On her website, Cowgirls and Collared Greens, Kayle Martin captures her own essence as she describes a childhood spent, “romping through wildflower covered meadows, climbing trees, swimming in creeks, riding horses, and caring for a slew of animals on a five-acre farm with my single mom.”
That wild, free spirit, and the inner strength it implies, may be what helped to save her when, at age 30, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. And again, when there was a new diagnosis a year later.
Now 35 and cancer free, Martin is trying to imbue what she calls her “cowgirl spirit” through her website, by being a peer volunteer for a patient at the SNMH Women’s Imaging Center, and as spokesperson for this year’s Paint the Town Pink event coming up Oct. 24.
Learning at age 30 that she had breast cancer knocked her for a loop.
“Aside from total shock and complete devastation, I couldn’t get it out of my mind that I was going to die,” she said.
Now, she describes cancer as “just a visitor,” and says with confidence, “I think cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me. It became my teacher, my guru.”
In fact, she said, “That time between 30 and 31 was the most exciting year of my life.”
Martin was already living a vegetarian lifestyle, which began when she was in the sixth grade and discovered that a beloved cow had suddenly become part of the family dinner. But after the cancer diagnosis, she became a vegan, eliminating animal products from her diet, the result of intense study of homeopathic approaches to healing.
“After my diagnosis I just really embraced it,” she said. “I put myself out there, taking it as an opportunity to learn and grow.”
She read, studied, and surrounded herself with what she called “the village of people who were looking after me — I had a huge support system.”
Her number one inspiration was and is a woman named Kris Carr, who was diagnosed with a slow-growing, incurable cancer in 2003 and is now a “wellness activist and cancer thriver” with her own web site and a number of books to her credit.
Martin has taken up the cause, advocating a green diet, raw foods, and overall wellness as a way of life. It has worked for her. She adopted that lifestyle before undergoing traditional cancer treatments both in Oklahoma and at the SNMH Community Cancer Center and is convinced that it helped her heal, along with the hospital’s cancer treatment technology.
“For a year before my treatment I went on a 100-percent raw food, vegan diet,” she said. “I lost my hair, but while so many other patients became ill from the treatments, I was out hiking.“
Martin believes her experience with cancer has given her life meaning, and that she can help others with what she has learned, which she shares through her website and by blogging.
“I always want to stay humble, but I have been given this gift and I want to pay it forward,” she said.
She is enthusiastic about the fund raising goal for Paint the Town Pink, the proceeds from which will help the hospital purchase new technology for breast screening — automated whole breast ultrasound. Linda Aeschliman, a nurse navigator at the Sierra Nevada Women’s Imaging Center, said this technology would provide doctors with a more effective way of finding cancer in women with especially dense breast tissue.
“The ultrasound won’t be a substitute for mammography, but these two imaging methods will complement each other,” Aeschliman explained.
Aeschliman oversees the peer volunteer program, patterned after ones in use at the UC Davis Medical Center and the UCSF Medical Center. Talking to peers is helpful, she said, “Because a newly diagnosed patient is often overwhelmed; it just comes at you.” By sharing their feelings and experiences, peers can help new patients cope and make choices, she said. The program is strictly voluntary. As of now, 13 volunteers have been matched with patients.
“Kayle is effective because of what she’s willing to do, which is to open herself up and share her own transformation,” Aeschliman said. “It’s her openness that makes her so special. As she expresses it, it’s the cowgirl in her that she shows us, and each of us may discover something like that inside ourselves.”
For more information about the SNMH Women’s Imaging Center, call 530-274-6246 or visit snmh.org.
All physicians providing care for patients at SNMH are members of the medical staff and are independent practitioners, not employees of the hospital.
“I think cancer is the best thing that ever happened to me. It became my teacher, my guru.” --Kayle Martin