I was given a diagnosis I couldn’t believe.
It was 2015. I was in graduate school and I got a phone call that I never expected I would. A routine test came back weird. I needed more tests. Then, they said I needed biopsies. Biopsies?! No way. My graduate studies were in the holistic healthcare field and healthy living was on the forefront of my mind. Crossfit, paleo, organic foods, no soda…the whole nine. It felt like my body had betrayed me. I was diagnosed with stage 0 cervical carcinoma in situ, also referred to as CIN 3 high grade cervical dysplasia.
I was studying to become a doctor.
DC to be specific; a Doctor of Chiropractic.
My coursework was filled with topics like anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, chemistry, and microbiology. Super light reading stuff, you know? Every Friday our entire school took a break from all of our classes and gathered in a giant auditorium, where we listened to a 50 minute seminar from someone with an amazing inspirational healthcare message. Sometimes that was a chiropractor. Sometimes it was a medical doctor. Sometimes it was a success story/miracle healing case shared for inspiration and motivation to push through the grueling course load we endured during graduate school.
I was on FIRE about being a doctor. I was on FIRE about helping people take a natural course of action to address serious health conditions. I attended as many free (and paid) lectures and seminars on the weekends as I could. I repeated like a mockingbird the statements I heard from established doctors around me….That the body is capable of amazing healing. The power that made the body, can heal the body. That although western medicine plays a huge role in our society, it was my job to teach people about less invasive and more natural ways to address their health concern before turning to the knife or a prescription.
And then, the phone rang.
It was a private phone number. I don’t usually pick up private phone numbers, however on this day I tapped the little green phone icon and said… “hello?”
That first phone call was the first of several calls. All of which delivered another layer of disappointing news. The very first call my medical doctor tried to not raise any alarms. She suggested I come back in to repeat some routine tests I had done, because the round of tests I had done picked up some weird cells. As most people would do, I began to have conversations with myself trying to downplay the situation. I told myself that it’s probably nothing. The doctors are just double checking. I appreciated that. I was happy to oblige. Afterall I was going to be on the other side one day, helping patients.
After my second round of lab test results came back positive, it was then suggested that they take a closer look inside of me and grab some biopsies.
Now, you don’t have to in the medical field to heard the word “biopsy” and draw the same conclusion I did. Cancer.
I showed up for another office visit where my medical doctor punched 3 holes out of my internal organ and then explained to me that the results could come back a few different ways:
Totally fine, one big misunderstanding.
Undifferentiated cells, but not severe enough to need intervention. We could just monitor those.
A variation of low grade to high grade cervical dysplasia (CIN 1, CIN 2, or CIN 3).
Stage “x” cancer.
Naturally, I tried to rationalize with myself that the possibility of the last two options were pretty slim. I’m not a smoker, my diet is nearly impossible, I move my body and push it to the physical limit 4+ days per week, and I was surrounded in this “natural health” bubble day in and day out during school. If I wasn’t the epitome of a young healthy female, well then I didn’t know who was!
The next 4 days were pretty torturous to wait for that phone call for the results. I was in the middle of a class when my phone began to ring, another private phone number.
Funny enough, I had 3% battery on my iPhone and it was on the verge of dying. Of course. So, I borrowed a friends phone and walked out into an empty hallway, dialled the doctor and listened to the dial tone ring. ring. ring.
The next couple of minutes blur together for me. The whole school was in class sessions and the hallway was completely empty. This was not something I got to experience often. I remember sliding my back along the hallway wall down to my feet. My medical doctor explained to me that the majority of my biopsies came back as high grade cervical dysplasia.
I was diagnosed with CIN 3, stage 0 cervical carcinoma in situ. Often referred to as high grade cervical dysplasia.
The last and final stage cervical dysplasia. She explained if I let this fester for too long, then we would be having the full blown cancer conversation.
My options were surgery or surgery to remove the CIN 3 cells. The procedure is called a LEEP.
She urged that I schedule as soon as I was able to come back into her office and have the bad part of me removed. So I scheduled the procedure for the following week and hung up.
I recall hanging up the phone and sitting there, back against the wall, crouched on the ground with someone elses phone in my hand. With a completely empty mind. And a broken heart. My body betrayed me. It was one of those moments where I wondered why I ever spent so much of my mental time and energy on “being healthy.” And then, I looked at the bulletin board at the wall across from where I crouched and read the sign:
“The power that made the body, heals the body.”
So I took a beat. Was surgery my only option? I had heard stories about patients who were told their only option for the chronic pain was opioids, and they found natural healing outside of western medicine. I had heard stories of women with chronic migraines who were told they needed to deal with migraines the rest of their lives, find total resolution of their symptoms outside of western medicine. I had also heard stories of a young women who chose holistic approaches with her cancer over traditional western approaches and had recently lost her life.
I turned to Google and felt hopeful that there were other interventions that I could try first. I called my medical doctor back and asked if we could have a conversation in person before I went forward with any invasive removal procedure.
So I showed up to her office prepared for a productive and helpful appointment, for which I was sorely mistaken. The worst part about trying to have this conversation with my medical doctor was that she seemed SO ANNOYED with me. As if I was inconveniencing her so hard by wanting to ask questions about alternative options before her surgery. I even asked if there were any supplementation I should be doing in tandem with the surgery and she briefly mentioned I should just focus on eating a healthy diet.
I felt that I had a decent understanding of the body. The CIN high grade cervical dysplasia likely caused by a virus, human-papillomavirus. Of which I was never actually tested positive for. This is a tricky little virus that likes to lay dormant in both men and women for long periods of time before it rears its ugly head. It’s estimated that 80% of adults actually have this virus and they have no idea, nor does it ever harm them. I unfortunately was a part of the small percentage that it was harming.
The point was: the CIN3 cells were likely caused by a virus. I mean… a cold is a virus right? What did I do when a cold hits? I boosted the hell out of my immune system and let my body eradicate the virus.
The real question: could the cervical dysplasia dysplastic cells caused by the virus be reversed back to normal healthy cells, instead of progressing into cancer?
My medical doctor made me feel as if:
I was dumb to consider anything other than surgery.
That the body was not capable of healing cervical dysplasia dysplastic cells back into normal cells.
I was powerless and I needed to rely on her surgery or else the possibility of cancer.
In hindsight, she was doing her job. I get it. But she lacked grace and tact while doing so. Which was unfortunate because I chose her office very specifically as she was one of the few *female* doctors in my area that accepted my insurance.
I did not like how she stole my power away from me. I did not like how she discouraged the healing capabilities that I knew my body had inside. I wasn’t diagnosed with stage 4 cancer asking if I could ‘green juice’ away the issue. My questions seemed reasonable. I was determined to find someone in the healthcare world who understood my underlying beliefs about the body.
But also, I will keep it super real here. I left her office in fear.
The fear was huge. The fear was bigger than me. My medical doctor offered me a quick and fast solution that would cost me approximately $2,000 that may or may not need to be repeated more than once, of course at an additional cost. And of course, my insurance did not cover this particular surgical removal procedure (although many do). I was presented with this option to fork over some money and a small amount of time for a speedy solution, that could possibly resolve my fear.
BUT. In that moment the idea of starting with surgical removal of the CIN 3 cells went against every fiber of my being.
I was taught to question everything in healthcare. To find all options. To, whenever possible, always move from least invasive to most invasive when addressing the body. Surgery felt like starting at the most invasive side of the spectrum.
One of my biggest concerns with surgical removal, other than it was counterintuitive to my healthcare philosophy to *start* with this option, was that it could lead to possible complications with pregnancy and carrying a baby. The word ‘miscarriage’ was use. I’ve watched women go through that. I did not want to increase those chances for my future family.
So my journey for looking for ANY other less invasive treatment before I considered surgery began.
A friend mentioned that I try to find a “functional medicine doctor.” I found one about an hour away, but she was very expensive and didn’t have any experience with the exact issue I was dealing with. However, this functional medicine doctor worked in multidisciplinary space called Clear Center of Health, where there were several different types of holistically focused doctors.
There was this medical doctor as well as several naturopathic doctors that worked in one space together. Online, I read one of the naturopathic doctors specialities were “Naturopathic Gynecology and Integrative Oncology Support.”
I made the first appointment possible. Her name was Dr. Kate Tenney, ND.This was the single most important thing I did on my healing journey. I paid for $400 out of pocket (not an easy task with being a grad school student with no job. I’m lucky for credit cards and a little parental help. When there is a will, there is a way) and brought all my biopsy reports with me. We sat in her office and had an hour long appointment.
Before we ever met she had me fill out a 10 page intake form that broke down every single aspect of my life: my health goals, my fears or reservations, how committed I felt I was to do what it took to address my health, my mental health, my physical health, reflecting on my lifestyle habits, etc. It was so much more than “what seems to be the issue that brings you in today.”
I was an entire person. I was an entire person with thoughts and feelings and pain and dreams and goals.
While we met, she very simply drew on a piece of paper the nature of my condition. She explained my biopsy results in detail and how I got to the place I was now with my CIN 3 high grade cervical dysplasia diagnosis. And then, she did the single most impactful thing I could ask for:
She created space for me to believe in the possibility of naturally reversing my condition.
She explained I needed to be committed to the process of reversing the CIN 3 diagnosis. SUPER committed. The process looked like the following:
I needed to get a blood test to figure out if there are any foods that were irritating my gut lining and causing unwarranted inflammation in my body. Then I needed to eliminate those foods from my diet asap. Read more about how I did this here.
I needed to decrease my stress levels (not the easiest thing to do with this diagnosis,grad school, and my type A personality).
I needed to do an additional blood test that identified vitamins and minerals my body was lacking and I needed to supplement with the things I was lacking in.
I needed to reduce or eliminate my alcohol intake, as drinking does not breed a good healing environment.
I needed to begin a strict oral protocol of supplements targeted specifically at reversing the CIN 3 high grade cervical dysplasia.
I needed to come in 2x/week for an Escharotic treatment with bromelain- an internal procedure that slowly removed the CIN 3 high grade cervical dysplasia cells and allowed them to schleff off. Followed by internal suppositories to heal in between treatments.
I had to commit to this for 6 month minimum before I repeat tests and biopsies. And, commit to 12 months on the supplements if I really wanted to follow the oral supplementation protocol to get the maximum benefit.
My only question was: can I afford the time to wait? My medical doctor essentially told me there was no time to wait. What if I wait 6 months, or even 12 months, before considering the surgery to remove the CIN 3 abnormal cells?
Do you want to know what the most terrifying enemy of fear is? Facts. Facts help squash fear real quick. So here are some facts:
According to the National Cancer Institute,
About 70% of ASCUS and CIN 1 lesions regress within 6 years, without any intervention.
Only 6% of CIN 1 lesions progress to CIN 3 or worse (this is what I had).
10% – 20% of women with CIN 3 lesions progress to invasive cancer. And, according to other sources it could take as long as 10 years from CIN lesions to progress into to cancer…. “More often than not, the infection disappears after losing the battle with your immune system.”
So the plan of attack was clear. To summarize the gist of it: the plan was to boost my immune system from the inside out, from every angle.
Remove foods that inhibited my immune system.
Add these supplements that created an ideal immune system to thrive.
Follow an oral protocol aimed at healing and repairing my cells.
Receive external escharotic treatments to target the death of my high grade cervical dysplasia CIN 3 lesions without the risk of scar tissue formation that could lead to complications later in childbearing years.
In future blog posts I will share these individual steps in deeper detail. Stay tuned 🙂
My naturopathic doctor made no false promises that this was a surefire way to eradicate the source of the issue, nor would it promise that I wouldn’t need to get the surgery. She did however present me with facts and case reports of women who chose the LEEP and women who chose the option she of escharotic and supplementation, which included how many women had their condition return within a 5 years period.
I was given way more space and information to make a decision about my health than my medical doctor gave me – which was essentially to just ‘listen to her because she said so’ attitude. If you can’t tell, that medical doctor really rubbed me the wrong way. This is not a dig on the medical profession by any means. I’m grateful for western medicine. I am not grateful for this medical doctor.
So. I decided to commit to 6 months with this naturopathic doctor and then run tests again.[thrive_leads id=’1165′]
I figured, worst case scenario, I will have a bumping immune system at the end of 6 months and might still have to get the surgical procedure anyways. But would hopefully be able to recover from the LEEP more easily given the pristine internal environment I would spend the next 6 months developing. Essentially I was learning how to naturally reduce inflammation in my body, so that it could boost my immune system, and begin to heal the damaged parts.
Even if at the end of the 6 months if I still needed the LEEP, I would have had given my body a fighting chance to impress everyone with the single thing it was designed to do when we remove all the roadblocks: to repair and heal tissues and cells. I had to give my body the fighting chance to shine. And it did.
I called up my medical doctor and postponed the LEEP. The woman on the phone made sure I was very aware of the risk I was taking and headed warning to me to keep my procedure. She suggested if I really insisted, I could do both at the same time. (Yes, that was an option, however I chose to have a little faith in my body first. I chose to start with the least invasive option first. I encourage any woman faced with the same decision to do BOTH if you are considering moving forward with the LEEP). More or less her response on the phone was hesitant and unsupportive of my choice, at best.
Again, that’s their job. They only know what they know, and what they see on a daily basis. And what the overall western medicine vibe projects is that the body is this fragile and helpless thing in need of external elements to force healing onto/into the body.
Holistic practitioners project the idea that the body has an amazing intelligence inside.
This is the same intelligence that forms a scab when we are cut, without any intentional effort on our part. And that same intelligence can be unlocked and unleashed when you give the body the right tools to do so.
One of the worst things you can do is see Google opinion pieces and read other practitioners trash this approach. I am a reasonable human being, and I realize that the approach I chose may not be the most ideal for EVERYONE with my diagnosis or with a diagnosis progressed further than what I had. That being said, I looked at the facts, the percentages of progression to cancer, the lifestyle I lived, the commitment I was willing to make to radically change even further… and I made the decision to start with a less invasive option. And only THEN would I consider a more invasive option of a LEEP.
The first few weeks were difficult.
I missed my evening glass of red wine. I missed bread. I missed binging on sugar during my time of the month. The supplements I took consumed my mind most parts of the day. I was always making sure I knew how many to take and how frequently to take them. I had to learn the best combination of supplements to take at once and which I had to space out, otherwise I could get crazy uncomfortable burping 😉 It was inconvenient, but not impossible.
I figured out which brands I could order online cheaper than what they cost through my naturopath, so I could save as much money as I could along the way. I drove myself 2 hours round trip, two times a week, to receive my escharotic treatments. Truthfully, the first 8 weeks were difficult. After I got over that hump, I got accustomed to my new eating routine and my new nutritional plan as well as all the supplementation I was on.
And before I knew it, it was time to repeat the tests 6 months later. And just to save money so I could go use my insurance, I went back to my original medical doctor for this test. It was going to be a raw moment, I would either have proven her wrong or have proven her right.
I proved her wrong.
The front desk staff call me a few days after my 6 month repeat test with NO abnormal changes found. No detectable CIN 3 findings. I was ELATED.
I met with the medical doctor and explained to me that it’s possible I got a false positive or that I need to have a deeper biopsy done to be sure there were no cells living deeper beneath the surface. She didn’t buy it. She wasn’t impressed.
The fact that she didn’t even remotely ask me: “what did you do???” had me ready to leave her office and never look back again. I was so excited to have been a great case study to share with her all the sacrifices I made, and how proud I was of myself. I couldn’t let her sour response rain on my parade. I made up my mind that I was done using her office and services never got in contact with her again.
I have repeated all of these routine tests over the last 4 years, and continue to have healthy cells.
I have returned to my normal eating habits, and take only a few supplemental vitamins daily.
I am now a practicing doctor in Boulder, Colorado.
Through this process, I developed a massive amount of empathy for my patients who come to me after they have had a discouraging conversation with their traditional medical doctor (usually more than 1 discouraging conversation with more than 1 doctor).
I’ve had patients with chronic neurological disorders “miraculously” resolve their conditions through natural and holistic approaches to their body – resolved things their western doctor told them they would have to deal with for the rest of their life, or use medication to attempt to manage the symptoms.
In 6 months, I successfully reversed my diagnosis of CIN 3 high grade cervical dysplasia through naturally decreasing the inflammation in my body and repairing my gut with specific nutrition changes and supplements for my body specifically. I strengthened this process through approximately 12 escharotic treatments with a naturopathic doctor whose focus was in naturopathic gynecology and integrative oncology support.
This post is not meant to dissuade anyone from seeking out a western approach to eliminate cancerous or precancerous cells. It is meant to shed light on other less invasive approaches to addressing CIN 3 high grade cervical dysplasia. You might consider this approach in tandem with tradition treatment, or you may elect to try this method as a less invasive approach to try before LEEP.
Either way, seek out a licensed healthcare professional who has experience in this field and have a conversation with them. Bring research with you. Play an involved role in your healthcare process instead of a passive role. Empower yourself with knowledge and trust that your body is capable of so much more healing that you have been led to believe.
The information contained in this post is not intended to diagnose, treat or cure any diseases. It is not a substitute for regular medical care. If you are on medications or have any medical conditions, please consult with your primary healthcare provider before making any changes to your healthcare approaches.
An alternative treatment for cervical intraepithelial neoplasia II, III.
National Cancer Institute
ABC Health and Wellbeing – Cervical Cancer
Escharotic Treatment for ECC-positive CIN3 in Childbearing Years: A Case Report
Naturopathic.org Management of Cervical Dysplasia and Human Papillomavirus