Recently People Magazine named J-Lo as its' "Most Beautiful" but my vote goes to Kelley Starkweather Rush. I became aware of Kelley when one of my own spiritual teachers and Facebook Friends, Rev. Mark Anthony Lord, shared her amazing photo. At first glance, I just thought she looked like a glowing smiling extraterrestrial. Then I began to look closer and notice her scars and chest completely void of breasts. At the moment she took the photo (which was done with a simple Mac Laptop Camera) she felt blissful but getting to that state of bliss was quite a journey.
This photo, by the way, has captured the hearts and spirits of many people all over the world. Kelley has received supportive comments from men, women, cancer survivors, body image crusaders and even a poll-dancing group. Speaking of dancing, what has kept Kelley going is her belief that she is not fighting cancer; it's not a fight but a dance. As a yoga teacher and owner of Two Rivers Yoga and Massage, she has had many students in the fight against breast cancer. Maybe being a warrior was right for them but she feels it's not right for her. Fighting can take a lot of energy but allowing has freed her up to take part in this death-defying dance.
When I talked with Kelley, the word "distraction" came up a lot. This difficult "dance" has helped her release things that used to get in the way of her personal growth. The first "distraction" we talked about was her breasts. Kelley grew up around mostly boys and tried to hide her breasts growing up then felt liberated as a teen to show them off. As an adult they provided pleasure and nursed her two daughters. Now her chest is being used in a different way. After much soul searching she has opted to not have reconstructive surgery. Kelley feels that reconstructed breasts now would just "get in the way". Although, she did say she might feel differently if she had only one breast removed and not two.
I also brought up the issue of hair loss, which for some women is more heartbreaking than losing a breast (or two). At the beginning of her journey she really was saddened by the loss of her then past-shoulder length hair. Like her breasts, Kelley had strong feelings about her hair, as a young girl her mom would cut it short when she really wanted long hair. As an adult she grew it long and enjoyed its beauty. Her baldhead evolved with many tears. First, with the support of friends, she had it cut to chin length. This actually gave her the opportunity to embrace a new look that she actually liked. Then she went for a pixie cut, which created a lot of heartache, as it was a trigger for how she felt as a young girl with shorn hair. One day in the shower she swiped her head and lost a huge clump of hair. With the help of a friend she shaved her head and felt liberated. Kelley told me, "I had more issues with my pixie cut than my bald head. When I think of baldness I associate it with the Dalai Lama and newborn babies. There was no trigger for my new bald head."
She prefers to not wear scratchy wigs and only wears hats in bad weather. Kelley lives in a small community and sometimes people don't know what to make of her head. Some will look her in the eyes or not at all. They wonder is this baldness a product of lifestyle, religion, illness, or sexuality? One of her students has called her the "punk monk". Kelley feels so liberated by her baldhead that she may keep it that way. Before going bald, like many women, her hair was often dyed. Kelley says," Why do I need more distractions? Who am I doing this for? As a yoga teacher my message has always been: YOU ARE NOT YOUR BODY. I don't want to live in a hypocritical way."
Intuition is also an important life saving tool. Kelley felt a lump for 2-3 months before she was diagnosed in December of 2010. She had several mammograms, which detected nothing. Eventually, she went back to the doctor and had an ultrasound and was thereafter diagnosed with breast cancer. Kelley tested negative regarding all her lymph nodes during the lumpectomy and mastectomy. Upon removal of biopsy and mastectomy they found more cancer in both of breasts. Her tumors were tested and had an ONCA score of 26, which is in the moderate range, and because she is only 43, the chances of reoccurance of any type of cancer were higher, thus the reason she chose to do chemo.
Along with chemotherapy and surgery, Kelley also uses naturopathic medicine. She has been seeing a Naturopathic Oncologist. Her wellness regime also includes melatonin
(which aids proper rest), turmeric
(one of nature's most powerful healers), Ayurvedic
modalities and proper nutrition.
Having a supportive family has certainly been essential. Her husband has supported every decision she has made. The good news is that Kelley is expected to have a 100% recovery. She believes this isn't so much the result of chemotherapy but also the naturopathic medicine she has been engaged in. She says, "My totem animal is the Bear and like the Bear I will emerge in the spring more alive. Kelley advises women with cancer to "ask your spirit what to do. Honor each phase of your life. Everything is a choice; it can be either a gift or curse? The choice is yours." Dance or fight.