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October 21, 2021

Integrative health paves road to recovery for young breast cancer patient

By Cynthia Weiss

October holds a bit more significance these days for Michelle Couchenour, a wife, mother of two and dance instructor from Jacksonville, Florida. It's a time of year to raise awareness for breast cancer, especially since Michelle is not far removed from her initial diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2018, Michelle found a lump on her right breast. She called her OB-GYN, and then underwent an ultrasound, mammogram, and biopsy. It wasn't until January 2019 that Michelle, then 36, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"It's a very scary word, cancer," says Michelle, who was referred to the Jacoby Center for Breast Health at Mayo Clinic for treatment, which included surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy.

After sharing that a family member had breast cancer, doctors recommended Michelle undergo genetic testing. When a genetic mutation was discovered that put Michelle at a higher risk for ovarian cancer, she opted to undergo a prophylactic oophorectomy and hysterectomy as well.

Guided by her faith, family and physicians, Michelle knew she would prevail.

"It's precious when your child looks at you and says, 'Mommy, God is going to heal you,'" says Michelle. "You know I could cry."

A turning point in her journey, though, was discovering opportunities to incorporate integrative medicine and health into her care plan. Michelle says nutrition played a significant role in her life before cancer, so having a chance to work with a nutritionist and tailor a plan after her diagnosis only made sense. Her care team includes an integrative health specialist and acupuncturist who worked together to deliver the healing she needs.

"For me, having that experience at Mayo Clinic, and it being part of my doctor's orders, just made my experience so much better," Michelle says. "I think it's unique and much better than other breast cancer experiences that I've heard from patients receiving care elsewhere."

Michelle, now 39, is in remission and studying to be a functional medicine health coach to help other women. The mental and physical scars from her cancer remain, and one surgery is still on the calendar. But she wants to take her experience to others. During her treatment, Michelle connected with other breast cancer patients, who began to check in on each other. The women text regularly to show their support whenever possible.

Michelle says she sees herself as part warrior and part cheerleader. In her eyes, it's two sides of the same coin: waging battle against a bitter adversary and pushing others forward. Her motto turned command is: "It's gonna be fine. Let's keep moving. Let's go."

Tags: Alternative Medicine, breast cancer, Cancer, Integrative Medicine, Jacoby Center for Breast Health, MayoClinicFL, Michelle Couchenour

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