The word “cancer” is usually dreaded. It often strikes fear into the hearts of men (and women) as it conjures up visions of suffering, baldness, surgery, pain and death.
Most people have experience of it, whether directly or second-hand. How many of us have relatives or friends who have had it, whether they recovered or died?
I remember when I was a child, playing at a friend’s house, seeing her father walk slowly down the stairs in his bathrobe, looking grey-skinned. He had lung cancer and died not long afterwards. You don’t forget something like that.
Fast forward to a few years ago. My best friend Anne and I used to take walks around her neighbourhood with the family dog, Amber. One day, she told me about some lumps under her arm. The only other person she had told was her husband. She didn’t want to go to the doctor – maybe she knew, or at least suspected, that it was cancer, because eventually she did get it checked out and it was confirmed. I recall the day she phoned to tell me she had breast cancer. I cried. I told her I loved her. Strange how we only ever say that in extreme circumstances – we should really be saying it every day.
She tried natural remedies, juice fasting and herbs. But also, for her family, because she wanted to feel like she’d given everything a shot, she accepted chemotherapy and radiation. She lost her hair, of course, got thin from the fasting, got bigger with the steroids. Her body went through a lot. SHE went through a lot. Her cancer was more external – inflammatory breast cancer rather than discrete lumps in the breast. Surgery wasn’t an option. She had an open weeping wound on her side which needed constant attention – lots of showers and re-dressing and painkillers. During the two and a half years, there was a period when we all thought she’d beaten it. She broke her ankle in an icy parking lot once – she suspected that it broke easily because of the radiation weakening her bones. The last few months, her lung filled up with fluid. The first time, she went into hospital and it was drained and she went home. Shortly after that, she told her oncologist she was done. No more treatment, thank you. When you tell them that, they give you all the dire warnings and then put you into palliative care. The nurse visits you at home. Gives you a prognosis. In this case, she didn’t want to hear it, but was told anyway. She told me – I didn’t believe it. I thought she was strong enough to get through this alive. The last time I saw her at home, she had lumps up the side of her neck – lymph I suppose, though I couldn’t ask. I just sat quietly knitting while she painted. Her mum and I talked. I hugged her that day, which happened to be my birthday, 2010. Didn’t realise it would be the last time. I saw her only once more, when I went to the hospital to visit but the only thing I could do was squeeze her hand and leave because she wasn’t up for visitors.
All of these memories came back to me this year while I was spending time with my dad. I flew over to the island of Jersey in April, knowing that my dad had had breathing difficulties and something serious was wrong with his lungs. Maybe emphysema. Shortly after I arrived, my sister and I accompanied him to his doctor’s appointment following a scan where he was told he had lung cancer. We even saw a photo from the bronchoscopy of the tumour sitting in the right bronchial tube, blocking it, hence the collapsed lung and breathing trouble. I am so glad I was there to spend lots of time with my parents, and grateful that I was able to afford the time and money to get back for a whole seven weeks, while my husband capably kept the home fires burning. During those weeks, I was able to help my parents out around the house and drive dad to hospital appointments. We had to go to the hospital’s travel department a couple of times to book flights to Southampton, England, first for a PET scan, then a pre-radiation appointment, and finally for two weeks of radiation treatment.
Because the Jersey hospital doesn’t have the facilities for the standard cancer treatments, patients are flown to Southampton and are accommodated in a hotel. A couple of floors of the hotel are allocated to Jersey cancer patients, and there is a lounge provided for their use too. A shuttle bus takes the patients to the hospital every day so they can receive their treatment, then takes them back again.
Taking the shuttle with my dad, and sitting in the waiting area in the radiotherapy department, I observed many people with bald heads or headscarves, some patients looking underweight or just washed out, and felt an anger arise in me while I thought, “WHY?”
WHY do people get cancer? Yes, that was one of my questions. But, more pressing, was my thought, WHY do people accept a treatment like chemo, radiation or surgery (or all three) which often causes them to feel considerably sicker and frequently doesn’t work? WHY is it that it seems to be accepted by the majority of the population that cutting, burning and poisoning the body is the right way to treat cancer? WHY, at a time when people need their immune systems to be at the peak of efficiency, are we recommending treatment that knocks the immune system down? WHY aren’t more people researching other options which have worked for others, which involve cleansing the body of toxins rather than flooding it with toxins?
Back to the WHY of getting cancer. That does not have a cut and dried answer. You can look at a smoker who smokes 60 a day for 50 years (like my dad) and say, yup, I can totally see why he has lung cancer. But then how many other smokers don’t have it? You can look at a drinker who drank a bottle of whisky every day for years and say, yup, can totally see why he has liver cancer. But what about the ones who don’t? What about the good people with no obvious vices, like my friend Anne, who suddenly noticed one day that she had some mystery lumps under her arm? What did she do to deserve that?
It’s complicated. Just thinking of all the things that cancer can be attributed to….I’ll make a list quickly off the top of my head….
- a blow to the body
- pollution in the air
- pesticides in the food
- chemicals in the water
- hormones in meat and dairy
- a crappy diet that depresses the immune system and allows the cancer cells to proliferate
Because, you know, it’s said we all have cancer cells in our bodies all the time, but our immune system is what’s keeping everything in check. I have watched two different DVDs lately on the benefits of a plant-based diet. Many people have cured themselves of serious life-threatening disease by eating a vegan diet. It makes sense to assume that starting to eat a plant-based before you have symptoms like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes will ensure a healthy life. And it’s never too late to make the change. But the point is that certain foods, like casein in milk, have been shown to “turn on” cancer cells. Other foods, like vegetables, protect us with anti-cancer properties and by keeping our bodies clean and our immune system strong.
Of course, there is one more aspect that I haven’t covered yet, and that is the spiritual one. I believe that I have a soul that has lived many times in other physical bodies. I believe that karma is acquired from those previous lives, whether “bad” or “good.” At the time of my conception in this life, I entered this physical body with a plan. The plan was not set in stone – the path I took would depend on my choices while here. So what I’m suggesting here is that, in order to clear some karma, the people who get cancer are subconsciously accepting the suffering that goes with it as a life lesson. If they die, then maybe the lesson wasn’t learned, and they go on to another life with more work to do. On the other hand, others who are seen to be “cured” of cancer and go on to live many more years may have learned their lesson and successfully cleared their karma.
This is my belief and I’m not saying I’m right and that people who don’t agree with me are wrong. But believing in a greater plan, a bigger picture, helps me to understand why seemingly random people get cancer (I don’t believe in “random”) and others don’t.
To conclude, my dad completed two weeks of radiation treatment in May. He returned home and wasn’t feeling any the worse for wear and the hope was that the tumour would shrink and ease his breathing and buy him a bit more time. I wasn’t wildly optimistic about a “cure” but I wanted him to be comfortable. Now back in Canada, I spoke to him on the phone a couple of times and he seemed okay. Then, one day when I called, he said that suddenly he’d lost the desire for his Niquitin (nicotine lozenges that he’d been taking since he gave up smoking two years ago). Also he was having trouble doing his daily newspaper puzzles. The next time was different again – he could only answer my questions with Yes or No or I Don’t Know and sounded confused. I asked my mum and sister about it and they agreed there was something going on. He had a CT scan that showed a “lesion” – something growing in his brain that was causing the problem with his thinking. He was suddenly passive, after a lifetime of being quite irritable and forceful in his opinions. He couldn’t do a crossword. Couldn’t even string a sentence together. He won’t come to the phone to talk to me any more – it’s too difficult for him – so I can’t do anything but get updates from my family and send love in my heart. I am sure that it won’t be long before he passes on and I have to accept that. Of course, however prepared I think I am for the loss of my dad in my life, I know it will be a tough thing to bear when the time comes.
May all be healed.