Let that which we love
Be what we do
There are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the earth.
What was my personal journey into medicine and healing?
I’m a social justice organizer turned traditional Chinese medicine and meditation practitioner, who focuses in two main areas: (1) “care for caregivers and changemakers” and (2) integrative cancer care. After experiencing the profound effects of traditional Chinese medicine and meditation on my own health, I now provide acupuncture, massage, nutrition, mindfulness, wellness & self-care coaching, and workshop facilitation; to keep my own spirits flourishing, I also play with dance, movement, writing and visual arts.
When I was 12 years old, my mother began to struggle with Bechet’s syndrome, affecting her mobility, speech and moods. My sisters and I took on caregiving responsibilities for her, our father, and our younger ones. With a large household of eight, frequent conflicts, and limited coping strategies, the strain and pain I felt was intense and unrelenting. Perhaps partly to escape, I buried myself in academic and volunteer commitments, achieving top marks and awards, and becoming known in my community as a youth activist.
Starting around 1996, I became politicized and active around global issues, focusing on the rights of immigrants, workers, women, tenants, queer/trans/LGBTQ folks, racialized and indigenous peoples, and youth. Feeling unable to change anything much at home, I felt more empowered creating action projects, and successfully campaigning against migrant worker deportations, inequitable neoliberal trade agreements, and corporate monopolies on my university campus. I had the privilege of travelling to the US, Europe, and East/Southeast Asia, learning from grassroots community organizers and activists who continue to inspire me. Though I graduated with an Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Cognitive Neuroscience, my passion for social and environmental justice led to over 16 years work as a grassroots organizer, hotline counsellor, youth worker, popular educator, facilitator, and program coordinator.
At first, I didn’t realize the emotional and physical costs to my “caregiving and change-making.” In 2004, things started to fall apart. I was exhausted, discouraged, and frequently sick. I felt it was impossible to say no, resented the responsibilities I’d taken on, and (in hindsight) had entered a downward spiral, affecting everyone around me. I kept cutting more and more out of my overwhelming life – to no avail.
When half my face stopped moving (Bell’s palsy), my friend said, “Pauline, name ONE THING you do to take care of yourself!” I had no answer – hadn’t even thought about it. A few sessions of Chinese medicine fixed my Bell’s palsy, but I finally realized I was burnt out. I hit rock bottom and felt utterly drained, negative, and unmotivated. I quit my job, the organizations I had built, left my partner and friends in Montreal, and hit the road searching for a better life.
To make a long story short, the following decade was a journey of renewal, learning, and balance. I’ve lived in California, China, and finally back in my hometown of Toronto. I unlearned old traumas and belief patterns through counselling, art therapy, energy work, spirituality and self-help. I fell in love with insight (Vipassana) meditation, the daily practice of which woke me up and gave me a new lease on life. I (re-)discovered creativity, writing, yoga, martial arts, dance, and the joys of being in my body. I completely revamped my diet and recovered my immune system. I heard the wisdom in nature, solitary hikes and long-distance bike rides. And I developed new, less-draining, inspiring, and wholistic ways to work for fundamental social and environmental change.
Throughout my most difficult moments this past decade, I’ve turned to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), insight meditation, and the arts for their ability to see and support my whole being – my mind, emotions, spirit and body. When I faced a second bout of severe insomnia and low mood in 2009, my doctor recommended prescription anti-depressants. Reluctant to accept, I took a leap of faith in natural approaches, and found that six months of a (constantly updated) custom herbal formula, combined with weekly acupuncture and regular meditation finally restored me to a state of balance I could sustain. I have now been exploring Chinese martial and internal arts (qi gong, kung fu, tai chi) for many years, and still take care of myself using acupuncture, massage, meditation, creative arts, herbs, and Chinese therapeutic diet principles. Looking back, I realize this is the path I was meant to take; my late grandmother had also practiced acupuncture, herbs and tai chi in Hong Kong, Singapore and Toronto. My father is a neurologist, one sister is a naturopathic doctor, and another is a medical researcher… so it seems the passion for medicine runs in my veins!
I now feel a vitality, vision, and self-awareness that I have literally never felt before. I feel energized, optimistic, grounded and productive (in a balanced way – knowing I love myself whether or not I achieve something). And while health and wellness is a unique journey for everyone, I feel grateful every day that I can now share this beautiful medicine with others (including my wonderful mother, who now enjoys regular acupuncture herself!).
Offering “care for caregivers and changemakers” is one of the ways I feel called to contribute to a healed humanity. I believe the personal is political. Individuals and families will have better health when we as society shift to prioritizing people over profit, and giving everyone fair access to opportunities, education, good jobs, healthy food and housing, nature, health and wellness. The fight against suffering, violence, oppression and discrimination, colonialism, environmental destruction, and economic injustice is in essence a fight to heal and reclaim our shared humanity.
I believe knowing and learning to care for ourselves (emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually) ultimately helps us treat others better, improving our relationships at home, at work, in our movements and communities. Relating better to ourselves, to each other, and to nature (i.e. animals and plants), is absolutely critical to the work we do (in whatever way) to better this world. If I can support even one of you to sustain and thrive in your work and relationships, I feel all my efforts are worth it.
For many years, I’ve had the dream of going to China to study more about the use of traditional medicine to support cancer patients. Through generous scholarships from the Taiwanese and mainland China governments, I have been studying in China since 2014, and am currently completing a 3 year Chinese-language Master’s degree in TCM Internal Medicine, focusing on integrative (Chinese/Western) oncology. Little did I know that my studies would overlap with the diagnoses of three of my family members with various cancers, bringing the reality of the cancer journey home in a way that has changed my view of life and healing.
As my thesis research focuses on the integrative treatment of breast cancer, I have been exposed to both the latest theories and practice on how TCM can support cancer patients alongside conventional treatment using surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, hormone and targeted therapies. This support can help decrease discomforts caused both by cancer and by treatment side effects(e.g. fatigue, digestion, urinary problems, pain, stiffness, swelling, hot flashes, sweating, depression, anxiety, insomnia, unexplained low fevers, etc.), increase quality of life (sleep, energy, mood, digestion and appetite, etc), enhance the conventional treatments, and possibly even improve the length and chance of survival (stay tuned to my blog for more info). I’m eager to bring both concrete knowledge and a mindful, caring heart to cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones back home to Ontario. Join my mailing list if you want to keep in touch with how this unfolds!
My formal education and training credentials
After receiving an Honours Bachelor of Science, major in Cognitive Neuroscience (McGill University, 2003) and working for several years in community health, I spent over 3 years to obtain my Diploma of Acupuncture (Institute of Traditional Medicine, 2012), and another two years to obtain my Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner Diploma (Eight Branches Academy of Eastern Medicine, 2014). Thanks to a generous scholarship, I will graduate in June 2018 with a Master’s of Science in Medicine, majoring in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Internal Medicine, focused in Integrative Oncology (Nanjing University of TCM, China), after 3 years of full-time studies in Mandarin Chinese (which I started learning in 2002). I have been in clinical practice since 2011, licensed as soon as the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario opened (registration #510). My training in acupuncture and Chinese medicine thus totals over 7,000 hours, at least a third in clinical training with patients.
- Huang Huang – Classical Formulas Training Conference (Nanjing) 2018
- Huang Huang – Classical Formulas for Neurological and Psychological Conditions Training Conference (Nanjing) 2018
- Renowned Senior TCM Doctor Zhang Yong Hong TCM Oncology Conference (Nanjing) 2018
- Jiangsu Provincial Hospital of TCM Oncology Conference (Nanjing) 2017
- Huang Huang – Classical Formulas Training Conference (Nanjing) 2017
- Society for Integrative Oncology conference (Miami) 2016
- Canadian Interdisciplinary Network for Complementary & Alternative Medicine Research (Toronto) 2016
- Huang Huang – Classical Formulas Training Conference (Nanjing) 2016
- Applied Channel Theory Acupuncture Workshop (Nanjing) 2015
- China-Taiwan Straits TCM Exchange (Taiwan) 2015
- Tzu Chi University Acupuncture Workshop (Taiwan) 2015
- Huayu Enrichment Scholarship, Mandarin language training, Tzu Chi University (Taiwan) 2015
- Kiiko Matsumoto – Acupuncture workshop (Toronto) 2014
- Terry Norman – Sports Tuina (Toronto) 2013
- Jake Fratkin – Chinese Patent Medicines (Toronto) 2012
- Paul Pitchford – TCM nutrition workshop (Toronto) 2012
- Brenda Loew – Shonishin, Pediatric Japanese Acupuncture workshop (Toronto) 2011
- National Acupuncture Detoxification Association – clinical hours at St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation Hospital (Toronto), 2011
- Khadro – Qi Gong (Toronto), 2009
- Ross Rosen – Advanced Pulse Diagnosis (Toronto), 2009
- Mandarin language training, Jinan University (China), 2005-2006
- Master Mak – Qi Gong, Tai Chi and Kung Fu (Montreal), 2001-2003
- University of Pennsylvania Cognitive Science Workshop (Philadelphia) June 2002
- National Science and Engineering Research Council summer student grant, 2002
My clinical internships include:
- Dr. Ye Li Hong, Jiangsu Provincial Hospital of TCM, Internal Medicine ward (Nanjing)
- Dr. Zhang Cheng Ming, Dr. Chen Yu Chao, Jiangsu Provincial Hospital of TCM, Oncology ward (Nanjing)
- Dr. Huang Huang, Jiangsu Provincial Hospital of TCM, Ming Yi Tang (famous doctors) department (Nanjing)
- Clinical rotations in Jiangsu Provincial Hospital of TCM: Acupuncture, Gynecology, Pediatrics, Neurology, Breast Surgery, Oncology (Nanjing)
- Richard Kwan, R.TCMP (Toronto)
- Noel Wright, R.Ac (Toronto)
- Teaching Clinics: Institute of Traditional Medicine, Eight Branches Academy of Eastern Medicine
I have also studied for shorter periods at: National University of Singapore, Jinan University in Guangzhou, and Tzu Chi University in Taiwan. I completed short-term training in Cognitive Science at the University of Pennsylvania, and in Peer Counselling through the Toronto Rape Crisis Centre. I am a certified Acupuncture Detoxification Specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association (NADA), with my internship hours at the St. Joseph’s Rehabilitation Hospital. I am a registrant of the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario (CTCMPAO), and a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology (SIO). Locally, I am part of a collective of diverse practitioners who collaborate on multidisciplinary approaches to trauma-informed healing. Finally, I am involved in teaching activities, and have previously served as a preceptor for interns from the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine.