When a devastating illness strikes your family, the first inclination is to withdraw. Time is needed to close ranks, for the wagons to circle and wrap you in protection from the outside world. This tight circle consists of your immediate family members and close friends. The ones who don’t know what to say but stick by you anyway and don’t turn away because it’s hard to face you or their own personal fears of mortality.
At first you can barely speak the word, cancer, as if saying it out loud somehow gives it more power. You’re consumed with fear of loss – of your family member, as well as the life you had, because once you hear that word, life as you know it, ceases to exist. I didn’t want to leave my house and the grocery store was safest early in the morning, when I didn’t have to answer the question “how are you” from people who have no idea what I was going through. I couldn’t answer the question honestly yet.
That was 15 months ago, when my husband and I sat in the ER waiting room and were told he had a mass in his colon and it looked like there were lesions in his liver. After more testing we were told it was stage 4 colon cancer metastasized to his liver. As terrible as the diagnosis was, what was worse was being told that although the mass had perforated his bowel and he had a major infection weakening his body, rather than operating to remove the mass, we should start chemotherapy right away. After 5 days of IV antibiotics, I brought my husband home and began researching options. Don’t ever tell me nothing can be done!
We had been told with no treatment he had 6 to 12 months to live, with chemotherapy they hoped to give him a few more years. We didn’t accept this as truth. My training as a holistic health coach along with my deep belief that traditional medicine is not the complete answer to regain health, spurred me on and I spent every day researching our options and called holistic cancer centers in this country and Mexico. Eventually after weeks of questioning and days away from starting chemo, a friend of the family intervened and we landed at one of the country’s best hospitals in Boston. We met with a team at Massachusetts General Hospital that specialized in colon cancer and they told us “Stage 4 cancer does not have to be a death sentence” – we cried! Finally someone gave us hope.
After colon surgery to remove the mass and resection his colon, my husband’s health began to improve and I kicked into high gear determined to optimize his health any way I could. I searched the internet again and connected with my health coach friends and other holistic practitioners that I was associated with. I read books on natural ways to support the body during cancer treatment. All the pieces started coming together and I created a lifestyle intervention protocol that included high protein/fat smoothies to help my husband regain the almost 40lbs he had lost, CBD and THC oil to increase his appetite and we hoped help kill the cancer cells, essential oils chosen for their purifying properties and also those which are known to support the immune system as well as cellular health and function, and over 15 nutritional supplements to support his body during his chemotherapy treatments.
It was amazing to see his body respond to all the love and support and then he began his journey of self love. Instead of being consumed with fear, my husband turned outward, releasing all the negative emotions he had been carrying with him. He practiced forgiveness and came to a place of complete gratitude for his healing. I watched in amazement, who was this person. He had much to teach me and others about being grateful for each day and not sweat the small stuff. He developed one key phrase “reset back to zero” that he taught the rest of us. It was his way of saying to just let go of small, petty annoyances, release them and let go and be happy. He kept telling me I had to let go and trust in the process. He had surrendered completely to it, but I could not.
It was the most difficult time of my life and I tried to handle it with grace but it was really just sheer determination and my strong will to succeed. I was the strong one keeping the family together, with my head up, never letting anyone see me cry, never be anything but positive. It was a heavy load to carry and I paid the price physically. Fear was my enemy but I was determined not to let it win. My focus was entirely on supporting my husband’s body through his chemotherapy. I had to make peace with it even though it went totally against everything I believed. It gave me purpose and a feeling that I was in control of something.
I said ok, if he has to have all this chemo to prep him for liver surgery, then so be it but I’ll be damned if I let the chemo kill him!
13 rounds of chemo and he was not sick and didn’t even lose his hair! Oh he would be fatigued and had some digestive issues which bone broth helped relieve. Our kitchen counter looked like the vitamin shelf from a health food store, smoothie making was a daily task along with making capsules of his THC/CBD oil blend. I made organic bone broth weekly and we ate a clean, organic diet with no sugar. Every night he received an mini AromaTouch as I rubbed selected essential oils on his spine and feet and a blend I created to help support healthy cell function that I rubbed over his abdomen and liver several times each day. Others in the family came down with colds but his immune system was strong even while receiving chemo every other week and he never contracted an illness even in winter when colds and flu was rampant.
During this time I found myself secretly second guessing myself and worrying. What if what I was doing would make the chemo less effective, which is largely believed by the traditional medical community. Could I really optimize his health to allow the chemo to kill only the cancer and leave the rest of his body unharmed? Every time he had a scan I lived in fear that the cancer was growing despite our best efforts but each time we were told the cancer tumors in his liver were shrinking!
His oncologist was amazed and asked me what I was doing. When I explained she had no words, she had no idea what I was even talking about but she was impressed and said just keep doing what you’re doing, it’s working! He was handling the chemo well and had gained nearly 30 lbs – which is unheard of while receiving chemo. I had validation and purpose and control over something!
Fast forward 12 months, and the long hoped for liver surgery – they removed 70% of his liver in order to get all the cancer. It was scary and it was a damn hard recovery with all his body’s energy going into growing back his liver and we’re back in weight gain mode again. But it worked!!
We know there are is no guarantee that the cancer won’t try to rear it’s ugly head again. But we are living in gratitude and continuing to do everything we can to make his body an inhospitable environment for cancer. We’ve added a few additional ingredients to his daily mix such as medicinal mushrooms, baking soda to bring his body into an alkaline state, and supplements to give him a solid nutritional foundation.
As for me, I remember the Boston team telling us stage 4 cancer is not the death sentence it used to be. I wish I had been as fearless this last 15 months as my husband was and is. I know a large part of his healing was his ability to “surrender and live in gratitude”. The surrender part is difficult for me, I’m the doer who needs to be in control. That’s been my lesson! I’ve been told being the care giver is like sitting in the passenger seat during a blizzard – you aren’t the driver but you’re along for the ride and hanging on for dear life! A friend said “yeah, but you had the map”! And I guess that really does sum up my role as advocate and guide.
Being the caregiver is tough and I lost my vitality in the process which is an easy thing to do. Now the focus is my own self care along with enjoying life as much as possible with my husband. Eventually, when I’m stronger and healed, I hope to help others going down this path to give them hope and to know that there is much they can do. We never used the word battle or fight which are common words most people use when discussing cancer. Our journey wasn’t about being in a battle, it was more a re connection with what matters in life. Our relationships with our family and friends, our love of our land and our farm and each other.
My husband’s journey was about forgiveness and gratitude, mine is about learning to let go of control and to just trust. I’m still working on it and letting down my guard and letting go of fear so I can be at peace and surrender to whatever comes next.
In the meantime, I’m still the passenger, and holding on but instead of a hand clenched in a fist, one that is open and believing that I am whole and safe and loved, no matter what!
Be Well my friends