Most people prepare for death, but few have a strategy for cancer. Today, visited upon one-in-three Americans, cancer is more than a disease, it’s a modern rite-of-passage. As such, you’d figure we’d at least plan as we would for less common anomalies, like an airplane going down. Every flight we go through the routine, no less. But cancer? Not so much. But I had some preconceived opinions and objections, should I ever find myself up against the Big C.
Then I received the diagnosis.
Colorectal cancer, discovered via a colonoscopy, was my new reality. While I’d been suffering from debilitating symptoms for several months, nowhere in my imagination did cancer appear. It was a complete shock. No matter my objections the day before, I needed to consider radiation, chemotherapy and surgery. There is a standard protocol for colorectal cancer. Since I’m not a standard issue sort of person, I needed to engage my intuition to determine the best treatment approach for me, not for data points.
Back in the nineties a book title came to me: One Foot in the Ashram, the Other Foot in Bloomingdale’s describing the bipolar worlds I’ve inhabited my whole life: navigating harmony between the mystical and the material. This I modeled from my mom, who, by the mid sixties had introduced the family to yoga and holistic health care, while never giving up her love of fashion. I understand this is a popular lifestyle today. My mother invented it.
Add to that, I developed Double Outsider Syndrome midway through first grade, when I was transferred from the local public school to a Waldorf School nearby. Now I felt like a stranger within the school community where several classmates lived with their families, and to my neighborhood buddies, who together attended the public school. My survival mechanism was to observe these different experiences from the outside, hopefully taking what’s useful, but never fully joining the experience.
This strategy, while not deliberately defined at eight years-old, took hold, providing eventual benefits and difficulties. A certain benefit was gleaned from carefully observing groups of others, like Ray Davies’ narrator in Waterloo Sunset, “Every day I look at the world from my window,” and difficulties that arose from not being part of the group, much like Davies’ character in Misfits, “You’re lost without a crowd, yet you go your own way.’ Pushing age sixty, things haven’t changed too much. I’m complicated, I understand. But decades living these contradictions ultimately inspired the discernment that navigating my cancer treatment required.
I needed to balance the medical data with my intuition. I refused to accept the full treatment plan recommended, more afraid of chemo than of my tumor. Luckily, my doctor (a holistic MD) assisted me in advocating a “more compassionate” treatment plan. My line in the sand was any treatment that would further indignify my body and soul. I had enough of that with the symptoms. I surrendered to twenty five doses of radiation targeted into my pelvis, together with a mild-ish chemo. It sucked.
Post treatment I was seriously disabled. In addition to bowel dysfunction, I could not walk very well. A lot of this is expected, as impacts of radiation create scar tissue and adhesions. Relief, said a surgeon, could take a while. Thanks to my upbringing, and holistic leanings in adulthood, I was long familiar with alternative therapies and natural health. It was then I decided to pursue medical ozone and PEMF (pulsed electromagnetic field) therapy. I could not accept a future of ongoing suffering. I would also decide against additional conventional treatment, more comfortable rolling the dice on my own destiny. To my amazement, upon twice-weekly ozone and PEMF treatments my symptoms quickly diminished, and very soon I returned to my old self. Actually, it was a new self. More than recovering, I was reviving. Since then we’ve acquired the devices to perform these therapies at home, as they can be self-administered.
(I want to be careful in this discussion, of which this is the initial entry, not to focus too much on the specifics of the tumor, the stage, and so forth. My intention here is to share the wider conversation about navigating the overall journey, of which conventional medicine played an important part, but not the only part. It’s the balance of data and intuition I’m talking about.)
Trusting time-honored traditions and respect of Nature’s laws and rhythms are a gift of my Waldorf experience. Ironic that despite making reasonably healthy choices for decades I still ended up with cancer? Hardly. A big reason one third of the American population winds up with a cancer diagnosis has more to do with stress – emotional and environmental – than spared by any particular healthy lifestyle choice.
Stress is doing us in. This is not news.
Too much thinking about what’s best to eat and why was a big part of my reflective regret. I’m not alone in this mental mud fight. Common sophistication in America today involves perpetual debate and discussion between raw vegans and the Keto crowd, for example, as if there’s a singular truth about eating to be discerned by strict adherence to an intellectual ideology. There’s even a defined “clean eating” disorder: orthorexia. I’m clearly not alone. Intuitive Eating, as my daughter has pointed out, could be a way out of the dilemma. Less thinking, more being. Perhaps developing a trust in tradition over intellect can also relieve our mental stress generators from working overtime. And probably better for our well-being that we don’t reinvent every wheel. Our ancestors were at this game far longer than we. Perhaps there’s wisdom there? Should this even be a question? Apparently, yes.
The primarily truth and driver of modern American misery is the fact that our lives are dictated and valued by the Darwinian dictates and insatiable appetite of the financial industry. Rich or poor, we all work for banks. We’re only free, as George Carlin reminded us, to choose our consumer preferences, as long as we can afford them (or fall prey to easy credit). We don’t get a say in the value of our souls, however. Big banks make that determination. The choice is simple: either we acquiesce to the dictates of dog-eat-dog economics, or we resist. Either way we get sick, as there’s no joy in economic subjugation. We all know this on a deep level, but must not acknowledge it or we’ll need to address it, as I am now. But if we remain anesthetized by the endless supply of entertainment and shopping, there is no hope for clarity. Maybe that’s the point?
One Foot in the Ashram, the Other Foot in Bloomingdale’s, is my journey navigating the mystical and the material, as my mom still lives every day, never surrendering one for the other. I hope you’re amused and inspired by my story. Buckle in, as we trade our collective assumptions and desire for certainty, for the freedom and possibilities available when we surrender to the great mystery.
Please support this effort by contributing to my wife’s GoFundMe campaign, which assists us on the financial recovery side of things.