As I started thinking about these profile posts, I found myself having very different reactions to the stories of the patients and the stories of the doctors. They are all touched with the same task: to beat cancer. However, one would not exist without the other. It is a different kind of inspiration we find from doctors, but one of equal resilience. I look around myself at this point in my life and have a huge number of friends in or headed to medical school. While I take pride in what I'm doing and the enjoyment it's bringing, I can't help but be in awe of my friends grinding away at anatomy labs and brain dissections. Then, down the line, I see these wonderful women who have gone through that training and who have grown into their own. Two of these women, Nalini Chilkov and Kristi Funk are being honored at the Get in Touch Foundation's Pretty in Pink event this weekend. And it is clear why.
After her mother was diagnosed with cancer three times, and her father twice, Dr. Nalini Chilkov found herself on the road to helping patients like both of her patients. Thirty years later, she is on the forefront of a new type of cancer care.
"Modern cancer care is primarily disease focused," she noted. But in her eyes, with training in traditional oriental medicine, modern biomedicine and cell biology, she has taken the step to focus not just on the disease, but on the body the disease is living in. In her eyes, every patient needs a "health expert" not just a "disease expert" (which would be an oncologist).
Dr. Kristi Funk began her journey to dealing with breast cancer patients after a surgery fellowship at Cedars-Sinai when the group of men over 50 running the breast center at Cedars "recognized the serious lack of estrogen and wooed me to become one of the directors of the breast center." After experiencing the opportunity to be a source of light and hope at a time that so many women perceive as so dark in their lives, Kristi transformed her practice of medicine and started the Pink Lotus Breast Center in Los Angeles.
Dr. Chilkov and Dr. Funk aim for their private practices to restore and preserve the health of their cancer patients. Dr. Chilkov noted that cancer transforms the way that people see their lives. For some, it is a wake up call; for others, it is a pull back to a reality we all too often escape that care for our own bodies comes first. She truly believes that "every day of life is worth living" and she is there to help all of her patients achieve that. While focusing on the health surrounding the diagnosis (nutrition, exercise, other health effects, etc.) she has established herself in a position that breast cancer (and all cancer) patients should be aware of. It's not just about fighting the disease, it's about getting stronger through it. In Dr. Funk's words, "resilience lives at the core of the human spirit."
Over many years, she's found this in her patients, that with the combination of their strength and hers, hope is a real possibility. Namely, it has helped her recognize the "tenacity of women's souls."
I, of course, asked both of these incomparable women about their work with Get in Touch and what it means to them. In simple terms, they both saw that Get in Touch teaches a cardinal lesson for women -- to become familiar with their bodies. In working with Get in Touch, Dr. Chilkov noted that if we can have that familiarity with our own bodies then we can go to doctors with our own astute observations. Without that knowledge, none of that would be possible. Therefore, she tries to treat patients while also educating them on lifestyle and wellness that goes along with the diagnosis they've received. Just as my mind wandered into abstract though, Dr. Funk reminded me that Get in Touch plain and simple fills and unmet need (which drew her to it in the first place). That it puts "breast exams into a bigger picture of sisterhood and femininity and understanding of the human body."
With programs like that of Get in Touch, women and girls like me are learning to have authority over the truth of our own bodies. This is a way that I hadn't yet thought of all the breast self-exam yet. That, yes, it is information, it is familiarity, but it is also this wonderful sense of authority over my own well being that I will be able to carry with me for the rest of my life. That if I have knowledge of my own breast tissue and feel something new or different, I will know. Because, as Dr. Chilkov reminded me, when we know our body and we treat it well, we will always have the gift of health. And, because of course in my own neuroses, I think, what if that health is compromised?... Dr. Funk puts it pretty simply... that my body knowledge will eventually eliminate that fear. And for me, elimination of fear regarding my health sounds pretty good.
Click here for more information on Dr. Nalini Chilkov's practice.
Click here for more information on Dr. Kristi Funk's Pink Lotus Breast Center.
The Get in Touch Foundation has it's first LA Pretty in Pink Luncheon on Sunday March 16 in Santa Monica. Tickets and more information are available here.
To learn more about Get in Touch or to bring the free program to your school, visit their website, visit their Facebook page, or follow them on twitter @GetInTouch.