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Should I do the Chemotherapy? Have the surgery? Only do Alternative treatment? Take the medications? Do the radiation? or ____________fill in the blank.
This conversation takes place in our office every week and daily in homes around the Country. Life as we know it stops dead in its tracks when you or someone you love sits face-to-face with the news of a life-threatening diagnosis.
More personally this was a conversation I lived with when a beloved family member faced a life changing diagnosis. The loss is still ripe with sudden moments of deep ache and sadness punctuated by a need to make it all mean something …be something …contribute something more that may make a difference to one other person or a family who is navigating this uncharted territory.
Meryl Streep said, "it’s amazing how one person dies and the whole world seems empty."
Some Experiences Leave Us Forever Changed
My brother was a big force. He didn’t come into the world soft like a spring rain and he didn’t exit any more gently. His journey on earth was volcanic, colorful, adventurous and bold. Why should his transition be anything other? Living life with such boldness often comes with a price that may include feelings of: injury, loss, achievement, acquisition, understanding, betrayal, anger, resentment and sudden spiritual insight.
Our Mom died when she was only 51 years and me and my siblings were in our early years of adulthood. Innately I assumed a mother/sister role with my younger brother and our rich love was entangled by deep conflict, –fraught with competition, loyalty, fierce stubborness and passion for life.
Vincent’s journey of reckless abandonment left him in the hospital with broken bones, ribs, internal bleeding, Hep C, Cirrhosis, Diabetes and more. He was stitched up, sewn up and sent back out to pasture so many times we all knew him as the man with more lives than most of us dreamed possible. Most of these incidents would have left many with a much earlier demise but his faith in what he knew to be God and his ability to find a way when he was told there is none was undeniably other worldly.
I loved this about him and I hated this about him. I wanted him to live. I wanted him to be on this journey with me for as long my life would last.
A year ago we realized we were soon to loose him and we gathered at Christmas to have a living memorial and tell him while he could see us, hear us and hug us how much his life impacted ours and how much he was loved.
30 days later he was still with us and I asked him if he wanted to live or leave and he said, "I WANT TO LIVE!" Okay then I said, "here is what I am offering you….Come live with us in our home and I’ll assume full care of your health and treatment. All I wanted from him was to give it 100% no matter what. He said, YES!"
I’ll never forget the day my sister-in-law delivered him to my office. He shuffled. His breath was labored and his eyes had lost the twinkle. Most of the time he just was dead awake.
The next 60 days I loved him well. We loved him well. I put together a small team of family members who were willing to believe health and healing were possible. I turned over every stone I found and we lived and breathed the 5 levels of health and healing model. From bone broth to raw and Family Constellation therapy to healing touch. We diced, drank and left no stone unturned as we sought the right combination of remedies, therapies, treatments and protocols that would bring him into a world of the healed and healthy. And we won.
Day by day his energy returned. He went from not being able to walk to baby steps and from baby steps to stair steps and from stair steps to steps across the room and then one day around the block.
He was engaged again. He began to dream and envision and hope and he smiled for the world to see and I celebrated each and every success and clawed my way out of despair when we hit a road block or a setback and then 60 days later he went home. This was longest he had gone without having to go to the emergency room for blood transfusions or emergency paracentesis. We celebrated life and we sent him home to continue the journey surrounded by the things he loved most.
While I no longer could monitor his daily activities, I not only had to pick up the pieces in my own life, I slowly began to see him return to his old habits…Let’s face it kicking cancer, disease, pathology or any life threatening diagnosis in the ass is an uphill climb. It takes a village. It requires tenacity, vision, hard work and a plan. He just wasn’t able to keep it going. It was easier to order a pizza than prepare life giving meals and it required commitment and energy to take daily enemas, healing treatments, meditate, exercise and breathing visualizations. It also took money. Every decision was between paying out -of -pocket for care or using the benny card for meds. A choice of a $35 co-pay for the liver doctor or $200/hour for the alternative practitioner.
Eventually mainstream won out. Before I knew it he had a team of "Liver Experts" representing the finest, smartest, most technologically advanced in the United States and he surrendered to their direction. He chose to be their patient and abandoned all and everything we did up until that time.
His life became a daily struggle for a next breathe, a next draining, a next dialysis as his kidneys failed, a next intubation as his lungs filled and I wept. In the beginning I was just angry. I just couldn’t stand to see him struggle. I was filled with pain and rage and helplessness and powerlessness. My heart hurt from the minute I opened my eyes until the minute I closed them and everything in between.
I heard his Team of professionals declare "He was doing Well"…."he was making progress" .."he was stable"…he was going to be fine and yet my naturopathic trained senses told me a very different story. I observed all the signs I had been taught….the quality and tone of the skin, the nails, the tongue, the eyes and the breath and I saw fatality. Yet, I also keenly understood the Biology of Belief and how that impacted the dis-ease process. One day I brought myself to my favorite sanctuary and I asked for guidance. I asked for help in letting go and Letting God. That day I decided I would no longer see death or dying. I would no longer feel the deep despair of powerlessness. I would no longer give him subtle clues of my deep disappointment in the turn of events. That day I decided to just be LOVE. I decided to appreciate the team of doctors and nurses and care givers who believed in a different way. I decided to love on him with foot rubs and neck rubs and storytelling and essential oils and the healing truth of unconditional love. I just hugged him with my every breath and I stood present to each and every procedure, needle, oxygen, dialysis, blood draw, they would offer him. I did it with total surrender to the path he told me he wanted to walk and I did it with a loving heart.
On February 2, 2015 we say "we walked him home." He called me that morning from his hospital bed where he had been for 3 long months and he was having trouble breathing. He asked if I would come. I quickly dressed on a snow covered frozen morning and arrived at his room to find him surrounded by a team of well meaning doctors. We were ushered aside and told….we were nearing the end and…they could make him comfortable. I did not want to be afraid and I did not want him to see my fear of loosing him. I sang hymns and Christmas songs and Willie Nelson and James Taylor that I knew were his favorites. I brushed his hair, held his hand and read from his Bible the 23rd Psalm…."The Lord is My Shepherd…." I annointed him with the essential oils he had come to love and I watched him breathe his last breath and then we sat for hours….unable to leave…unable to say farewell….unable to let his hand go for the very last time and I wept.
To Chemo or not to chemo….to cut or not to cut….to go alternative or traditional I understood in the days that followed was not the only question to be asked or answered. The question that also needs to be asked is How Can I serve best? How can I be present to my loved one in this moment? What can I offer that will help them most.
It was and is a difficult journey. I don’t regret one thing I did. I don’t regret trying to help him heal naturally and I don’t regret aligning myself with his wishes to take a conventional approach. I don’t regret loving him.
If you find yourself in a similar situation I hope in some small way this personal experience can offer you at least a glimpse into our struggle….our path…..our loss and our love.
As part of our in-take process for all new patients we have a question that reads:
Please Comment about your past health care experience, and future expectations, feelings and intent
A patient wrote, (printed with permission)
"My experience with traditional medicine (except in emergencies in which cases I have always felt grateful for their expertise) has been that doctors have been close minded as they have been unable to go outside of their “box” and it is frustrating that no matter how much experience they have or even how newly out of med school they are, they and their med schools have neglected whole areas of investigation. The doctors I have dealt with will not consider anything alternative outside of their medical and pharmaceutical world. It seems to all be about only getting rid of symptoms, AND probably I am where I am now is because I have not regularly gone for checkups. With the clinic doctors at my hospital in this particular case, they are nice but there is a lot negativity and not a lot of support and/or hope unless I were to do exactly what they say. They become impatient with my questions and either look at me like I’m crazy or shake there heads “no” (whether they have heard of something or not) when I bring up something that does not hold medical truth in their world. With a diagnosis of stage 4 colon cancer metastasized to the liver I will soon be dead (between now and a year as most people only live a year and if I am one of those few EXTREMELY lucky people there is a VERY slim chance of making it to 5, IF I stop all of this foolishness and do what they say (chemo immediately). When I suggested that I might not want to do chemo, I was met with head shaking and/or silence as if I am committing suicide an sorrowful looks. I have just in the last few days decided that I definitely do NOT want Chemo. I have not told them this. They are thinking that I will be showing up for my first chemo appt next week. Medical professionals and friends have said, “Why not just do both?” But I don’t want to weaken my body and inhibit it from doing its job. To me it becomes a break-even affair instead of accomplishing real healing… AND I really, really believe to my core that healing is possible for me… not just a painful extension of life – waiting to die. I want to work with people who believe this and who will guide and support me…and not think of me as crazy. We are all going to die and NONE of us knows when… I could get hit by a car tomorrow and die which would have nothing to do with cancer. I refuse to live my life by statistics, probabilities and what reports say which is why I have not looked at my medical reports and did not want the doctor to tell me how long I had to live. I hate that he and all are treating me as if I am terminal. We have all been terminal since the day we were born. Reports and statistics don’t take individuals, God, Spirit, Soul and what we are outside of the physical into consideration…
We are all here for a reason to make a difference and to learn… When we have fulfilled our mission this time around then we move on…"
Some Experiences Leave Us Forever Changed.
As a natural health care practitioner the journey I took with my brother allows me to be a better doctor. I am willing to stand in the fire with my patients but I am no longer held hostage by their life or their death. There is freedom to be found in both.
One life can make a difference. Vincent J. Rasa, Jr. Made a difference.