Illness As a Trailhead: Cultivating Intuition as a Guide Toward Health – Mind, Body, Spirit

As we set out in our lives we typically have a lot of expectations about how our life will unfold. Where we might live, who we might partner with, how many children we will or will not have, trips we will take, what we’ll do for a living, and how long we might live. We make plans and we share our plans and our lives with those around us. However, sometimes life has different plans for us, sometimes we get off of our soul’s path and to get back, we need to tune into our body, tune into our intuition, tune into that deep knowing that we all have inside if we can learn to understand and learn to listen.


In the early fall of 2018, I was deeply grieving the recent loss of my 70-year-old father after he succumbed to lung cancer. A fresh pregnancy with a baby due around my dad’s birthday held our family’s hope for a brighter future. On the evening of October 18, 3 months after my dad passed, we received an unexpected call to “come quick”. My husband’s 65-year-old father was dying. He flew out at 5:30 AM the next day and not long after, at 8:30, I received a call that my father-in-law had passed, my husband was in the air, and did not make it in time. I quickly began prepping to travel with our 3-year-old daughter. I’d had some shortness of breath that I had been working around and the thought of flying in a closed cabin with a 3-year-old forced me into action. While she was at daycare, I went to urgent care at noon. They discharged me to the ER at 4:30 PM so I called my in-home daycare provider to explain what was going on, she emphatically expressed for me to take my time and my daughter was safe with her. Some tests and an eventual CT scan with a protective wrap around my fresh pregnancy would reveal that my left lung was completely collapsed from a fluid buildup in my pleura (a neat little sack that your lungs fit in) and pushing onto my right lung. It would be several long days until we found out for sure but they immediately suspected that this was the return of my Breast Cancer diagnosed 8.5 years prior. My daughter had to spend the night with her daycare provider because I was admitted to the hospital and a close friend picked her up in the morning to play for the day with her daughter.

My husband hopped on a plane exactly 24 hours after his departure, leaving his grieving family behind to come to be with me and our daughter. We would soon get confirmation that I had end-stage cancer. The news was crippling, our daughter was 3, and dangerous trolling of the internet would reveal the average survival was 3-5 years. Quickly doing math, thinking about our 6-8-year-old girl losing her mama made me feel sick AND angry. I was 40 years old, how could this be happening? Over the next few weeks, many medical procedures would follow including the horrific termination of our deeply desired pregnancy. Sleepless nights, sadness, overwhelm, and grief would also follow, we felt completely lost.


As I shared this hopeless, crippling news with family and friends looking for sympathy and support. A good, well-researched, friend whose mom had pancreatic cancer recommended a book, The Metabolic Approach to Cancer: Integrating Deep Nutrition, the Ketogenic Diet, and Nontoxic Bio-Individualized Therapies by Dr. Nasha Winters ND FABNO L.Ac Dipl.OM and  Jess Higgins Kelley MNT. I immediately looked it up and without hesitation, ordered it. According to my Amazon purchase history, I ordered this book on October 24th, 5 days after being in the ER and 1 day after getting the confirmation that it was end-stage breast cancer. Upon delivery, I began obsessively reading the book and hope started to seep in. This was my call to action, this was my call to at least TRY to find health, to not be a victim, and to rebel against the internet-prescribed fate of 3-5 years. I was going to prove “them” wrong and HEAL myself, whatever it took.

In the Metabolic Approach to Cancer, Dr. Nasha and Jess Kelly teach the “terrain” approach. Explained simply, it’s working to heal the “soil” from which all of our new cells are built every day, every minute, every second. Just like healthy plants grow in healthy soil with the right amount of love, water, and nutrients, healthy cells and a healthy body grow from the right amount of love, water, and nutrients. Being a gardener and tender of houseplants, THIS resonated with me! I started immediately by beginning a meditation practice, balancing my glucose with a primarily plant-based keto diet, improving my microbiome with a high-dose probiotic, focusing on improving my sleep, and moving my body regularly with yoga and cycling. More would come to follow but this actionable book of hope allowed me to pick and choose which areas were the most important for me to focus on in the short term as well as considering some long-term goals. The “Terrain 10” as the book calls the different areas of focus, became the foundational signposts for me as I learned to cultivate my own intuition to find my way toward health and my soul’s path.

Tools to build my intuition (aka my internal compass to heal)

I could feel my cancer, in every breath I took, I had pain in my lung where the cancer had spread, initially, it caused a LOT of anxiety for me but as I moved forward, I began to slowly see it was actually my body talking, telling me what to do and what not to do.

Did you know that cancer cells are 10-50x more efficient at utilizing glucose for energy? Did you know that when a cancer patient gets a scan the scan lights up because they give the patient radioactive glucose allowing the cancer cells to show off their efficiency in gobbling up this glucose? I cleaned out my pantry, dusted off my kitchen scale, and ordered a device to test my glucose and ketones with my blood. I immediately began experimenting with a mostly plant-based, low-protein keto diet and used the device to test success. I was targeting “therapeutic ketosis” with a ketone measure of >3.0 and glucose in the 70s. I weighed my food and began daily intermittent fasting for 16-20 hours, with some 24-hour fasts sprinkled in. I dropped 40 pounds within a few months and many people were questioning what I was doing. I stayed on course and believed in the terrain approach.

When I started to get my glucose and ketones within the desired range, I began to notice the pain in my lung was less. I would not have noticed this if I wasn’t also taking time to meditate, walk in the woods, and simply BE. By creating this space and taking the time to pay attention to my body and how what I was doing was changing it, I was able to use the feedback from my body, as intuitive signposts for my path forward.

The thing is, as you start making changes in one area or two areas, it has an impact on the changes that you make in other areas as well. As you start eating better and exercising, your sleep will improve, as your sleep improves you will have more mental focus to do it again the next day and maybe even do it better. As I began changing my diet and meditating, I created space to listen to my body talking. As I began exercising, I again tuned in to see that this was deeply helping me manage my anxiety. I started working with an Internal Family Systems therapist. I read Wim Hof and began a cold exposure practice. I started working with a Dr. Nasha-trained practitioner who would help me get all of my supplements in order. I quit drinking the nightly glass or two of wine. I cleaned out my cupboards, pantry, and shower of any residual toxins that might be lurking and started buying ALL organic, grass-fed, grass-finished meats, and organic produce. I left no stone unturned and I continue to look for stones while on this terrain-focused path across many steep hills, dark forests, and optional trailheads. I continue to cultivate and tune into my intuition to guide me.

The unexpected path, my soul’s path

Working mostly in isolation on my own body for 4 years with the metabolic approach to cancer, when Dr. Nasha announced that she was planning to offer training to become a “Terrain Advocate” I knew I had to sign up, all of my intuition bells were ringing, do THIS.

For the last 20+ years, I’ve worked in technology product development, I work with teams that design, build, and evolve software products and I’ve worked in almost every role on these teams as a developer, designer, and for the last 5 years as a user researcher. I have a deep knowledge of this world. Faced with my mortality and finding so much empowerment with the metabolic approach to cancer, my deep passion for healing myself has evolved to incorporate helping others. To employ my passion for listening and understanding others with user research to improve technology to also listen and understand others to help improve health outcomes!  There simply are not enough people who have the good fortune that I do to learn about this approach and have the hard wiring to dig into it and do it on their own. I’ve completed the program offered by Dr. Nasha and graduated as a Certified Terrain Advocate, I’m not stopping here, I’m enrolled at the Nutrition Therapy Institute working toward becoming a certified Holistic Nutritionist as well. I’m constantly reading new books, listening to podcasts, reading articles, finding inspiration on Instagram, and more. I AM ON MY PATH! Maybe the path that I was meant to be on all along? Maybe my soul needed this detour to cultivate this deep drive and passion for healing?

More than being a terrain advocate, more than being a holistic nutritionist, I want to help people tune into themselves to find their inner pilot. I want to help people to see the parts of them, their lives, and their environment that may have contributed to their disease, not to blame but to empower them! Healing mind, body, and spirit takes a lot of hard work and a lot of tuning in. Cultivating intuition as a guide toward health – mind, body, and spirit is the compass.

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Heather Isadora Dahm

Heather has been working to manage active cancer in her body for the past 13.5 years; acutely for the past 5 after having progression to her lungs which left her with an end-stage cancer diagnosis. Heather is focused on achieving rhythm by living a metabolic lifestyle leveraging a terrain-based healing strategy by incorporating a keto-tarian diet, cold exposure, mental and emotional health, cycling, CrossFit, supplements, and much more. Heather consults with anyone in a health crisis looking to improve their overall health and ignite the body's natural healing potential. She is a Certified Terrain Advocate through the Metabolic Terrain Institute of Health and is working toward a holistic nutritionist certification.