Dr. Shani Fox is a Physician, coach, speaker, and cancer survivor expert.
In Episode 154 of In the Rising Podcast she shares how the stories of those going through breast cancer impacted her. This impact changed her views and opened her eyes to the other ways that women can be supported during breast cancer.
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I invite you to listen to In the Rising Podcast- a show dedicated to helping others create change and a life that they really want.
"Living the life I want" was a phrase that I heard often while working with clients going through cancer, and so I created this podcast. I also saw that there is a gap in knowledge about cancer, lymphedema and how to manage recovery, so I created Fit after Breast Cancer.
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A person who goes into the cancer journey and then comes out the other side of the treatment, they're not the same person for a host of different reasons. First of all, there are traumatic aspects to this journey. Um, you know, it may not have an official definition of P T S D per the psychological guidebook.Speaker 2:
Hello, hello, and welcome to In The Rising Podcast. My name is Bettina Brown, and this is the platform I've chosen to talk about living a life that's in alignment with your hopes, your dreams, and your goals, walking away from shame and really being present and enjoying your present time. But the reality is not every present time is a circumstance that we're happy to be in or that we want to face. And I really had a great conversation with Dr. Shawni Fox, who is a physician as well as a life coach. And she describes one area of health that is difficult for women to face, and that is the area of breast cancer. And I really am so grateful for her time, her insight, and I encourage you to take a moment, pause and actually be present throughout her words in our conversation. Dr. Shani Fox, I am, I am really eager, excited. Um, I'm like a little kid with their feet pounding up and down to speak with you because you're a naturopathic physician , uh, uh, you know, and, and certified life coach. But you have a passion for working with those who have a cancer diagnosis, which happens to be my passion as well. And that working with, with people who are going through this actually prompted me to become a certified life coach, because it's not just physical. I say the longer I'm a physical therapist, the more I realize how much is not just physical. Um, so I'm really honored also by your time today. So thank you so much for being on in The Rising Podcast. Thank you.Speaker 1:
It , it's a great joy to be here.Speaker 2:
So you, like I said, you're a naturopathic physician, but I would love to start with a pin right there, because not everyone is really familiar with what a naturopathic physician is. Would you explain that?Speaker 1:
Sure. The conventional medical system is pretty focused on treating illness once it occurs. And in fact, we're all trained in the society that we don't really go to the doctor or rarely go to the doctor unless something's going on. Something's concerning us. We don't do a lot of preventive work in this society. A naturopathic physician is all about , uh, helping people be well. Now, certainly we also treat people if they are having symptoms and if they're ill, but , um, it's, it's also, there's a huge dimension of it, which is about prevention, which involves educating people and helping them understand how the way they live affects their health and dealing with, you know, the major categories of nutrition and sleep and , uh, movement and all those sorts of things. How does all this contribute to health so that we, whenever possible, prevent disease and live healthily and only treat it when it's necessary?Speaker 2:
Yeah. Yeah. And, and I think in that wonderful description, it's to just live long and healthy, but not that you're in a disease state for like 20, 30 years, where you're just constantly having one thing at another, trying to be as well as possible as long as possible.Speaker 1:
Yeah. Yeah. That's, that's a , a fair summary. And , you know, and we can see in this country that, unfortunately, on the medical system, which does an enormous number of things beautifully, but they don't do this very well because we have these epidemics of diabetes, for example, or , uh, high blood pressure, you know, chronic conditions that if there are lots of things we can do to prevent these and not have people live with these conditions and their ramifications of ill health , uh, for, for decades, even sometimes. So yeah, this is, this is a compliment to what's being done by the conventional medical system.Speaker 2:
Yeah. And what prompted you to pursue this sort of healthcare ? What versus traditional quote unquote medicine western medicine?Speaker 1:
Well, well, there's a bit of a story as to how I came to medicine in the first place. Cause it was a , a late , um, in life choice. I , I became a doctor in my forties <laugh> . Um, but the choice at that point was a b , by that time I had raised children. And so I had discovered that I was a person who, for example, didn't , uh, go running to take down every fever that they got. You know, obviously there was a limit. If it got very high, that was one thing. But the average fever , uh, just a , a small amount of fever. This is the body doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing to fight, let's say a bacterial infection or a , you know, what , whatever else is going on. So I I, I recognized that, and I wasn't medicating my children when I noticed that their bodies were in fact performing exactly the way they want them to perform. And in fact, they used to get well very quickly, you know, I mean , they all went to school, of course, so, you know, they , they got things, but, but they, they also got better very quickly and remained healthy. So I had just learned, I think through experience and by my own preferences with regard to my own health, that , um, I really believed in the body's capability to keep itself well, if it's properly supported. Mm-hmm.Speaker 2:
<affirmative>. Yeah. And I think properly supported is what we can all learn. And it, it doesn't matter who we are, we can always learn because the support you need in your twenties may be different in the thirties, forties and fifties. Um, as I myself am learning <laugh> as I'm going through this, like how come it's not acting the same as it did <laugh>? When, when you also , um, are now working cuz you are a certified life coach, which one came first for you?Speaker 1:
I was a physician first before I was a life coach.Speaker 2:
Uh , my, my story to becoming a life coach follows, I think the same, similar , uh, theme as yours. That I was already in physician, I was wor the , the universe kind of brought me cancer patients and survivors. And I noticed all kinds of great things that natural medicine could do for their bodies, which was wonderful, especially in recovery from treatment, because that's really not at all addressed by the medical system. They're focused on treatment itself. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> extremely important, but the recovery is completely, and it's not even recognized. You know, when people come outta treatment, they are , um, they're often fatigued. They have symptoms. I mean, you know, people don't feel well after cancer treatment. It's very, very hard on them. So there's a process of months to occasionally years of actual physical recovery. And at the very same time, there's this other dimension, this huge emotional and spiritual dimension. And I say that in a non-sectarian way, but I mean, just the spirit gets involved in this journey that , um, is, is barely addressed also. Um, so it was because I became fascinated with all of that, that I realized, okay, I have a , some great skills as a natural physician, but I have , I don't have the skills to, to handle the emotional and spirit end of this. And when I went looking for resources to help people with this or to refer them or whatever, I really didn't find them at that time. There was absolutely nothing in the survivor space to help people who've been through this journey. So, but I was committed because I'm a mind body person, you know, I , that the body affects the mind and vice versa . I , I was committed to helping people in this regard, and so I began to develop my own methods and tools.Speaker 2:
Yes, yes. And you're right, it does resonate because I could tell, I I was just so close and there was still this gap. Yes. Um, and even when I speak to , uh, people who've gone through cancer on this podcast, they will say, you know, I, I was done. And things were not just better that no one gave me a heads up about the emotional toll that my family's like, well , you've recovered. Why are you still depressed? You're in remission. Um, that, that you are not just psychologically better. And I love how you also point out Dr. Fox, the spiritual component, because first that's the feedback, whether they were Christian or Hindu or, you know, just, I'm just spiritual, that kept coming out from people that this connection that, you know, facing something like this helps you open up a little bit, you know, and they felt that connection, but didn't have resources atSpeaker 1:
All . There is that, and, and, you know, it's not so much about what traditional religion a person ascribes to. It's it , what I'm talking about when I say spirit or spiritual. There are existential questions that come up. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> , um, you know, first of all, there are questions of identity. Um, a person who goes into the cancer journey and then comes out the other side of the treatment, they , they're not the same person for a host of different reasons. First of all, there are traumatic aspects to this journey. Um, you know, it may not have an official definition of P T S D per the psychological guidebook. And , and that's actually rare, but aspects of what constitutes trauma have happened to the person. And that's , um, simply because one, you know, most people go in to the doctor's office not knowing that they have cancer. It's a surprise. The diagnosis is surprise . Yeah . There's not that many people who have so many symptoms that they would say, oh, I must have cancer. So when it turns out to be that, it's a shock. And from that day forward, all of a sudden everything's been upended. You know, I, up until now, I lived life day to day , you know, kind of knowing what keeps me safe, what keeps life going in a regular way. And now all of a sudden all my assumptions are upended. Well, that's almost the definition of trauma, whether it occurs from an earthquake or whether it occurs from something like cancer life event. So , um, there, there are traumatic aspects to this which shake the spirit, and a person has to get their feedback on the ground. Um, and in the process, they, again, this identity can be affected. And let's not forget that some people have lost body parts. Um, you know, so there's, there's even a physical identity , uh, piece to this. There are questions of guilt, you know , uh, some people survive and yet feel guilty because the next person didn't , um, you know , person, they sat next to them in chemotherapy or whatever. There there could be survivor guilt. So there's a number of issues at the existential level that people are dealing with. These are, this is not illness. These are totally logical questions based on what happened to them. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . So this is not a, a path pathological situation, and yet they have to deal with all this stuff.Speaker 2:
Yes. Say you're , you're meeting with someone and I've, I've been to your website, you have a kind of a grouping for those that have, are currently going through treatment mm-hmm . <affirmative> and those who have gone through the treatment mm-hmm. <affirmative> , because those are two different aspects. Even though we're all individual, those are two main components. When someone is in the middle of cancer treatment, how would, how do you approach them? Like, what are you ask , what kind of questions are you asking at that time?Speaker 1:
Well, if somebody's in midt treatment, I really just meet them exactly where they are and we pick up ex on exactly whatever they're struggling with. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> , when they're in treatment, they are within already, they're within a very , uh, solid structure of support from the medical system. And they have to, you know, they have all these appointments and you know, they have their actual sessions of chemotherapy, let's say, or, or surgery. And then they have doctor's appointments before and doctor's appointments after their whole life is taken up by this. So if they need somebody for emotional support, it's just gotta be exactly what they need. Um, sometimes it's like, how do I talk to my doctor ? I'm kind of afraid to talk to my doctor about some such and such. How do I do that so I can facilitate that communication? Sometimes I help them know what questions to ask that will be valuable to them. Uh, so it really is just a very , um, tailored acute situation if they're in treatment when they come to me.Speaker 2:
Okay .Speaker 1:
Yeah. Very different afterwards if, you know, if they finish treatment and beyond whether or not they are still living with cancer, you know, with any luck, people are , uh, get off treatment and they're cancer free . That's, you know, of course the best situation. Nevertheless, we have these issues that we've been talking about here, and then there's the situation where treatment is done, but the cancer is not fully in remission. They're living with cancer, and that's got some of the same issues and some beyond that.Speaker 2:
Yes. Yes. And I'm , I'm glad that you mentioned those things because , um, for Mike's , my experience when I'm speaking with someone , I've never gone through this experience myself. I've had two scares. And that was enough to feel like, okay, this is how I felt lost in our system, how I felt. You know, it's one thing to know it from one angle, it's another to live it. Very much so. Um, and even , uh, as I was sharing with someone, I have a biochem degree, I understand genetics. And to even see that I carry a gene made me feel different in my emotions in my heart, even though I knew the lot . You know what I mean? It just, it's different when it's you, when you're not the patient. Um, and so with that, you're now working with, with the clients when they are going through your, your, your , as a naturopathic physician, do you immediately offer or discuss the life coach as well? The emotional, psychological components?Speaker 1:
Well, well, these days I do that exclusively. Okay. I actually , um, I I, I was a physician, an office physician, kind of typical , uh, for a number of years. But then this aspect of the emotional and spirit side of it , um, became more and more fascinating to me. I was getting better and better at it and more successful at it. And , um, the need was there. The need was simply there. So I actually , uh, for some time now have focused only in the emotional, spiritual realm.Speaker 2:
Do you feel that in general, this is not a finger pointing question, but just in general, from your experience, that physicians are helping their clients in, in their cancer treatment to acknowledge that? Or is it just like body pieces only and now you're done? How do you feel that they're helping people move towards people like yourself?Speaker 1:
Um, well, of course, you know, oncologists, you know, or the doctors in this space that that's a large population. And of course there's gonna be a , a , a variety of experiences the patients have with their doctors. The fact of the matter is that oncologists have their plates full just delivering the treatment. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> , they're very busy people. They deal with a lot of stress. You know, this is of course an area which, you know, the , the reality of it is they lose a lot of patients. It's very hard on them. So between the stresses of, you know, the nature of oncology and the , um, the complexity of dealing, you know, with, with treatments and choosing new treatments when a certain treatment doesn't work, they absolutely have their hands full. So do they often refer for this kind of , uh, coaching or counseling? Not usually in a thoughtful way. I mean, if they have , if there's, for example, a social worker in the hospital that they work at or something of that nature, they make , make a sort of a proforma referral. Um, but I don't know that they do a lot of thinking about it in general. And again, this is not a, from my side either. This is not a finger pointing thing. I do understand that this is really, it , it's also kind of beyond the scope of oncon on a classical oncologist. Um, they are really focused on the medical end . They do. I'm , you know , the very best I can with that, the, the, the emotional end and all that is beyond their training and their , um, professional , um, scope of responsibility and ability. You know, they , they simply haven't been trained for it.Speaker 2:
Yeah. And, and that is something that a lot of my clients will talk to me as a question as well, because there's frustration. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> , why didn't someone tell me about this? Because there's a support group, right? We get all the pamphlets, <laugh>, mm-hmm . <affirmative> , um, support group. Support group. But when you're fighting for your life, sometimes it's a fight, sometimes it's a journey. Um, you know, I've had people phrase it differently. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> , you're, you're also not able to take everything in all the time. Right. Sometimes it's this piece of pie versus another piece. And like, services that you offer can be lifelong. You may not notice that trauma really hit you until five years later when you're , when your wheels are stopped, the spinning. Um, do you notice that at all, that it takes people some time from that cancer diagnosis, treatment, recovery?Speaker 1:
It can, yes. And, and by the way, that's typical of any trauma, like , incident. Um, some people respo , you know, are having the, the, the , um, are feeling the effects right away. And some people are kind of in survival mode at the time. So the ac you know, the deeper levels of effect only happen later. So yes, absolutely. There can be a great variety. And when, when it uh , comes to the surface for people.Speaker 2:
Yeah. You had something written on, on your website where you're helping people live , um, create , um, more compassionate lives, one that is more compassionate and creative than the fear factor. Do you feel that people are still very fearful when you get to meet them?Speaker 1:
Oh, I know they are <laugh> and, and by the way, that's backed up by research. Um, you know, there was a, a , a , a meta-analysis or you know, a re uh , research on research articles, you know, pulling them all together. Yeah . Uh, that actually demonstrated that 70%, seven 0% of survivors , uh, struggle with fear of recurrence on a scale. You know, sometimes it's intermittent and sometimes it's chronic, but persistently in some way. Um, so 70%, I mean, that makes it the, actually the most common side effect of cancer. Mm-hmm. <affirmative> fear . Yeah. That's often why people find me.Speaker 2:
I haven't even thought of putting it in that phrase, the most common side effect , cuz we think physical fear, you know, the , the fatigue. But you're right, the fear is great. Um , yes . AsSpeaker 1:
Well. And documented. And documented. Yes.Speaker 2:
So say someone's working with you , um, how do you kind of approach that discovery, call that discovery session? How do you, you know, someone's like, you know what , I think Dr. Fox is someone that I am looking for some , you know, pathways. How, how do you , um, go about just meeting someone? What , what are things that you're looking for to help your client and you figure out if you're a good fit for one another?Speaker 1:
Well, at my website, there is a , um, sort of a little quiz, you know, a little, a little , um, questionnaire let's say, that people can take so that they themselves can help start to locate which aspects of this experience are most, are they most struggling with still mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So sometime , you know , I , I, I put that tool out there completely free, of course, because that way people can start to get a handle themselves on what , what specifically do I need help with. So sometimes I'll go into my first call with somebody with that information in hand. Um, and they also, you know, then, then we'll start at the places where there's clearly the most distress. Um, although we'll look for others, you know, we want , we wanna get a , you know , fair picture upfront as to, you know, what the scope is of what we'll be working with here at this time anyway. Um, and then some people just hear me on a podcast or, or other, you know, hear me out in the field. I , I've spoken in conferences, for example, and, and they just, something draws them in, in which case I don't necessarily have that to go on. But, you know, I can, I can take a similar approach. Let's, you know, I I I almost always ask in my first conversation, now tell me, and this is whether or not I have the questionnaire at hand, just tell me in your own words, what's, what's aching the most? What are you struggling with the most?Speaker 2:
Yeah. And you know, you have yourself, when you're working with a lot of people who are having pain and trauma and all of that , there's obviously something that puts you as a calling, right? This is a service aspect. What do you feel is something that you really value that has prompted you to not only become, you know, a physician, also mother, raise your kids, and then do that and also become a life coach in an area that there, there can be a lot of pain involved, especially with this particular group. What, what do you feel is a big value for you?Speaker 1:
For myself, in this profession, or Yes . The value that I offer to my clients? No,Speaker 2:
For you, for yourself in this profession, what you'reSpeaker 1:
Doing. Ah , it , it goes back to the reason I went into this niche in the first place. Mm-hmm.Speaker 2:
<affirmative> ,Speaker 1:
About halfway through medical school, I was at a Grand Rounds presentation, which was a doctor and a panel of, I dunno , three or four cancer patients, active cancer patients , uh, just talking about their experience. And that I was very, very moved by that presentation to tears really. And that, you know, that certainly didn't happen every day in medical school, <laugh>, but it really got to my heart. And I remember very distinctly not going to my next class after that. I kind of just went to a stairwell and sat and said, what, what's going on? What has hit me about this , uh, so deeply? And I realized that what, what I was seeing was people in such a vulnerable position, ju you know, cancer treatment both physically and emotionally, can take us to such a low point emotionally. Um, and here they were fighting for their wellbeing on every level. Mm-hmm . <affirmative> . And when a person is in that position, that vulnerability will often prompt them to ask questions. Like, okay, you know, what , what do I need to do, you know, going forward in my life, but I wasn't doing up until now. What do , what changes do I need to make? What, how , how could I turn this around? I certainly don't want this to happen again. So, so how can I improve? How , what , what can I do to, to feel better to, to, you know, be more well, and also to enjoy my life more? Because you get a sense going through this or similar experiences, you get a sense of, you know, life's pretty precious mm-hmm. <affirmative>. And so I don't wanna just go on autopilot from now on. Yeah . And, and so I recognize that in these patients that I saw that day, that I listened to that day. And there , you know, for me, there's no better place to work with somebody mm-hmm . <affirmative> when they, when they really , uh, are , are motivated like that to do something differently, to do something better, to, to really take a stand for themselves and for their lives. What could be more beautiful and to work with a person in a place like that. So that , that's how I, I mean, it , it , it , it , it motivated certain changes in the rest of my medical school career and then my medical career, and then eventually to become a life coach, because that added certain skills, which are very helpful in working with this set of issues, people.Speaker 2:
Wow. And you, I mean, you've done phenomenal things. You're doing wonderful things. You're putting resources out there. What is still on the rise for you, Dr. Fo Fox? What is, what is interesting to you to, to move up to next?Speaker 1:
Uh , okay, great question. People, you know, up until now, I've worked primarily with the patient or survivor themselves. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>, and I'm , I get asked a lot, do you also work with the families of these people or the friends, you know, people around the person in the chair. And I am doing more of that these days because the fact of the matter is we are, we're going through an experience like this. We are dependent upon support in order to do our best and get through it in the most beneficial way. And yet our society teaches us so little about what to say to a person in this position, how to act around them, how to help, how to be with them when they're making their choices without interfering mm-hmm . <affirmative> or imposing our viewpoints. Um, how , when they are in grief or depression or some of the other dark , uh, emotional states that go with us sometimes, how to deal with that. You know, it's , it is not okay to say snap out of it. It is not okay to say, oh, you must be done now, like you mentioned before, you know your treatment and you know, last week you must be done. Right. You know, snap, you know, snap out of it now doesn't work like that. It does not work like that. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>. So we, we don't know as supporting a supporting network for somebody in this position, we, we know very little about how to handle that. And, and, and so being very familiar, intimately familiar with the needs of the person themselves , I have a lot to help bridge that gap so that the people around the patient or survivor are helpful. And not just meaning to be helpful, but actually helpful. Yeah . Constructively helpful in, in , in helping them along.Speaker 2:
And I think what you have to say is actually very, very important to know. I've, I've spoken with some people and like, I can only handle so many casseroles every night and pre-cook dinners, <laugh> . Um, and it's, they're so grateful. The gratitude is there, but what we really want to is still connection to someone. Yes . You know, and that is what helps us cope , um, with the next phases. And so it's really wonderful to hear, yes, it is. You know, it's one person going through it, but they come with their family, their spouse, their children. Um, everyone has expectations. And this cancer diagnosis and recovery changes everyone's expectations. Um , and then everyone is on, not on it's unclear footing. What, is there anything that you would like to leave as information? Um, it's gonna be on the show notes, but how people can contact you and learn more about , um, life coaching. And youSpeaker 1:
Certainly, my website is out there. It's dr shunny fox.com, so Dr . S h a n i f o x.com . Um, there's a free webinar there. There's the , uh, questionnaire that I , um, alluded to earlier , um, and ways to contact me. I also have a Facebook presence , um, cancer survivor doc on Facebook. Um, and I also have a private Facebook group for women who are , um, beyond their cancer treatment and, and in these phases of recovery and thriver ship , as they like to say sometimes. So yes, there's a number of ways for people to contact me and I answer all inquiries personally.Speaker 2:
Wonderful. Well, again, this has been , um, I have really thoroughly enjoyed our conversation, and I just wanna thank you personally for putting this out there to the world because yes, there is such a need. Um, and I really just wanna praise you as a physical therapist, <laugh> in this space as a, as another person, another woman to be out there. Thank you for the work that you're doing. So my time with Dr. Shawnee Fox was insightful and it was really nice for a physical therapist, which is me, to hear another healthcare practitioner begin to notice things that we may not talk about. I really like how Dr. Fox talked about that there's trauma with breast cancer treatment, and that you walk in the office with an idea and you can walk out of the office with a whole life change. And I never thought of it that way, but it, it can be. And so I really feel that her insight is, is eye-opening. It was eye-opening for me. And I'm a person that has worked with, with women going through breast cancer and a few men . But I really encourage you to share this podcast with someone that you think may benefit from it. Putting it in the hands and ears of someone whose life may change or who has the ability to put it into someone else's hands , um, that can help them seek out help. And also know that this time that they're in, that it's okay and it's all right to be feeling the way they're feeling. And I love the idea of a warrior, but even a warrior has to rest and have support and know that it cannot be war time all the time. So I'm very grateful for your time because you know what? We don't get any more of that. And if you feel you would share some of your time to leave a true, honest, heartfelt review of this podcast on whatever podcast station, apple Podcast , uh, Spotify, anything that you're listening to, it would do so much for this podcast and really push the word of really influential and inspiring people like Dr . Fox out there. And until next time, let's keep building one another up .