I’m not much of a network TV watcher. I was addicted to Law & Order up until about a year ago when I withdrew from it cold turkey. It was taking up way too much of my time, and I realized that I had quite enough drama in my own life, thank you very much! I don’t need to get caught up in the comedies and tragedies of television characters, as I remain quite entertained by the ones in the real lives of those I love.
So, last Thursday night, March 30, when I was folding laundry and watching MSNBC, it must have been divine intervention that led me to turn to ABC after I’d had enough of the so-called news talk for the day. The time was 8:05 pm, and unknowingly, I had turned to Grey’s Anatomy. Although I can’t tell you the last time I saw this show, from the moment I saw the title, “Be Still My Soul," I was intrigued. Once I realized what the episode was about, I was completely captivated. The storyline focused on the final days of Dr. Maggie Pierce’s mother Diane, who was suffering from the effects of the toxic treatment for her late-stage breast cancer. The crux of the plot was the relationship between Maggie and Diane; mother and daughter; doctor and patient in the emotionally exhausting situation of trying to save Diane’s life even when it was clear that death was imminent.
As an African-American woman living with and in ongoing treatment for late-stage breast cancer, I found it to be a powerful episode. In this post, I will share my reflections on it from the patient’s perspective. I was further inspired to write about this because of the Sunday Facebook post of our son’s pediatrician in regards to this episode. She is an African-American doctor who lost her own mother to breast cancer several years ago, so the show was personal for her as well. The dialogue in response to her post made it evident that in this case, television did an extraordinary job of imitating and capturing real life.
What struck me most about the show is the message that according to conventional medicine, there is no cure for late-stage cancer of any kind, just continual treatment with toxic pharmaceuticals until the cancer eventually stops responding to the treatment and death results. Maggie convinced her mother to enroll in a clinical trial, an experimental treatment protocol designed to help develop better drugs to treat cancer. That sounds good in theory, but the effects of the treatment took a far greater physical toll on Diane than her cancer itself. Maggie’s colleagues knew that this would likely be the case and tried to get her to change her mind, but Maggie wouldn’t hear it. She wanted her mother to live by any means necessary, no matter what the cost. My experiences have taught me that there is a different way to live with and treat late-stage cancer.
I am not a conventional person, so my view does not mirror that of the conventional medical world. I do not view my journey with metastatic breast cancer as an automatic death sentence.
Some of you may think that I am in denial, and that is your right. I view my journey as an unprecedented opportunity to stretch boundaries, break barriers, forge new paths, and help pioneer a new course towards holistic and integrative treatment for people with cancer. During my journey, I have learned about how to live abundantly with late-stage cancer without relying solely on toxic traditional drugs. In the process of destroying cancer cells, conventional treatments also destroy healthy cells, leaving the body vulnerable, with a weakened immune system, diminished in its ability to restore itself to optimum health.
In the 7½ years that I’ve been living with late-stage breast cancer, my treatment program has been integrative, meaning I’ve incorporated both conventional and naturopathic modalities to get to where I am today. My conventional treatments include surgery, radiation, and daily pills that block estrogen and decrease the growth of the cancer cells. In the naturopathic world, my treatment has included radical diet changes to give my body the best nutritional support so it can remain healthy as possible. This includes organically-based diets consisting mainly of raw foods, as well as vegan, vegetarian and whole food diets at varying times, virtual elimination of refined sugar and sweets (sugar feeds cancer cells), an extensive daily array of nutritional supplements including vitamins, minerals, and herbs tailored to the specificities of my body and blood type, and major detoxification in the form of regular coffee enemas and juice cleanses. I’ve also done hydrotherapy, Reiki, and acupuncture. Furthermore, I’ve been sustained by the unlimited prayers of countless people who love me!
In short, I’ve lived my mantra from Romans 8:28, which states that “All things work together for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to God’s purpose”. I’ve found that the key to living abundantly with late-stage cancer is holistic treatment that involves the mind, body, and spirit. Because of my experience, I believe calling naturopathic treatment alternative is a misnomer. Physicians and experts in both the naturopathic and conventional worlds must work together to bridge the huge gap that exists between them. My conventional oncologists know little to nothing about naturopathic medicine (it is not a part of their medical training) and are either wary or downright dismissive of it. By the same token, many naturopathic physicians eschew elements of conventional medicine that can be helpful. In my experience to healing from cancer, the both/and approach is far superior to the either/or approach.
Let’s talk for a minute about fighting cancer. Patients are told to ‘fight’ so they can ‘beat’ cancer. Maggie said to her mother in last Thursday’s show: “You can’t quit, you’ve gotta fight.” I NEVER use the word “fight” in regards to my experiences with cancer. JOURNEY resonates with me so much more. To me, a fight means using weapons like knives, guns, and sharp objects designed to kill. Violent force characterizes fights; healing is not violent.
The force that is most helpful to me on this journey is the divine energy that comes from our living, loving God. Divine energy keeps me charged so that I can live life fully each day, and will bring me to my destination on the path to total healing. Divine energy encompasses life force, positive thoughts, courage, strength, light, faith, hope, and love – all necessary fuel for our journeys.
Physical death is inevitable for us all. The pain of watching our loved ones die was captured powerfully on last week’s show. I was present when the mother of one of my best friends died from cancer in her home, and it was heart-wrenching for her daughter who held her as she transitioned from this life into the next. Learning to walk the fine line between loving and letting go is a difficult lesson to learn, but I believe we must. When my father was dying of kidney failure, faced with the agonizing decision of whether to take him off life support, I loved him enough to let him go. He would have turned 84 this past Sunday, and he still lives through me, my brother, my mother, and scores of people whose lives he touched. Though our bodies die, as spirits we live forever.
Although there was no mention of spirituality in the Grey’s Anatomy episode, its title says it all. “Be Still my Soul” is the title of an old hymn of the Christian church, and those words capture the essence of what it means to live, and what it means to die. As I end this post, I invite you to read and reflect on the lyrics below or listen meditatively to the soulful recording by singer David Archuleta. May Your Soul be Still as you continue your journey through this life and prepare for the next.
BE STILL MY SOUL
1 Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide,
who through all changes faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
2 Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
to guide the future surely as the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
all now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
3 Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
when we shall be forever with the Lord;
when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
Text: Katharine von Schlegel, 1697 -?
Translated by Jane Borthwick, 1813-1897
Tune: Finlandia by Sibelius