You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ ~Eleanor Roosevelt
The greatest “horror” that I lived through in recent years was the death of my father. A few days ago, August 11th, marked the second anniversary of his passing. Despite the great sadness of having lost him, I am grateful for the very tough experience that I was put through, witnessing his downhill battle with health. His greatest gift for me during this last phase of his life is the awakening of the importance to take responsibility of my own health and to seek alternative ways of health care other than allopathy.
Dad and me at the hospital at the very beginning of his chemotherapy treatment
A little history here: In February 2009 I got a phone call from Mom in New York that Dad was ill… very ill all of a sudden. He was diagnosed with acute leukemia, a disease that was as remote to us as a crater on the moon. We never imagined that cancer would befall our family, perhaps because all of us were so very confident about our healthy genes. Both of my grandmas lived till their mid-eighties. Dad was 74 at the time.
Dad checked himself into the hospital quickly, without being too nervous, not knowing that it was a one-way trip. I dropped everything at hand, made arrangements at my work, where I had only started less than two months ago, and flew from Hong Kong to New York to be with him. The picture above was taken on the day after my arrival. He was in good spirits, and very optimistic that the hospital treatment would make him healthy again. He proclaimed he would live until 100, with confidence, and I believed in him.
With some difficulties I managed to meet his main doctor, a hematologist—apparently a known expert in this field who has successfully treated leukemia patients with chemotherapy and bone marrow transplants. Despite this track record, things would be different in my dad’s case. He said the only chance for Dad to find bone marrow donors would be through his own siblings, who happen to be living in Indonesia and were aged as well. In any case, it would be too risky for an old man like my dad to undergo such an operation, said the doctor, so he suggested chemotherapy alone.
At this point, I had a very faint idea of what chemotherapy entailed. My father faced the treatment with courage. Initially he wasn’t reacting too badly—there was very little hair loss and he was in good spirits. After a few weeks though, he started to show more intolerance—nausea, hair loss, digestive problems, kidney weakness, fever, diarrhea, shingles, the list went on. He also had developed blood clots—as a result of the poor execution in creating a “port” near his collar bone to inject chemo drugs. To dissolve the blood clot, which could cause his lung to be blocked—a fatal risk, they gave him blood thinner, but his blood was already thin, unbeknownst to all.
It was not until much later on, after my dad had died, that I found out that people of his blood type, O, have much thinner blood than other types. But this critical aspect was not known by the medical professionals at the hospital. And it was this that caused the fatal blow to his health and cost him his life. A medical student, known as a “fellow,” was given the task of taking out a bone marrow sample from his hip bone at the end of his three-month chemotherapy so that they could check if there were any more leukemia cells left in his body. After four hours of poking around his hip, she caused him a serious internal bleeding that made it necessary to rush him to the Intensive Care Unit. I and Mom quickly went to the hospital and stayed up the whole night. Dad had to undergo a major surgery. They cut him open to let out the accumulated blood and to stop the bleeding. It was the most grueling couple of hours I had ever experienced in my life. Worry almost killed me.
Finally, he survived the ordeal. But it was not long afterwards that he was rushed to the ICU again. His blood pressure dropped to a dangerous level. At this point I discovered that the nurses had given him too much morphine during the day. This mistake would happen yet another time later on. Anyway, this time, my brother had rushed to New York after a full day’s flight, and met him at the ICU, seeing him with tubes all over his body. Brother’s arrival was a godsend. Dad had not seen him for 20 years. They were estranged for that many years. As soon as Dad came to, he got extremely excited as far as I could tell, even though there was very little in the way he could express himself. Miraculously, probably due to my brother’s presence, he was able to leave the ICU within a week.
While Dad was still at the ICU, the main doctor gave us a triumphant report card, saying that Dad no longer had any cancer cells in his body! He was very proud of his treatment result. However, my father’s vitality was considerably weakened due to the internal blooding and the continuous intake of chemo drugs. Yes, the doctors said in order to control the cancer, he had to keep on taking the drug—indefinitely. The drug would weaken his health further to a point of no return.
In any case, Dad was back in his high spirits and even managed to eat in our presence. Brother had to leave after a week, unfortunately, and Dad’s health drifted back into a trough. However, the doctors had had enough of him—and since the “numbers” showed that he no longer had cancer, there was no “legitimate reason” to keep him at the hospital.
Subsequently, Dad was transferred out of the hospital to a place that resembles an elderly home where seriously ill people are given a chance to recuperate and undergo occupational therapy before they are sent back home. In retrospect, it was a wrong decision to send him there as he was too weak to be left alone in an institute where there is a much lower level of personal care. Besides, he was asked to be transported to the hospital regularly to check on his cancer status. The first of such a visit already saw him falling into unconsciousness. He was rushed to the Emergency Room.
After this ordeal he was back at the hospital where he got to stay another month. At the Emergency Room a young doctor was honest enough to tell me that perhaps we should think about sending Dad to a hospice, where he would literally wait to die. This was the very first time that the concept of Dad dying came into our mind, because all the doctors and nurses had so far been hush-hush about the true status of my father’s health. But for Dad, he had every intention to stay on and fight the battle.
We celebrated Dad’s 75th birthday by his sick bed. He repeated his wish to live until 100. Two months later, he was completely swollen, stinking all over the skin and gradually wilting away. One of the doctors in charge of “making him feel as comfortable as possible” (they have a special term for this but it has escaped me) told me to prepare for his passing. He said he thought there were about 2 weeks left of his life. I was shell-shocked. I knew he was not going to be back on his feet again, but 2 weeks!!! Tears gushed out of my eyes and I was afraid Dad saw that. I turned around, and that doctor gave me detailed instructions on what to say to my dad so that I would be able to leave him without regrets.
The future at this point was still uncertain—would Dad live another month or another year? But I had to head back to my work after having been absent for four months. I said a final goodbye to my dad after asking him for forgiveness and forgiving him myself. I told him that I loved him, and that I would come back and visit him the next summer. He smiled and I kissed him before I took off—something I seldom did ever since I had grown up.
A month after I left, he passed away at the hospice where he was transferred to afterwards.
At this time, I myself was already diagnosed with two huge uterine fibroids and an ovarian cyst—probably a result of the high stress and deep depression that I went through during the months when I cared for Dad.
Having seen how Dad was treated—badly—at the hospital, and how crude allopathy really is in the treatment of sick people, I decided to turn to natural medicine for my own healing.
Through my father’s ordeal, I came to an understanding that there really is no “cure” for cancer by following the traditional Western medical concept of killing the bad cells through drugs, radiation and operations. The drugs not only killed the bad cells but also the good ones. Besides, they create so many other side effects and complications, that more and more drugs are required to counteract those effects. And then there is no guarantee that the cancer will not return some time in the future. In the end, the patient becomes like a zombie. My father did not complain very much about pain, and I had wondered why. In retrospect it dawned on me that they kept on giving him morphine on a daily basis, so much so that they overdosed him twice, causing him to lose consciousness. So even though on the surface, the numbers are brilliant—no more cancer cells, yay!—the health and vitality (or what we Chinese people call “chi”) is in no way restored. I abhor how the so-called medical professionals only trusted the numbers in tests instead of observing how the patient actually feels. In one occasion, the numbers were all “normal” but my father was obviously not behaving normally. It was my instinct that helped me detect the right signals and warn the doctors to take immediate action—they were still waiting for the “numbers” before they were willing to act while he was at the brink of dying!
This is the story behind my “awakening.” We could definitely have sued the hospital for medical malpractice and negligence. But we chose not to do so. Would that have brought back Dad’s life? Definitely not.
If I had known better before he died, things might have been different. His health could’ve been turned around. I know there can’t be anymore “could’ve been’s” and “should’ve been’s” now. Too late. But what is not too late is to take charge of my own health by approaching health from an entirely different angle. So I turned to naturopathy to heal my own tumors. I will share my experience in this ongoing healing journey on this blog as time goes on.
My solace is that Dad is no longer suffering from physical pain. I know that for on the day of his passing, I saw him in my mind’s eye, floating in the sky, smiling at me in his youthful body, sending my a telepathic message, that he is well and I should not be worried about him at all.