My Perfect Storm

by Vicki MackieSurvivor, Metastatic Breast CancerApril 12, 2021View more posts from Vicki Mackie

Finally, after a long career in the corporate world, as the only female in my industry and cracking some glass ceilings; my dream of semi-retiring came to fruition.  My finances were in good shape, my Colorado home paid off early and my kids were graduated and on their way in life.  As a single Mom, it was my goal and dream to ultimately devote my time to my passion of art and photography.   I purchased an ocean side rentable condo in Gulf Port Mississippi for extra income and back up to my finances.  I recall at the closing standing in the living room and looking out at the beautiful ocean scene and suddenly remembering something I had not asked.  ‘I have put in place all back up plans for different rental scenarios; but I forgot to ask about hurricanes.’  Her reply was, ‘Oh, in history a hurricane has never hit Gulf Port.’   So, March 2005 I took the plunge and semi-retired with the feeling that after all of the career stress, my vision had finally materialized.

Don’t you just love it when reality hands you a life different from what you were expecting?  Well, not really.  Tuesday, August 23, 2005 completely changed my life, my future and my dreams.  Hurricane Katrina hit Gulf Port Mississippi dead on as the worst hurricane in history at that time.  Stands to reason, if a hurricane had never hit Gulf Port in history, why not be the worst in history.

Accusing Katrina stress as the culprit of my weight loss, nausea and lingering sickness, I waited until Fall to seek medical help.  After many tests it was finally revealed in 2006 my illness was stage 3, metastatic breast cancer.  The feeling of helplessness overtook me as the surreal diagnosis played out in numerous sterile exam rooms and the horrific Katrina dramas played out in the media.  Pictures of the once beautiful beach gone and consuming my building up to the 3rd floor was devasting. I was too sick to travel to Gulf Port and not sure what I could do once there.  I had just closed on my condo about a month before, and the finances were still not completed.  This put my free and clear Colorado home in jeopardy.  I had to short sell the condo and take a new mortgage on my home in Colorado.  They say things come in threes.  So, adding insult to injury, the last of my savings and retirement was lost in what was termed as the Great Recession of 2007-2009.  The worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression in the 1930’s.  I call it The Perfect Storm.

Like a lot of cancer patients, I struggled to stay alive as the barrage of aggressive chemo drugs ravaged my body along with the surgeries that soon became nonchalant occurrences.   My body became weaker and more fragile each day.  At the end of my chemo treatments, the doctors did not think I could tolerate the radiation that was slated next.  After my last chemo, they wanted to make sure they had gotten everything and ordered a PET scan.  My oncologist came through the door and I remember thinking as I looked into her drawn face that she must have lost a patient.  I was feeling so badly for her and wondering how it must feel.  Little did I realize at the time; her sad eyes were the result of the findings of my PET scan.  She slowly and cautiously went through the data and finally explained the cancer had metastasized in both of my lungs.  Referring me to a lung oncologist, I felt she thought it may be the last time she would see me.  The lung oncologist was very nice and suggested we do a biopsy to determine if there might be another chemo regiment that may be helpful.  I guess every doctor has a different way of breaking bad news to you.  This doctor clearly either did not want to tell me to go home and put my affairs in order, or perhaps he did not think I would have the time to do it.  Instead he asked me if they could have my body for research.  He had all the forms on his desk ready for me to sign.  Which I did.

The night before my biopsy, a couple of colleagues approached me and asked if I would mind if they prayed for me.  Thinking they meant they would pray at church or at home, I said ‘certainly, that would be nice.’  We were in a very crowded room when they both laid their hands on me and started praying aloud as curious and peering eyes stepped back.  In that moment I was mortified and embarrassed praying my own prayer, “Please God, make them stop”.  Then suddenly a rush of warmth went from my feet through my body and up through the crown of my head.   To this day, I have never felt anything like it.

My biopsy was unexpectedly delayed by 18 hours.  When they finally wheeled me in, I was joking with them about their long hours and inquired how much coffee they had consumed and checking their hands for trembles.  The team voted me their best patient ever.  They ran into complications with the tube in my lung and it was a week before my appointment with the doctor to discuss our next possible action.  My two kids accompanied me prepared to face the inevitable.  There are certain things in life that are so memorable, that the details are permanently branded in your brain.  This was the case as I sat on the exam table and my kids standing on each side of me.  The door finally opened with the doctor leading the way in front of his assistant.  His arms were outstretched with his hands holding a report and shoving it in my hands.  “You have to read this for yourself!”, he exclaimed.  I started searching for my reading glasses and my daughter whisked the report from my hands and started reading aloud, stopping every once in a while to have the doctor explain a word.  The bottom line he said, ‘it is not cancer’.  ‘We don’t know what happened and we don’t know for sure what it is, but it is not cancer’.

Soon afterwards, I coincidentally, (don’t you just love that word) found myself working in a cancer clinic as I tried to stay financially afloat.   It was curious to see the other side of what I had experienced and soon realized the similarities of other patients and family members.   Over the course of time, I became more and more inquisitive about why I survived when I saw so many others succumb to the disease.  I realized I relied heavily on my art through all of the treatments along with complementary therapies and a positive outlook.  My curiosity became an obsession to learn more.  How does the brain work with the body, the mind and the spirit?  I researched, I went back to school, I experimented trying different ways to shut the left brain down and to easily access emotions.  I developed classes to help other cancer patients/survivors and caregivers to cope with the traumatizing emotions that accompany a cancer diagnosis. I utilize color, art, five senses integrations, mindful techniques, and complementary therapies to become self-aware, self-discover and release the negative emotions that create disease.  It worked.  And yes, research and studies all show that negative emotions can deplete or destroy your immune system allowing disease to return or generate.

I am convinced it is imperative to combine our physicians’ efforts to help ‘Cure’ (eliminating all evidence of disease) with ‘Healing’ (becoming whole).   The two should be inseparable when working with a patient or survivor.  Maria Giulia Marini states in her book, Languages of Care in Narrative Medicine, “In the case of chronic illness or emotional disease, “cure” is only lasting when healing happens on a deeper level.”

My cancer experience taught me more than I could have ever imagined.  Today, 15 years later I am still discovering new lessons and finding guidance from my experiences.  My Perfect Storm did turn my life upside down, but it also put me on the path, that I now understand, was where I was supposed to be travelling.  Thanks to this Perfect Storm, I was able to experience my passion to extraordinary heights beyond my dreams.   It gave me the guidance to develop a unique and transformational nonprofit, Sites and Insights, for the cancer community.

If it had not been for the Perfect Storm, Sites and Insights would not have been born to help hundreds with their emotional trauma that comes with the experience of cancer.   SAI has grown into a community of Family.   Discovering they are not alone and in a safe place to express their feelings that have been too hard to verbalize in the past.  For more information about our free Mindful Therapeutic Healing Art Programs go to www.sitesandinsights.org

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Leave a comment below. Remember to keep it positive!

14 Comments

  • Audrey Taylor says:

    What am amazing story! This is so inspiring. Thank you for sharing so many details of your life and how you are using it to help others now. I am excited to hear more about Sites and Insights.

    1. Vicki Mackie says:

      Hi Audrey, Thank you for your comment. It is my Blessing and Joy to be able to help so many over the years.
      Our unique programs are free to anyone impacted by cancer. We do most of our workshops online, so it is available to anyone no matter where you live. Go to http://www.sitesandinsights.org and if you wish to participate, go to Programs and click on Online Workshops to register and we’ll contact you with more information.

  • Renee' Herman, Oncology Nurse Navigator says:

    Vicki, you are such an encouragement! Your classes through Sites and Insights are amazing, and just like your story, you help us find meaning in the ‘everyday-scribbles’ of life! I so appreciate all you do for the community and for breast cancer survivors in particular. You brighten our day!

    1. Vicki Mackie says:

      Hi Renee, thank you for your comments. They mean so much to me. You are such a Blessing to so many. Thank you for all that you do to help the cancer community. Vicki

  • annie Nicholson says:

    Vicki, than you for sharing your powerful story -I’ve been overwhelmed since starting my two year treatment program-Your story reminded me of how important it is to stay positive and live one day at a time-My new mantra, taken from the name of a hiking program for cancer patients, live by living-God Bless you Vicki, Leslie and the entire Sites & Insights family-

    1. Vicki Mackie says:

      Hi Annie, Thank you for being a part of SAI Family. You bring so much joy, hope and inspiration yourself. – Vicki

  • LUCIANA LIMA says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, yes prayers work. I believe in it. Your program is wonderful and I am looking forard to the time when we all, cancer survivors,can once again meet in one room, and follow your instructions , releasing the worries through art and thoughtful considerations.
    I have shared this with many of my friends, keep well, keep safe and continue with this wonderful program, helping others to breathe better, freer, and believeing all things are possible.

    Blessing and peace to you and all our fellows survivors.
    Luciana

    1. Vicki Mackie says:

      Hi Luciana, I’m with you, I can hardly wait till we meet in person once again. That is coming soon I think. One hospital in Colorado has opened their doors and invited us in to bring support to our cancer community. Can’t wait to see you in person again! – Vicki

  • Tommy C. Stewart says:

    Vicki’s story is truly amazing. God works in mysterious way. It is easy to see that God had another plan for Vicki. He wanted to use her to be a healing touch for others, and that is exactly what she is doing today with Sites and Insights. I have known Vicki for many years, and as a cancer survivor myself I have been through her program…It really works.

    1. Ann Broo says:

      Ditto to EVERYTHING Tommy said!!!

      1. Vicki Mackie says:

        Hi Ann, You have been with us from the very beginning and like Tommy, have been my cheerleader and supporter. When we need some humor, you are there, when one of our SAI Family Members needs a little extra support – you are there. Thank you for being such a Blessing to all of us! – Vicki

    2. Vicki Mackie says:

      Hi Tommy, You are my Angel sitting on my shoulder cheering me on and giving me the courage on days when it starts to feel overwhelming. You are such a Blessing to our SAI Family. Thank You! – Vicki

  • Jane Elliott says:

    The story of your journey to where you are now, brought tears to my eyes. You truly are blessed and are a blessing to all of us who know you! I have taken the workshop with you 3 times and feel it is why I am still here today, happier than I have ever been. Thank you for being you, thank you for following the path that God set you on. You are a great teacher in so many ways! Sending love and hugs to you and all the SAI family!

    1. Vicki Mackie says:

      Hi Jane, Thank you so very much for your kind and loving words. We are Blessed to have you as a member of our SAI Family. Thank you. Vicki

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