In memory of my father-in-law and mother-in-law I will NOT run, walk, bike, or skip for “Cure Cancer” organizations
In January, 2009, I sat in an oncologist’s office with my eighty-year-old father-in-law. He’d asked me to go with him, terrified that his blood tests were going to mention “the C-word.” The diagnosis of leukaemia was disappointing, but the prognosis was encouraging: the specialist told Henry he could expect to live three, perhaps even four more years.
So why, three months later, was I standing with weeping members my husband’s family beside the creek behind his parents’ home, my niece singing Henry’s ashes into the slow current to join the Pacific Ocean?
The evening of Henry’s funeral, my mother-in-law, Marg, had a stroke. Her first. The emergency room doctor said it was stress-related, triggered by the loss of her husband of almost sixty years.
Four weeks later I stood with my husband’s weeping family beside the same creek while my niece sang Marg’s ashes into the slow current to reunite with her life partner.
Henry should not have died so quickly. Henry had faith in the “venerable experts, wiser and more learned than we.” When his appetite waned and his clothes hung like wet laundry on his shrinking frame, those most learned in cancer care had but one wise idea to share: drink a popular meal replacement. We bought cases of “the #1 doctor recommended brand.” We ensured Henry always had a bottle on his TV table.
We didn’t ask questions. We didn’t research healthier options. Nobody mentioned that the #1 food source for cancer cells is glucose (aka sugar). We all but force-fed Henry a drink that has, as its first four ingredients, water, sugar, corn syrup (aka sugar), maltodextrin (aka sugar).
This was our first dance with cancer. We were off-balance. And not one of Henry’s venerable experts offered to teach us the steps to help him survive the promised three, perhaps even four more years.
Of course, there’s no way to prove that Henry’s doctor-recommended diet of a drink that has more sugar than a rootbeer ice-cream float sped his death.
But, as an interesting contrast to my-father-in-law’s cancer experience, is my dad’s story. And so,
in honour of my dad I will NOT shave, sing, golf, or bark for “Cure Cancer” organizations
Within weeks of Henry’s death, my dad was diagnosed with stage four, non-small cell carcinoma.
Unlike Henry, my father had no faith in the “in-the-pockets-of-the-pharmaceutical-industry” oncologists who were assigned to treat him. His approach was to figure out why cancer cells had overtaken his body in the first place; to change his diet, his lifestyle, his attitude; to make his body an unwelcome host for the unfriendly invaders.
With a prognosis of about six months to live, Dad started on a self-researched treatment plan, a treatment plan that is standard in many European countries, unavailable in North America, and dismissed by the doctors at his hospital. Nothing that Dad did was covered by health insurance. Some of his approaches — like having high-dose, intravenous vitamin C injections — required him to find nurses willing to break the law, and risk their licenses to treat him.
In November 2013, Mom and Dad flew from Montreal to Seattle for a family reunion. They celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their first date with a beautiful recommitment ceremony.
At 73-years-old — and over four years past his doctor prescribed ‘due date’ with death — Dad enjoyed a day walking around the enormous Boeing museum with his grandsons. He traveled north of Vancouver to ooh and aah at our view of the Pacific Ocean. His no-carb, no-sugar diet left him looking trim and fit. Nobody outside our immediate family knew or suspected that he was ill.
Unfortunately, the flight triggered swelling in a gland near his armpit. Cancer cells multiplied. His arm ballooned. Extreme pain followed. His oncologist insisted he start chemotherapy. Dad reluctantly agreed, accepting his doctor’s assertion that his unapproved, alternative health-care approach was no longer enough.
But Dad hit the mat after three rounds of the cell execution treatment. His arm’s circumference now larger than his thigh’s, the pain so intense that morphine didn’t dull it, his oncologist admitted that the chemo had done worse than nothing. It had turned Dad into a twilight shadow of himself, quietly, quickly fading into darkness. Nine weeks after Dad’s first injection, his cancer-industry-educated doctor said, “I think we might have been better to have just given you a strong anti-inflammatory. Make an appointment with your family doctor for a prescription.”
One week later, on Friday morning, Dad stumbled while walking to bed; he landed in hospital with a fractured hip.
On Sunday, Dad called. He asked me to let my brother and sister know that his doctor had changed his prognosis from months (on Friday) to weeks (on Saturday) to days. He’d contracted pneumonia.
My flight left Vancouver eight hours after Dad and I spoke. I stood at his bedside at 10:30 on Monday morning. Forty-five minutes later, Dad slipped into a coma. Mom was a widow before lunch.
Of course, there’s no way to prove that the chemo sped his death.
But, Dad’s experience with the traditional cancer machine and his self-directed alternative care approach convinced him that ‘cure cancer’ organizations are more interested in narrow, pharmaceutical-based research and doctor education than in testing and promoting non-pharmaceutical treatments which have proven effective for countless individuals living outside of North America or, like him, having the courage to challenge their doctors.
My dad was a fervent fighter for ‘quality of life’ over ‘quantity of life’ which is the main reason he rejected chemo for so long. Ironically, in not taking his doctors’ advice, he achieved both while living with stage four cancer for almost five years.
So, in honour of Dad, Henry, and Marg, if I run, walk, bike, skip, shave, sing, golf or bark to raise money, it will be in support of an organization that empowers senior citizens in how to be active and educated participants in their health care.
And, I’ll recommend a great “How-to” book about aging without decaying (decay being the cause of most disease): “Younger Next Year,” and, “Younger Next Year for Women” by Chris Crowley.
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