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Surviving Breast Cancer with Reiki

Being told by a doctor that you have cancer is a terrifying experience; it is the worst situation many of us will ever face. Marcus talks to Liz Eismendi, breast cancer survivor, to find out how Reiki helped her through an illness that each year claims the lives of more than half a million people worldwide, and to understand the courage, strength, and determination that lies behind one woman's fight to beat the odds.

Story by Marcus / Lake Forest, California / April 29 2009

Liz shows off her new hair one year after undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer. More Info

Liz shows off her new hair one year after undergoing chemotherapy for breast cancer.

© Liz Eismendi

[UPDATE — June 2nd 2009: This story featured in the Reiki Roundup in The Reiki Digest.]

“You have cancer” were the three simple words that in September of 2007 changed the life of Liz Eismendi forever. That these words reached her on the date of her wedding anniversary must have seemed like an unnecessarily cruel turn of fate to lay upon the mother of three young children.

It is difficult to fathom how each of us may deal with such devastating news, but the story of Liz is an exceptional testament to how within each of us there lies an often untapped source of extraordinary courage and will to overcome; to live life and to keep on living it, no matter what.

For Liz, Reiki proved to be one of the cornerstones in dealing with her illness. Her story begins a year earlier when circumstances drew her to learn Reiki:

Marcus: Liz, you have a deeply touching and remarkably inspiring story to tell about your battle with breast cancer. Please share it with us from the beginning.

Liz Eismendi: One day I went to see a spiritualist medium and he told me that I was a natural healer and asked me if I had ever considered taking Reiki or any other form of healing. I told him no but that I would look into it. A couple of months later I received information on some Reiki classes that were being offered at a local school. I completed my first degree of Usui Reiki Ryoho on September 30, 2006 and my second degree was completed on October 21, 2006. Little did I know that a year later I would have needed to use Reiki on myself.

Liz during chemotherapy for breast cancer at St. Boniface Hospital, Winnipeg. More Info

Liz during chemotherapy for breast cancer at St. Boniface Hospital, Winnipeg.

© Liz Eismendi

In January of 2007 I had felt a small lump on my left breast. I made an appointment to see my doctor. She examined my breast and wasn't sure what she was feeling so she referred me to a specialist at the Breast Health Centre in Winnipeg. I went to see the specialist in March 2007. She felt my breast and assured me that it was nothing to be concerned about. She said that since I was only 38 years old and there was no direct history other than my aunt and great–grandmother having it, the chances of me having cancer were low. I asked her if she was sure and she again reassured me by saying she had felt lumps like this before and to her it felt more like a harmless fibroid. So I left the office feeling uneasy about the whole thing but didn't question her since she was the expert.

Months passed by and the lump was slowly changing. I made an appointment again to see my family doctor. She examined me again and agreed with the specialist that she didn't feel there was cause for concern. I was almost 40 years old and if I was still worried she would send me for a mammogram at that time. Again I left the office still uneasy about what I was being told. It was now July and my breast was looking different. This time I made an appointment with a totally different doctor who was taking new patients. As she was asking for my medical history I told her about the lump. She examined me and immediately booked a mammogram for me. Going for the mammogram was the most painful experience I ever had. The left breast was the worst for the pain. Once I was done the technician told me to go wait in the change room but to not get dressed. I waited and she came out and told me they would need to take more pictures for a closer look. I knew it wasn't good. Later that day I went back to my doctors office. She phoned to get the results ASAP. She came into the room and said “you have cancer”. I started to cry instantly. From that day forward my life was completely changed.

I went back to the specialist again and went for my biopsy. A week later I was told I had Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma (IDC) breast cancer. The tumour was 2.8 cm. Grade 3. I was staged as a Stage 2B er/pr and her2 positive. An aggressive form of breast cancer. I was told I would need 6 rounds of chemo (3 rounds of FEC and 3 rounds of docetaxol). I would also have 25 rounds of radiation and 18 doses of herceptin. My first surgery was a lumpectomy (October 2007). I had a second surgery (November 2007) since the margins were not clear and had a mastectomy with a DIEP flap reconstruction.

 “I continued to practice reiki, meditate and always maintained a positive attitude.” 

— Liz Eismendi

While I was going through all the surgeries I was meditating and practicing my Reiki. I had my follow–up appointment with my plastic surgeon 2 weeks after the reconstruction. I walked into the office and he looked at me in amazement because I was standing completely straight only 2 weeks after major surgery. He couldn't believe how well I was doing, since the recovery was supposed to be 6 weeks. Just over a month later, I started my chemotherapy. I tolerated the first 3 rounds of chemo very well but the last 3 rounds of chemo were hard on my body. Considering the high dosage of chemo I had, everyone said I always looked great. I Didn't really feel that way but I always tried to keep my spirits up. I prayed, meditated and did healing on myself as much as I could. About a month later, I went for radiation therapy. Every day I would go in the treatment room with a positive attitude. I would visualize the cancer getting zapped from the radiation. I was told that I would get tired and my skin would burn from the radiation as the days went by. When my radiation was completed I felt great and my skin was a only tiny bit pink. The nurses always commented on how well I was doing. A month later I went to see my radiation oncologist and he was amazed how well I looked and how my skin looked on my breast. He said he wished all of his patients did as well as I did. I continued to practice reiki, meditate and always maintained a positive attitude. I continued with 18 herceptin treatments every 3 weeks and tolerated the treatments very well. All the nurses in the chemo room were impressed with my progress and everything looked good.

Liz with her three beautiful children, pictured in the summer of 2007 just before she was diagnosed with breast cancer. More Info

Liz with her three beautiful children, pictured in the summer of 2007 just before she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

© Liz Eismendi

One day I was laying in bed and I was doing a scan of my body using byosen scanning [byosen reikan ho is a Reiki technique for sensing imbalances in the body], I felt that there was an issue with my abdomen. I went to the doctors in January and asked her if she would do an ultrasound of my ovaries as well. She said there was no need to scan the ovaries if there were no symptoms. I told her I was concerned that there may be something wrong since my Mother also had problems with her ovaries. I couldn't say to her, I scanned my body with my hand and felt I had issues... she would have looked at me like I was crazy. She again said no, not unless I developed symptoms. Again I felt uneasy with the response.

One night around the beginning of February I developed severe abdominal pain. It was so bad I thought I had to go to the hospital. I lay in bed and prayed it would go away. The pain finally subsided about 2 hours later. I thought this isn't right, so I called the doctor the next day. She sent me for an ultrasound to find out what was causing the pain. The ultrasound showed I had a 4.4 cm complex cyst on my ovaries and I would need to be seen by a gynecologist. The doctor has now scheduled me for surgery on May 4th for the removal of both of my ovaries. So every night before I go to bed I say a prayer, I do some reiki and hope my surgery goes well and my results will come back fine.

M: You mentioned being hesitant in talking about health concerns with your doctor because of what their reaction might be to Reiki. You were aware that something was wrong but you were not able to convince your doctor. Having experienced this, do you have advice on how to better approach these situations?

LE: I think the best way to approach this is to be open and honest with your physician. Explain what you are feeling and don't worry what they think. Doctors have brushed me off a few times because they thought I didn't fit the profile but sometimes we need to be pushy. We need to be our own advocate and fight for what we believe in. When I tell my story to others I always tell people to push the doctors and tell them you have every right to get tested.

M: For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with Reiki, can you describe how you give yourself a Reiki self–treatment?

LE: Basically for self treatment I find a quiet place at home with no distractions from phones, or my children. I then put on a CD with relaxing music and light some candles. I start off by saying a little prayer and give thanks to the holy spirit. Sometimes I sit in a chair or I sit on my bed. I then start placing my hands on 13 areas of the body which start at the sides of my ears, I continue down to my eyes, top of my head, back of my head, throat, shoulders, upper stomach, middle of stomach, lower pelvic area, middle of back, lower back, left foot, right foot and then finishing at the bottom of both feet. I usually stay on each area for a few minutes or a little longer if I feel necessary. It takes approximately 45 minutes or so. Sometimes I take a little longer when I have the time. It is very relaxing. When I don't have the time I just do the areas I feel I need the most attention. For example if I have a sore neck or sore back I basically concentrate on those areas.

M: You mentioned you were trained in Usui Reiki Ryoho. Of the Japanese techniques used, is there a certain regimen you have found to be particularly beneficial?

LE: There are certain combinations that I like to use. I start with the Gassho meditation which means “two hands coming together.” It's done twice a day and it is a meditation to attune one's body with Reiki. I use this method often just to clear the mind. Chiryo (meaning treatment) is also something I use which relies on one's intuition to guide where treatments are needed. I usually use Byosen method which uses the hands to locate areas on the body that need healing. I use byosen scanning often and use it on myself, husband and children. I also like to use the Kenyoku method (dry bathing) before and after a treatment to help cleanse any negative energy. I also use it sometimes when I have been in a negative situation to release the bad energy.

Generally, I found that doing just little daily routines like using the power symbols before I would enter a stressful situation was helpful. I also find doing Reiki at night before bed is very relaxing for me. It was a great way to relieve all of the day's stress before going to bed.

M: What would your advice be to women who are concerned specifically about breast cancer?

LE: My advice to women who are concerned about breast cancer is to get regularly checked. Make sure you do your monthly physical self exams. Go for your annual mammogram and get a baseline mammogram at the age of 35. Go with your gut instinct, you know yourself and your body better than anyone else. Don't let anyone tell you that you don't fit the profile because cancer does not discriminate and anyone can get it young or old.

Liz needed to use a wig as a result of the hair loss caused by the chemo required to treat her breast cancer. More Info

Liz needed to use a wig as a result of the hair loss caused by the chemo required to treat her breast cancer.

© Liz Eismendi

M: It obviously takes great courage to cope with cancer. What would you say to anyone having trouble dealing with cancer and needing encouragement?

LE: Surround yourself with loving friends and family who will be there to support you. Think positive... I can't stress enough how important that is. Take the time to relax, this is what heals the body. For me I thought of cancer as a phase of my life that I had to get through in order to learn some new things and to help others.

I'd also like to share a moment I had with my children and husband while going through chemo.

Losing my hair was devastating for me. I always had long hair and was known by the beautiful hair I had. I had many compliments on my hairstyle so when I found out I was going to lose it I was in tears. So before I went for my first round of chemo I cut my hair to my shoulders. I then went for my first round of chemo and sure enough just as the nurses told me I started to have hair falling out by the 2nd week after chemo. So I decided to get my Aunt who is also a breast cancer survivor to shave my hair. She came over and she gave me a buzz cut... not completely bald, I wasn't ready for that yet. Later that night I put my wig on and we celebrated my new look with dinner at a nice restaurant.

Everything was OK. I was feeling good considering I had chemo and was about to go for my second round. My husband had to work out of town for a few weeks so I was by myself with the kids for a couple of weeks. Well wouldn't you know that was the time when reality finally hit me.

The kids were in bed and I decided to have a quick shower. As I started to wash my buzz cut hair I looked down at my hands and saw all these little hairs on my hands. Lots and lots of hair. I couldn't get it off my hands. I would put it under the water and it stuck to my fingers. I would rub my head and so much more would be on my hands again. I started to cry. I hated seeing the hair all over my hands and on the floor of the shower. I got the hair off as much as I could and got dressed. I looked in the mirror and I had bald patches all over. I just sank to the floor and began to sob. I was so sad and felt so alone. My husband wasn't there and the kids were all in bed. I called my husband that night and he tried to console me. I told him I looked ugly and he said that I was beautiful and that we knew this was going to happen. He told me he loved me and said he would be home soon and to try and get some rest.

Henry [Liz's husband] came home later that week and I stood in the mirror in the bathroom and said “look at my head, it's all full of patches I feel so ugly.” I showed him how easy it was to pull out my hair. I reached up to my head and grabbed bunches of hair and threw it in the sink. I started to cry again. My husband then called the kids in the bathroom. He said “kids guess what, we are going to play a game with Mommy. We are going to let you pull out her hair.” They all looked at him like he was crazy. But they were all up for that. So one by one they took turns seeing if pulling Mommy's hair would hurt. They were amazed that it didn't hurt. The tears that once fell upon my face were now replaced with the biggest smile. We were all having fun with it. They pulled the rest of the hair that was on my head and most of it lay in the sink. Everyone was having fun. Who knew that such a terrible thing like losing hair would turn out to be a game.

So anyway, that is my little story. During chemo I prayed every night and I relaxed and practiced Reiki. I know this is what got me through it. This is what made me strong.

Liz pictured with her husband Henry shortly before Liz was diagnosed with breast cancer. More Info

Liz pictured with her husband Henry shortly before Liz was diagnosed with breast cancer.

© Liz Eismendi

About Liz Eismendi

Liz Eismendi lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, where she was born and raised. She met her husband 20 years ago and they have been married for 12 years. They live together with their two daughters and one son aged 11, 8, and 5 who keep them very busy. Liz works as a Uniform Supervisor at Manitoba Lotteries, and in her spare time enjoys going for walks, drawing portraits, meditating and practicing Reiki.

Do you want to help Liz?

If you are an experienced Reiki practitioner, why not join Yadira in volunteering distance Reiki treatments for Liz? Please Contact Us if you would like to help.

Reiki is not a substitute for qualified medical advice. Always consult your doctor or qualified care provider regarding any illness or health concerns.

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