Integrative Medicine—What the Combination of Conventional Medicine with Complementary Therapies Or “Sacred Work” Can Do

I’ve used integrative medicine to navigate metastatic cancer since I was first diagnosed almost a year ago. Integrative medicine means the use of conventional medicine mixed with complementary approaches. I also call these approaches “sacred work”. Results have been quite awesome so far.

I’m so proud of the collage I created in the shape of a mandala in the bi-monthly art therapy group classes that a non-profit offers for cancer people, in Paris suburbia. It took six months to pick images and place them in the circle I’d drawn under the guidance of the art therapist. Creating the collage helped me express how shattered I felt after receiving the diagnosis of a second recurrence of breast cancer with metastasis in bones, the liver and above the breast (right pectoralis minor). I was diagnosed in June 2022 while on vacation in Paris (back then, I lived in Atlanta, GA). The collage has surprisingly helped me bring all the pieces of my life back together, little by little.

I’ve been grateful for my oncologist and the progress made in cancer treatments in the past decade. Still, I’ve known from the beginning that, to have a chance to survive the disease, I’d need integrative medicine.

According to the US National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Integrative health brings conventional and complementary approaches together in a coordinated way”.

I unexpectedly decided to stay in Paris, France—to settle—while I was visiting my family last summer. That’s what I needed to do to feel more secure.

I immediately started the conventional treatment—hormonotherapy pills and monthly injections. Yet, I also set up a team of complementary practitioners to help me do the “sacred work” as a pastor at The American Church in Paris calls personal growth.

To put it simply, “sacred work” is everything that’s helped me heal my mind, body and soul—Psychotherapy, naturopathy, reflexology, art therapy, sophrology and, of course, yoga.

I’ve looked into trauma

“Sacred work” can be difficult. In psychotherapy, I’ve looked into trauma. I’ve faced my deep insecurity. I’ve explored how, as a child, I was on the lookout for something to go bad at any time with my mom who was going through depression with suicidal thoughts. I’ve looked at my dad’s fear of losing everything since he’d experienced homelessness as a teen. I’ve checked into my need to become my mom’s light to bring her out of depression and show her that everything’s fine. In relationships, I’ve questioned my life-long belief I couldn’t be loved only for who I was. I’ve looked into the belief that I had to do a lot for the men I chose—men with an oversized ego or who couldn’t stand on their feet.

I’ve done sacred work on my yoga mat too. While practicing yoga therapy, I’ve held space for myself, for introspection. I’ve given time for deepen breathing to unknot the knots, to bring space within and in between the organs, the tissues, the fascia. I’ve felt my body, mind and soul be as one, beat at the rhythm of the universe. I’ve felt my intuition speak, insights arise, feelings emerge. For the “do-er” that I am, yoga’s vital.

My naturopath has recommended natural supplements to help reduce the conventional treatment’s side effects. Her faith in nature has guided me, “You need to physically connect with this land which is your new home now. Go and walk bare feet in nature, do yoga in nature as often as you can.”

February 2023. Almost eight months after beginning my treatment, the PET-Scan showed cancer cells on the bones had progressed but all cancer cells in my liver and pectoralis minor had disappeared. “What do you think, doc?” “That’s awesome!”, claimed my oncologist.

No medical study can prove it but I’m pretty sure integrative medicine’s been instrumental in my healing progress. I still have quite a way to go towards good health of course. Still, almost a year after my diagnosis, I’m ready to teach yoga therapy in person again, in Paris, my new home. And that, to me, is a sign. A mighty good sign.

August 2022, doing yoga in a park in Choisy-le-Roi, the city where I live, 5 miles South of Paris, to feel grounded on my new land.

The Comeback

My whole world exploded when I was diagnosed with a recurrence of breast cancer with bone metastasis during my vacation in Paris this summer (while I was living in the U.S.) After months of silence, I’m getting my voice back. Here’s who I am now.

The explosion happened on June 24, 2022. I had been living in Atlanta, GA for 16 years and was enjoying my summer vacation in Paris—my native city—, when my oncologist announced the unthinkable: “You have a recurrence of breast cancer with bone metastasis”. The PETSCAN showed eight sites on my bone structure where cancer cells had settled. It’s been eight years since my second cancer, 18 years since the disease first entered into my life.

A week later, I made the most radical decision of my life. I came to the conclusion that, if I had a chance to survive this, it would be in France. I decided to settle in my native country close to my mom, with access to France’s universal healthcare and medical system (which is under huge pressure, just like any other medical system in the world). My gut feelings told me to stay put and concentrate on the healing process, not to travel back to Atlanta to move my stuff. To this day, I haven’t returned to Atlanta.

Instead, my Atlanta friends did what I should have done myself. They moved my stuff out of my place in Southwest Atlanta, sold or donated it, and traveled from Atlanta to Paris with suitcases full of my clothes. An incredible movement of solidarity. I still have no words to express my gratitude. Instead, I feel tears coming up.

I’ve felt as if I’ve been dropped in France by parachute, uprooted. Still feeling that way today.

As the medical treatment kicked off in the early summer, the universe sent me help—thank goodness. I was lucky to find a regional park—nature is rare in Paris suburbia, one of the world’s most densely populated areas—close to my place. I practiced yoga every morning in the park’s meadow. Bare feet. No mat. I had to feel and smell the (new) ground I was standing on. Hikers? People walking their dogs? I didn’t care, nothing stopped me from doing what I needed to do to stay somewhat sane.

A bond with my adoptive city

Another “extraordinary” thing happened around the same time. My work (at least part of it) as a yoga therapist and a teacher of French “followed” me in Paris. I’ve continued teaching online to my Georgia students. That’s helped me keep a bond with my adoptive city and stay busy, thinking about something else than cancer.

Finally, I’ve been able to put together a team of complementary medicine healers to help me in this journey where I feel a huge sense of loss. Loss of my health, loss of my Atlanta life and tribe.

Now what? Cancer impacts a person on the physical, emotional and spiritual levels. This time, the diagnosis was an even bigger slap in the face, a stronger mortality wake-up call because of the metastasis. My oncologist believes I will reach complete remission. I feel I can too. When? I don’t know.

A few things are emerging for me.

  1. The emotional work is hard. Still, I’m committed to doing it. I want to know, understand and, most importantly, feel what are the shocks that have led to the recurrence. I’m convinced it’s necessary for my healing.
  2. I’ve been so terrified by the diagnosis that I’ve let it silence me. I’m done with that. I’m finding my voice again. This post is a start.
  3. I’m continuing my work as a yoga therapist and a patient advocate, spreading the word about integrative medicine and integrative oncology. This means the true integration of complementary modalities into health care and cancer care to help us, patients and survivors. Because our lives depend on it.

It feels good to be back—back in the light—showing the world who I am. Thank you for seeing me.

I practiced yoga every morning in this meadow that’s in a park, 5 miles South of Paris. I need to feel and smell the (new) ground I was standing on.

A Tale: The Mother and The Healer

Want to hear my journey as a healer from comforting my mom when an infant to becoming a yoga therapist? Read on.

I believe I was a healer long before I learned how to talk.

In the first years of my life, I was there for my mom—with all the soul of the little me—when she had a major depression, bearing the weight of repressed childhood trauma. I was there when her nose was bleeding for hours—one of her symptoms—in the middle of the night while my father was working in the French province for weeks in a row. My mission, I intuitively felt, was to comfort.

Eventually, the depression became more and more severe until my mother completely broke down. By then, I was 10. She literally couldn’t stand up, had to lay down all day long. I remember a vacation in Spain where my parents went from one doctor’s office to the next to desperately find an answer.

Then, my mom did something brave and unexpected for someone with her background— she went into therapy. We were in the 70’s. That’s when she started verbalizing the horrors of her childhood. We moved from Paris to Northern England for a couple of years—a breath of joy for me. I learned the English language in six months!

A decade later, when I was 20, it was my turn to break down. In pain to see me like this, my mother convinced to go to therapy, which I did. It probably saved my life. At some point in that journey, I was angry at both my parents. I felt they had stolen my childhood.

And then, there was the first cancer. I met yoga and my teacher, Aline Frati. I did lots of healing. The unexpected happened: I moved to Atlanta.

And then, there was the second cancer. I did a lot more of healing.

Today, my mother is the bravest and strongest person I know. She’s done the hard work, and it shows. I’ve done the hard work, too.

We live an ocean apart and we’re close at the same time.

Today, I’m doing what I’m the best at—helping others find their way to more satisfaction in their life, to heal. Full circle, I guess. Thanks, mom.

How Are You Standing in the World?

Our body posture and tensions reflect our life experience. Thankfully, these can change at any time of our lives with a modality like yoga therapy.

It is a fact that our posture, our body build up and reflect our life experience from our early childhood and throughout our lives.

Have we been touched, welcomed, supported, reassured during the first months and years of our life? Have we been able to find our place, to occupy it fully? Encouraged to express what we love, who we are? Were we allowed to explore the potential of our body? To play with gravity?

The need to connect deeply with another and the fear to be rejected make us adapt our posture. We each respond differently to critical remarks such as “Sit straight”, “Stop getting into trouble” . Some of us may have stiffened during childhood.

It is easy to see how these repeated negative emotions and stresses produce contraction or loss of muscular tone that gradually create a veered posture or a body tension.

Good news

I have good news for you—life is movement, and all of this can change at any time in our lives. Yoga therapy can help.

You can get in touch with the fear and sadness that have been locked in the body in the form of tension by getting out of the mind and into the body and with the conscient effort to breathe deeply. With the help of the therapist, you can then express these feelings and, ultimately, accept them.

Both the verbal work and the body work help you reach an expanded version of yourself–loosened up and more aligned. You can experience this feeling of expansion off the mat, in situations of the real life. The key is to go slowly on the mat, to let these new movements–and feelings–arise, eyes closed, instead of trying hard to go into a pose. In yoga therapy, like everything in life, nothing can be rushed.

Then, you can gradually find a new way to live and stand in the world, in the right posture for you, flexible and strong all at the same time.

How Breast Cancer Has Made Me Who I Am

It’s precisely because cancer is a life-threatening disease that it has helped me find who I am. I would have preferred to learn without paying that price. Nonetheless, since two breast cancers were on my paths, I’ve decided to make sense of it all.

The universe threw two early stage breast cancers my way, ten years apart—one in 2004 (stage III) and another in 2014 (stage III that had spread in two lymph nodes). Looking back, they’re atomic explosions that have shaped my life and—as odd as it sounds—helped me find who I am.

Within weeks of my first diagnosis in 2004, I came across yoga for the first time and met my teacher, Aline Frati, in Paris (where I’m from and where I lived at the time). I also consulted with a doctor who was a nutritionist, Dr. Ithurriague. Charcuterie, cheese and wine was part of my diet back then. Hell, that’s normal for a French! Here I was listening to Dr. Ithurriague explaining how nutrition impacts the immune system. I changed my diet, practiced yoga, discovered reflexology, and did pretty much whatever I wanted during the year of my treatments. I could do that since I was on a sick leave while I received 100% of my monthly salary, as part of the French universal health care system.

This was a time of transformation, churning, grief and rest. Dr. Ithurriage also mentioned this guy who had been diagnosed with an incurable cancer and who had decided to live his dream—spend the rest of his life on a sailboat, traveling around the world. The guy ended up being cured and living many more moons. “If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do, DO IT. It can make a huge difference,” concluded Dr. Ithurriague.

I had always wanted to live abroad

His words resonated with me. A year after our conversation in his office, I met an American (who lived in Atlanta) during a Thanksgiving dinner in Paris. We fell in love. I had always wanted to live abroad. After a year of a long-distance relationship, I moved to Atlanta and we got married. It was the first time I followed my gut feelings and did something for me.

Eight years went by living in a marriage, working as a freelance corporate writer, and dipping my toe in the water of yoga therapy. The news of the second cancer was just as big of a shock as the first one, especially since my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer at the same time. My medical team did their job while I went on a mission to understand the disease on an emotional, almost spiritual level.

It was time to look at what my breast cancer was saying to me. I worked with a psychologist, Laurent Malterre, who guided me. I searched my soul and my childhood years. I realized I had been left unseen and unheard. I became aware how much that had left a powerful footprint in me, and pushed me to develop a strategy to be seen—all my life, I had given abundantly to classmates, family, life partners, friends, bosses, clients, whomever. I had given to the point of exhaustion, of illness. An exhaustion that had led to cancer. Twice. On the other hand, I had helped others heal for as long as I could remember. No matter how damaged a person was, I saw the diamond they were. This is still true today.

“What is it that makes you, YOU?”

The psychologist asked me the questions I needed to hear, “Stop waiting for others to see you. It’s time you look at who you are. So, what is it that makes you, YOU? What are your beliefs and values? What speaks to your soul? What are you here for?” Each question felt like a wake-up call. I literally had a “a-ha” moment. All of what made me who I was—my yoga practice, my ability to listen and name emotions and feelings, and to see the diamond inside the other—came together. To be me, I had to help others heal and create my own yoga therapy practice in a way that deeply resonated with me.

While creating my yoga therapy practice from the ground up, I learned to value my own needs instead of putting the needs of others before mine. I divorced. The time came when I said “no” to friends who were used to me being present for them whatever my circumstances. I started dancing—another life-long dream.

It’s been a long road, full of turns, trust me. An ongoing process. That’s why I’m so proud of what I’ve accomplished so far.

Photo: at a weekly contemporary dance class provided by Fly On A Wall and their visionary teachers (here: Jimmy Joyner and Anna Bracewell Crowder) at the Windmill Arts Center in East Point, GA.

Read also:
“Pinktober, aka The Month of Over Giving” (Oct. 17)
“Pinktober — Intuition saved my breast” (Oct. 18)

Yoga Therapy: The Land Unknown

Yoga therapy helps us achieve optimal wellness by bridging the distance between ourselves and the body. It relies a lot on the connection between the practitioner and the client. Here’s my vision of this new modality.

When I say I’m a yoga therapist, I often get the same answer: “yoga-what”?

So, what’s yoga therapy? Well, it’s different from “just” yoga because yoga therapy’s sole purpose is to help a person find their way to reach better health–whether physical, emotional or mental–regardless of their fitness level, body type and mobility. Its works in one-on-one private sessions or in (very) small group classes only.

Let’s have a look at the field. We’re just around 3,800 yoga therapists certified by The International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). And that’s in the whole world. So, each of us faces a huge challenge—we’re breaking grounds and making the field. You’re probably wondering what’s IAYT. It’s a non-profit founded in the late 80’s in the Western U.S. by a handful of yogis and doctors. In recent years, the IAYT released training standards for yoga teachers who want to teach yoga therapy and for yoga studios that want to offer a yoga therapy training program. The organization is also working on establishing yoga as a respected and recognized therapy, just like counseling, massage therapy, etc, at the federal level. Yes, we’ve got a long way to go. So, in the meantime, we’re helping our clients heal.

Who can benefit from yoga therapy? About anyone who’s interested in diving deeper in their healing journey: people who want to be present to what is really going on with them, people who are going through anxiety or grief, people who are in post-surgery recovery, cancer patients and survivors, the list goes on.

I’ve started crafting my own yoga therapy practice 16 years ago, long before I became certified. My yoga therapy “protocol” involves a style of yoga I learned from my teacher, Aline Frati, who taught in Paris for 40 years. “We can’t modify anything without the body being deeply relaxed first,” she said. In any given session, I guide my clients into slow movements and deep breathing that’s meant to help them do mainly two things—to relax deeply and to “listen” to their body. When I say “listen to their body”, I mean to feel the body tensions, to become aware of the message(s) these tensions have for us.

Aline Frati, my teacher for 14 years in Paris.

I strongly believe that verbal exchange is 100% part of any healing. So, during each session, I also hold space for my clients to name what’s going on with them and what their body tensions are saying, what part of their past these tensions are bringing forward. The verbal exchange is just as important as the yoga practice because one of the most powerful things we can do for our well-being is to share with others experiences that are meaningful to us. For that part, I work under the supervision of Laurent Malterre, a Paris-based licensed psychologist, author and teacher of clinical psychology.

Holding space. Language. Yoga. That’s what’s yoga therapy is about to me.

Laurent Malterre, licensed psychologist, in his Paris office. He’s co-hosted retreats in the Bordeaux region with two other French therapists who trained at the Esalen Institute (CA) in the 80’s.

Why Do You Need to Feel Close to Your Fascia?

Fascia, the connective tissue that connects every muscle and organ holds our life experiences. When we connect to it, we live a healthier life.

Have you ever felt deeply connected with your body? Have you ever experienced how much that helps you see what is going on with you?

One way to feel connected to your body is to explore your fascia.

So, what is fascia? It’s an umbrella term for the dense connective tissue that surrounds and connects every single muscle and organ throughout the body. Fascia is vital. It’s also called the “information highway” because it moves chemical and electromagnetic substances very quickly in the body. As a matter of fact, it’s through fascia that we experience our life, our being.

However, the importance of fascia was long overlooked. Fortunately, both regular and complementary medicine have done some research on fascia in the last decades. So, we now know that it is an important tissue for health.

Let’s go back in time. In the 80’s, Prof. Danis Bois, a French physical therapist and osteopath, created a soft tissue manual therapy that he called fasciatherapy. Bois started gently stimulating and relaxing fascia throughout the body. Soon after that, he realized that this therapy brought suppressed emotions and memories to the surface. So, he decided to go back to university to study psychology (among other things) so he could learn to guide his clients in their emotional work.

Listening to the “infinitely imperceptible”

Fasciatherapy helps in many circumstances. It improves the sense of self and allows us to be more present to our own experience of life. It helps us take care of ourselves and our needs.

Interestingly, Bois brings to our attention that fasciatherapy’s purpose is not about reaching a modified state of consciousness like breathwork (which is meant to help you release emotions). It’s about listening to the “infinitely imperceptible”.

Did you know that yoga, too, can help you (re)establish a relationship with fascia? The key is to find a teacher who is present and who will guide you in a slow practice where breath is the key. This style of yoga practice helps fascia to move and release. It also provides a space for you to connect with your inner sensations and tensions. There is something truly magical in experiencing this physical sensitiveness. Yet, if we want to heal we also need the verbal exchange. In other words, we need to translate these sensations and tensions into language, to name the feelings that hide behind the body sensations. Because a mind body practice is about feeling the body and breaking the silence.

Centre d’Etude et de Recherche Appliquée en Psychopédagogie Perceptive
Fasciapraktijk Amsterdam
– Article “L’éveil sensoriel” published in Inexploré, spring 2021. Inexploré is a French quarterly magazine at the crossroad of science, spirituality and psychology.

Our Body has All the Answers. We Need to Listen to It.

Our life experience expresses itself in our body. That’s why I invite yoga therapy clients to dive in the depth of their flesh to listen to the body’s messages. Then, I encourage them to speak their truth to truly meet another and, ultimately, to free themselves from emotional wounds.

It’s during the course of two very serious diseases that I started doing work on the body and how it relates to emotions. I have learned a lot along the way. I have learned any trauma, any information that is too painful to process consciously, any suppressed emotion finds its way in the body in the form of tension and, sometimes, disease. I have learned our psyche strives to forget these painful experiences and feelings. We take refuge behind our masks and protections and, often, we set our body aside.

However, if we want to go deeper in our wellness journey, if we want to live a life that is in harmony with who we truly are, we need to feel, become aware and accept those suppressed emotions so that we re-integrate them into our life’s journey.

To do that, we need our body’s help simply because our psyche and body are intimately connected. They are like the hand and the glove. If the hand moves, the glove moves too. In other words, our life experience always finds a way to express itself in our physical body.

So how can we heal emotional wounds with the body’s help?

The body speaks to us but, most of the time, we don’t pay attention to those signs, we don’t feel anything. That’s why any healing process starts with allowing ourselves to pause–so we can go inwards and listen. Aline Frati, my yoga teacher, used to say, “There is no healing without taking a pause.”

“What do you feel?” is the fundamental question

Because of this, my yoga therapy method includes a style of gentle yoga that brings the person to focus on a slow, deep yogic breathing while going in and out of simple poses at a slow pace.

“What do you feel?” is the fundamental question that needs to be asked. The goal is to bring us to feel our body and listen to what it says, to be on the lookout of what the body is expressing about ourselves, about our emotional and physical wounds. The point is to become the explorer and the observer of what triggers our emotional and physical pain.

Once we have listened to what the body says, then we can move on to the other aspect of the healing journey: to put our feelings, our life experience into words. We need to share our wounds and our dreams with others who can listen. To heal, we need to truly meet another. This is the reason why all my classes start and end with a healing circle. I ask participants to participate regularly to the classes. That’s because each person heals thanks to the yoga practice, the work I do as a facilitator and also thanks to the relationship they build with the others.

This healing journey is a hard road. It requires courage and patience. However, the effort is a small price to pay for more wellness and joy in our lives.

Photo: Femme Accroupie (Crouching Woman), 1880-1882, Auguste Rodin. From the”Picasso-Rodin” exhibit, Musée Picasso, Paris, June 2021.


Rebirth is the story of my life, the thread that goes through my existence.

I was born in the first days of spring, on March 28. I imagine that’s why the idea of rebirthing, whatever the ordeals I’ve come across, is so present in my life.

That constant cycle of rebirth is the message I carry, and it’s because of that message that I’ve become a yoga therapist—to help my clients rebirth of themselves.

To rebirth means to die, first.

I believe that you are on a journey to let something die inside of you. For one goal only–so that you can rebirth of yourself. With more self-esteem. More self-confidence. More aliveness. More joy. More love really. No matter what your circumstances are.

What are you dying to? And how are you rebirthing?

Happy spring.

The Fig Tree Whisperer

My cousin Giavonni propagates fig trees from parent trees in Italy, and gives young plants to grow to friends and family. One of them has crossed the ocean to Atlanta…

Giovanni Picano, my cousin, has a passion for the fig trees that grow in the rich soil of Cassino, the small town in Southern Italy where he grew up.

Born in the thirties, Giovanni has a rough start. The war makes him an orphan when he’s barely in his teens. He ends up as child labor working on his grandparents’ farm. He’s hungry and ready to climb these trees as soon as the figs are ready!

A decade later, Giovanni immigrates to France for a better life. He’s a builder. With his wife Rosina, who’s also originally from Cassino, he builds a house—the same house where they both live today–just outside of Paris.

For decades, Giovanni regularly visits Cassino. He needs to see those fig trees! (He’s less mobile now and hasn’t been there for a couple of years.) During each of his visits in Cassino, he cuts branches from parent fig trees and brings them back to Paris to grow new trees in his backyard or a friend’s backyard. Today, his big “Cassino” fig trees in his Paris backyard are legendary in the family.

In 2015, after my father passes, Giovanni gives me a sprout of one of his fig trees to bring back to Atlanta. My ex, John, plants it in his garden. The plant in Atlanta that comes from a parent tree in Paris that comes from a grandparent tree in Cassino, becomes a big fig tree!

I am simply ecstatic when John gives me three young plants, last summer, so I can grow them into new trees in my own backyard. One has been in the ground since then, and I’m about to plant the other two in the next few weeks. A little piece of Paris and Cassino are in my home in Atlanta, and you have no idea how good that makes me feel.

Summer ’20. The gorgeous leaves of my fig tree.