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It was spring, 2004, and our passports were back, each one with a full-page Syrian visa. We had already given notice on our apartment in Vancouver, and packing and planning were in full swing. Anticipation of a five-month sojourn in Syria was running high.
The departure date was less than a month away, when I went to see my dentist about what I thought was a nasty-looking canker sore. One glance and he referred me to an Ear, Nose and Throat specialist. The E.N.T. doctor looked concerned, ripped out some of the infected tissue and said, “I will let you know in a few days.”
“It’s cancer – Stage IV oral squamous cell carcinoma,” said the doctor. “We will need to run tests to determine the extent of the tumor in your mouth, and to see if it has spread to your neck or chest.”
Shock! Unbelief! Devastation! Now what?
For the life of me, I can’t understand why this test is called positive if it shows you have cancer. To me, that’s about as negative as you can get!
At 56 years old, I had been in good health, but had sadly neglected my teeth and needed more than 10 crowns. At US$125 each in Syria, we could save a lot by going there for the treatment. Not only that, it would also give us an opportunity to actually live in a foreign culture.
Besides, we had fallen in love with Syria. As soon as we stepped off the bus that had worked us through the maze of Turkish and Syrian border bureaucracy two years earlier, the men who leaned out of car and truck windows shouting, “Vil-comme to Syria!” (many Germans holiday there) set the tone for the memorable three weeks that followed.
Now, it appeared life was off in another direction . . .
I just wanted to take a minute to tell you how much I enjoyed and appreciated your story. My father is in Stage 4 Melanoma and every day is a blessing. I read about you on a fluke through the Knotty Boy website. Reading about what you and your family have gone through I felt a connection to you and your daughter because my father stood beside me as I built a unique business (like you and your daughter), a Dreadlock salon in Austin, Texas. I will share your story with my father who will probably feel a kindred relationship to you through both the experience of the disease and of having entrepreneur dreadlock daughters :) I hope he will find inspiration and comfort from your experience. He is 66, lives a healthy and active lifestyle and never had any health problems until this. They are currently attempting a course of experimental chemo as a last ditch effort and the next 3-4 months are crucial. As a daughter I feel stuck on the sidelines watching my father fighting for his life and sometimes getting tired of it. I want so much to jump in the ring and stomp the cancer into oblivion. I put up a calm exterior for him, but I’m so angry about what is happening. My daughter is only 2 and has so much to learn from her grandfather.
Thanks again for sharing your experience and giving me a moment of peace and hope for a happy ending,
Cancer! Now the number one killer in North America. The mention of that disease, probably more than any other, causes a visceral constriction of fear. Cancer respects no social, economic, religious, or dietary boundaries. Is it any wonder there is such a burgeoning interest in alternatives to the standard “Cut, Burn, and Poison” used by Western physicians?
Now, it was my turn. I had what turned out to be the most aggressive mouth cancer the oncologist had ever seen.
My wife, our children and friends were shocked, to say the least. I am sure I was in denial to some extent.
My wife, Sandra, and I had planned an extended trip to Syria to get a lot of dental work done. Dental work is very inexpensive there, as we had learned on a previous visit, and the dentists were either trained in Europe or North America. The quality of work was reported to be high.
Needless to say, we canceled our plans for the trip, but we had given notice that we were moving out of our apartment in anticipation of spending five months in Syria, and it was already rented to someone else. We had to be out by the end of the month!
News of my cancer began to spread through family, friends, and church family. A web of love, prayer and support started to develop. It reached from Vancouver to Toronto, to Colorado, and beyond. By the time I was flopped on the operating table, there were hundreds of people praying for me in four or five churches, plus friends, and friends of friends. People who didn’t know me were adding their prayers or sending good thoughts, because they cared about someone who cared about me. It was something I had never experienced before and, quite frankly, overwhelms me, even today.
Cancer! Me! Fifty-six years old, in good health, having followed a reasonably good diet and exercise program for years. Didn’t smoke, drink, or chew tobacco. Why cancer? Why that kind of cancer? Why me?
Of course, the answer came back almost instantly, “Why not you?” There is no promise that says that anyone will be less vulnerable to what everyone else endures in the world – disease, accident, violence, death, etc. I started thinking a lot about that.
I was immediately plunged into the cancer machine at the B.C. Cancer Agency Clinic in Vancouver: meetings with specialists, an exploratory operation on my lungs to see if the cancer had spread, CT scan, more consultations, more tests, etc., etc. This went on for weeks, and it seemed I would not escape until I was declared cured or given up for dead.
I, and especially my wife, started an intensive search on the internet and in the library for information on cancer and alternative treatments, not being enthusiastic about the conventional options being discussed. I started taking extra supplements and herbs.
There was some good news. The tests showed no signs of cancer anywhere but in my mouth. Thank God! However, the scan showed that, although the tumor was localized to the right side of my jawbone, about two-thirds of the bone on that side was already eaten away.
Over a month after the initial diagnosis, we had a meeting with three specialists – radiation, surgical, chemotherapy – at the Cancer Clinic. They described the options for treatment, and recommended surgery as the best course of action. The surgeon said that there was a 50% possibility of full recovery. Better than nothing!
Suddenly there was nothing to do but wait. The operation couldn’t take place until June 29th, due to lack of available facilities and staff. That was three weeks off! As it was, some poor man with something “less serious” got bumped.
The tumor was now the size of a golf ball.
While the tests were being conducted and the specialists were deciding on the best treatment, we moved to Salt Spring Island. At this point, the surgery was three weeks off and there was nothing further to do. I tried to relax, and to regain some strength in that good, clean air and sunshine.
This wait was really the first opportunity I had to contemplate my situation. For some reason, I experienced little fear for myself. What concerned me more was the fear and pain experienced by my wife, daughter and all who love me. I longed to be able to at least say something that would alleviate the fear. I longed to make them believe that whatever happened would be the best for all concerned.
I do have to confess, however, that I had to deal with being out of control. All my life, I had pretty well been more or less in control, or so I imagined. Here I was, at the mercy of the cancer, the doctors, and the multitudinous suggestions and recommendations as to how to treat it.
We had been reading many cancer books and talking to various naturopaths. All had good suggestions of things to try. And I was desperately trying various remedies such as going on a 10-day brown rice fast, taking Glaepa Life products, one of which is similar to Essiac, and all kinds of supplements, to name a few – anything and everything to no avail.
Nothing slowed the growth of the cancer.
We have been firm believers in natural remedies for years, but we could see the cancer grow day to day. Perhaps natural methods don’t have time to work on something this aggressive. Perhaps we were too afraid to wait long enough for them to become effective. In any case, I agreed to go ahead with the surgery.
I was now in the “do everything to strengthen my immune system” mode. My wife was spending hours on the internet researching alternatives to the conventional treatments. We consulted holistic alternative practitioners and read books.
If you have ever researched a disease, especially a degenerative disease like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, etc., you will know there is an incredible amount of information available. The problem is, one source will recommend something entirely opposite to another. The same goes with consulting alternative therapists.
There are two points upon which most “authorities” agree. The first is the need for the patient to go on a good, vegetarian diet (however that is defined). But there are a few who feel that an all-meat diet is the way to go, especially if the meat is grass-fed and organic. Based on everything my wife and I have read, I would say that the vegetarian diet is the best bet.
The second is the need for a positive attitude. We will get into that more, later, but I don’t think there is any argument that a positive attitude coupled with a strong desire to live is absolutely key to winning your battle. I suppose that could be applied to any battle, whether it is against disease or some other challenge in your life.
My wife came up with a whole bunch of supplements that I started taking. To that was added some concoctions prepared by some health practitioners. Of course I modified my diet to be as healthy as possible.
The tumor was growing as fast as ever. So fast, in fact, that I could see it getting bigger day by day.
About this time I decided that seeing as how I didn’t have much control of this journey, I should really put it into the hands of someone who could take control. I made a conscious effort to commit my Epic to my Heavenly Father.
I sent, in part, the following email to a bunch of people: “. . . I will really appreciate your continuing to hold me up in prayer. Not so much for healing, as nice as that would be, but for strength and faith from the Father to rely on Him to get through this in a way that will bring honor and glory to Him. My daughter had Philippians 4:13 stamped on the new binding of my Bible: ‘I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.’ I claim that promise in the name of Jesus.”
That added to the web of prayer that was already spreading out. Two churches I had been attending, Creekside Community Church and Oakridge Adventist Church, were both praying for me. My sister-in-law asked two churches in Colorado to pray for me. My daughter emailed her vast community of friends asking them to pray for me. My friends and sisters were doing the same. Many responded saying they were praying for me, and others said they were sending good energy or vibrations my way.
All this affected me deeply. I didn’t quite know how to take it, but it surely felt good! Do you think it had a positive affect on my attitude and state of mind? For sure!
Quite frankly, it had not occurred to me that I could be anointed, so I was a bit taken aback when Pastor Colin suggested it. For some reason I think of things like that as being done by someone else. It just doesn’t occur to me that I should consider it.
Being anointed . . . hmmm. I had never been to one, so I wasn’t sure what was involved. The Bible speaks about it, but really doesn’t give instructions. James 5:14 says, “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” So it seems people pray over the sick one, and he is anointed with some oil.
Verse 15 goes on to say, “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”
I have heard that text quoted before, and heard of people who were anointed and then didn’t get well. The reason given for no healing was lack of faith.
If the person isn’t healed, does that mean their sins aren’t forgiven either?
That is pretty scary, isn’t it? If you are anointed, but aren’t healed, you don’t have enough faith. And, your sins aren’t forgiven. Would I be confident enough in my faith to allow that test?
Wait a minute. Should healing be a test of faith? Is this something where God will publicly lift you up, or put you down, based on your faith? Does God forgive sins based upon faith? That doesn’t sound Biblical. And, it doesn’t sound like the God I have grown to trust.
I decided to look more carefully at that passage, and I noticed something. Verse 15 does NOT say the prayer of faith shall heal the sick. It says it will SAVE the sick. Does that mean healing? It could. But it immediately goes on to say that his sins will be forgiven him.
What is involved in salvation? Healing, or forgiveness of sins? Obviously the latter.
Whew! I can handle that!
I was anointed June 19th and thus began the most profound experience with God I had had in the 20 years I have been a believer. That experience continues up to today.
That afternoon, Sandra, my daughter, Adrianna, and her husband Josh, my surrogate brother/son Michael, Pastors Don, Colin and Jim were scheduled to be at the anointing and, amazingly, everyone showed up! I was sure that there would be scheduling conflicts but appointments were changed in order to be there. It’s humbling they thought I was important enough!
Tara and Byron also came. Unbeknownst to me, Adrianna had asked Pastor Colin to announce in church that we were going to have this get-together, and for anyone interested in attending should see him. At that time, I didn’t know either Tara or Byron all that well, so I was really touched they also thought it important enough to be there.
We spent time sharing scriptures that were on our hearts, and then Colin talked about what we wanted to accomplish – the total surrender of our will to God’s, trusting that He would cause something to come out of whatever happened that would honor and glorify Him. Yes, we prayed for healing for me, and I was anointed with oil. But the most important thing was complete surrender of our will to God’s will. It is OK to tell God what we want. We just need to remember that God can often bring better results by doing it His way. We need to trust in His infinite love, and just let Him do it.
The actual ceremony was short, but we had all been together for a couple of hours. The time had flown by, and we all felt much closer to each other and to God. As I look back on that experience, my heart overflows with gratitude to God for bringing that wonderful group together to lift my wife and I up and encourage us.
No miraculous healing, though. I understand now why God decided that was best.
By the time I was flopped on the operating table June 29th, there were hundreds of people praying for me in 4 or 5 churches, plus friends, and friends of friends.
The surgeon had booked 7 hours for the surgery. However by this time the tumor had grown until it was larger than a baseball – about the size of a small grapefruit, is what he told me later.
The surgery took 13 hours! The reason for that was, as the surgeon told me, it took a lot more time than expected to get the tumor out. He removed it and most of the right side of my jaw. He took a strip of bone from my right leg, sculpted it and grafted it into my remaining jawbone.
From a technological and skill point of view, it was a pretty incredible operation. They had to use microscopic aids and tools to sew blood vessels smaller than a human hair together!
When the operation was finally over, the surgeon phoned my daughter’s place and spoke to her. She said he sounded exhausted. I can believe that! But, he said everything had gone well.
By the time my wife, daughter and husband arrived at the hospital, I was quite awake and communication with the nurse by writing on paper! I remember most of the details of their visit, which is strange because my wife does not remember my first few visits after her heart operation. Perhaps she was on higher levels of morphine.
I was in the hospital three weeks during which time my wife came every day to visit me. She doesn’t drive so, if she didn’t get a ride with someone, she took bus and skytrain – at least an hour and a half each way.
Throughout this first part of my journey, I tried to let God give me whatever I needed to get through it. I know that God was there suffering not only with me, but with those who love me. I think they suffered more than I, and God most of all. When His children (every human on this planet is alive through His power and love whether they know it or not) suffer, He suffers just as a loving parent suffers when their children are in pain.
It was the knowledge of God’s love and presence, even though I didn’t (and still don’t) understand everything about the whys, that strengthened me, and helped me to keep a positive attitude.
While I was in the hospital I had a lot of time to think. I wrote down some of the things I was thinking about, and share them in my e-book, Beating Cancer.
The surgeon did a fantastic job! My face looked almost normal after the bandages came off. He is truly an artist. There were almost no scars at all.
It is too bad all that incredible effort went all for nothing.
It took me three weeks to get out of the hospital because I got a touch of pneumonia and then a severe infection in the wound.
In spite of all that, I believed I was healed. There was no doubt at all, and I praised God.
There was a little cloud on the horizon, however. They told me that two of the 120 lymph nodes removed from my neck had cancer cells in them. Not only that, they found that the cancer went right to the edge of the flesh that was removed. The surgeon always attempts to take more tissue than is cancerous in order to make sure he gets it all.
Unfortunately, in my case the cancer had gone further than they expected, and the biopsies showed it extended to the edge of what was removed. That means that it could have extended beyond.
I chose to believe that God had guided the surgeon and he did get it all. Maybe I should have asked God about it . . .
Nine weeks after the operation, the tumor was back. It was growing so fast that I could see it change day by day. The word went out, and even more people began praying for me.
A whole bunch of things were scheduled – CT scan to see the extent of the tumor, dental exam to see what teeth might be killed by radiation exposure, mask making, visits with the radiation oncologist, another CT scan to set up the schedule of radiation exposures. Things were moving relatively fast.
In normal circumstances, they make the mask, do the CT scan to provide data for the computer to generate the schedule of angles, durations and intensities for each radiation treatment, and prepare the schedule. This usually takes a two-week period, and then the treatments start. The tumor was growing so fast that they were afraid the mask wouldn’t fit by then, so they worked hard to create the schedule, and I had the first treatment within about 5 days of making the mask and having the CT scan.
When they did the CT scan, they also tattooed my chest! Well, actually, the technician tattooed a dot exactly in the middle of my chest, a couple of inches below my collarbone. This is used in the radiation room to position my body in exactly the same place every time.
So the next time I am in a group of tough bikers bragging about their tattoos, I can brag about the great tattoo I have on my chest of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. When I show them my dot, I will explain it is a miniature done by a Chinese artist who trained by writing passages from the Bible on a grain of rice.
The mask is made from a plastic mesh stretched taut in a metal frame that is in the shape of the head and shoulders. It sort of looks like a tennis racket. It is soaked in warm water which makes the plastic soft. I was laid on the table on my back, and the frame was pressed down over my head and shoulders until it was flat on the table and the mesh stretched to conform to the contours of my face, head and shoulders. The frame of the mask was latched to the table. After about 10 minutes, the plastic had hardened again. It was lifted off me and a mask had been made that would be used to keep my head in the exact same position for each radiation treatment.
When they nail you head down with that mask, you cannot move your head the least little bit. It is a bit uncomfortable because it presses rather firmly into your nose, cheeks, and head. They do cut holes in the mask so you can breathe easily, so don’t panic!
I was scheduled to have 35 radiation treatments; three per week, and off we went for the first one. The staff was always very nice and friendly, and tries to make you as comfortable as possible. You are laid down on your back on a large metal table, and a big, triangular pillow is placed under you knees to make you legs more comfortable. The room is cold so they put a heated blanket over you. It gives you a nice, snugly feeling.
Then, they put the mask over your head to clamp it in position. A laser beam tighter than a pencil lead comes on and shines on your chest. The staff moves the table until the beam is centered on the dot tattooed on your chest, and carefully aligns the table in the proper direction. This is to ensure that the radiation beam goes precisely where it is supposed to, inflicting as little “collateral damage” as possible.
It is interesting that even though they tell you the radiation beam is so tight and accurate that you don’t even need a lead blanket like they use in the dentist office for x-rays, all the technicians bolt from the room before they fire up the machine. Maybe there would be more risk for them because they are there all day long, whereas you are only there for a few seconds of actual treatment.
When you are all alone, the big “gun” starts moving around. You can tell when the actual radiation starts because the sound of the equipment changes. Between each “shot” the machine moves to change the angle for the next one.
The actual exposure to radiation is probably less than 60 seconds, but you are in there for 15-20 minutes all together. You can sleep, if you want to.
At that point the oncologist felt I had a 40-50 percent chance of recovery, and added that if I were to have some chemotherapy treatments the percentage would go up to 60-70 percent. I agreed to give it a try.
I began the radiation treatments in mid September. About the second week I met the chemotherapy oncologist, who said he had been reviewing my file and felt that I had only a 10% chance of recovery, even with the chemo. What happened to the 40-50 percent?
I agreed to go ahead with it anyway.
Three chemo sessions were scheduled – one immediately, one half way through and one at the end. They felt this would double the effectiveness of the radiation. Maybe it did . . .
They also explained that it could affect my hearing and damage my kidneys. They have a floor of hospital-like rooms for this purpose in the clinic, and I was there for 24 hours after they administered the chemo. An IV was administered so they could load me up with fluids in order to flush my system and get the poison out as fast as possible.
I became very nauseous in the following days, and my hearing has been affected in a strange way ever since. It has become very sensitive to high, sharp sounds so that even the sound of tires on wet pavement is annoying. I also have tinnitus, but it is only annoying rather than debilitating like it is for some people.
I refused to go back for additional ones. I will NEVER, under ANY circumstances have chemotherapy again. Subsequent research has demonstrated to us that chemotherapy is virtually useless except for just a couple of cancers. For the rest, including mine, it does more harm than good, and the long-term effects often result in the patient getting another kind of cancer. Hopefully that won’t happen in my case, as I only had the one session.
But, what about these declining chances of recovery? And, what about the way they change depending upon who you talk to?
Statistics are just that, statistics. They are numbers. I did not believe they applied to me. DO NOT think they apply to you. If you have a 10% chance of recovery, that means that 10 out of 100 with your condition survived. Why can’t YOU be one of those people?
There is NEVER a zero chance of recovery. No matter how bad the situation, someone, somewhere, has survived it. Given that, why can’t you, too?
ALWAYS tell yourself that you are one of the survivors. If there are people around you saying otherwise, ask them to change their tune, or stay away from you. Associate with people who lift you up, encourage you, and strengthen you.
While all this was going on I, and my wife even more, were researching alternative methods of treating cancer in general, and this one in particular. There is a fantastic amount of information published in books and on the web, but a lot of it seems contradictory, and precious little speaks specifically about squamous cell carcinoma.
There are many products and clinics claiming to help, but no one makes claims for cure. Some seem to have some fairly strong supporting anecdotal evidence. The clinics are very expensive, at least for me, so we kept looking.
I did try a number of things but nothing seemed to stop or even slow down the growth of the tumor, which is why I had decided to start the radiation.
My wife remembered seeing a movie at the Vancouver Film Festival called, “Ayurveda: the Art of Being.” It was an European documentary about Ayruvedic practitioners in India. A number of the practitioners interviewed claimed they were getting 85% success against cancer, among other diseases.
We rented it from Videomatica, in Vancouver, (you can also rent it through NetFlix – www.netflix.com) and watched it. Ayurveda is traditional medicine that has been practiced for over 3,000 years in India. Compare that to the 150 or so years allopathic (Western/conventional) medicine has been practiced! The goal of Ayurveda is to establish and maintain the balance of life energies within the body, rather than focus on treating the symptoms. Rituals and dogma aside, the thousands of years of recorded observations of the action of plants, herbs, barks and refined metals has allowed the practitioners to devise effective remedies for many conditions. I figured they must have learned something in all that time, so we visited the only Ayurvedic health food store in town.
At the store, we spoke to a man who had trained in India, and told us of a Doctor Prakash, an Ayurvedic practitioner there, that was getting tremendous success with cancer using Ayurvedic treatments. But he had no contact information, just his name.
More research on the internet came up with the name of his clinic and the city in which it was located. So, I sent off a letter with nothing more than his name, the clinic name, the city, state and country. I hoped, and prayed, that he was well enough known to postal people there.
After one chemo and 10 radiation sessions I was sick, tired, and weak. I was buoyed up by the prayers of hundreds of people, and the faith God was giving me, so I was not depressed or losing hope. I just felt there had to be a better way.
On October 5 we received an email from Doctor Prakash in India! The letter had reached him! We praised God for this answer to our prayers.
I replied with a description of my situation, and he responded on the 15th with his phone number and cell number. I called him and he advised me to finish the treatments to control the tumor, and then I could come see him. He refused to make any promises, though.
I did more research and found that he had done a trial supervised by hospital physicians on leukemia patients in a New Delhi hospital. It appears that 90% survived and were completely cured, so far as they could tell. Other articles reported good success with other cancers as well.
Those odds seemed a lot better than those I had been given. I decided not to wait.
My wife and I started preparations for going to India; visas, plane tickets, figuring out how to get to the doctor’s clinic, which is about 6 hours by train north of Delhi.
In the meantime, I had another CT scan, which revealed that the tumor had started to shrink. The oncologist told me that the effects of the radiation would continue for 6 to 8 weeks if I were to stop now, but that the tumor would probably return even more aggressively.
However, when I told him that I had decided to go to India to try something different, he was surprisingly supportive. In fact, all the nurses and technicians at the Cancer Clinic were supportive. I was quite surprised.
My wife, Sandra, worked like a Trojan, and we left from Vancouver International Airport for India October 24th. There was a 24-hour layover in Japan (the airline put us up in their hotel for free) and we stopped in Delhi for 2 nights to catch our breath. Then, early in the morning, we boarded a very comfortable train for the 6-hour ride north. That was followed by a crazy taxi ride to the clinic.
We were in the clinic for 10 days, where I received massage with hot oil every day, along with a series of medicines manufactured at the clinic from herbs and specially refined metals. I was already feeling a bit better, so we stopped for a few days in a couple of other places in India before the return trip to Vancouver.
The cost of the stay and six-month supply of medicines that I took home with me was less than $2,000. Cost to continue with them is about US$200 per month. Dr. Prakash told me to take them for a total of two and a half years to ensure the cancer did not come back.
italicised following is a response to a reader whose original question has been lost - ed
During my 10-day stay at Dr. Prakash’s clinic, I found that the other patients were there because they had friends who had been cured by Dr. Prakash’s treatments. I believe that his medicines were very important for my cure, along with the many prayers of family, friends and even strangers. I don’t know if he has treated cancer of the pancreas, but he had never treated my type of cancer before, either. If nothing else, the possibility for cure is, in my opinion, much higher with Dr. Prakash than with the conventional approach of cut, burn or poison. Also, I have been told by at least three people that I referred to Dr. Prakash that they are now free of cancer.
By the way, I am not sure his clinic in Dehradun is open now. He may be based in Mumbai now. Be sure to check with him by email or phone.
As I mentioned, we did a lot of research into Ayurvedic medicines and the practitioners. When Dr. Prakash was recommended to us, we researched him as well. We learned the following.
Dr. Prakash is an Ayurvedic physician carrying on the tradition of his family. His father accidentally discovered a treatment for cancer in the 1960’s that seemed to be fairly effective. Dr. Prakash has continued developing the formulas to the point where he is getting results that are consistent and predictable. Cancer treatments with positive outcomes are so commonplace at his clinic in India that patients travel from across the world to see him. He now travels to other countries to meet with patients there.
After Dr. Prakash received his Bachelor of Science degree, he completed a five-year B.A.M.S. course in Ayurveda. Since then he has opened his clinic and research center in India, and traveled all over India and to over 30 different countries treating individuals suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis.
He has also been very active in the allopathic medical community as part of his efforts to legitimize his treatments in their eyes. He was awarded an active membership in the New York Academy of Sciences in 1997. The following year, he was listed in the International Who’s Who of Professionals. In addition, he is the only Ayurvedic physician to become a member of the Indian Co-operative Oncology Network (ICON), a select group of cancer experts in India.
Since we were there, Dr. Prakash has recently opened a new clinic in Mumbai, which is much more convenient for international travelers. The clinic we went to is about 6 hours north of New Delhi by train plus a 20-minute crazy taxi ride.
However, we were very pleasantly surprised by extent of his facilities. The room in which we stayed was like any simple, yet comfortable, Indian hotel room. There was a western toilet, and hot water in the shower and sink. Of course, as is typical in India and many other eastern countries we have visited, the shower was over the middle of the room, so everything got wet when it was used.
The kitchen is simple, as is the food. But it is freshly prepared every day, and they told me they tried to get organic when they could. Depending upon the condition of your body forces, the diet might be restricted in certain ways. It is vegetarian with the exception of eggs, milk and paneer, which is a kind of cheese. One of the three forces of my body was too “hot”, so I was not allowed to have garlic, onions, green peppers, tomatoes, and a few other things at the initial stages of my treatment. This is all the stuff that makes food taste good! But, I thanked God that I was in a place where they actually expected the patients to recover.
After we returned to Canada, and time went on, I would email Dr. Prakash begging to be allowed to add back garlic, for instance. He would grudgingly acquiesce except when it came to tomato. That was forbidden! It would react negatively with the medicines. I was off tomatoes until two and a half years later, when I finally finished taking the medicines. I am very happy I am not Italian. That would have killed me!
There also was a shirodhara, or hot oil treatment, where fairly warm oil is trickled down onto your forehead so that it flows over the top of your head. Sometimes they use warm milk, as it is considered very healing. It is to relax that part of the brain behind the forehead. It takes twenty minutes or so, but you are not supposed to fall asleep. However, I defy anyone to be able to lay there, listening to soft, relaxing music, with a soothing stream of warm oil running over your forehead and down the top of your head, without falling asleep. It is very relaxing and soothing. You really don’t want to get up afterward. They also gave us hot oil massages.
Just about anything that grows can be used as ingredients in the medicines. In addition, minerals, gems such as rubies and diamonds, and metals including mercury are also used.
A number of different methods were used to fire the medicines. In all cases, the mixture was placed into a clay pot that was sealed up and placed on the fire. It was left there for hours, even days. In one area were furnaces fired with wood. In another area, they carefully weighed out a precise amount of dried cow dung, placed that in one of the holes, lit it, and placed the pot on top of it. Obviously the cow dung burned at a different temperature than wood.
They even keep a cow dung manufacturing machine close by. It is quite amazing, really. They stuff hay and other vegetation in one end, and out the other comes . . . Well, you get the picture. That machine also provided milk for the kitchen.
When the fire has burned long enough, and the pot has cooled, it is broken open and the contents, which are a solid, brittle mass, are separated from the clay of the pot. The mass is then broken up into small pieces.
One thing that always amazed me about India is that women, in the most beautiful saris would be doing very dirty work. Work like these women are doing here, or women sitting in someone’s driveway, in beautiful saris, and breaking up a big pile of rocks into gravel with small sledge hammers. We are so blessed!
After the fired material from the pots was broken up small enough, it was further ground mechanically in big powered mixing bowls.
Substances normally considered toxic to the body are often used, including mercury and silver salts. However, by the time they get through the processes, they become beneficial. The ball shown above is raw mercury prior to processing. The reddish substance on the left in the same picture is the final form before it is ground up and added to other components.
Some of the medicines take three years of processing before they are ready! Once the medicines are ready, they are pressed into little balls, or powdered and individual doses wrapped by hand in tiny paper envelopes.
There have recently been a flurry of articles in the press about toxic heavy metals in Ayurvedic medicines purchased over the internet. These medicines are becoming very popular, and I don’t believe there is any organization ensuring quality control.
I don’t think trying to diagnose yourself and ordering such medicines is a good approach.
If you are considering this option, I recommend you contact Dr. Prakash’s institute. He has worked very hard to legitimize his treatments in the eyes of the allopathic community. From what we observed, he is very conscientious about the preparation and administration of his medicines.
The people we encountered in India were amazing. You see, the operation I had back in June hadn’t healed because of the re-occurrence of the tumor, and the radiation. In fact, there was an open sore, and I could even squirt water through a hole in my cheek! I thought that was pretty cool, actually, but when I told my oncologist that, he just shook his head.
The sore was getting worse, and others were appearing. There was drainage, and it looked a mess. So, I started wearing a surgical mask stuffed with a bandage across my face. I hung it from my right ear, and taped it to my face on the left so it didn’t cover my mouth. It did look a little strange.
Now, the people in India don’t seem to have a concept of personal space. Not like we in the West have, at least. They will come right up to you and ask you the most personal questions. It can be a bit disconcerting. So, waiters, shopkeepers, auto rickshaw drivers, anyone, would ask me straight out, “What’s wrong with your face?” One time we were waiting to cross a busy street when a car stopped right in front of us, blocking traffic, the window rolls down, and the man inside asked, “What’s wrong with your face?”
Do you know what the response was when I told them? Every time, without fail, even the guy in the car, they would kind of roll their eyes and say, “oh, I will pray for you.” It didn’t matter if they were Hindu, Muslim or Christian, that was always the response.
When I finally got into the cancer clinic after returning from India, my mouth was thoroughly examined.
My oncologist, was amazed at how much and how fast the tumor had shrunk. Of course, it has always been a question of whether the tumor continued to shrink because of the radiation, the medicines from India, or both. I do believe that God led us to that clinic in India as being the best solution for me.
An earlier CT had shown a shadow on my lung (all of 8 mm long) that was never identified. They said it could be a scar, cancer, or nothing. The doctors felt that if the cancer had not been stopped, it would have already spread to my lungs and other parts.
I had another CT scan of my chest the last week of February, 2005. The oncologist felt that if it is in my lungs, it will be in the lymph nodes in my neck, so there is no point doing the head first. If the shadow had grown, it would probably have been cancer. If it had not or was gone, then the chances were good that it hadn’t spread.
Of course, when you have such a scan, you are never told the results until the radiologist has poured over it and passed his conclusions on to the oncologist. That may take a few days, and then you have to wait for a spot in the oncologist’s schedule. So it wasn’t until the next week that I was sitting in the little examining room gazing around for the umpteenth time waiting for the oncologist. Suddenly the door burst open and in he strode. “Bill,” he said, “When I see you, I never know what to expect! The results of the scan are clean!”
Wonderful! The shadow was exactly the same, and there were no signs of anything anywhere else in my chest or lungs. This was a definite answer to prayer.
However, it was hard to tell, but there still seemed to be something between my gum and my cheek. It could have been a remnant of the tumor, or it was something to do with the operation.
The question now was: what about the thing left in my mouth? An appointment with the surgeon was scheduled for the next week. We planned to ask him to do a biopsy.
Once again, I believed I was healed. I fully expected that God was now working the miracle for which we prayed.
You know, as I look back on the whole journey, the decision we made to discontinue the radiation and go half way around the world for treatment was the beginning of my healing process, I believe. When you are diagnosed with cancer here in the US and Canada, there are only three options, as far as the medical community goes – cut, burn or poison. I am not saying that surgery and radiation don’t have their place (I believe chemo rarely, if ever, does). They may, especially in a case like mine where the cancer is so aggressive that there might not be time for anything else to work.
But you are immediately pulled into a machine that hasn’t really changed since Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote “Cancer Ward” in 1968. Oh sure, the technology has advanced, but you would think that the billions of dollars spent in research every year would have come up with something new. It hasn’t.
You meet with the various specialists who include you in the deliberations as to the best treatments. But, in actual fact, they have already decided. And who are you to disagree? They are the experts, aren’t they? They have the experience, don’t they? You go along with whatever they suggest. You may never have felt like you had much control over your life, but now you know that you have none whatsoever.
And I am not saying the people treating you are impersonal or don’t care. On the contrary, most of them DO care, and they care a lot. They try very hard. I kind of feel sorry for them. It must be discouraging to see the suffering most of the patients are going through, especially the chemo ones, and know that a good portion of them won’t make it. I became good friends with some of the staff. They were rooting for me, I can tell you!
To get back to my point; by going to India, I was taking back control. I was actively involved, instead of passively. And in making the preparations, making the trip, dealing with the challenges of travel, especially in a different culture like India, my mind was less focused on my problem and more on getting to where I wanted to be. This, I believe is very important. It is a change in attitude, of focus.
About 4 years ago I came across a study in Chicago or Detroit of people being treated for cancer in one of the hospitals there. I have not been able to find it since, so it may have been mentioned in one of the many books I read on cancer. In this instance, they compared those who traveled less than 30 miles for treatment to those who traveled more than that. You know what? Those who traveled farther had a significantly higher survival rate. Interesting, isn’t it? I believe that little extra effort of traveling farther caused a different attitude that promoted healing.
According to everything I read, attitude is probably the most significant factor in the healing process. Faith in God is part of that, but faith is not just belief. Faith is action, isn’t it? Prayer for the sick is appropriate, and Biblical. But, for someone who is not flat on their back and incapable of thought or action, it is not enough.
Faith is action. And action is a result of attitude. Often, by doing something, especially something you don’t want to do, your attitude towards it may change for the better. If you are making an effort to heal, and physical effort may be important, your attitude cannot help but become more positive. That has a well-documented impact on endorphin production, and on the ability of your immune system to do its job.
So, if you are sick, ask God to give you the energy and wisdom to get involved in your healing.
(Couldn’t resist that title. Sorry.)
My visit with the surgeon who removed my first tumor was interesting. He bluntly asked me why I stopped the treatments. I recounted my reasons for doing so, and what I was doing. His response was essentially that, if these things hadn’t been written up in a peer-reviewed article published by a recognized medical journal, they have no validity.
In any case, he said the shrinkage is only due to the radiation and nothing else. “You still have cancer,” he said, and took a piece of the remnant in my mouth for a biopsy to prove it.
I should have the results in a few days. But I am sure he is right. The wound in my cheek is not healing, and he says it won’t until the tumor is gone.
God has given me peace about all this so I leave the results up to Him.
I have to admit that I am disappointed with the results of the biopsy. Of course, it could really could have been no other way. Still, I guess I was hoping for a miracle. . .
The problem is, the skin below my jaw seems to be pulling away from the bottom of the tumor exposing it more. This makes it look larger, which is scaring my wife. Not only that, it almost seems like it might be growing a bit inside my mouth.
I was thinking that I, and especially my family, had been through enough. What else is there for me to learn from this experience? Why continue this, if there is no point?
Pretty elitist thinking, isn’t it? What right do I have to expect to suffer any less than – well, I don’t know how many others. What I have been going through is nothing compared to what so many people even I know of have, or are, experiencing.
I have been thinking of reasons for the good and bad that happens to us. It seems to break down into two broad categories – result of events that take place in nature, and the consequences of actions taken. I think the latter boils down to three things:
I don’t believe that God needs to initiate something in order to discipline us. There is another power waiting to bring as much evil upon us as is possible. But there are things we do that remove us from God’s protection, and we suffer the results. Fortunately for us, God limits the consequences to something we can handle, if we accept His strength to do so.
What I am going through isn’t necessarily the result of my separating myself from God. Nor is it necessarily the result of bad lifestyle. No, I think it is the result of life on this planet. If this had happened before I became a believer, I probably would have fought this thing with determination, as I am now, but also with bitterness at the unfairness, and probably rage. As bad as I am to live with now, I would have been worse then.
I have a God-given peace, for which I am very thankful. Sure, I get scared and start to worry sometimes, especially in the middle of the night. Then I have to make a conscious decision to talk to God about the whole thing. I review my all my concerns and give them to Him. I invite Him to fill me with His peace, and He does.
The results were positive. I still had the cancer. It was lurking there. Waiting? For what? To come back at the least expected time? Maybe it would still go away . . .
We prayed a lot about it, and I continued taking the medicines that I had left from India. But I fired off an email to Dr. Prakash telling him what was going on. And, as I was nearly out, to order new medicines. When I received them, I could see that he had made some changes.
In the meantime, I continued doing everything else with diet, exercise and supplements that we could think of. I also exposed my body as much as possible to the sun. By then, we had learned that vitamin D is absolutely essential to cancer recovery. I took cod-liver oil, but we felt sun exposure would be helpful, too. Our sixth-floor apartment faced west and the sun poured into the bedroom in the afternoon. I would open the big, sliding window as wide as possible and lie on the bed sideways with my feet on the windowsill. The sun wasn’t very strong, but maybe it helped.
It appears that God, in His mercy and love for me and those praying for me, knew that He should let things continue. Obviously He knows that there are lessons to be learned or reinforced, or some other good that could yet be realized from this situation.
I say this because a couple of months after the scan, the tumor began to grow again. Rapidly.
There was a rush to make another mask and start another 15 sessions of radiation. Three weeks, five days a week. At the end of all that my mouth and lips were a mess.
In the follow up visit the oncologist said that, “We didn’t get it. It will come back.”
“What’s next,” I asked?
“Chemotherapy,” he replied
“Would that get rid of it?”
“No. Just slow it down.”
I elected not to see the chemo guy. Instead, why not have the tumor removed and the hole in the side of my face repaired?
My wife, daughter and I went in to see the surgeon who had removed the original tumor almost a year ago. We wanted him to remove the tumor that was left after the last bout of radiation, and rebuild my face.
In his usual blunt manner, he said there was no point. I still have cancer in other places besides that tumor I want removed. That open sore on the other side of my chin is cancer, that swelling under my jaw on my throat is cancer, just for starters.
“How do you know,” I asked, “you haven’t done any tests or other biopsies.?”
“Twenty-five years experience as a cancer surgeon tells me that,” he retorted. “Look, I removed lymph nodes that had cancer cells in them. They are spreading throughout your body.”
“Well, the last CT scan . . .,” I began when he interrupted.
“This cancer is going to kill you! Stop wasting your time and money chasing after alternative treatments. Nothing will work. Just relax and spend your remaining time with your family and friends.”
I thought for a moment. “How long do I have?”
“About six to twelve months.”
“Will there be much pain?”
“No pain at all. You will just get weaker and weaker and eventually fall asleep into death.”
He then talked for a while in a more compassionate way about spending my remaining time doing what makes me happy.
Finally I said, “No, I don’t think that’s God’s plan for me. I really appreciate everything you have done for me, but I will be back for you to fix my face.” With that, I stood up, gave him a big hug, and left with my wife and daughter. You should have seen the look on his face!
I think there has to be some frustration on his part. It must be hard to do a technically wonderful operation, have it come out looking great just to have it destroyed by the cancer he was trying to remove. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised that most people working at the Cancer Clinic feel the same way.
Well, all that was about a month ago, and I have been doing much thinking as well as thanking God for bringing out of this all the good He can. That prayer I know He has answered!
I think I have mentioned before that it seems obvious that the mind is key to beating any disease. So I am doing guided imaging and EFT. More on that next section, but know this, dear reader; we who are diseased can be healed if we choose to be! It just may not be in the way we think we want to be.
My wife and I have had a few sessions with Dr. Alex Lees. He explained a bit about guided imagery and EFT.
Basically, for the guided imagery I fix a picture of my face without any cancer (I use a photo of me taken before I had cancer to help me do this) and I say to myself, “I see myself healthy and free of cancer.”
This is supposed to help reprogram the subconscious mind. This results in it influencing the body to conform to that image.
EFT stands for Emotional Freedom Technique and is a method of dealing with negative emotions.
Dr. Lees has found this technique to be as effective as and much more simple to use than other tools he spent years studying. His simple explanation is that when one has a negative thought it triggers a negative emotion that, in turn, triggers a flooding of the body with chemicals that are harmful to the immune system. This, of course, can lead to poor health.
Many studies that show that most people with cancer have suffered a severe trauma, a long string of disappointments, or have an unfulfilled dream. So, every time something triggers a reminder of that, the body is flooded with chemicals that compromise the immune system. Dr. Lees explains that EFT is a way to separate the initial negative thought from the emotion. If one can do that, the immune system will hopefully increase in strength so as to better fight disease.
EFT is basically tapping on certain acupuncture points while repeating a specific phrase. There is a pretty good diagram showing the points to tap, along with certain refinements on Dr. Lees’ web site.
There is a “set-up” sequence followed by a “reminder” sequence. In my case, I say, “Even though I have this killing cancer, I fully and completely love, accept, respect and forgive myself.” I say this three times while tapping on the “karate” edge of either hand. I then repeat the reminder phrase, “this killing cancer” about three times, with feeling, on each acupuncture point.
I sometimes tap on fear, if that comes to mind. I also am trying to remember to tap on other negative thoughts as they occur.
When I reach the point where I can have that negative thought without felling the emotion, I then try to tap in a positive concept such as, “I choose to be healthy and free of cancer.”
In June the surgeon gave me 6 – 12 months to live. Now, Oct. 21, there are no signs of tumor or cancer activity. For this I thank God. I believe He is leading me to treatments that enhance my body’s inherent ability to heal itself.
However, my face is still a mess. There are still open sores and I still have to wear the surgical mask across that part of my jaw.
We have finalized our plans to go and live in India for up to a year. We obtained plane tickets to Bangalore for a good price of about CDN$1,600 including taxes from Baines Travel. My disability application was approved, so we will have enough income to support us there. The Indian consulate allowed us to have 1 year medical visas, and we have found a house to rent in Mysore that sounds lovely for a very reasonable amount through Craig’s list (www.craigslist.org). God seems to be pulling everything together.
We leave October 27th.
Singapore Airlines flies to Bangalore, the closest international airport to Mysore. The flight was less stressful because they put us up for 24 hours in Singapore at a very nice hotel. We had time to do a little sightseeing and visited the famous Raffles Hotel.
We stayed a couple of days in Bangalore to get over the jet lag. That is one crowded, noisy and polluted city! It is not at all the city of gardens that it used to be. But, it is only 130 kilometers from Mysore.
By the way, you can avoid Bangalore altogether by taking a taxi directly between the airport and Mysore, but it is the best, most comfortable, and by far the least stressful, way to make the journey. In India, this mode of travel is very affordable.
There is a prepaid taxi stand at the Bangalore Airport. A taxi to Mysore will run about 1,300 rupees (about US$30), but it may be more if you arrive late at night, and they may charge you for a round trip. Friends suggested we call Satish, who has cars that travel both ways, and wait for fares going back. He will charge the one-way fare, and will make sure the car has the capacity to comfortably carry everything you have.
The trip took us about 3 hours and was quite pleasant, but the new highway should be open by now, which is supposed to reduce the travel time to 90 minutes. In any case, the driver will stop about half way at a place with a western toilet, if you wish.
It can be less expensive to make the trip by train, especially if you are staying at least one night in Bangalore. Tickets should be purchased in advance to ensure a seat. Paying the service fee of about $3 to a travel agent to get them will save you an hour or so of waiting in line at the train station, which is not air conditioned.
Of the six daily expresses, the Shatabdi Express is the fastest, taking only 2 hours. Getting a seat in a chair car on the others makes the slight additional expense well worth it.
Once you are on the train, it is very interesting and enjoyable, but getting on and off the train is the challenge. Indian train stations are almost always crowded and everyone jams onto the train as fast as possible in order to find places for their many suitcases. If you don’t have many bags, it is best to wait a few moments until the crush abates before finding your reserved seat.
Also, before the train arrives, be sure to show your ticket to a few fellow passengers, train officials and vendors so that you can be fairly certain to be standing approximately where your assigned car will stop. If you have had a porter carry your bags, he will lead you to the right spot. He may even return to put your bags on the train.
For the adventuresome traveler, bus is another way to go between the cities. Make sure you get a Volvo bus or you will be in for a hard, uncomfortable trip on a Tata bus. The Volvo buses are air-conditioned, which keeps out the dust, and the seats are comfortable. Also, because they are a bit more expensive than the Tata buses, they usually aren’t packed to overflowing.
Whichever method suits you, be sure to keep watch for old temple ruins and families of monkeys along the way.
We chose to take a taxi because we had 4 huge bags, and I wasn’t about to fight with train porters and crowds.
After settling our stuff into a hotel in Mysore, and having a good night’s sleep, we set off the next day to find the place to rent we had found on the internet. We had the address of the owner’s parents, but it took the auto rickshaw driver some time to find it. The woman was a very outgoing, engaging ball of energy, and immediately conducted us upstairs to the apartment that was for rent.
It turned out to be much less than expected. There was no hot water heater, no appliances, and no screens on the windows. The floors were bare concrete. It was, on the whole, rather uninviting. But, it was cheap!
However, to make a long story short, after spending one night there we decided that it would not work out. I was there to heal, not spend weeks of intense effort getting the place habitable.
We trundled back to the hotel, with the mattress and all of our luggage, very discouraged.
Having no better ideas, we went to a travel agent and asked if he knew of any apartments for rent.
We had an amazing thing happen the first Saturday in our new place. Belonging to Christ and a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church (a Protestant denomination that basis its tenants on the Bible rather than tradition), we wished to find a branch of the family with which to worship on the Sabbath, or Saturday (it being the day commanded by God to spend with Him.)
Now, phone books in India are hard to find, and when I asked people about a Seventh-day Adventist Church, they thought I was asking for a seven-days adventure! Needless to say, we got some strange looks and weird offers. No help, though.
After asking God to show us where the local church was that Sabbath morning, I decided to wander around the neighborhood for a little exercise and to see what was around us. A couple of blocks from our apartment, I came across a small building with writing in (I assume) Kanada, the local language. Wouldn’t you know it, in the midst of the unintelligible (to me) writing were the words “Seventh-day Adventist”! It looked like it might be an office, but it was all locked up. Joy filled my heart because I knew that God had answered our prayers. It was already beginning to look like we have been lead specifically to this area for this reason.
Monday morning I went to that building and, sure enough, it was the district office for the SDA Church. I learned that there was, indeed, a church not too far away. After visiting a few times during the week, and getting to know the local pastor and a few others, one of the young men working there said that he could take me to church on his motor scooter next Sabbath. That way I could learn how to get there.
It turned out that the church was a relatively easy 25-minute walk. The congregation is small, about 50, but they are very friendly. They also have an English school with 1,000 students! The warm welcome everyone gave proves yet again that no matter where you are in the world, you have a home with God’s people.
We found an Ayurvedic doctor in Mysore, by the name of Dr. Kumar, who checks the pulse for imbalances and potential problems in the body. That was a very interesting visit, particularly getting there and back, and is described fully in our India Living book.
He solemnly went through the process of examining my pulse. Paused a few moments, looked up and said with a big smile, “Nothing is going to happen to you in the near future!” He found that everything seemd to be very good and that, so far as he could see, there was nothing serious looming. He felt that if I still had the cancer, it was not active and would not be for some time.
We thanked and praised God for this positive news. It confirmed the way I was feeling. I thank God for all who prayed for us and/or sent good thoughts towards Sandra and me.
But, you know, there was still that lingering question. Was it really gone?
For the most part, people in India are friendly and helpful. They are also very direct. They have no hesitation asking us where we come from or what is wrong with my face.
It is quite interesting, in fact, to see the reaction when they hear the answer. Often a tout on the street will latch on to us as we walk along. He will offer something for us to buy. When we refuse he will abandon the direct approach for Chapter II of SSS (Successful Street Selling) entitled, ‘Become their Friend and They Will Have To Buy.’
‘From which country,’ is usually the first question?
‘Canada,’ we reply.
‘Do you speak English or French?’ (Interesting that most people here seem to know Canada has two official languages. How much do most Canadians know about languages in India?)
‘From which city?’
‘I have an uncle living there. What is your sweet name? (Everyone here asks for your ‘sweet’ or ‘good’ name.)
‘Sandra and Bill.’
‘I have cancer.’
At this point their eyes roll up to heaven, they mutter a prayer or expression of sympathy and back right off. It has turned out to be an effective way to discourage the persistent ones.
Almost every shop-keeper asks about my face and when they hear the answer they often say they will pray for me. Many will encourage us with assurances of God’s love and the importance of positive thinking.
All this has endeared us even more to the people of India.
We have settled down to a routine, sort of. However, new developments seem to arise.
The strap that has been holding the right side of my jaw to the left side has started to poke through on the left side at its end. Also, it has appeared that my chin has been shrinking. About a week ago, something appeared that looked like the head of a screw. As the days went by, it became apparent that is, in fact, what it was. The surgeon had told me that there were three screws holding it into my chin, so this was obviously one of them.
I asked Dr. Kumar if he knew of a good medical doctor with whom we could consult about my concerns. He did know an excellent one and, it turns out, it happens to be near the large, Ayurvedic hospital in which he practices. He suggested we meet him there and he would make sure we were shown where to go.
We arrived at the appointed time and alighted from the auto-rickshaw in front of a very large and busy hospital. We stood there wondering how we were going to find Dr. Kumar, when we were joined by his assistant who is always present in the consultations. We were standing in front of the office in which Dr. Kumar was working! Coincidence? We don’t think so.
Then, we were off to see the surgeon – down the street, past the canopied shrine (where those who worshiped on the sidewalk in front of it take off their shoes, but those walking directly in front of it don’t), around the corner, across the street, up a few steps and into a small, pleasant office. In a few minutes we were ushered into the even smaller examining room with a typical examining table and a desk, behind which was the doctor.
Dr. Victor is pleasant and well-spoken and appears very familiar with my situation. “When I practiced in Mumbai at one of the top cancer hospitals of India, I saw many cases of oral squamous cell carcinoma, as many men in India smoke and chew tobacco,” he said.
He examined my face and mouth and said there were no obvious signs of cancer, but he did agree there was deterioration. He listed the possible cause as: 1) some cancer still active in the bone, which he felt unlikely, given my otherwise- good health, 2) a constant, low-grade infection causing the bone to break down, 3) the bone has had its blood supply cut off or restricted due, perhaps, to the radiation or tumor; or 4) a combination of the other three. He recommended doing what would essentially be a pre-op workup to determine what is going on. That includes an MRI of the jaw, chest x-ray, ECG, and full blood analysis.
Once he determines what is going on, he will be able to treat it, he says. If it is an infection, then antibiotics should do the trick. I am not sure of the options in the other two cases. He did say that, once it is appropriate, he can take bone and skin from my rib-cage and rebuild the jaw. This would be a different approach than the first surgery, where my Vancouver surgeon took bone and skin from my leg.
In any case, once we know what the options are for reconstruction, we will have to decide whether to has it done here or back in Vancouver. I will be sharing the information with Dr. Anderson, in hopes of getting his recommendation as well.
We are pretty confident in the abilities of the medical profession here. We have read very positive things about other North Americans who come here to have elective surgery done, because it is so much less expensive and there are no waiting lists. The doctors are trained in England or North America but, as Dr. Victor said, the test equipment, such as CT scanners, are one or two generations behind. The important thing will be to make sure the hospital facilities are good and sanitary.
I plan to complete the tests Monday and get in to see Dr. Victor as soon as possible after that.
We received a call from Doctor Victor, the M.D. He said there was one report missing from my medical history that was very important for him to understand what was done previously. I phoned Michael in Vancouver and, fortunately, he was home and had all my records with him. He very obligingly went through the 3/4 inch stack with me until he found the ones I needed, went to the Knotty Boy office, scanned them and emailed them to me. I had them within an hour or so of calling him. The marvels of modern communication and the internet!
So, yesterday, after finishing on the phone, I transferred the reports from my computer to a wonderful little MP3 Player that Michael gave me. I then walked that little device to the nearest Internet Cafe and printed the documents.
I phoned Dr. Victor to let him know I had them, and he said to come in between 6 and 7:30 pm that evening, and he would give me a letter referring me to a cancer surgeon who has a lot of experience with this type of cancer. That gave us less than an hour to walk to the market, buy some groceries and bring them home.
We boarded an auto rickshaw and trundled down to Dr. Victor’s office. We didn’t get there until about 6:30, and his office was full. We had to wait about 20 minutes or so before seeing him, and it would have been longer if they hadn’t bumped us up the queue. I guess they thought it would be a quick visit, which it was. He examined the reports, said that what was needed, scribbled out a letter to the surgeon and told us how to find him.
By this time it was totally dark outside, so we decided to take an auto rickshaw instead of hoofing it. A short ride later we were at the office of Dr. Anil Thomas (a South Indian, in spite of what the name might lead you to expect), which was also full. After a wait of about 45 minutes, we were ushered in to see him. Again, I think we were bumped up, but I think the guy protesting was told we had an appointment, which could be true as Dr. Victor did phone him before we left.
Dr. Thomas attentively listened to my story and read through all my medical records, which we are now to carry with us everywhere we go, at least when dealing with doctors. He said that he had been doing cancer surgery for the past 11 years and my cancer was, by far, the most common. He said that they get an 80% success rate with a combination of surgery and radiation. That’s even when most of the patients don’t come in until they have had the cancer for years and it finally starts interfering with their bodily functions, like eating. The reason for that is, of course, they don’t have insurance, so delay the expense as long as possible. The result is that the whole side of the face, jaw and part of the skull often has to be removed, but no reconstruction is done because they can’t afford the cost or the time from work. For that reason, he has little experience with reconstruction, hence, I assume, Dr. Victor’s wanting to include a plastic surgeon on the team.
Dr. Thomas’ recommendation is that the plate, which is a foreign object the body is trying to get rid of, be removed along with all the old bone that my Vancouver surgeon put in. This will get rid of the infection and the plate, both of which have prevented healing. He said this should have been done long ago, and that my jaw would not come apart as we feared. It would swing to the left, so my teeth wouldn’t line up properly, which is not a problem in my case, as I don’t have any bottom teeth at all. He assured me that my ability to eat or talk would not be impaired. He would not even do a graft to cover the wound because it is better to let it remain open and heal naturally. He said that in about a week after the operation, tissue would line the wound that is actually more resistant to infection than skin. After everything has healed properly, then would be the time to consider reconstruction. That could be a month or two after the operation.
The actual time in hospital would be only 3 or 4 days, but I would have to come in a few times a day for another 3 or 4 days to have the dressings changed. This is possible if we have the operation at Vikram Hospital, which is about 5 blocks from our apartment.
They will also biopsy the removed bone and tissue to confirm the cancer is not active. Dr. Thomas also feels that they will turn out to be negative, but it is always better to be sure.
While we were consulting with Dr. Thomas, a little girl wandered in, cuddled into his lap, and started feeling in his pocket for his wallet. He explained that this was his daughter, and his family lives in the building in which he has his offices. She fished out a coin and wandered out again.
We took the test results in to the surgeon today. There is good news and not-so-good news. The former is that the MRI and chest X-ray show no signs of cancer in my lungs, face or neck. The not-so-good news is that there is an infection in the bone. He is not sure if it is in the original jawbone, or in the bone from my leg that was put in to replace the part of my jawbone that was removed in the first operation. He won’t know until he gets my medical history.
It could be treated with heavy antibiotics, but they might not work, and it is hard to see if they are. In the meantime, my jaw will continue to deteriorate.
He could go in and try to clean out the infected part, along with my taking the antibiotics. The problem with that is he would probably have to go in 3 or 4 times, each entailing a 3 or 4 day hospital stay. There would still remain the problem of the weakened structure, especially where the titanium strap is secured to my chin.
He is recommending that what is left of the bone that was put in during the original operation be removed, and a new reconstruction be done with skin and bone from my ribs. Assuming no complications, I should be in hospital about a week.
If we decide to go ahead with it (do we have much choice?), the best hospital is Vikram. It is where I had my tests done and appears to be very clean. Best of all, it is only a few blocks up the road from our apartment, so Sandra would have no difficulty visiting me. More evidence of God’s leading us to this apartment?
We will be thinking and praying about this over the holiday season.
It looks as if I will be having the operation Tuesday, January 24. We thought it would be at Vikram Hospital, just down the road a bit, but it is the most expensive hospital in town and I don’t think our Canadian insurance will cover all the costs. However, there is a hospital, Bharath Cancer Hospital, about 20 minutes or so away by auto-rickshaw that will probably be fine. We went to check it out and what we saw confirmed what people are saying; it is fine and clean, just simple.
The surgeon, who will do the operation, Dr. Thomas, has an excellent reputation, and he says he operates there all the time, the equipment is good, and it is clean, with a low infection rate. “It just doesn’t have the style of Vikram,” he says. He also said now that we have decided to have it at Bharath, he is happier, because the staff there is very familiar with my type of operation and knows how to treat it. Vikram specializes in heart problems, not cancer.
Bill’s glad, the sooner the better — he doesn’t want to dilly-dally around any longer than is necessary, and the second screw is just about completely out; the wound in draining more than ever and looks a mess. It soaks right through the bandage and looks rather gory. We also visited Dr. Jayaram (the doctor from Chicago that Carolyn recommended) on Monday evening for a 3rd opinion. We went to his palatial home, near here beside the park. He’s a very diminutive little man (probably no more than 5 ft. 3 in. tall), but a very sweet, intelligent person and evidently a brilliant surgeon who has traveled the world and studied with the very best in Europe and elsewhere. He practices in Chicago, but is here doing a cleft palate clinic for the people who normally can’t afford that kind of operation. He is a bit frustrated because he is here only three weeks, and the blood work is so poor for some of them (probably due to poor nutrition) that he can’t operate.
Anyway, he examined Bill right there in his living room, and spent almost an hour studying all Bill’s medical records, x-rays, MRI, etc. Bottom line is, we’re on the right track. He says Dr. Thomas is the best in the business, and we were very fortunate to choose him as the major surgeon. Continue doing what we’re doing, and pls. let him know the outcome. He didn’t charge us a penny for his valuable time and expertise.
He also mentioned that it may be best if Bill never has reconstructive surgery done, nor try to get teeth at a later date. The heavy radiation Bill had in the past, left the tissue with a poor ability to heal, so there is a greater risk of the reconstruction breaking down later. They could maybe TRY a little plastic surgery in several months, just to make the chin look a little more normal, but it would be merely cosmetic. Teeth would most likely be out of the question, and could actually be more harm than good, because too much jaw action would speed up the breakdown of the plastic surgery. This is why reconstructive surgery is rarely done in this kind of case. As long as the patient can talk clearly and gum their food, or take it in liquid or soft form (as Bill does now), they usually just let it heal up naturally and then just leave it. The jaw would be a little misaligned, but not too bad, and eating would be no worse than it is now. But first all, that infection has to be cleaned out. The jaw is trying to reject the metal plate because it’s a foreign body, and it’s going to just come out very soon because here’s hardly any bone there at all now to hold it.
Bill will be checking into the hospital the Monday morning about 11 am before the operation on Tuesday, and will be there from 5 to 7 days, depending on how fast he heals. Because of all the radiation, it may heal more slowly, but the doc thinks he will be out in 7 days, at most.
Other than all this, we are doing well, except I smacked Sandra on the head with mine yesterday afternoon. I was bending down to fasten my sandals and she bent over close to me to pick up a fruit basket; I didn’t see her, turned as I stood up and caught her right above the eye. Didn’t hurt me at all, but it sure did her. She has a nice bump there now. The most dangerous thing about India for her is me!
We just learned there is a big exhibition of Indian crafts and food nearby. I think we will check it out Monday.
The church here is adding their prayers to yours for everything to go according to God’s plan. We thank you for yours.
Before we committed to the surgery, we went out to visit the hospital, and it is definitely out in the country. This seems, at first, an odd location for the Barath Cancer Hospital. The rolling hills are mostly fields interspersed with groves of coconut palms, scattered clusters of houses and shops, and occasional walled, multi-storied mansions haughtily overlooking their neighbors.
The hospital is less than imposing, with its one and two-story buildings fronted by a circular drive of packed and moistened earth. However, once inside, the design starts making sense. One enters through the administration building with its cool, gleaming white marble floors, high ceilings and open corridors around a large, grassy, roofless courtyard.
A ramp leads up the hill to a two-story building containing the ICU and recovery rooms. The corridors are also open to allow the breeze to keep things as cool as possible. There are three classes of patient accommodation: ward, private and deluxe. The latter two have a cot for the family member who wishes to stay, a western toilet and a balcony. The TV, AC, and more comfortable bed and cot make the deluxe room a better choice.
The canteen is separated from the other buildings by a short, dirt path. It has a menu of typical, easy-to-prepare South Indian foods, such as poories, dosas, idlees, omelets, etc.
Bustling everywhere, exuding an aura of efficiency and competency, are small, younger women dressed in the satiny white sari that seems to be the uniform of nurses in most offices and hospitals in Mysore.
The overall impression is that things are clean, cool, and competent — a pleasant place to heal.
Sandra writes most of this.
Yesterday was an eye-opening experience into the differences between Indian hospitals and North American ones. We were seen off at the gate of our apartment by Mala, our landlady, who gave us her cell phone number and her son’s, and told us to be SURE and call her, for any reason, day or night, and that she was going to church to light a candle for Bill, which was so sweet of her. She waved us off, and we made the long, bumpy, bone-jarring trip by auto-rickshaw along the rutted roads out to the hospital. The driver took us the longer way, but we didn’t concern ourselves about it too much — we had more important things on our minds at that point.
Upon arrival, we were ushered in to see Dr. Thomas and two of his assisting doctors, and last-minute loose ends were tied up. He told Bill that he was making arrangements for him to be given only bottled water to drink during his stay, to prevent any chance of infection from unfamiliar water, even though the hospital water is so-called “filtered.” He also conveyed to the dietitian that Bill’s not supposed to be fed any tomato, oil, ghee, or sugar. Then we were taken to the cashier, where we had to pay half the price of the surgery in advance, in cash (about $1,000 Canadian-worth). That doesn’t include the cost of any extras, such as X-rays, EKGs, antibiotics, or drugs — those things can be paid for when Bill checks out, along with the other half of the cost of the surgery.
Next, we were ushered by the nurse into the X-ray room, where Bill received a full chest X-ray (even though he had one at Vikram Hospital only a month or so ago). After that, we went into another room where he was given an EKG. I had to wait outside in the men’s “poor” ward, where some very sick-looking men were lying in their beds, one of them groaning. Even in this ward, although the beds are fairly close together, it looked clean and very airy — quite different from the closed-up hospitals at home.
Finally, we were taken up to Bill’s “deluxe” private room on the 2nd (top) floor, after which time there was a steady stream of nurses, social workers, and other staff popping in and out with various questions, forms, instructions, and requests for information. Bill was given oral antibiotics, to put away in a drawer “for later,” and another time a nurse came in and gave him a stinging injection in the bum of the antibiotic Cypro.
But, things really got weird when she came in with a form that gives our consent for surgery. We thought all we had to do was sign on the dotted line, but, no….turns out I was expected to hand-copy the entire, one-page typed form onto another piece of paper I was provided, and then we were to sign both the original typed form plus the one I had written! THAT took a long time, and I had writer’s cramp afterwards — I haven’t had to hand-write that much in years, since the advent of the computer. I’m sure they could have either typed or Xeroxed a copy instead, but I guess the idea is, if you’ve gone to all the trouble of handwriting it, then for SURE you’ve read it thoroughly and there’s no question that you’ve agreed to the terms. The number of typos and turns of phrases, however, was laughable, but I copied it all exactly as-is.
We took a little walk outside the hospital after all that (which freaked out the nurses, because once you’re checked into the hospital, you’re not supposed to leave the grounds), and they also couldn’t understand why in the world we’d want to go for a walk outside in the heat of the day; we might get heat-stroke! We explained that we LIKE the sun, and we truly weren’t going to go far — we just wanted to buy some fruit for Bill, and maybe find a little place to eat lunch. They reluctantly allowed us to go for about a half hour.
As it turned out, there really was no place to go after all, because the hospital is so far out of town, there’s nothing out there except the highway, some factories, a grubby little tea stall, and a lady selling sweets and expensive bananas. We bought a few bananas from her, and then walked back to the hospital, told the nurses we were back again, and walked downstairs to the hospital “canteen” to try and find something edible for lunch.
Inside, the dietician has her office, and there are tables and chairs where the hospital staff and any ambulatory patients who want, can go up to the cashier, order food from a very limited vegetarian menu on the wall, receive tickets for each item ordered, and redeem the tickets at the food counter for whatever greasy slop you’ve decided upon.
South Indian cooking has to be the unhealthiest cuisine in the world, especially when it’s cheap food — everything, but everything is fried in rancid sunflower oil, and what little can’t be fried, like soup, is cooked absolutely to death, and fiery spicy with chili. They also sold sickly sweet tea and milk coffee, and behind the counter were packages of fried snacks, candy, packaged “pickle,” and bottles of soda pop, the more colorful the better, so there was a good supply of brilliant orange Fanta Orange Soda. I finally settled on an onion dosa with dipping sauce, and Bill ordered a “bread and egg” — NOT a good choice (some kind of gummy white bread dipped in an egg batter); the dosa was greasy and not much better, and I left most of it.
After our repast, we went back up to Bill’s room. Two beds are provided: one for the patient, and one for an attendant or the wife, if she wants to stay in the hospital with the patient. The room looks more like a cheap Indian hotel room than a hospital — two stark beds with no sides on them, a plastic chair, a cupboard, and a little tin end-table. There’s a bathroom with a toilet that can either be used as an Indian type (with places to put your feet when you squat), or you can put the seat down and use it Western-style. A tiny cake of carbolic soap (cut in half to conserve) is provided on the sink, unless the previous tenant hasn’t used up his piece, in which case that’s left behind for the next person. There used to be a shower fixture, but it’s not there now; just the broken fixtures. But the usual spigots are on the wall to run onto the floor, and a bucket is provided in which to run water for bathing, and a cup for pouring water over yourself. Afterwards, you just dump the water onto the floor and give the floor a wash, and it drains into a large drain in the floor. A small bucket and cup are positioned under a smaller tap next to the toilet, and that’s for washing your left hand after you’ve wiped yourself. Toilet paper, of course, is not provided — fortunately, we remembered to bring a roll. A typical Indian bathroom, all in all.
It’s funny — sheets and pillow cases for beds are provided, and a blanket for the patient, but towels aren’t. We asked for a towel, and were told pointedly that “personal” items are not provided……how it’s determined that a towel is a personal item but a sheet isn’t, I don’t know, but I’m taking Bill a towel from home this evening.
There’s not a piece of hospital equipment of any kind in sight, which is why it doesn’t feel like a hospital room, and the door is open onto the corridor outside that overlooks a courtyard, while a back door opens onto a sunny balcony. Very open-air. The balcony looks out onto a patch of red Indian earth, strewn with coconut palms and other plants — so it’s quite pleasant, with lots of birdlife and the occasional cow. There’s a clothes line strung along one side, from which dangle dozens of freshly-washed rubber gloves (obviously they re-cycle them, although whether the nurses re-use them or they’re just re-used by the cleaning staff, we don’t know). The whole time we were there, however, we never once saw either the nurses or the cleaning staff wearing rubber gloves. Outside in the corridors are metal canisters with a spigot and a metal cup sitting on top. These are the communal water containers with the “filtered” water. Fortunately, Indians always tip the cup up and pour the water into their mouths without touching it with their lips, so hopefully, no germs are spread. It’s a trick that Bill and I have not yet mastered, however, so we’re grateful for bottled water.
I haven’t been sleeping well for the past few nights, so I lay down on the extra bed to rest before going through the ordeal of taking the auto-rickshaw home again. The beds are made of some kind of nagahyde vinyl, as are the “pillows” – ha! Guess it’s easier to clean that way, but they sure are hot and sweaty and hard.
Bill had to ask for a top sheet, because in India using a top sheet is unheard of; people just use a bottom sheet and, if necessary, a blanket on top. The sheets and pillowcases were a riot….clean, but very threadbare and pilled, with even a few holes worn through, and faded flower prints of mismatched types. Anyway, I tried to catch a few winks while Bill read his book, but we had a steady stream of constant interruptions, with nurses coming in to take Bill’s blood pressure (how often do they have to do it?!), the cleaning lady coming in to sweep the floor with her little sticks-broom, the cleaning man coming in to wash down the bathroom floor with Dettol (gag), a nurse inquiring out of curiosity what we’d had for lunch in the canteen, and a steady flow of nurses coming in and out to get rubber gloves off the clothesline (?!), as if Bill’s room is a corridor to the clothesline.
Then we were informed that Bill’s operation had been postponed till 2 in the afternoon Tuesday, and that I would only be allowed to visit him for about 5 minutes in Intensive Care afterwards, as he came out of the anesthesia (he would probably be awake, but unable to talk). So, my plan now is to catch an auto-rickshaw around 4:30, run out to the hospital, ask the driver to wait, run in and see Bill for 5 minutes, pay the cashier for the X-ray and EKG he had yesterday, run back to the rickshaw and have him drive me home again (and hope he doesn’t cheat me too badly).
When it came time for me to leave Bill for the night, he walked me out to the hospital gate where the auto-rickshaw drivers hang out. Even though there were 2 of us (it helps to have the authority of a male), they still tried to cheat us. They refused to use their meters, and wanted to charge me 50 rupees for what should be, at most, a 30 rupee ride or less. I couldn’t go with a different driver, because they’re all buddies and stick together and support each other, so they knew they had me cornered. Bill argued with them, and finally got one of them to take me home for 40 rupees, but he wrote down the guy’s rickshaw number (to make him think that maybe we’d report him to the police for overcharging). That was a mistake, because the driver was a sleazy-looking character and asked me questions all the way home. It seemed like he was trying to find out as much information about me as possible. I started to get the feeling that he was trying to find out if I was going to be alone while Bill was in hospital, so that he could come and take revenge or something. I felt so uneasy that I finally had him drop me elsewhere, away from our apartment building, so that he wouldn’t know where I lived. I shoved the 40 rupees into his hand and fled and, when he was totally out of sight, walked the short distance home.
Western hospitals seem to have a constant battle with infection which, I think, is due to the closed ventilation systems. Dr. Thomas said the infection rate is extremely low here. It is probably due to the fresh breeze constantly blowing through the rooms and wards.
Barath Hospital has a men’s and a women’s ward on the ground floor beside the grassy, well-watered courtyard. The top floor of this two-storied structure has the “Special Ward” with the ICU and six private rooms. I am guessing the total capacity is less than 30 patients.
My room was the most expensive one ($20 per day) in the hospital with A/C (not required at this time of year) and a TV with two Indian channels. The less expensive private rooms ($11 per day) have no A/C, no TV, and even harder mattresses and pillows on the beds. This is not accommodation that would suit those not used to India but, if the object is good surgical care, you can’t go wrong with Barath Cancer Hospital.
Bill writes . . .
This was pretty uneventful for most of it, so far as I was concerned. I was not allowed to eat anything in advance of the operation. So, other than protestations from my digestive system, about the only other somewhat interesting thing that happened prior to the operation was a nurse coming in to shave my face.
Or so I thought. I mean, she did have a small bowl with water and a tiny piece of soap, a towel over her arm and a safety razor in her hand. No blade in the razor, though. She had to dig that out of the bag of drugs and other stuff previously prepared and left in the little bed stand.
She did start with my face and I finally lost my mustache! Not that there was much left anyway. Will Sandra scream in horror? Will she walk out and say that until I get a replacement, she will not see me again? Oh, woe!
However, she did not stop with the mustache, but proceeded to carefully remove all facial and neck hair. She did spare the eyebrows, however.
But, she then indicated that I should remove my shirt! Now what? The armpits, of course. Hmm, a first time for everything, I guess. Then it was all of the 6 hairs on my chest, any other fuzz on my front plus a very careful removal of all the hairs around my nipples.
Now, with a little bit of oil, I could look like those wrestlers on TV. Well, I do have to admit that they are filled out a little more than I am.
Sandra continues . . .
I was able to see Bill for about 10 minutes. He was asleep when I arrived, but woke up when I touched him. He didn’t look bad — I asked him if he had any pain, and he sort of shrugged, as if he might have a little. He cannot speak, as he had a nose tube and a few other tubes attached. I had to remove my sandals before entering the room. The nurses seem to be in constant attendance — they presented me with another bill; this one for all the drugs he’s taking. The cashier was already closed for the day, so I’ll have to pay both bills tomorrow.
After talking with him for a few minutes and giving him a kiss, I went downstairs again and looked for Dr. Thomas, who was still in his office even though it was almost 6 pm. After about a 10 minute wait, I was ushered in to see the doc. He assured me that the operation went well, and was fairly short. Praise the Lord; he said he cannot detect any visible signs of cancer! That was exactly what I wanted to hear, but we must still wait for the biopsy results for confirmation. He said he doesn’t know if it’s due to the Ayurvedic medicines, or Bill’s diet, or what, but it’s good news.After talking with him for a few minutes and giving him a kiss, I went downstairs again and looked for Dr. Thomas, who was still in his office even though it was almost 6 pm. After about a 10 minute wait, I was ushered in to see the doc. He assured me that the operation went well, and was fairly short. Praise the Lord; he said he cannot detect any visible signs of cancer! That was exactly what I wanted to hear, but we must still wait for the biopsy results for confirmation. He said he doesn’t know if it’s due to the Ayurvedic medicines, or Bill’s diet, or what, but it’s good news.
He seemed to think that Bill can be moved out of Intensive Care tomorrow morning, and into his room, which is just next-door, practically. That means I can go see him for as long as I want tomorrow. The only bad news is that it’s sounding as if they’re going to want to keep him in the hospital for 10 days, rather than the 5 to 7 days mentioned earlier. This is because he will probably be slow to heal, due to all the radiation he’s had in the past. If I know Bill, though, he’ll be doing everything in his power to convince them to release him early. He’s already said that he can change his own dressings at home, without even needing to go up to Vikram Hospital, just up the street, and have it done professionally. I guess we’ll see. It will take the better part of 2 months to heal completely.
I got a better auto-rickshaw driver today — the only thing wrong with him was that his meter ran too fast, so it was probably rigged, as so many of them are. He also claimed he didn’t have any change for my 100 rupee note, but I just let it go. It was only an additional 4 rupees, plus a 5 rupee tip, so I chalked it up to giving him an extra 4 for waiting time out there, which was about 35 minutes total.
As we drove away from the hospital, I saw the other driver that I took yesterday, staring at me and giving me the evil eye. He was probably mad because I asked my driver to wait for me and take me home, so he missed being able to put me at his mercy again and ride with him. I don’t want to ever take him again. If I have to, I’ll get the hospital staff to phone for another rickshaw to come pick me up from town, even if it costs extra to come so far. If it wasn’t for these darn rickshaws, I’d have no problem going out to see Bill every day, even if he IS kept in for 10 days.
I spent the night after the operation in ICU, then was transferred to my room. Before that was done, Dr. Thomas came in to see how I was doing, and reassure me of the success of the operation and his conviction that there were no signs of cancer. That opinion would have to be confirmed by the biopsy, of course.
Up to this point, I wasn’t able to speak as I had tubes stuck up both nostrils. I hadn’t been given a tracheotomy like last time, for which I was grateful. This time, as I was told, they had used a forked tube up one nostril, down past my larynx with one fork into each lung. That prevented my tongue from falling back and blocking the air passage during the operation. It also prevented air from going through the larynx; hence my inability to speak.
The other nostril had, and still does as of this writing, a tube up it and into the stomach, through which I am to be fed. That remains until the hole in my mouth completely heals, and there is no danger of food getting caught, thereby causing infection.
You have no idea the capacity of your nose until you have a doctor pull something out of it that was inserted while you were under anesthesia! Many years ago I had an operation to correct my septum that had become “deviated” when, at the age of 17, I had leaped off the low diving board in a beautiful jackknife, and plunged to the 12 foot depth of my hometown pool. Only, this was at night in an unfamiliar, poorly lit pool that, to the shock of my life, turned out to be only 8 feet deep!
I could have broken my neck, but only smashed my nose in. The life guard was shocked, to say the least, when I emerged from the water with blood pouring down my face!
That was one of many times my sweet Lord protected me very serious injury or death, even long before I came to know Him. Another time that comes to mind was on a narrow, snowy road in Yugoslavia in January, 1969, while driving a ’52 VW bug with worn summer tires . . . But, I digress. . .
(If my memory of the lore of their lives serves me well, this is a recollection that Bill is sharing about a very important instance of travel, when he and Sandi had just me and were madly in love. They met, unplanned, in several places a thousand kilometres or so apart within a month and decided that something was bringing them together. - Michael)
Years later, I had surgery to correct the bent, or deviated, septum, and the doctor put splints on each side of it to hold it in place until it healed. The splints were inside the nose. A couple of weeks after the surgery, I went into his office for him to remove them. He leaned me back in the chair, held my head with one hand, stuck a big pair of tweezers up each nostril and pulled out a thin, plastic splint that was a wide and my thumb! Tears were pouring down my face, not because of pain, but because the tear ducts were stimulated.
Dr. Thomas, feeling, no doubt, that I might like to be able to communicate with more than hand signals and grimaces, decided it was time to remove the tube into my lungs. He grabbed it with his right hand, put his left hand on my forehead, and began to pull. It felt like someone was pulling out the inside of my head through my nose! A horrible feeling. It seemed to be stuck, and he had to yard on it a few times, each time harder with more pressure on my sinuses, until it finally came free. It was wider than my thumb and thicker, too! Not a lot of fun.
I spent the day with Bill. He’s back in his room again, and he can walk around, but has to be EXTREMELY careful now of infection. His mouth is much more fragile than the average person’s, due to all the radiation he’s had. There is great danger any food that goes in his mouth will catch in the hole that goes through to his cheek and cause infection, at least until that opening heals up. (This is why reconstruction later on is almost an impossibility — it wouldn’t hold.) He’s not to put ANYthing in his mouth but bottled water. The nurses feed him through a tube in his nose, which he hates, but it has to stay in for at least a week. They feed him a kind of rice gruel, which is at least a little more nutritious than sugar water. It’s hard for them to force it through the nose tube, though, because it’s thicker than water. He’s still taking lots of pills and injections, too — probably antibiotics. His throat is very rough and hoarse because it’s still scratched from a tube that was down his throat in ICU. They pulled it out this morning, and he said that hurt like the dickens. Now it just feels like a very bad sore throat, but it should heal soon. Other than that, no pain.
I got the same auto- rickshaw driver this morning that I had yesterday. Because this time I wasn’t asking him to wait, he wanted to charge me fare-and-a-half, because he said that the hospital is so far out of town, he can’t possibly get a fare back into town again, so he loses money when he doesn’t have a return fare. He does have a point — gas is unbelievably expensive here, and Barath is way out in the middle of nowhere. I managed to talk him down a little bit, but basically ended up paying almost fare-and-a-half. Coming home, I had a ride with Mala, bless her. She came out around 5:30 because she wanted to see Bill briefly (but I know she mainly did it as a favor to me). She knows about my rickshaw problems. She ended up having to stay for an hour, because just at that time, the doctor decided to talk to me.
Bill is terrorizing the nurses here — it began on the day he checked in, and continues. They want to keep him right under their noses, where they can keep a close eye on him, but he’ll have none of it. He’s not supposed to walk farther than the corridor in front of his room, but today when I arrived, there he was, outside in the driveway, looking as if he was on vacation with his jaunty straw hat and tan. He had just walked out. It’s pretty hard to get by the nursing station, which is right next to his room, but he constantly challenges them — when they tell him he can’t do something, he immediately counters with, “Why not?” Which throws them into utter confusion and consternation. Well, just as long as he doesn’t yank out the nose tube through which they’re feeding him rice congee…that’s what he did in Surrey Memorial, if you recall.
I’m sure it’s a good sign that he’s so energetic right after surgery, although he admits he feels a little weak, and his throat is hoarse and sore from the feeding tube. He’s healing well, so maybe the doc. will release him before the 10 days are up.
Dr. Thomas is very special — soft-spoken, gentle, patient, and highly regarded by all. I caught him praying in his office after a long day of work (he’s Roman Catholic).
The door bursts open at 5:50 AM to admit a cleaning woman in a beautiful, green sari and matching rubber gloves, carrying a basin of warm water in which is a wash cloth. After my eyes clear, I finally figure out that she is about to wash my entire body.
I made short shrift of that, I can tell you! “Thank you, but I think not,” I said, and indicated I could do it myself. I wasn’t able to figure out if the look she gave me was one of surprise or disappointment; the latter, no doubt. She abruptly left the room and, as I was about to drift off again, came back with a big bucket of hot water, which she placed in the bathroom, saying, “Wash!”
I had a good wash-off by pouring the water over my body, being careful to keep the bandage dry, with the smaller, liter-sized cup which is in all Indian bathrooms. I dried off, got back into my sleeping clothes, turned out the light and went back to sleep.
At 7 am the door opens again, this time by a nurse, with “breakfast.” After that is stuffed up my nose through the tube, I lay down again and slept until 8:30.
The rest of the day consisted of feedings every few hours, naps, some wanderings around, reading, watching a bit of news, some in English, etc. Final feeding at 10 PM, after which it was firmly suggested that I go to bed for the night. I did. There wasn’t much else to do.
That pretty well set the tone for the rest of my stay, except that the morning wash bucket came in about 6:30 AM, which I appreciated.
In spite of the assurances from Dr. Thomas, it was a relief to learn, Saturday evening, that the results of the biopsies on the removed bone and tissue were completely negative. No sign of cancer! Not bad for starting with a 10% chance of survival and then being told that “this cancer will kill you in six to twelve months”!
When one prays, “Your will be done, Lord,” one still has this little voice quietly saying, “but I would really appreciate it being what I want.” I do admit I had to deal with that, as well as a nagging doubt that seems to be impossible to banish. “Lord, I believe…Help Thou my unbelief.”
However, I really expected to fully recover. At least, I think I had pretty well convinced myself of that.
So, why were the predictions of the oncologists and surgeon confounded? That is the question, isn’t it? Was it one thing, or a combination of things? How do I relate whatever faith and trust in God I have to the many things we tried? Should I have trusted that God would honor the prayers of the hundreds of people that were praying for me and done nothing else?
I am still working on this and will have more to say about that soon,and much else, I am sure!
In the meantime, we again want to thank everyone for their prayers, love and support, and we certainly thank God for these results, His healing and, most of all, His love!
I enjoyed the nurses. None spoke much English, but we managed to communicate with few problems. Most seemed to be advancing their education, as they were studying in their spare time. Some had a pretty good sense of humor, and all had a ready smile.
Shylaja was a bit of a card. When she first came into the room, she marched up to my bed, hands on hips, and said, “From where?”
“I go Canada you,” and then indicated she was kidding.
At least, I think that was what she meant. On the other hand, if I had said, “OK,” she might have taken me seriously.
As Sandra mentioned earlier, there is an extra bed for an “attendant,” or family member, to stay with the patient. This is optional but, as it soon became obvious, was expected. I was often asked, “Where is your wife?” I kept things simple by trying to explain that she was not feeling well and went home to sleep.
The fact of the matter was she was pretty stressed. I was afraid she might get sick if she stayed all night in the hospital with me, what with the interruptions starting early in the morning. I felt it best that she try to get as much sleep as possible. Furthermore, there were no screens on the windows and, the way mosquitoes can find her from miles away, would have meant we would have been plagued all night long. (As it was, I only had to kill one or two a night, bloated with my blood.)
Most days, when I was leaving for a stroll around the grounds, I would have to wade through about 15 younger med students. The instructor, whose English was good, would bring them there for a few hours each day for some real-world instruction.
And then, there were the other patients. I appeared to be the least damaged of the lot. Only one other guy was walking around more than a little, and he was breathing through a hole in his neck, having had a tracheotomy, and I know what THAT is like.
A couple of doors down was a woman who was not doing well at all. She would often moan with each breath. A couple days after my operation, I noticed a lot of her family around and outside her door, looking very upset. Some were crying.
That afternoon, I was reclining on one of the beds with one of the nurses administering a feeding, when one of the men I had noticed earlier wandered into my room. I could see he was upset, as he went to the chair and sat down. Not feeling that any usual greeting would be appropriate, and not being sure of his understanding of English, I just nodded and said nothing. He finally started on the usual questions. “From which country?” “What is your good name?” Then he lapsed into silence, staring vacantly at the floor.
When the nurse left, he started talking in broken English with many lapses into long silences. I was able to understand that the woman was one of his four sisters, the eldest of which had already died of cancer. He indicated that she wasn’t going to make it. I tried to express my sympathies and said that I would pray for her, but he didn’t really seem to acknowledge it. After more time went by, he got up and left. As he did so, I noticed he was a bit unsteady on his feet, so he may have been using alcohol to deaden the pain.
I didn’t ask the nurses about her, due to an attack of Western inhibition about minding one’s own business. As I think about it now, I am sure they would have told anything I wanted to know, as people here seem to have no such restraints.
One tends to forget how much pain and suffering is going on in this world, until one is slapped in the face with it yet another time.
Two families appeared to be of Tibetan origin, and we have learned there are lots of them in the area. Most came as refugees, and are trying to make a life here.
I mentioned above that I was reclining on the bed while being fed. The nurses are short, and I doubt if many even hit 5 feet high, which is typical of most South Indian women. In order to get good drainage through the feeding tube, it helps to lift the end with the syringe as high as possible. It is a hassle to insert the plunger, jamb it down, kink the tube to prevent back-flow, remove the syringe, yard out the plunger, and reinsert the syringe into the end of the tube in preparation for the next 20 cc load. It is easier to let gravity pull the stuff through the tube. Of course, if there is a little lump, which there often is, then one has to resort to the plunger.
There isn’t much for families staying with patients to do here. The wife of the guy with the hole in his throat spent most of her time sitting against the rail next to the courtyard outside his room. She would sometimes wander around, and often stopped at my door, especially if Sandra was with me, and would lean casually against the frame and look at us; around the room; back at us, and smile. She seemed to speak no English. In fact, I am not sure I heard her speak at all.
A few posts ago I asked why were the predictions of the oncologists and surgeon confounded? Was it one thing, or a combination of things? How do I relate whatever faith and trust in God I have to the many things we tried? Should I have trusted that God would honor the prayers of the hundreds of people that were praying for me?
God is certainly all-powerful and He can, just by speaking, create or, I suppose, destroy. He can, just by speaking, heal. But, from what I read in the Bible and have observed, God doesn’t get directly involved all that often. He seems to use His created beings, either angels or humans, to convey His messages and perform His work.
I have thought about that, but have not completely resolved it in my mind, so I won’t delve into it here, except to say that I think it has something to do with His love for all He creates, and His desire to involve them directly in His government.
It also seems to me that God rarely performs obvious miracles to accomplish His purpose. He seems to want to influence decisions in a way that His will, which just also happens to be what’s best for all concerned, is accomplished. To do this He will use many tools and circumstances.
In my case it seems to boil down to the following:
Prayer. There have been 3 or 4 church congregations, and now the one here in Mysore, praying for me at various times. In addition, there have been untold numbers of individuals, some of whom I don’t even know, praying for me, too.
I don’t know if prayers have a cumulative effect or not, but there seems to be some scientific basis to the effect of prayer on healing. I came across one web site that lists a number of studies that indicate that, assuming the information is correct. It is at http://www.plim.org/PrayerDeb.htm.
One thing is certain: the Bible talks a lot about prayer and it seems to be important. In my case, I believe it was, and is, profoundly so.
However, how did God answer those prayers? Obviously, at this point there is no detectable evidence of cancer, so one could say the result was cure. In light of the prognostications about 7 months ago, it could be said that it is a miraculous result. I certainly believe so.
However, it wasn’t an instantaneous cure, and involved a lot of effort, mostly on the part of my wife, as well as others. The combination, in addition to prayer, and in no particular order, seems to be positive attitude (which many authors seem to feel is most important, and I believe it is certainly a key factor, maybe next in importance to prayer); using the Budwig diet (simple and lots of references on the internet); strict vegetarian diet except for the dairy in the Budwig diet; strict avoidance of processed and refined foods, especially sugar; freshly made vegetable juices; Ayurvedic medicines; loving support of family and friends (for which I am eternally grateful, and, I think, ranks high in importance); surgery and radiation (In my case, due to the incredibly rapid advance of the tumor and lack of response to the natural remedies I had at the time, I felt these were necessary. In other cases, I would avoid those, if at all possible. I will be suffering the adverse effects of those the rest of my life.); products from Glaepa Life, Jason Winters’ Tea, other herbs and dietary supplements too numerous to mention; and, oh, did I remember to mention prayer?
I think God led us to consider using all of these, and other, things for a reason. I just haven’t figured it all out yet. But, it seems clear to me that God wants us to work through things with the brains He gave us while, at the same time, being prepared to allow Him to do His will, whatever that might be, and trusting it will, ultimately, be best for us and those involved.
The other issue with which I am wrestling is,… well, the rest of my life. When one is told in no uncertain terms that one is going to die soon (as opposed to being subconsciously aware that one could be wiped out by an errant sidewalk cyclist or block of ice falling from an airliner), one does have to consider that possibility.
The one who pronounced the death sentence also counseled us to not waste time and effort searching for alternatives, but to do what we could to enjoy what time is left to me. That was, in fact, what a therapist I saw a few times did when he was given a death sentence because of the cancer he had. He sold his practice and went to live in Spain with his wife until he died. He didn’t die, and had to get back to work.
It appears that, in the not too distant future, I will also have to think about finding a way to support myself and my wife.
What can I take from the last two years? How will God want me to use it? What does He have in mind for me now?
Well, there is time enough for that after we have healed. In the meantime, as soon as we get the OK from the doctor, I think I will take Sandra to a long, sparkling beach beside the sea in Goa for a few weeks.
Well, tonight I finally got my nose tube removed. Such a relief! It has been 18 days since I have had even a morsel of food by mouth, and we are celebrating.
We had been told to come to the doctor’s office about 7:30 or 8 p.m. Thursday night was “free” night, and there would be a lot of people. Arriving later would mean we might wait less time.
At 7:45 the waiting room was full, and there were people in the rose garden outside. So much for not waiting long. Oh, well. These people obviously aren’t here to socialize and have needs, too. However, after waiting about 10 minutes, 4 people emerged from the doctor’s office, and a similar-sized group rose from their seats and entered. From that, we surmised our wait wouldn’t be as long as feared.
We noticed that most of the people there were Muslim. Perhaps it is because, as we learned recently, that Muslims are very disadvantaged, especially in the education system. Apparently there is some form of subtle racism which results in the children coming out poorly educated. Which means, of course, they are on the low end of the earning power spectrum, and thus, were taking advantage of “free” night.
Most patients didn’t have an obvious problem, but that didn’t mean the whole family wasn’t there with them, in most cases. Often their children were with them, including, on this night, a beautiful little girl with a round face framed in black, curly hair and the biggest black eyes you have ever seen. Her little ankle-bracelets jingled when she ran around. It was difficult, if not impossible, to tell which of the adults was really the patient. They all went into the office together.
However, there were a couple of old ladies that were in very bad shape. They had to be supported by two other people as they came in or left. They went into another room off the waiting room. That room had beds with IV poles. Perhaps some chemotherapy was administered there. If so, that would explain these ladies’ condition aside from any cancer they had!
We were accurate in our assessment. About 20 minutes later we were called in.
Dr. Thomas cleaned the wound, and decided I had healed enough to remove the tube. He said to come back in a week for a checkup, but was sure everything would be fine.
When we were beside the road trying to flag an auto-rickshaw after our visit, one pulled up and disgorged two people. Then they turned around and, with the aid of the driver inside the back and pushing from behind, slowly eased another old lady out of the auto. They very carefully helped her into the clinic. Actually, with the darkness, it was hard to tell exactly what age range she might have been. She could have been the man’s wife, and he was probably middle age or younger. Cancer can really age a person.
After they were clear, the driver motioned us to enter while he went to collect the fare. The meter indicated 40 rupees, so they had come 7 kilometers. On these streets, that could not have been at all pleasant for that poor woman in her condition.
We decided to come to the Park Lane Restaurant, one of our favorite places, for a relaxing dinner in their semi-indoor garden. We were warmly greeted by waiters and servers. Hand shakes were offered all around, along with inquiries after my health.
I stuffed myself on mashed potatoes, creamy vegetable stew, 2 hard boiled eggs and a cup of hot ginger water. When I was shoving food into the nose tube, I sometimes felt full but never satisfied. Now, I am not only full, but very satisfied.
The ginger in the hot water had a definite bite in the back of my throat, so I think I will give it time to recover from the irritation caused by the tube before I try the spicier Indian food. Otherwise, swallowing was not a problem at all, to my surprise.
I find it interesting. I used to carp about not being able to have things like fresh salad because I can’t chew tough food. Sandra had to remind me that I should be grateful to be alive, which I surely am. However, it seems that we all have the tendency to lose sight of the big picture, in which God has demonstrated His love and concern for us over and over. We tend to focus instead on the little irritations and, in light of eternity, ridiculously insignificant things.
As the old song shining through the mists of antiquity goes:
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime
You might find
You get what you need
God has brought this home to me, yet again. He basically said to me, “My dear child, quitcher belly achin’! You really have nothing to be complaining about, do you? Unfortunately, you will have to experience a little worse for awhile.”
After 18 days without passing food through my mouth, I am now much more appreciative of what I can eat! There are people who, after certain operations, have to spend the rest of their lives eating through a stomach tube. Who am I to complain? What do I really have to complain about?
But, you know and I know that I will, no doubt, lose my perspective and complain about something again. I hereby give you permission to remind me of this, should that occur.
By the way, I can’t squirt water through a hole in my cheek anymore. There’s always a downside to everything . . . That’s not a complaint, incidentally!
(Betcha that song is now running round your brain!)
I am nearing the end of my current “epic,” my battle with Stage IV oral squamous cell carcinoma. The cancer appears to be gone, and I am cleaning up the aftereffects of the mess it left behind.
(By the way, I hate the term “in remission.” That implies that it is still there and will most likely come back. It is a way for the medical profession to not admit that cancer can be cured. It admits ultimate defeat. It is just too negative for me.)
No one knows why I got cancer, of course. I was healthy, didn’t smoke or drink, exercised more or less regularly, and was (mostly) vegetarian. Maybe I ate a little too much sugar, but that wasn’t all that often.
So, now at 60 years old, and still feeling like I’m in my teens . . . well, ok, my late 20′s, and being free of cancer for over 20 months, I am still trying to put the whole experience into perspective. I am coming to my own conclusions as to why I went through this experience, and you will find some of that on this web site.
I should add that it wasn’t only me on this epic. My wife was by my side the whole way, giving infinitely valuable support. Other fellow travelers included my wonderful daughter, Adrianna, my fantastic sisters and brother, my beloved “son,” Michael, and a host of family, friends, and church family. I am indebted to all for their unwavering support and continual prayers.
The foundation of all this support was the love and trustworthiness of my God and Savior who strengthened and sustained us all throughout the journey. Without Him, all else would have been useless and pointless.
If you have cancer, you can survive, too. One of the goals I have for this web site is to give you some tools to help you do just that, and to encourage you on your journey.
For, if you have cancer, you have embarked on a journey, an “Epic,” as one person called it. You will decide the outcome of your Epic, not your doctor, not those who love or hate you, not the food you eat or medicines you take. All of these things may have a positive or negative influence, but it is YOU who will decide what the outcome of your Epic will be.
Of course, death, or the lack thereof, is not the outcome. Death is, in all but a few cases, postponed, not avoided. Much of the information on this website IS to help you put the inevitable off, at least for your Epic, and to point you to the most positive outcome.
I’ll tell you about my battle with oral squamous cell carcinoma,, and talk about the things that helped me overcome it. I will discuss why these things are applicable to not only my cancer, but leukemia, Hodgkin’s Disease, stomach cancer, colon cancer, brain tumors, prostate cancer, breast cancer, or any other type you may have. My wife and I learned a lot on this Epic, for this was not just mine, but hers as well, and we’ll be sharing these with you.
Do not be afraid. Epics are not necessarily fun, but there can be a lot of good times on the way. And, you will be glad you went through it when it is over.
Epics cost. Mine left me with only half a jaw, no teeth, numbness on the right side of my tongue, mouth and lips, some difficulty swallowing, a somewhat disfigured face (although some might think it an improvement!), and tinnitus. But, now that I am mostly through it, what the experience has given me far outweighs the cost, at least for me.
I hope you will be encouraged and strengthened by what you find here, and your resolve to fight will increase every day. So, pick up some of the weapons you find here and go forth with courage on this great battle that has come upon you.
Be a survivor!
I am with you all the way.
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