“We’re not helpless or hopeless. We’re really not. The body can heal. If we give our bodies the right tools, cells will heal.”
– Shannon Pickering

Shannon Pickering had all but given up. With six diagnosed autoimmune disorders and other just-as-debilitating conditions, she was told she would spend the rest of her life – however much was left of it – on chemo and steroids.

Back then, she suffered from systemic lupus, fibromyalgia, autoimmune hypothyroid, narcolepsy, endometriosis, gastritis, colitis, gastroparesis, Lyme disease, asthma, periodic movement disorder, rosacea and IBS. She was in constant pain, her hair fell out in clumps, she had rashes, mouth and throat ulcers, incessant stomach aches and severe brain fog.

Shannon had sought and seen the best specialists around: gynecologists, neurologists, orthopedists, rheumatologists, gastroenterologists, hematologists and so on. She’d even been to the Mayo Clinic.

Doctors had put her on numerous heavy-duty medications, none of which eased her symptoms.

She had lost hope, and her doctors certainly didn’t offer any.

Prognosis: Eventual Death

Shannon’s health struggle had started as a pre-teen, when endometriosis (an autoimmune condition diagnosed years later) caused profuse bleeding and cramping. It often kept her out of school and eventually off work.

Doctors offered pain medications and birth control in an effort to control the symptoms.

Desperate, at 36 she had a hysterectomy, giving her some relief.

“It helped tremendously to have the hysterectomy,” she says. “But for the next eight years, I still had chronic pain. I took painkillers. I took anti-inflammatories. I took birth control to try to control the endometriosis symptoms.”

Disabled and unable to work, doctors offered one last path.

“My rheumatologist told me lupus was attacking my DNA for which transplant was not an option,” she says. “He said I needed to start chemo and steroids to slow my decline, which would likely end in my death.”

Finding the Wahls Protocol

Shannon’s lowest low came while on vacation.

“My rock bottom was I was too sick to do nothing,” she says. “I was too sick to get out of bed and sit on a beach or just get out of bed and read a book.”

She told her husband: “I’m desperate. I’ll try anything.”

This was the opening that Shannon’s husband, Brandon, had been waiting for. Eight months earlier, he had purchased a book detailing a lifestyle approach to reversing autoimmunity, The Wahls Protocol: A Radical New Way to Treat All Autoimmune Conditions Using Paleo Principles. It detailed a nutrition and exercise regimen created by a physician with multiple sclerosis, Dr. Terry Wahls.

Brandon had been holding off on sharing it with his wife; he didn’t think she was ready – and he was right.

“My husband heard about the Wahls Protocol and he bought the book, but he knew I wouldn’t have listened,” she says. “If the best doctors in the world weren’t advocating health and lifestyle, then surely it couldn’t help.”

But this was Shannon’s pivot point – her do or die moment. She had always pushed herself in her life and career. Why not apply that drive to healing?

“I finally said, ‘To hell with everybody telling me that I can’t heal and this can’t be cured,’” she says. “Don’t tell me what to do. I sort of had to flip that personality characteristic from harming myself to healing myself.”

First Signs of Healing

Reading the book, Shannon knew healing would take time. She decided to give it three to five years.

Each year, she would try one new thing. Year one would be diet.

“If this doesn’t work, I’m never going to try anything else healthy,” she thought. “I’m just going to accept that I’m going to die.”

The Wahls Protocol calls for heavy amounts of vegetables and fruits (greens, colorful and sulphuric), and meats such as seafood and organ meats. At a minimum, it eliminates gluten, dairy, eggs and artificial sweeteners.

Years earlier, tests had uncovered gluten antibodies in Shannon, indicating a sensitivity to it. But the Mayo Clinic doctors she saw didn’t advise eliminating gluten then.

More advanced phases of the protocol eliminate soy, all grains, legumes and starches such as potatoes.

The idea is to fill your body with nutrients to help your mitochondria function optimally, and thus heal.

For Shannon, sick and not accustomed to cooking, such a transition wouldn’t be easy.

“I was not a health nut” she adds. “I did not cook or exercise or meditate or anything. I lived on fast food, soda, sugar and packaged food. Healthy habits were foreign to me.”

Yet, she had made a commitment to try Wahls in earnest. She started with the simplest recipes she could find. Often, she drank smoothies for breakfast and lunch and whipped up an easy dinner in 20 minutes.

Within three months of dedicated focus, she started seeing glimmers of improvement. She had been unable to straighten one arm from joint pain, for months. Soon, that arm would straighten – the first sign that the protocol was helping.

Shannon healed from six autoimmune disorders and other debilitating conditions through The Wahls Protocol diet, methylation support, movement, mindset and eliminating negative influences.

Layering in Movement

In year two, Shannon began what exercise she could manage. At first, she did what’s called internal isometrics, or simply tensing her muscles or even thinking about tensing those muscles.

Then, she moved on to external isometrics. Her husband, a muscle restoration and recovery specialist, moved her arms and legs for her.

Shannon then graduated to body-weight exercises. Layering movement with diet accelerated her healing.

“By 12 to 18 months, all of my symptoms were gone,” she says. “By 18 to 24 months, I was off all meds except for thyroid.”

Her OB-GYN wasn’t so confident in Shannon’s recovery.

“The doctor said, ‘I have to be honest with you. It’s going to come back.’ That was six years ago and it’s not come back,” Shannon says.

Eliminating Negative People, Practices

In year three, she focused on sound sleep hygiene and sleep hacking.

Since then she’s added in mind-body practices after years of high stress and pushing herself, first as a psychologist and later as a corporate manager and trainer.

She had to do what she calls life detox: remove negative people, activities and thoughts from her life. That included seeing a therapist to resolve old trauma.

The Unexpected: Stage-Three Breast Cancer

As Shannon was getting her life back and looking at her next career move, she was a dealt a curveball: a diagnosis of stage-three breast cancer, despite having had a mammogram the year before. The cancer had already spread to her lymph nodes.

While the diagnosis was disheartening, it wasn’t necessarily that surprising to her. She had spent years on numerous medications, which she believes gave her additional risk factors. And unfortunately, healthy living isn’t an insurance policy against getting cancer.

Still, Shannon felt blindsided. “I was angry because I thought, ‘I’m the autoimmune girl. I’m not the cancer girl,’” she says.

She spent the better part of a year going through aggressive cancer therapy, all the while continuing to remain on the Wahls Protocol. After all the work of the previous years, she felt wrung out and back to square one. But she got the all-clear: no more cancer.

After surviving cancer, Shannon feels confident that the steps she took to heal autoimmunity will help her body recover faster and stay cancer-free.

Fortunately, she remains free of the symptoms of her autoimmune disorders. Given her path, she pivoted to be a health restoration coach, with five health and performance coaching certifications, including the Wahls Protocol.

After all she’s been through, Shannon hopes others take away this from her story:

“We’re not helpless or hopeless. We’re really not. The body can heal. If we give our bodies the right tools, cells will heal.”

The Pillars of Shannon’s Healing

  • Mindset – Shannon’s monumental healing started with a mindset shift, believing that she could do something to change her health and didn’t have to die from her conditions. “There really have to be some mental shifts if you want to embark on the journey,” she says.
  • Diet – Within 18 months of starting the Wahls Protocol diet, she had eliminated all symptoms.
  • Movement – She began with simply tensing her muscles and worked up to bodyweight exercises.
  • Mind-body practices – Shannon spent a year eliminating and addressing toxic relationships, stress and past trauma.
  • Methylation support – Shannon carries the MTHFR gene mutation, which can make it more difficult to detox. For that, she takes supplements that encourage methylation.

If you enjoyed this story, you might also like: The Regimen that Reversed Multiple Autoimmune Disorders.

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