Life was good to Sam and Sally (not their real names) after years of hard work as immigrants to the US. The family had moved to a lovely home and Sam was the president of his community’s large local organization. He was organizing big events for the community and involved in many charities. Then came the shattering diagnosis of lung cancer to a man who lived simply but joyfully, never smoked, and drank only occasionally.
His wife, Sally, was totally devastated. They sought the best medical advice and treatments. The oncologists at New York Presbyterian laid out all the options and pros and cons. The couple was also interested in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) as part of the overall treatment. Their oncologists were all well aware of these therapies and were open and supportive about them.
So along with the best conventional care, Sam added ayurvedic herbal treatments and medicinal teas (not allowed during chemotherapy). The herbs and ayurvedic medicines were sent by family members in India. Every day, Sally gave him freshly squeezed fruit and vegetable juices along with wheat grass juice. She boiled milk with turmeric, a powerful antioxidant. Often, she was up at 4:30 in the morning to get everything ready for him before leaving for work.
In addition, they started practicing various pranayamas including nadi shodhana and bhastrika. There was a practice of appropriate asanas whenever he could do them. The breathing practices of pranayama eased his breathing which became progressively more labored. Asanas made his body feel better.
All these CAM therapies of herbal additions, diet, and yogic practices helped tremendously in making Sam feel better and improving his quality of life as he underwent rounds of chemotherapy. There were good days and awful days. In fact, Sally told me that their oncologists said that faced with cancer, they personally would choose CAM. This is of course a highly personal and individual decision as we have seen our own family members deeply skeptical about adding any non-conventional treatments.
After five years, Sam’s body succumbed to cancer. Throughout the five years, he was loved and cherished by his wife, children, extended family, and friends. The experience of being loved and cherished can be enormously important in healing or coping with a disease like cancer. In turn, Sam never complained while maintaining a cheerful and positive attitude. There was no anger or resentment. Sam accepted life and this made it easier for his family. Personal attitude can also play a big role in how pain and illness is experienced.
In the end, the cancer was in the body. It never ever affected Sam’s heart, mind, or spirit which were always clear and free.
Many thanks are due to Sally for talking and sharing her painful five years that altered her life forever. As we can see from these personal stories, there are many paths to healing and dealing with illness and cancer.