyday foods and products.

I knew I had to make changes in my own life – if my body was capable of creating and fostering cancer then I wanted to change my internal environment to reduce my risk of reoccurrence, and so began my mission to adopt a non-toxic lifestyle and to source out non-toxic products and services. But during that process it became so much greater than me, and so much greater than any one person – I knew I had to share this information with the world.

I wanted to share with those, who like me, had had a ‘wake up call’ and were eager for change; and I also wanted to increase awareness and prevent others from having to encounter that ‘wake up call’.

My vision became a world where people could choose to live with a ‘chemical free state of mind’ – where products and services could be chosen based on the least toxic option. I imagined the positive impacts on human health, and the health of our planet; and so began my development of Chemical Free Community ChemFreeCom.com.

I have always taken myself pretty seriously, yet managing the roller coaster of cancer treatment and recovery certainly lighted me up. Previously I was anxious about a hair cut in case I didn’t like it but that hang-up went out the window when I experienced complete hair loss – I even found myself feeling grateful for the wax-free Brazilian.

Cancer highlights that there are no guarantees in life. The ending of my 25-year marriage was another reminder. Even though our eyes were wide open to the issues of ‘Surviving the Survivorship’, my husband and I went our separate ways following my recovery.
As can be expected, loosing the partner I had been with half my life was incredibly difficult but I believe the skillset I developed during the cancer treatment and recovery became a lifeline for me for moving forward – I was able to reframe, prioritise, value my intuition, nurture my self worth, and find love and acceptance. Was cancer just a tool to prepare me for one of life’s most traumatic events?

Following my recovery I could not devalue the life lessons that had been learned through the cancer experience. You don’t know what you don’t know until you ask, or it’s forced upon you. Then you cannot unlearn it. After being the ‘1’ in the National 1:8 statistics for breast cancer (which meant statistically that I’d save 7 other women from a cancer diagnosis), my perspectives had shifted and I could not just go back to my old way of living and working. That meant no more chasing the glass ceiling or big paychecks; and no more supporting activities raising money for cancer cure’s… my goal now was prevention… protecting the health of our people, and the health of our planet.

I have friends who lecture in sustainability, recycle and take their hesian bags to woolies but who continue to lather themselves in toxic skincare and sunscreen, and dish up processed foods containing pesticides, artificial flavours and colours. Sadly it is the case for so many people who, until they have a close encounter with illness, do not see the link between protecting the planet from toxins and protecting themselves from toxins. 
By minimising our own everyday, household toxic exposure we are inherently saving the planet.

Most people think it is too hard to find safer, everyday alternatives, but there are so many companies now that offer non-toxic, effective products and services. Products such as Probiotic Solutions that use the efficacy of probiotics in a range of cleaning products (probiotics are good for more than just your gut); and services, such as our team of ‘steam weeders’ that are maintaining parks and schools using steam instead of Roundup (Roundup’s active ingredient glyphosate have been identified as a neurotoxin and endocrine disrupting chemical).
ChemFreeCom.com makes it easy for individuals and businesses to find all these products and services, and to make a genuine positive impact on their own personal health, the health of their families and communities, and the health of our planet.

As mentioned earlier, this topic is so much bigger than any one person, but together we can make a genuine contribution to the health and wellness of our World, both on an intimate and global scale.

Jillian Exton
Breast cancer graduate, author of “What’s Your Plan – Manage Side Effects of Cancer Treatments with Natural Supplements’, co-founder of LymphDIY, and founder of the Chemical Free Community, an online community, directory, events calendar and library to help inform and support those who choose to live in a ‘Chemical Free State of Mind’. With a focus on health prevention rather than cure, Jillian presents workshops and speaks at events to facilitate people’s ‘Ah Ha moment’ and to prove it is not hard to live a less toxic life.