About the Coach
The Inside Story
My Commitment

About the Coach

Melodie Gage is a professional wellness coach and registered nurse with a master’s degree in communication from Wheaton College (IL). She graduated from one of the largest and most respected coaching schools in the United States, Coach U, and completed an advanced wellness coaching program with the Institute for Life Coach Training. These schools are accredited by the International Coach Federation of which she is a member. Melodie is a two-time cancer survivor who earned the U.S. Secretary of State’s Award for Outstanding Volunteerism Abroad for founding and directing a volunteer program in the children’s cancer ward at a public hospital in Katmandu, Nepal. As an expatriate spouse, she has lived in six countries on four continents since 1996, observing, experiencing and contributing to health care globally. She currently divides her time between the United States and Ecuador with her husband, Chris, and their two children.

The Inside Story

I have heard the difficult words, “You have cancer” twice — once with a rare form of bone cancer and, then, with thyroid cancer.

My husband, Chris, and I lived and worked in an inner-city Chicago neighborhood. While scraping and painting our garage one fall, I noticed reddening at the tip of a finger. My hand had been hurting a bit, but I assumed it was just from the repetitive painting motion, and that a splinter had lodged in my finger. When soaking and ibuprofen didn’t improve things, I had it x-rayed.

Doctors say, “If you hear hoofbeats behind you, it’s probably a horse, not a zebra.” Basically that just means if you have a little pain here or there, don’t get hyper and think you have cancer. Most likely it’s just a sprain. So in my case, they checked out the obvious first – carpal tunnel syndrome, bone infection. We’d been anticipating cross-country travel for the holidays. But by Christmas Day, I was flat out on the sofa, recovering from general anesthesia and the announcement, “We think you have cancer.” Red, gelatinous tissue from my fingertip lay under a microscope at Mayo Clinic.

When the New Year arrived, the dreaded news had been confirmed. It was a rare bone sarcoma, found usually as a single tumor in a teenage boy’s leg. Yet here I was – a 30-something woman with six tumors in my dominant hand. How did that happen?

I was fortunate to live in a large metropolitan area with top specialists just a few minutes from my home. And so Chris and I met one afternoon in a hospital exam room with a collection of these incredibly experienced physicians. They each brought their own specialty to bear on the decision for treatment. The top two choices for survival: amputate your hand or go through intensive radiation which may damage the hand to the point that you’ll get it amputated anyway. I realized then that, in the name of “informed consent,” doctors have to give you the very worst possible scenarios.

As if in reaction to this off-putting news, the fingertip tumor began growing out of control. The top third of that digit became a squishy mass where the bone had been eaten away. This added more urgency to my decision.

As the doctors continued their “staging” of the disease, a CT scan showed the worst: a mass in my right lung. By this time, I’d asked a nurse friend to search the medical literature to find out all she could about my disease and recommended treatment. She came back from the medical library with a stack of photocopies and the prognosis for this fulminating cancer: a 20% survival rate.

I have always believed that every past experience—no matter how miniscule—can be useful as we face a present challenge. And so it was. In the face of overwhelming odds, I drew on a long-standing belief that my body had an intrinsic strength to heal, on my observations as a nurse with those in health crises, on my faith in Jesus, and on inspiring accounts of others’ cancer experiences. The answers began to come together.

Most people who meet me consider me quiet, even stoic. Certainly not a rabble rouser or hysteric. But I have an ornery streak that runs deep. I believed I had many more options to heal my body than just amputation and radiation. And I was determined that I would fight this battle on my own terms—despite the opinions of professionals who understandably saw me and my disease within the confines of their own experience and training. As I stayed true to myself, I could work confidently with my health-care team.

With my mom’s help, I began searching out therapies and holistic ways to strengthen my body and eliminate the cancer. I came to know and trust the “still small voice” inside that seemed to take the information I gathered and whisper direction. I also learned to firmly state my choices and desires, even though my doctors or loved ones might disagree. And I sought out care givers who could support my philosophy that my body would heal if it was given what it needed to re-build.

The plan I decided on included conventional and complementary approaches. Chris and I flew to New York City to meet with an internal medicine specialist. On her protocol, I began an intensive nutrition and detoxification program. An amazingly open-minded hand surgeon in Chicago offered me a full-range of options for surgery. Even though it wouldn’t eliminate all the tumors, I chose the most conservative option – a partial amputation of the most-affected finger. I began radiation to the full hand, every day visualizing the cobalt particles blasting away my cancer cells. Chest surgery to remove the lung nodule finally brought good news: the lung mass was benign. Three days after my chest was opened, I was back on the neighborhood track with my dog—gulping in the brisk February air.

While there wasn’t much written on complementary medicine in the mid-1990s, writers like Bernie Siegel, Herbert Bensen and Richard Foster led me into practicing humor, relaxation breathing and intensive prayer. A circle of friends—ranging from former gang-bangers to physicians and charismatic Catholics—often held my hand while asking God for healing. When you’re facing the likelihood of death and when pain is a frequent companion, the support of loved ones is critical. It was a lifeline for me.

By the halfway point in treatment, my hand was a mass of yellow spongy flesh, criss-crossed with gaping splits. All the fingernails had turned black and fallen off. A gifted hand therapist resisted my cries and insisted on pushing me through exercises that would maintain some movement. Though the radiation killed off all the bacteria, I still had to bandage my hand mummy-style whenever I went out in public. No sense scaring off the shoppers at Whole Foods Market when I went to purchase my weekly 25-pound bag of carrots for juicing.

I’m still not sure which part of the cancer journey is most difficult. For me, the panic hit hard at various times with waves of fear that I would die and never live the life I’d dreamed. Late at night, I would lie on the living room floor with our dog (not wanting to wake Chris), put on headphones and let music wash over my hurting body and fearful soul.

Another set of tests was done. My radiologist had said to expect breakdown of even the healthy bone due to the radiation’s intensity. But she had no explanation for what the x-rays revealed: not only had all the tumors disappeared, but new bone was filling in the holes! This was the first evidence that my multi-faceted approach was working. My perspective forever changed on the collective power of food and nutrition, activity, thought, prayer, medicine and many other areas of healing. Newfound confidence strengthened me for the increasing side effects and pain that accompanied my treatment.

Finally, my doctors were able to say the blessed words: “There is no sign of cancer.”  Those words opened up what we thought had been a slammed door. Chris was re-offered his dream job abroad, and we moved to West Africa. Life normalized – as much as it can after a cancer diagnosis.

Two years later, Chris and I adopted a beautiful newborn boy (whom I will call by his pet name “Magoo” for privacy reasons—he’s now 12) and moved to South Asia. The reminders of my own cancer experience followed me – visible scars, a stiff hand, occasional new symptoms to investigate. When the opportunity presented to start and develop a volunteer program at the public children’s hospital, I eagerly jumped in. And I learned that no matter where you live, what color your skin, what language you speak, or how old you are, cancer affects each person and family uniquely and in many similar ways – all profoundly.

It only took one physical exam for my happy, active life to crumble once again. Chris and I had pursued infertility treatment to add another child to our family. But instead of hearing, “You’re pregnant!” I heard the dreaded words, “You have cancer.” A thyroid tumor had slowly been taking over my neck.

This time, the diagnosis came in the midst of a very different situation. I had planned to be in the U.S. just a short while but now I would need to remain for treatment while Chris returned to Asia. Twelve time zones separated me from my home and friends. I grieved the loss of my pregnancy dream. I had a toddler who needed my time and energy. I had committed myself to a healthy lifestyle and diet, but I wondered: Why has my body failed me again?

I didn’t want to be tagged with the label, “ILL PERSON.” And so I decided to keep quieter about this cancer. I didn’t put a full-fledged holistic “healing team” into place or reach out for much support. Even though this cancer was more readily treatable, it turned out to be very difficult.

I dug into research about thyroid cancer, and kept coming back to a basic, certain belief: The least toxic approach that is likely to be effective is the best treatment for me in this situation. (I know this is not the right path for everyone.) I identified six skilled doctors in three states and called them or their nurses to discuss their approach. I made it clear that I wanted a more conservative surgery and treatment than was typically recommended. And among those surgeons I found one who shared my philosophy. He had trained at a well-respected institution, and from the beginning treated me as a partner in healing.

Magoo and I spent the months of recovery with my parents in the U.S. They kept me going on the healing diet and supplements my holistic doctor prescribed. My hormones fluctuated, and I became depressed. It took awhile to walk out of that pit. Good changes happened as I came true to what I knew about myself and my world, as I nourished body and soul, and trusted that I would heal.

Since that time, a baby girl joined our family by international adoption (we’ll call her “Miss Mouse” here – she’s now 8). And I’ve lived in four more countries and witnessed the courage of many who fight for their health – an Iraqi mother with breast cancer who giggled like a little girl when she received a new wig, an Ecuadorian woman making pocket change guarding parked cars so she could buy medication for her husband with lung cancer, a Polish woman whose husband’s eyes glowed with pride on a bus in Denmark as he recounted to me her courage in the face of ovarian cancer. Seeing others face their health crises with hope and inner resolve has strengthened me.

I wish I could say I’ve lived happily ever after, and that the second cancer was the last of my health challenges. But later a new pre-cancer and other suspicious symptoms emerged, and I had more PET scans, CTs, ultrasounds, pokes, cutting and examinations. After a car accident, I developed a chronic illness that evaded diagnosis for far too long, and I learned what it was like to spend most of every day on the sofa, disengaged from life as I knew it. I have heard my children ask, “Are you going to die, Mom?” and not known how to answer.

Fourteen years and countless joys and difficulties have happened since that first cancer diagnosis.  While I’m now energetic and well, I believe that health is more than the absence of disease. It’s a whole way of thinking, being and doing that involves my entire self for the length of my life, whatever that may be.

Cancer coaching has been a natural outgrowth of my own experience and education. I believe that those I coach can overcome cancer. There are so many medical, lifestyle, mental and spiritual resources available to fight this life-threatening disease. My passion is in helping others navigate their own cancer challenges to become survivors.

My Commitment

  • To advocate passionately for individuals healing from cancer.
  • To promote and exemplify the principles of healthy living.
  • To honor each client’s unique perspective and needs.
  • To inspire hope, reflection, action and a Whole Life.
  • To live in the world of possibility.

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