Life After Cancer: Profound Gratitude

It is has been over four years since a group of excellent physicians and researches contributed to saving my life and the quality of my life. It has been years lived in profound gratitude for the miracle of existence and very specifically for the generosity towards me of many caring and wonderful people which includes beside the health practitioners my family and friends.

Although this gratitude has been constant, after a couple of failed attempts to express it I have simply nourished it within myself. Now I want to share these words, in spite of their inadequacy to reflect the breadth of my thankfulness. The chronology of the events guides the order in which I mention all of those to whom I am so deeply thankful for contributing to preserving my life and nourishing me in the journey to increased health and a finer sense of well-being.

Being told I had had cancer, then facing the recovery from a very devastating surgery and moving towards the acceptance of a new reality in my life has indeed brought about many reflections. I had always believed that I appreciated life, but the depth of that appreciation has multiplied tenfold, and so has the joy of every minute. I had believed I was thankful for breath, but now each breath brings a deeper awareness of this extraordinary, inexplicable symbiosis between us and air, this gift of having life renewed with every breath. And at every instance gratitude is present behind every thought, every action, every word.

The person who first saw a shadow on one of my lungs in an X-ray she had ordered and who took the professional responsibility of alerting me to its significance was a NURSE PRACTITIONER at the UCSF Lakeshore Internal Family Practice Clinic. I must confess that I dismissed the warning because a long time ago I had been told that there were some old scars on my lungs. My general practitioner, DR. KATHERINE STRELKOFF, insisted that unless I could produce those old X-rays she needed new exams. It took a great deal of prodding from her before I agreed to have additional testing; and it was also her insistence that led me to the Pulmonary Practice Department at UCSF. The doctors in the Pulmonary Department took great interest, and though their prevailing opinion was that I should go ahead with surgery to remove the lump even if we did not know for a fact that it was malignant, they respected my resistance and facilitated all intermediate tests—cultures, breathing tests, and finally a bronchoscopy. DR. DANA MCCLINTOCK supported me with the best of medical care, an exemplary combination of expertise and humanity.

The team who performed the bronchoscopy were not only very professional, but also helped me through my great fears. Although I was much more aware and remember much more than they thought I would, it was their kind attitude more than the anesthesia that helped me most. I have promised them that someday they will find themselves as wonderful characters in one of my novels, and I intend to fulfill that promise.

Of course, the greatest miracle was the surgery performed by DR DAVID M. JABLONS and his outstanding team, who were able to remove half of my left lung and leave me alive. I am very much aware of the enormous amount of sacrifice that acquiring this kind of expertise demands: of the many hours of their lives that were not spent on entertainment or rest, but on studying to become surgeons; of the unending efforts to remain on top of evolving science; and of the enormous responsibility and concentration that an operation of this nature requires and the stress it must create on those performing it. How can I thank them enough for having devoted their lives to saving those of others?

While surgery was the great gift that removed the cancer from my body, it was at the same time the beginning of a journey. The many nurses who took care of me in the recovery room, the intensive care unit, and on the surgical floor, all contributed to my healing. I will always remember with special appreciation the X-ray technician who, seeing me in such great pain, wrapped me in a warm blanket before he wheeled me into the hallway to await the X-ray results. How much a little kindness can accomplish! That simple act moved me enormously, as he was moved when I returned to thank him. The pressures at a hospital can be too great, and sometimes callousness may be a protective coating to surviving them. In that warm blanket, which I brought home from the hospital, I keep finding a message of hope, not for my individual cure but for the transcendence of the human heart.

My family and close friends who were with me every moment helped me endure the pain, monitor the use of painkillers, and replace them rather quickly, if not necessarily easily, with meditation, deep breathing, and a state of serenity that accelerated the healing. This support became especially important when I was faced with having to make a decision about my ongoing treatment.

I had received from the Cancer Board the diagnosis of a 1+ status and was given the alternative of having Chemotherapy or not. What were essential to me in finding the courage to choose my own path were the presence of my children at the moment I was given this diagnosis and the appropriate questions they asked; the unfaltering presence of my partner, Isabel, who accompanied me through the subsequent searches; and above all, the promise of unconditional support from those who were closest to me for whatever decision I would choose to make.

Here, my gratitude goes to DR. GARRETT SMITH for his vision of combining the best of all worlds in his practice by supporting what traditional Western Medicine has to offer with a comprehensive wellness path that is not bound by one given protocol, but is open to all possibilities.

Also, my gratitude to Dr. MARTIN L. ROSSMAN, author of Fighting Cancer from Within, a doctor who embraces Medicine as the path to health nurtured by the body itself. He was kind enough to speak with Dr. Smith, when I still felt confused by the choice of treatments. Their dialogue was most helpful in clarifying what real expectations for survival could be derived from chemotherapy treatment in my case; and it cleared the way for my partner Isabel to feel comfortable with my decision not to undergo chemotherapy at this time. She would have supported me regardless of my decision, but because of this dialogue she was able to feel at ease with my choice.

MICHAEL BROFFMAN from the Pine Street Clinic has been monitoring my process from the very first moment after the operation. I thank UCSF Nurse Practitioner SHANE CARDOSO for her high recommendation of his work.

Michael clearly pointed out at our first meeting that my choice was not Chemotherapy or Nothing—that between those two extremes there was a continuum of many alternatives. While he did not influence my decision not to choose chemotherapy, he pointed out that with or without it there were many things I could do to boost my immune system. Once I had told him that with Dr. Garrett’s approval I was choosing not to use chemo, he started me on a very comprehensive plan that included a vegetarian diet and numerous vitamins and supplements (including but not limited to Selenium, Vit. D, EP-6, COQ10, EPA/DHA oil, Curcumin, Saventaro, Resveratrol, Emerald Green Defense Formula, and his own formulas of Chinese Herbs), and recommended Qigong as a form of healing meditation and exercise.

I have seen Michael regularly and I could not be happier with the results. I lost 30 pounds; I have recovered a great deal of vitality; and my whole panel of blood tests are excellent. The serenity and support offered by the Pine Street Clinic are also a blessing. Being under the combined care of Dr. Garrett Smith. Dr. Martin Rossman, who I met through the Pine Street Clinic, and Michael Broffman is most comforting. The last PETScan, which Dr. Smith qualified as “pristine,” led him to suggest that I would not need a similar test for a year. I will have the next in April 2010.

During all this time Dr. Rossman’s wisdom to treat the multiple health issues that can surface at my age and his acupuncture and visualization sessions. have improved my overall health and wellbeing. A doctor who combines traditional Western training with an openness to complementary healing practices is indeed not common. His combination of wisdom and knowledge, kindness and compassion, his ability to listen and support patients in all ways is rare and I fully appreciate it.

As a result of the surgery, I had a torn ligament in my right shoulder. This was very troublesome, since I had the scar from the surgery on the left side and on the other side a shoulder I could not rest on. Sleeping became very difficult. I would wake up in pain several times each night and I had very little mobility in my right arm. This went on for nine months, during which the Kentfield Rehabilitation Center, in Kentfield, was an extraordinary source of healing and support. Three excellent therapists, MATT DALPINO, SHIRLEY MCQUEEN and MARY DOWLING, provided treatments and exercises for recuperating from the surgery and healing the shoulder. They also offered me friendship and support during some long periods when I had to live alone while my partner assumed professional responsibilities for both of us and while she traveled to Spain for family emergencies. These three physical therapists are highly qualified professionals and also kind and caring human beings who understand that their role in caring for the elderly, the infirm, the frail, and those in pain, requires much more than their healing hands, and are therefore willing to give their all as healers.

This is hardly the place to thank by name all the members of my family and the close friends who have given me such demonstrations of love and care. I have tried to thank them all individually, but I want to state how important these expressions of love and friendship are for the healing process.

I do want to acknowledge DONALD RUBBO and his excellent Qigong and Wellness classes; the encouragement I received from the video Cancer Doesn’t Scare Me Anymore, by Loraine Day; the inspiration found in My Grandfather’s Blessings and Kitchen Table Wisdom, by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.; the determination to remain vegan for the rest of my life gained from reading The China Study by T. Colin Campbell, Ph.D., and the energy received from the video Strengthening Your Immune System Through Mind and Movement.

And always the transcendent energy derived from the Quantum Life Breathing Meditations, through the tapes of JERU KABBAL, and from the blessed continuous presence in my life of GANGAJI . I particularly want to thank my dearest friend ELAINE MARIE and the Watsu/Aquatic Massage sessions we have shared in the inspiring and serene environment of Spirit Lake. These water sessions are capable of providing the deepest sense of relaxation and renewal.

In the difficult weeks following the surgery I needed a metaphor to explain what I was going through. My constant love for trees provided one. Indeed the metaphor that sustained me through those weeks has proven right: this tree underwent pruning, and now it is facing Spring with renewed strength. And my heart blooms in gratitude to all of you.

If this information could be useful to anyone who is facing similar challenges it would give me profound satisfaction.

With profound gratitude and appreciation,
Alma Flor Ada