Harold, a retired 71-year-old engineer, related to me:
About a month before my diagnosis, I had a spiritual experience during meditation that I wasn’t expecting. I was told “This is not all there is . . . there is a spiritual universe.” It told me “Don’t be afraid”—fear has been a primary issue for me all my life. I knew then that I had to transform my identity—and that’s what I’ve been doing these past several months while going through treatment—I have to transform the things in my identity that put me in automatic functioning and doing things that are detrimental. As I’m studying body terrainthe internal conditions of your body, including nutritional status, fitness, blood sugar balance, hormone balance, inflammation and more, I’m learning that these thoughts and feelings create hormones and chemicals that affect us physically. I have to allow these blockages to be removed in order for my energy to flow—even the mind is an obstruction to the flow of God. This is an opportunity to exercise hope and understand that love is the answer.
I had been working as Harold’s integrative oncology navigatora person who helps guide a patient through the healthcare system, including help going through the screening, diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up of a medical condition, such as cancer for four months when he told me about this spiritual awakening and its connection to his choices about caring for himself during cancer treatment.
I was helping him navigate within a healthcare system that is not encouraging and barely supportive of his efforts to blend even the simplest self-care healing practices into his plan of care. “When I asked my oncologist what can I do in dietary terms to enhance my treatment, she seemed reluctant to discuss and acknowledge that it has some validity. She didn’t even offer to refer me to a dietician.”
There was no integrative medicine program at his cancer center. One nearby integrative medicine program was entirely out of his budget. Another major cancer center offered an integrative oncology program that consisted narrowly of counseling in healthy lifestyle practices, yoga classes and acupuncture. He would not be able to access these programs unless he switched his care to that center, which he didn’t really want to do.
Choosing self care
Harold, mostly on his own, with some guidance from me, his navigator, began to study body terrain and the tumor microenvironmentthe noncancerous cells and tissues and their processes that directly interact with your tumor from CancerChoices.
He also dove into learning about the 7 Healing Practices and how they contributed to creating an inner environment that was hostile to cancer. Then he started practicing them.
He focused on eating a plant-based diet first.
When his cardiologist cleared him to do aerobic exercise after a little heart scare due to one of the chemo drugs, he resumed his lifelong practice of running, including running up and down flights of stairs in his high rise.
Even though something of a recluse, he began to work on improving his communication with his adult son and his sister.
Getting enough sleep during the night has been a challenge because he stays up until all hours, engrossed in his reading. Then he began taking little baby steps toward shifting his sleeping and waking hours.
He is recognizing how his fears and subsequent self-doubt can actually affect his stress chemistry and even his physical function. He started taking an online qigong class and is impressed with how the movement of energy is “having a positive impact on my psyche and emotions.” Plus, he said the class is linking him with people of like mind—he is surprised by how good it feels to connect to people, even if virtually.
He is going deeper into his spirituality and really examining what most matters to him now.
He reported to me that his doctor ran some lab tests to see what the myeloma is doing. Even his oncologist was astonished by how much the myeloma markers have come down. Harold says his doctor would not accede that the diet and all his other self-care measures have much if anything to do with his progress.
But Harold is certain that all of it together is enhancing his treatment and his quality of life. He knows that all his work on healing is leading him to letting go of fears of a lifetime, transforming and finding that love is the answer. That is his North Star now.
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