My Integrated Approach to Lymphoma Including Chemotherapy
These words, spoken by the Consultant who had been looking after me, resounded round and round in my head. Here I was, admitted as an emergency into hospital with an inoperable tumour they told me, and I was being asked to take the biggest emotional leap in my life.
"How can I betray everything that I've believed in for so long?" I asked myself. Chemotherapy had been the one treatment I had always said I would refuse, should I ever be diagnosed with cancer. "How can I allow these toxins into my body – knowing the damage they would cause?" It was a dirty word to me and I admit I had allowed myself to be brainwashed against it.
Complementary Background and Buddhist Beliefs
Would all the intense and passionate conversations with fellow therapists become meaningless? Past conversations about the corruption in the Pharmaceutical Industry, hidden agendas, powerful lobbying in Parliament, all came rushing back. I felt so helpless and in such turmoil. I had so much to live for – my three wonderful children who were my best friends, my seven adorable grandchildren ranging in age from eight to18 years-old. How could I knowingly shorten my life? How could I allow myself to collude with the enemy?
Then the Buddhist teachings I had embraced some years ago flooded in and calmed me. 'Energy can never die; life and death are a constant cycle; death is only a resting period before we are re-incarnated.' I didn't cry, shout or feel sorry for myself. I didn't ask myself, "why me?" I simply accepted that I had a very serious condition which had been diagnosed too late to make life-affirming choices, a condition which was called non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. This disease affects the blood in the bone marrow cell. I was then transferred to a consultant Haematologist who told me that the disease was all over my body – an extremely aggressive cancer – and only very aggressive chemotherapy would offer me any chance of survival. He then added that many times people with this condition had full remission eventually, but of course, there were no guarantees.
The Chemotherapy Regime
Because I was much more seriously ill than I understood – not being able to breathe without an oxygen mask, slurring my speech, not being able to stand or walk without help, my younger daughter Harriet took control and spoke to my Consultant. He told her that the first cycle of chemotherapy would be very watered down, "lolly water" he called it, as he was concerned about how my heart would react. This would be administered while I was still hospitalized. If all went well – and there were risks he warned her – the follow-up sessions would be as an outpatient on a 21-days cycle.
The chemotherapy session was booked for the following Saturday. Harriet said she would stay with me and put a healing CD on for me to listen to – I must have blanked out completely because I cannot, to this day, remember a thing about being given chemotherapy. The first I knew about it was when Harriet visited me on the Sunday.
"Mum, you look so much better, your voice is stronger and clearer, the chemotherapy must have really helped you."
"Chemotherapy? What chemotherapy? What are you talking about?" I was confused and upset. "I haven't had any chemotherapy."
"Yes Mum, don't you remember? I put on the CD for you to listen to – that's when you were given the chemotherapy."
Faced with a fait accompli, I had to admit, I did feel much better. I could even get off the bed by myself and, for the first time in weeks, I felt hungry.
That night I had a very surreal dream about beehives being the perfect ecological environment. The perfect hierarchy with all the bees doing what they did best and the healing qualities of all bee products and how these would be the medicine of the future. I woke up with the Buddhist saying, 'take the middle way' going through my head, which I interpreted as an integrated approach to my treatment.
I suddenly felt so much more in control of my own healing. I had so many wonderful therapist friends and so decided to embrace both holistic and conventional forms of healing. "After all," I said to myself, "there's more than one way to 'skin a cat'."
Illicit Complementary Treatments
One night a friend who is an acupuncturist visited me in hospital. It was quite late and most of the staff were between shifts. She put in the needles after checking no-one was around – we both felt like conspirators planning a heist. Then another friend gave me flower essences to help my liver detox. I knew once I left hospital I could do much more. A doctor friend who is also a homoeopath gave me homeopathic remedies. Yet another friend offered me her Electro-Crystal Therapy machine to help boost my immune system. (I had qualified in this therapy but no longer owned a machine).
Throughout the following weeks, and for the next six months, I listened to a very powerful CD made by InnerTalk for healing and well-being. I'm convinced that all these different therapies kept me in balance and very, very positive. My hair didn't fall out as the doctors had predicted. It was only after eight cycles of chemotherapy that the hair cells finally weakened and my head succumbed to baldness. My usually slim-ish legs had become enormous and very heavy with fluid, so heavy that I couldn't lift them onto the bed myself. I had to ask my daughter-in-law to buy 'Bridget Jones' style 'big knickers' which were more comfortable for me. My feet were so swollen I couldn't even get my flip flops on. Suddenly, after only two sessions of acupuncture, water like a fountain miraculously spurted out of my legs, leaving them slim and shapely once again.
Whenever I saw the nurses on the day ward, they always asked me what I was taking or doing. No-one could believe my energy levels were so high and even though I had been told that I would feel the cumulative effects of the chemotherapy, I felt I had been given a reprieve. Obviously, there were times when, because of the effects of the chemotherapy, my blood count dropped alarmingly and I could barely walk and felt very weak. I had to have three blood transfusions in all. I took all of this in my stride.
To be honest, the chemotherapy was not nearly as dreadful as I had imagined and not once was I sick. I took a leaf out of a book written by American MD Bernie Siegel where he wrote of a woman telling herself that chemo was elixir, not poison. So I did the same, using affirmations such as, "all fluids entering my body today are beneficial to my healing". Using affirmations is very empowering and a wonderful way of helping the subconscious mind become strong and positive. Having trained as a hypnotherapist, I was aware of how powerful visualizations and affirmations are, and how they can see us through challenging periods in our lives.
The only aspect of my treatment that was really unpleasant was the lumbar punctures I had to have after each chemotherapy cycle. This, my doctor said, was to ensure that no cancerous cells escaped to the brain. "You wouldn't thank us if we gave you full remission in your body, only to discover that your brain had become infected." So each time I surrendered myself to a lovely lady doctor who became, after a difficult start, very adept at finding the appropriate space between my vertebrae to draw off spinal fluid which she replaced with chemotherapy.
I had to sit sideways on the bed with my feet on a chair in front of me and place a pillow across my tummy. I then had to bend forward as far as I could without toppling over. I felt like a woman from an ancient culture giving birth, but the normal foetal position for this procedure didn't work on my somewhat elderly spine. I then had to lie down flat for one hour to avoid having a bad headache, which I fortunately never experienced.
The doctor became increasingly pleased that she could get into my difficult spine so quickly. What I didn't tell her was that I had used Electro-Crystal Therapy the previous night on a special setting to lengthen the spine, rubbed my back just before the procedure with oil of lavender which relaxes the mind and the muscles, and taken Australian Bush Essences to help this process further. I just thanked her profusely for her skilled approach, smiled to myself and offered up a silent prayer of thanks for all the knowledge I had gleaned over the years.
Medical vs Complementary Approaches
Before I had this illness I had very fixed views about complementary therapies being the only approach to healing which I was willing to consider. I didn't have much faith or confidence in my GP so rarely went to him. When I did, it was merely for a diagnosis, and then I would treat myself with what I considered the most appropriate remedy. I now realize that it can be dangerous to do this, because, no matter how experienced complementary therapists are, they do not provide blood tests or X-rays.
In some cases, complementary therapies may help the condition completely to full recovery, but in my case, even my GP could not diagnose my condition. He thought I was having a heart attack because I couldn't breathe and that was how I found myself in the Accidents & Emergency department where, a bright young doctor, after numerous tests, decided there was nothing wrong with my heart, and listened to me when I asked her questions about why my tummy was so swollen. After ordering X-rays for my tummy, it was obvious why I couldn't breathe. There was a massive tumour pushing up around my heart, lungs and diaphragm – the rest is history, but had it not been for her quick thinking, I would not be sitting at my computer writing this article eight months later.
Lessons of Love
By far the most important lesson I learned during my illness (and there were many of them) was to allow myself to receive all the love and good wishes for my well-being which flowed towards me in a never-ending stream. It was quite amazing and overwhelming for me to discover just how many people loved me, respected me, or simply wanted to share in my healing journey. I was even told of a therapist I knew only slightly and who lived in New York, arranging prayer meetings for me! I felt most humbled by this outpouring of love. When you are a therapist, it is much easier to give than to receive. I now receive willingly and with gratitude, but it took a crisis of this nature to really understand and experience the immense generosity of people, some of whom I barely knew. I was so fortunate too, to have the wonderful support of my children, daughter-in-law, relatives and numerous friends. They washed my clothes, made me chicken soup, gave me books and sent me cards. I had so many visitors that the nurses were anxious I wasn't getting sufficient rest. And the phone rang, 'off the hook'.
My elder daughter who lives in Washington DC flew over for just four days to see me. My brother came from Australia (I hadn't seen him for eight years) and my sister from California. Perhaps they all thought I would die, but I knew I wasn't ready for the 'Grim Reaper' yet.
I was recently recounting this experience to a friend's partner. He had tears in his eyes. He told me that he was so moved to hear that even though I was going through so much trauma I could still see that I had received such blessings. His comments reminded me of the Buddhist analogy of the lotus plant which grows in deep mud, yet produces such a beautiful flower. We all have the potential to discover our spiritual side and inner beauty. We just need to be willing to make the journey.
Beyond Chemotherapy Flower Essences will not be available until the summer.
Nola Cross said..
This article was very helpful to me. I just learned today that I will need chemo followup to a total hysterectomy for cancer. Like the author, I have always thought that I would never poison myself with chemicals. Now I realize how important it is for me to change my view of the process and welcome it as a healing agent. I was glad to read of her process. I will incorporate many of her suggestions. Peace and blessings to you.