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Meet Alex

Participant since 2012

Photo credit: Leonard Beeghley Photography

Alex’s Story

Fight or flight. What happens when a threat appears? Before our senses fully process danger, our amygdala messages the hypothalamus. Hormones are released, guiding response. Do we run, flee, get away? Or, do we stay, fight, eyes and nails like lasers. Alex does neither. When faced with danger, she quiets the fear, asks questions, takes control. Occasionally, a glimmer of anger surfaces. Now, her abdomen is being taken over by tumor cells – they slip from organ to organ, ruining clockwork that ran smoothly a decade ago. Yet, somehow, this is not the most interesting part of her story.

Read the rest of Alex’s story below.

After a life of unexplained neurologic symptoms, Alex was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009.

At age 5, she was attacked by a dog. The animal tore apart her cheek, eye, forehead, and jugular. This experience did not instill fear or aversion, but a deep curiosity about why a creature generally considered friendly would tear her face to shreds. Later, dogs would again find their way into her life story.

In 2006, she developed constant bleeding. She told her doctor that something was wrong, but he reported that none of her tests were concerning. Occasionally, her diaphragm would go into spasm, feeling like a strong punch below her ribs. She lay on the floor for two hours, waiting for the pain to subside and her breath to flow more smoothly.

In April 2012, Alex went to her primary care practice and said, “Something is terribly wrong.” The doctor ordered blood tests and an ultrasound, which found a mass. She met with a surgeon, who held up an educational picture of the abdominal cavity and explained the surgery. He would cut from her navel down to her pubic bone for a complete hysterectomy and removal of her omentum – the layer of tissue surrounding organs in the abdominal cavity.

She had surgery one week later. She awoke and learned that she had stage 3c clear cell ovarian cancer, a type of cancer resistant to treatment with a high fatality rate. The cancer had spread into her rectum and up into her diaphragm. After surgery, she healed and started six, three-week cycles of chemotherapy. Because her cancer was throughout her abdomen, she could not have radiation. She had half of her chemo cycles at one hospital and then switched to another local hospital. Towards the end of 2012, a CT scan showed cancer in her liver.

Alex initially heard about Cornucopia from a friend, but felt too sick to visit the office to learn more. During a regular check-up, her doctor was worried that Alex was profoundly depressed. Alex says, “For some reason, I decided to drive to Cornucopia. I didn’t know what they did.” She met a staff-member named Robin and learned about Cornucopia’s programs and services. Cornucopia provides non-clinical services to cancer patients, survivors, and caregivers. Classes and body-work sessions are offed to participants at no charge. One of the first classes she tried was a gentle yoga class. She felt welcome, relaxed, unintimidated. She had massage and Reiki sessions, which felt “great.” She came into Cornucopia physically and emotionally wrecked. Their classes and body therapy services breathed healing energy into her tired body and spirit.

Through Cornucopia, Alex connected with a life coach named John. Alex was coming up on her 50th birthday and needed to raise $10,000 to pay for medical expenses not covered by insurance. John helped her plan and organize a large, fund-raising birthday celebration. They decided that she would sell some of her paintings – she had a talent for brightly colored pictures of animals. Other friends who were painters donated pieces to be sold. The festivities were a success and she raised the $10,000 she needed. She credits John and Cornucopia with helping her cultivate the loving energy of friends to ease her financial burdens. She is now working with John on writing a memoir.

Alex continues to receive rounds of chemotherapy. She has days when she can do what she needs to do. Other days are committed to treatment – her hair falls out again and her days are filled with crippling exhaustion. Through the ups and downs of repeated chemotherapy, she knows that she can always walk into Cornucopia for healing touch, for somebody to talk to, for help with navigating the emotions that come with living with cancer.

Years ago, Alex adopted a deaf Dalmatian. She worked to train her as a therapy dog. After Alex was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she trained the pup to be a service dog for people with disabilities. Alex and her dog were recognized by the NC House of Representatives for their work together. Alex now hopes to train more service dogs – animals trained to help meet the needs of people with disabilities, to allow them to participate more fully in a world that is not designed to meet their needs.

As a child, a dog tore Alex’s face to pieces. Now, she dedicates her time to training dogs to help people with disabilities. Alex has been faced with danger for much of her life. She uses her curiosity and her scars to bring order to confusion and cultivate her talents. When she’s worn and ragged from cancer testing and treatment, she turns to friends and to Cornucopia to refuel and to rebuild the physical and emotional damage. No fight, no flight, just strength and a commitment to her core of helping others.

Written by: Sara Sousa
November 2014