If someone had told me I would have a profound spiritual healing, something that felt both completely real and utterly unexplainable, I would have said they were crazy. It’s not that I didn’t believe in the metaphysical world, or the possibility of divine intervention. I just thought those things were for other people. Folks more deserving of the universe’s attention.
I was diagnosed with late stage cancer on April 13, 2017. I had been experiencing escalating back pain for the previous five months and a scan a few weeks earlier had revealed what appeared to be a bone cyst on the inside of my L-5 vertebra. A biopsy confirmed that it was a metastaticthe development of secondary malignant growths (tumors) at a separate location from a primary site of cancer; metastasis is an indication of advanced cancer adenocarcinoma. After a whirlwind of blood work, scans and a colonoscopy/endoscopy, they identified the primary cancer as a small tumor on my gastroesophageal junction. I had absolutely no symptoms from this. No trouble swallowing. No acid reflux. I was shocked and bewildered.
I remember sitting in my kitchen with one of my best friends, who is a retired physician, having a conference call with my HMO oncologist as she laid out my treatment plan: Ten rounds of radiation on my L-5 to relieve the pain and chemo every other week for long as my body could take it to slow the progression of the disease. I asked about surgery to remove my primary tumor. She said no, the disease had progressed to the point where surgical intervention was off the table.
I asked about surgery to remove my primary tumor. She said no, the disease had progressed to the point where surgical intervention was off the table.
My friend and I looked at each other dumbfounded. “So…what are you saying? What are my chances of survival?”
She said, “I’m sorry, all we can offer you is palliativerelieving pain or suffering without dealing with the cause of the condition care.” I remember my mind going blank and all I could think to say was, what is palliative care? “To keep you comfortable while you’re alive,” she said. My mouth went dry as the Sierra. I seemed to be floating outside my body as I asked, “What are you saying? How long do I have to live?”
“A year to eighteen months,” was her reply.
That was probably the worst moment of my life. I was in shock, I cried, I felt despair. When you get this kind of news it feels like death itself. Then you have to share it with the people you love, and you experience it over and over.
But, through the sadness and fear something happened. I realized I wanted to live. And I wasn’t going to trust an oncologist at an HMO, who had no real plan to save me, determine the course of my life or death. I was going to get more opinions, find the best experts in the business, wherever that took me. I was going to fight.
I immediately found a psychotherapist to help calm my fears, support me in my battle to live and cope with the real possibility of death and dying. The man I found, Tom Thurston, was a Godsend. Not only was he a kind and caring therapist but offered a wealth of referrals for cancer services and specialists. The most important recommendation he made was Brian Bouch. A retired cancer doctor and survivor, Bouch works with a handful of clients as a patient navigator.
He agreed to work with me and helped find all the right people and treatments to stack the healing deck in my favor. He prescribed a myriad of supplements, along with psorinum, metformin and naltrexone to inhibit tumor growth and regular vitamin C and alpha lipoic acid infusions.
Then, when open enrollment came around, I changed my insurance to a PPO and Bouch guided me to the perfect oncologist. Garrett Smith. Kind, warm, brilliant, encouraging. He’s the sort of person who makes you feel safe and supported. Prior to meeting Smith, I had seen one of the top GI cancer oncologists and researchers on the west coast and was convinced I was going to go with him. But Bouch adamantly disagreed. He assured me that Smith took a truly integrated approach to healing and would be the best guy for me. Within five minutes of meeting him, I knew Bouch was right. For the first time since my diagnosis somebody told me I could not just live longer but be cured. He shared a story of a patient who had the same cancer I had and experienced full recovery. Here it was for the first time: Hope. Believing you can beat cancer is so important. Which is why it’s essential to surround yourself with people who help you live in that possibility.
When I was first diagnosed, I read a lot of books. Survivor stories, oncologists’ stories, cookbooks, smoothie books. The best book I ever read on the subject of cancer, one that truly helped in my fight to live was Kelly A. Turner’s Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds. I took her nine key factors in surviving late stage cancer and applied them all to my life. This book became a bible. A how-to live book. A way to control what felt wildly out of control.
And then came the visit from the God.
One of the things Turner found in her research was how deepening your spiritual connection can be an essential element of healing. So, of course, I was interested in doing whatever I could to help achieve this. Though I had been raised without any religious practice or training, I began to pray almost every day. I did Belleruth Naparstek’s wonderful affirmations. I began meditating. I found an amazing energy worker.
But all this paled to an experience I hadn’t asked for and least expected: a surprise healing from my older Christian brother. He lives in rural Oregon and we had barely spoken to each other for twenty years. We’d fought over some dumb thing and now just quietly tolerated each other. Shortly after my diagnosis he called and said he wanted to come see me. He was acting kind of mysterious, which made me a little apprehensive.
When he got to my place, he told me he had come because he wanted to try a spiritual healing. He had belonged to a church years ago and participated in some truly amazing cures, including laying hands on my grandfather who was dying in the hospital with kidney failure. Grandpa Art miraculously recovered and lived ten years longer.
I have to admit, I was a little skeptical. Here was a different kind of spiritual opportunity. It seemed rooted in a religion I wasn’t sure if I even supported, let alone believed in.
When the time came, he sat down beside me and put his hand on my lower back. After a few seconds he started to pray out loud. Something like, “Dear Jesus, I’m an unworthy sinner asking you to heal my brother…”
What happened next was frightening and unexpected. I felt a blinding white light shooting down on me. Like a spotlight had been switched on. I instantly felt seared. Exposed. Vulnerable. Uncomfortable and scared. It wasn’t like I expected this, and here it was.
I felt as if I was being completely and utterly seen. Naked and without artifice. In all my raw fear and need and despair. Everything I’d ever done, thought or believed felt like it was on display right out there in the open.
And as I’m feeling this, my brother continues praying in all his unpolished sincerity. And I found myself praying right along with him. And I’m crying because the feelings are overwhelming. It felt like love in its purest form. And gratitude. Overwhelming waves of gratitude and peace.
It felt like love in its purest form. And gratitude. Overwhelming waves of gratitude and peace.
I couldn’t stop saying thank you, thank you, thank you.
Then it was done, and the light seemed to fade down and we hugged.
A little while later he took off to stay with his daughter who lives an hour away. I lay down on my bed to try and process what had just happened. Much to my surprise, I realized I could sense a strange swirling energy in my torso. And weirdly enough, the energy had a color. I felt it clearly as a swirling pulsing blue-green light. I’ve never felt anything like this before, let alone felt/seen a color inside my body. So, I just lay there and sensed it moving inside me. And it went on for two or three hours.
At some point, I dozed off and remember waking up, feeling rested and happy. Something profound had just happened to me, although I had no idea what. But every time I think about it, I feel like crying with gratitude and happiness. He did two other healings with me; both felt wonderful, but less potent than the first time.
Now, it’s been two years since my first diagnosis, and I’ve had no detectable new cancer appear anywhere in my body. An endoscopy in late 2018 revealed my primary cancer, the adenocarcinoma at my gastroesophageal junction, was gone. Not even any scar tissue. Multiple biopsies showed no trace of cancer or pre-cancerous tissue, no sign it was ever there. The gastroenterologist said this was unexpected and unusual in a case like mine.
In 2018 a PET scan revealed a small amount of regrowth on my one metastatic spine tumor, apparently the first round of radiation left some behind. So, I had 5 additional rounds of highly-targeted cyber knife radiation. Then in February of 2019 another PET scan showed a small hot spot in the same area. This time I opted to have a radio frequency ablationa procedure to remove material from the surface of an object, such as an organ; ablation can be done by scraping, cutting, or heating tissue and kyphoplastya minimally invasive surgery used to treat a spinal compression fracture. The ablation vaporized the dead tumor, the surrounding area and hopefully, any potential regrowth, while the kyphoplasty filled the void in the vertebrae with bone cement to make it more stable.
The big question is, how am I still alive? How did stage 4 gastroesophageal junction cancer not move aggressively through my body when this type of cancer is usually pretty fast and fatal?
I can’t answer that. And I can’t say how long I will remain in remission.
Don’t let anyone tell you it’s all over. Be open to any and all means possible to facilitate your healing.
But I will say to anyone struggling with this terrible disease, don’t let anyone tell you it’s all over. Be open to any and all means possible to facilitate your healing. Which means surrounding yourself with your own customized team of professionals, friends and loved ones. People who don’t tell you to feel strong but love and support you so you can start to feel strong on your own.
As I see this life-changing health crisis disappearing in my rearview mirror, I repeat one of my favorite affirmations to myself: I tell this cancer these things:
Thank you for teaching me to stop and listen, thank you for reminding me of what is truly important; you can go now.
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