In February of 1975, when I was 29 years old, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I had no pain or other symptoms, and would not have had any idea I was sick if the cancer had not shown up on my annual Pap test, which had come back from the lab marked "Class Five: conclusive for malignancy." 

I received the news from a concerned receptionist at my gynecologist's office, who said I should come in and have another test taken so they could double-check the results. I did, and spent the next few days wondering whether I would die, or ever be able to have children. And then the same results came back.

Invasive Cancer Procedures: Conization, Hysterectomy

It's funny. There I was, young and seemingly healthy, listening to my doctor describe something hidden within my own body that had the power to kill me -- or at the very least to substantially change me. He described all the options at my disposal, invasive procedures every one, starting with what's called a conization, in which a cone-shaped section of my cervix would be cut out, hopefully taking all the cancerous tissue along with it. But that might not be enough, he told me. I might still need a hysterectomy -- the removal of my cervix and uterus, and perhaps my ovaries as well.

As I thought about what my doctor said, I became convinced that the line of treatment he outlined was all wrong for me. It seemed painful, complicated, and disharmonious with nature.

My Cancer and My Life Are In God's Hands

I started feeling that I am not my body -- that ultimately, my life was in God's hands. There was a part of me that said, "Thank you, God, for giving me this experience. My body is a channel through which I experience this life." But there was another part of me that had a keen desire to live a long and healthy live. I also wasn't going to let anything take away my potential for motherhood.

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At that time in my life, I was a meditator -- pretty heavy duty, a couple of hours a day. Through meditation, I'd developed a very strong center, and there weren't many things that could shake me up. Two years earlier, I had spent a few months in India with my spiritual Master. After that, I'd moved into an ashram. 

What Is My Cancer Telling Me?

I was a committed vegetarian, dabbled in Hatha Yoga, and was curious about Eastern philosophy and medicine. I had come to believe that with any disease, just treating the symptom isn't enough. The imbalance that created it will just find new territory to invade and destroy. Thus, I believed that the Pap test was telling me something: I felt that there was a stagnation and a depression within my reproductive system. Cleansing and rejuvenating the area through natural means made unqualified sense to me. Before I tried anything invasive, like surgery, I had to give my body a chance to respond to non-invasive, natural methods.

This was twenty-four years ago, but I still remember with remarkable clarity how I felt when I was trying to explain this to my doctor. My heart was beating a mile a minute as I asked him whether I could give natural methods a try for a month and be retested then. He just looked at me and said, "Jill, I don't think we can work with you anymore. We really want you in the hospital this week."

I left the gynecologist's office shaken. I felt like a child who had defied the school principal and gotten expelled. I'd never challenged an authority figure before; I'd always been a basically obedient, law-abiding person. I was disheartened, but I had to do what I believed was right.

Acupuncture and Macrobiotics to Heal Cancer

At the time, I was taking a course called "The Theory of Oriental Medicine" with Ralph Alan Dale, Ph.D., an acupuncturist and author of Acupuncture With Your Fingers: An 18-point Healing System (Dialectic Press, 1989). I told Dr. Dale about my diagnosis, and on his advice I telephoned Michio Kushi, a nationally-known authority on macrobiotics and founder of the Kushi Institute in Massachusetts. Macrobiotics is a natural diet and lifestyle system based on the oriental principles of yin and yang and their presence in whole, organic foods. It is aimed at restoring an energetic balance and wellness through diet and lifestyle changes.

Over the years, thousands of people have used the macrobiotic approach to cure themselves of cancer and other diseases; diets typically are customized to suit an individual's unique needs. Kushi suggested I immediately start on an extreme macrobiotic diet that required me to eat nothing but cooked brown rice for ten days. Chewed many times in a relaxed and meditative atmosphere, the rice became a liquid that I visualized would bring loving, life-giving and healing energy to my body and mind. 

After ten days, I gradually added other grains, vegetables, seaweeds, seeds, beans, miso soup, and a small amount of fruit to my meals. I steamed the vegetables or sautéed them in small amounts of cold-pressed oil. I eliminated all spices and flavorings except for tamari. At every meal, I meditated on how the food I was eating had been created just for me, to heal my body , and cooked with love. I taught myself to think of the food as my healing tonic, my medicine.

Treatment for Cervical Cancer: Chinese Medicine & Herbs

Dr. Dale also referred me to a local acupuncturist and herbalist, who I'd visit twice a week. After my acupuncture treatments, he'd take me into a little kitchen area and offer me sweet potatoes and herbal tea, and then give me a hard little ball of herbs - about a half-inch in diameter - that I would chew on. I never asked him what they were ( he spoke very little English), but I've since learned that Chinese medicine uses many different herbs to treat cervical cancer. My sessions usually lasted about an hour.

Thinking back, it seems really odd to me that I never thought to ask this acupuncturist what he was giving me. But I have to remind myself that this was in the mid 1970's, when patients didn't question their doctors - even the non-traditional ones. Back then, I was enough of a rebel to see an acupuncturist in the first place!

Heated Castor Oil Packs for Cervical Cancer

On my own, to augment the macrobiotics and Chinese medicine, I placed heated castor oil packs on my abdomen for about twenty minutes a day. I had read that Edgar Cayce, the psychic healer, had used this method to treat cervical cancer. Cayce used to go into a psychic trance, from which he could determine specific treatments for each patient. His prescriptions were later cross-referenced and compiled into books so that people like me could use them as well.

After a month, I made an appointment with my mother's gynecologist (I had decided not to return to my own original doctor). He was not a lot happier with my decision to forgo standard treatment than my first doctor had been, and wanted to perform cryosurgery which would mean freezing my cervix to slow the growth of the abnormal cells. I refused. He finally agreed to give me a Pap test. This time, the results were better, showing some pre-cancerous lesions on my cervix. Still not normal, he said, but remarkably improved. It was enough for me, though: I was convinced my cancer was in remission and that I was on the right path.

Changing My Environment: Travel and Hiking

It has always amazed me how many people can learn that there is something seriously wrong with their bodies and then go on living the same sort of lives, thinking that just because they are taking some drug (or getting acupuncture or using some herbs) everything is going to be better. I believed then -- and still believe today -- that we also must do something to change the environment from which our diseases form. In my case, I felt an incredible pull to travel. So off I went.

With a few good friends, I visited Peru and Venezuela. We had no itinerary; we just knew we wanted to hike in the Andes and spend some time among the descendants of the Incas. I felt that just leaving the cities of North America would be an essential part of my healing process. On the trip, I kept up the macrobiotic diet I had begun. I carried my own cooking utensils and brown rice in my backpack, and I supplemented my diet with organic vegetables grown by the indigenous people whose villages we visited.

Walking through ancient ruins and sleeping in primitive dwellings, I began to feel a sense of clarity about my life. Out of my familiar urban environment, I was at peace with myself and the world. I believe it was a major component in my healing to break away from the routines and unhealthy energy of my life back home.

Giving Birth: Healed of Cervical Cancer

I felt so much better when I got back home in June. I was certain that my cancer was on its way out of my body. I went to my new doctor for another Pap test. This time the result was normal. The doctor warned me that this test result was no guarantee that the cancer was gone -- it could be just a temporary improvement, he said. But I knew better. And I've had a Pap test every year since then, and each one has been normal.

Two and a half years after I returned from South America, I gave birth to my son Aaron, who is now twenty and attending university on a full scholarship. I've never had a recurrence of cervical cancer. Since my cure, I moved to Texas, where I lived as a vegetarian and rely on natural healing methods on those rare occasions when I fall ill. Cancer swept me into a reality of how temporary and precious it is to have a human body. It was one of the wake-up calls of my life.

The Natural Way of Healing: Women's Health by The Natural Medicine Collective with Rebecca Papas

InnerSelf Recommended book:

The Natural Way of Healing: Women's Health
by The Natural Medicine Collective with Rebecca Papas (Dell Books, 1995).

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About The Author

Jill Schneider is a self-motivated, vibrant leader, published writer, singer/songwriter/guitarist and producer with extensive expertise in Holistic Healing programs for children and adults. Her website is