Monthly Archives: January 2015

Jan 31, 2015: A Current Update

IMG_1496It’s been another very intense two weeks on the cancer journey.

I had followup MRI scans of the spine on Monday and Tuesday, Jan 26th and 27th, as planned.  The scan results are somewhat complex and hard to interpret — which can happen in oncology more frequently than one might expect.  On the positive side, most of the bone lesions are stable in size after the last two cycles of chemotherapy, and there are no new lesions noted. This was really encouraging.  On the other hand, several of the existing lesions increased in size, and, unfortunately, the scans showed signs of recurrence of the worrisome problem involving the T3 vertebral body lesion that I’ve been following and treating for many months.  It is now, once again, coming close to the spinal cord. This is scary and unsettling.

On Wednesday, Jan 28th, I reviewed the findings with my medical oncologist, Dr. John Fleagle.  Given the complex findings — and the types and extent of treatments I’ve already received almost non-stop over the past 16 months — he agreed that the next steps forward are not clear.  

Yesterday, Jan 29th — which was Kristina’s 35th birthday — we went to see a radiation oncologist in Denver whom I’ve seen before, Dr. Dennis Carter, to hear his thoughts and opinions about whether or not the T3 lesion needs to be radiated again, and if so, how urgently.  He acknowledged that treating it now could be helpful, but felt that I have some time to make a final decision.

On Monday, Feb 2nd, Kristina and I are flying to Pittsburgh, PA, for a consultation on Feb 3rd with Dr. Hussein Tawbi, a medical oncologist who is the director of the sarcoma program at the University of Pittsburgh Hillman Cancer Center.  He is also the principal investigator of a number of clinical trials that could potentially be meaningful options for me at this critical juncture.  Hopefully, he will have other helpful insights and recommendations about how to proceed in this situation.  I am eager to see how that visit goes, and what he recommends.  We’ll be flying back home to Colorado on the evening of Feb 3rd.

In the midst of all this, I have unfortunately also been experiencing continued toxicity from the last cycle of Doxil (#4), that I received on Jan 8th.  For some reason, this cycle really wore me out.  I’ve been exhausted, and have had generalized stomach aches, nausea, and very low appetite.  Usually by this time after a cycle of chemotherapy, I have recovered and am feeling generally well.  But not this time.  It has been very discouraging.

If all this weren’t enough, in these last number of weeks I’ve also continued to struggle with recurrent symptoms of difficulty swallowing solid food.  This is caused by the rare achalasia syndrome that I was diagnosed with in 2011, at the time I was also diagnosed with sarcoma, and which I have mentioned briefly in previous blog posts.  Over the past three years, I’ve been treated four different times with endoscopic procedure that includes dilating the lower esophageal sphincter with a balloon, and injecting botox into the sphincter muscle to allow it to open more easily.  Initially, the treatment worked very well. But a year ago the symptoms recurred, and then again they recurred this past fall.

Last week, I saw a gastroenterologist at the University of Denver, who specializes in a relatively new endoscopic surgical procedure, called the “POEM” procedure (which stands for “peroral endoscopic myotomy”).  The procedure has a high chance of relieving the symptoms, but there are risks and potential complications associated with it as well.  It requires anesthesia, at least day in the hospital, and a recovery period of a week to ten days.  He has recommended that I go through with the procedure, and I am strongly considering it.

So, that is a brief overview of the current landscape. It is an understatement to say that our plates have been very, very full.  As always, Kristina and I are doing our best to sort through all these issues and challenges as thoughtfully and carefully as we can.  For now, more chemo or further interventions of any kind are on hold — at least until we return from Pittsburgh. I feel that my body and soul need a period of rest, and some time to recover and heal. Kristina and I continue to move through all of this one day at a time, with as much surrender, wisdom, focused action and intention — and as much heart — as possible.

I will keep you posted as things continue to unfold.

Meanwhile, I want to thank you as always for your love, prayers, and good wishes.  They continue to move and inspire me, and are a great source of comfort and encouragement. As always, I would so much like to be able to respond and be in touch directly with each of you, but with so many things swirling around right now, both inside and out, it is just not possible.  I hope you understand.

With love and appreciation …

Jan 17, 2015: My Sweetheart, Kristina Holmes

Last week I received my fourth dose of chemotherapy with Doxil.  The treatment was delayed a couple of days as I was fighting off a nasty cold, but I was able to proceed with treatment on Thursday, January 8th.  This cycle of treatment was again quite a difficult experience.  Lots of bone pain, fatigue, and generalized malaise, but not as difficult overall as the last one.   Fortunately, the symptoms are now starting to subside and I am beginning to feel more normal again.  I am scheduled to undergo more MRI scans of the spine, on January 26th and 27th, to assess how things are responding to the last two cycles of Doxil.  It is a nerve-wracking experience to be “on hold,” so to speak, and not know what the scans will show.  If they suggest the Doxil is no longer helping, I will have some tough decisions to make about what to do next, because the next options are not so great.  So, I am doing all I can to focus on staying positive, and trusting that all will be well.

IMG_1576 - Version 2Meanwhile, however, in this blog, I want to share about one of the greatest gifts and blessings of my entire life — my special, precious sweetheart … Kristina Holmes.

Kristina and I met in 2011, just shortly before I was diagnosed with cancer … and she has been with me every step of the way of this journey.  It is hard for me to imagine how I could have made it this far without her love, support, encouragement, and presence in my life.  She has been a true God-send to me.

Here is the short story of how we met, and a little bit about who she is as a person.

Kristina and I met in April 2011, in Boulder, CO, soon after I had begun developing ideas for a second book.  She is a talented literary agent, and we were introduced by a dear, mutual friend, Peggy Wrenn, who felt we might be a good professional match for my new book given our many common interests.  It’s not an understatement to say that the sparks were flying between Kristina and me during our first 2 hour meeting in her office in Boulder.  There was so much to talk about, and we were both excited by possibility of working together on this new book.  We met again about a week later at a local coffee shop to continue the conversation.

About 2 hours into this second conversation, it was absolutely clear to me that Kristina was a very special person, with very special qualities — and she was very beautiful, too.  As the conversation grew deeper and deeper, I slowly but surely came to the clear realization that I was very interested in getting to know her personally; even more so than pursuing a professional relationship.  The more I realized this, the more I found myself squirming around in my seat at the coffee shop, trying to figure out how to diplomatically tell her this.  Finally, I took a deep breath, and jumped in.

“Kristina,” I said, “I want to share something with you that feels risky for me to share, but it also feels important that I say it.  What I want to say is that, after all these hours we’ve spent talking, I realize that I’d really rather date you than hire you as my literary agent.  I know this is risky to say, and I hope you are not disappointed, but it’s honestly how I feel.  I’m just at that stage in my life where I’ve learned how important it is to speak the truth.  I have no idea how you will respond to this, but at least you know where I stand.”

Then, after a long pause, and after taking several really deep breaths, I asked, “So … what do you think?”

The look on Kristina’s face at that moment was a unique combination of shock, surprise, blushing, and trying hard not to look away.

After what seemed like an interminably long time, she finally responded.  She said, “Thank you for being so honest.  I really didn’t see that coming until you spoke it.  I’ve been concentrating so hard on your work, and your new book, that I wasn’t thinking about this other possibility.  But I am very open, and even interested, in getting to know you personally, too.  Unfortunately, though, I just can’t do it right now.”

My heart flip-flopped when I heard this, and I asked her “Why not?”

She replied by letting me know that she was at the tail end of a relationship that was essentially complete, but she needed some time to fully transition from that.  She was also leaving soon to go to the summer Book Expo in New York, and then to spend some time with her mom in Seattle.

“Oh no!,” I exclaimed. “Well, can we at least go out for lunch or dinner before you leave?”

“No,” she said. “I’m really sorry.  And I’m not saying no forever.  I’d really like to get to know you, too, on a personal level.  But I just can’t right now.”

Despite my sincere efforts to persuade her otherwise, she held fast to her boundary.  We agreed we would drop exploring working together professionally, and she left town about two weeks later, as planned.

I was really bummed.

Over the next several months, we had minimal contact until July, when she emailed me from Seattle, checking in to say hi and opening up the doorway to renewed communications.

IMG_1479 - Version 2We spent the next three months talking on the phone regularly, sending a lot of emails, and getting knowing to know each other even more deeply.  We were surely intrigued about each other, and eager to learn more.  Finally, we decided that I would come to Seattle to visit in person for the weekend, and also have a chance to meet her mom, who is a remarkable person herself.  So, on Friday, October 21st, 2011, I flew to Seattle. Kristina met me at the airport.  I rented a car, and we drove to spend some time with her mom.  Then, we left for an adventure at a small, beautiful hotel on Whidbey Island.  It was a deep dive together.  On Monday, I flew home.  The next day, we talked again and decided that Kristina would fly to Boulder that upcoming Friday, and we would spend ten days together.

Kristina arrived that Friday afternoon, and we had a peaceful weekend getting to know each other even more.

Then, the bomb fell.  The very next week I was diagnosed with cancer … while she was in the midst of our ten-day visit.

Just prior to my trip to Seattle I had experienced some pain in my calf.  An ultrasound and MRI showed a small mass in the right tibial nerve.  A top-notch surgeon in Denver said it was almost certainly benign, but needed to be biopsied.  I shared all of this with Kristina when I went to see her in Seattle, and she came with me to Denver for the biopsy during that ten-day stay.  A few days later, she was with me when the surgeon called to tell me that the biopsy specimen was not only not benign, but, in fact, it showed a high-grade malignant sarcoma.

In that moment, both of our lives changed forever.

After completing the call with the surgeon, I explained to Kristina that dealing with this tumor was going to take some real time and energy, and could become very serious.  As an oncologist, I fully understood, and explained, that it would require a complex surgery on my right calf, very likely many weeks of radiation, and a potentially long rehab process.  I also explained that the cancer could certainly spread at some point, and even eventually threaten my life.  I reminded her that we had not known each other that long, and that she had no obligation to stay.

What happened next was one of those rare “moments of truth” that can happen in one’s life, in which a turn of events can go in one of two completely different directions, and the consequences could hardy be more different.

I watched carefully as Kristina took a long breath, and then, without blinking an eye, said she felt inexplicably, but clearly, called to stay with me — at least until the surgery was completed.  And after that, we would see what felt right.

Amazingly, Kristina stayed with me leading up to and after the surgery, which took place the following month, on November 23rd, the day before Thanksgiving.

And we’ve been together ever since.

It is hard to find words that adequately describe the intensity of the roller-coaster ride that we have been on together over the past three-plus years.  All I can say is that — by some inexplicable miracle of Grace — Kristina has been there with me, accompanying me through multiple surgeries; serious infections; dozens of MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans; weeks and weeks of radiation; countless consultations and follow up visits with a large number of doctors and specialists; five separate trips to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York; and multiple rounds of exhausting, debilitating chemotherapy.  We even moved together to Asheville, NC, in July 2013 — when I was in remission and where I had been recruited to be the medical director of the Mission Health System Cancer Center.  And then, when the cancer metastasized further in the Fall of 2013, we moved back to Boulder, CO together, in December 2013.

Through it all, Kristina has been unflinching in her capacity to remain steady and present in the face of the intense pain and sorrow, losses, struggles, and the ongoing uncertainty we’ve been living through — including the ultimate confrontation with the very real possibility that I could die from metastatic cancer.

IMG_2230 - Version 3I have marveled, so many times, at Kristina’s profound inner strength, and her commitment and determination to do all she can do to help me find a way to fight and heal and live — while simultaneously remaining fiercely committed to her own deep, inner psycho-spiritual growth, healing, and awakening.

If you ever wondered if “miracles” and “angels” are real, look no further.  For me, Kristina has been and is both a miracle and an angel in my life.

I’m not suggesting that our personal journey together has not had its share of challenges, beyond those inherent in dealing with cancer, because it most certainly has.  We had virtually no time for the “normal” kind of romance that most couples enjoy before the almost universal challenges of life and relationships surface.  From the very beginning — literally within days of spending our first close, personal time together — we were catapulted head-long into an incredibly difficult and intense cancer journey; one which continues even now, and which continues to consume the pretext of any semblance of “normal” life — the yearning for which is such a sweet, tender, and naturally human longing.

We’ve had to learn how to work through the issues and challenges that most couples experience, in any relationship, while walking through one of the hottest fires either one of us could have ever imagined.   We’ve had to consciously grapple with one of the central paradoxes inherent in relationships — namely, how to honor and care for your partner, and yourself, in a truly honest and authentic way — without betraying yourself or them.  This is hard enough under so-called “normal” circumstances.  It is vastly more complex and challenging when one partner is facing a life-threatening illness like cancer, and virtually everything about the future is uncertain.  This is what we have been living through, from the very beginning.  Over and over again, I have been amazed by Kristina’s capacity to hold space, with as much kindness, compassion, and self-awareness as possible, for the myriad challenges we have faced along the way.

IMG_2282 - Version 3And yet, somehow, by some great mystery, and through some incredible Grace, we’ve been able to forge a way through these fires.  We’ve made it through these three-plus years and are more profoundly connected than ever before by a deep love and caring for each other, and a commitment to each other’s well-being.

Kristina’s incredible strength, devotion, dedication, and capacity to love in the midst of such an inferno is profoundly unique, and inspiring.  I have been deeply blessed by her presence in my life.  And — once again — I don’t know if, or how, I could have made it this far without her love, wisdom, and support.

So, I am very honored and happy to finally have this chance to write and share about my beloved sweetheart Kristina, with those of you who are following this blog.  She is an amazing woman, and a great being.  I am profoundly blessed and grateful to be with her.

Jan 3, 2015: Bridging the Worlds of Science and Spirituality in Cancer, and Life

One of the greateMedicine Buddha Thangka 2st gifts of my life has been the incredible opportunities I have had to deeply explore many of the world’s great spiritual and healing traditions — while also having the privilege of pursuing a deep and fulfilling career in science and medicine.  In many ways, my entire life has been an ongoing exploration of the interface between the vast domains of science and spirituality.

Now that I am walking the cancer journey as a patient — facing a very serious and uncertain prognosis, with difficult challenges along the way — this exploration of science and spirituality, the dance between them, and what I have learned in the process, has become an even more integral part of how I am living each day.

Because this exploration has been and remains such an important part of my life, in this blog post I would like to share some of the key highlights of this process and how it has evolved over the many years of my life so far.  As a result, I acknowledge this is a longer-than-normal post, because it covers a great deal of territory.

My spiritual path began as a child, growing up in a Jewish household with very special grandparents whose devotion, kindness, and sensitivity to the plight of others touched me profoundly.  As a teenager, like many others of my generation, I discovered the Eastern spiritual traditions.  I was drawn in like a moth to the flame, dived in fully, and kept going.  My first formal teacher was the Korean Zen Master Sueng Sahn, who I met and studied with while I was a student at Brown University, in 1976, at age 19.  He was an amazingly clear and powerful Zen Master, who really “showed me the ropes” about the Zen tradition, and Zen meditation.

During that time, I also met Ram Dass at a lecture in Boston.  He had returned some years earlier from a trip to India, where he met the great Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharaj-ji, who became his guru.  Along the way, his life was transformed from the Harvard professor Richard Alpert into the spiritual teacher Ram Dass.

Neem-karoli-babaNeem Karoli Baba had died in 1973, and yet, at that lecture, I was profoundly moved by a sense of his extraordinary and powerful presence before me, in an unmistakably real, tangible, yet spiritual form.  My head and heart were blown wide open.  A sacred bond was established that has never been broken, and has impacted my life ever since.  After returning to Brown, I began to have powerful, spontaneous kundalini experiences, deep experiences in meditation, and a feeling that I somehow couldn’t keep functioning in the “normal” world.  It was scary and disorienting, but Maharaj-ji’s presence was never far away.

My efforts to make sense of what I was experiencing — and the impact of seminal books I was reading at the time, such as Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi, Ram Dass’ epic Be Here Now, and many others — soon made it clear to me that I wasn’t going to find what I was searching for in a university.  I could not resist the expanding call for inner, spiritual exploration and understanding that was resounding in my heart and soul.  So, in June of 1976 I dropped out of college to pursue the spiritual path full-time.  On my way from Providence, Rhode Island to New York City, where I was going to meet a friend and move to California, I was involved in a horrific single-car accident on the Connecticut Turnpike that should have killed me instantly.  And yet — in a way that can only be described as miraculous — I emerged from the accident not only alive, but physically unscathed.  How I walked away from that car wreck was completely inexplicable by any rational analysis … but it happened.

Ma JayaThree days later, through a series of equally inscrutable events, I met a remarkable Hindu spiritual teacher named Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, who was teaching at a Jesuit Monastery in Staten Island, New York.   Within moments of meeting her I knew I had found the next phase of my spiritual path.  That very day, I moved into her community in Queens, New York.  A year later, I joined her and a small group of students in Florida, on a 40 acre parcel of land with two houses and a beautiful pond, where we began to create an ashram that quickly grew and continues on even now.  I spent four years living with Ma Jaya and her expanding community of students.  During this time, I became a vegetarian, and spent hours a day practicing yoga and meditation, diving deeply into the ocean of Hinduism and Vedic knowledge, and exploring the mysteries of the student-teacher relationship.  Those years helped me to establish a spiritual orientation to my life that has continued ever since.

After fours years in the ashram, however, another powerful, undeniable inner call appeared in my heart; the call to return to the more conventional world, go to medical school, and become a doctor.  Becoming a doctor had actually been a dream of mine since childhood, but was submerged in the tumult of growing up and the subsequent imperative of pursuing a spiritual path. After months of inner struggle about making such a momentous decision — which would require leaving my teacher and community — I left the ashram, moved to New York, and enrolled at Columbia University.   Two years later, I completed college and was accepted into New York University School of Medicine.  Enthusiastically, I dove as fully into my medical studies as I had into my spiritual studies in the ashram.

Even while in medical school, the inner spiritual calling I felt in the depths of my heart never diminished.  In 1984, when I was a sophomore in medical school, I went to Nepal as part of a medical expedition to a remote village in the Langtang Valley in northern Nepal, on the border of Tibet.  Here, the universes of Tibetan Buddhism and Tibetan Medicine opened up before me like another vast ocean of knowledge and wisdom.  Camping along the trail to Langtang, I feasted my eyes each morning on stunningly beautiful mountain vistas of Tibet that lay just over the border from Nepal, and was moved to tears.  Along the way, I devoured amazing books on Buddhism and Tibetan Medicine, including Lama Anagarika Govinda’s classic The Way of the White Clouds, and felt an inexplicable, powerful call to visit Tibet.  While on this expedition in Nepal, I spent time with a traditional Tibetan healer, and discovered the world of Ayurvedic Medicine as well, which is also practiced in Nepal and was barely known in the West at that time.  Exploring these sacred traditions was like another, exciting home-coming; a reunion with something deep and ancient and yet completely familiar to me.  I knew that somehow, I would return to this part of the world, and keep exploring.

JRG - India (1986)-reducedAt the completion of the six-week medical expedition in Nepal, I made my first trip to India, to visit Neem Karoli Baba’s ashram in Kainchi, near the beautiful town of Nanital, in northern India.  I was again profoundly moved by the power of Maharaj-ji’s loving presence, which permeated every inch of the Kainchi ashram.

Upon returning to New York, I continued to explore these extraordinary Eastern traditions while simultaneously continuing my Western medical studies. This included working on a variety of cancer research protocols, while also researching and publishing work on the use of alpha-interferon as a treatment for human papilloma virus infections, which formed the basis of my medical school honors thesis.  It was a large leap from the Eastern spiritual traditions I’d been studying in Nepal and India … to the world of science and high-tech, academic medicine that I was now fully immersed in.  But I felt compelled to traverse this broad divide as fully and completely as I could.

Then, two years later, in 1985, while I was a senior in medical school, my father was diagnosed with an aggressive gastric cancer that had already metastasized at the time of his diagnosis. Tragically, he died less than four months later, at the tender age of 60.  This was, to say the least, a shattering experience for him, for me, and for my entire family.  Remarkably, I had already known — from the first week in medical school — that I was going to become an oncologist.  It was very clear to me that oncology was a field of medicine that, perhaps more than any other, involves some of the most advanced, sophisticated forms of science and technology … yet also touches some of the deepest questions about the human heart and soul, and the great mysteries of life and death.  I immediately knew that oncology was the field to which I wanted to devote my career.  I just never imagined that I would be plunged into the questions and challenges of cancer in such a deeply personal way.

My father’s death from cancer in early 1986, when I was 29 years old, was also a turning point in my medical career.  I was horrified to experience, first hand, the harsh insensitivity of the purely mechanistic approach of the western medical model, and its failure to address the human dimensions of what many people experience in the often agonizing process of dealing with cancer.  I vowed to do all I could to transform how patients and loved ones are cared for, in a real and tangible way.  A few months later, after my father’s death, I had a clear vision that I would become a fully-trained and credentialed oncologist and one day build a cancer center that embraced and integrated many forms of healing that could help patients and families heal and transform at a deep level.  Accomplishing this required first completing three years of post-graduate residency training in internal medicine, which I did at the University of California at San Diego Medical Center.

Dalai LamaDuring that time, I traveled to Lhasa, Tibet, diving more deeply into Tibetan Buddhism and Medicine, and then to Dharmsala, India, where I continued these explorations and was blessed to meet the Dalai Lama for the first time.  Some years later, I was honored to give a plenary talk at The First International Congress on Tibetan Medicine, in Washington, DC, titled Gifts from the Medicine Buddha: Three Jewels for the Practice of Modern Medicine, in which I was able to share some of my thoughts on how this amazing tradition could contribute to modern medicine, and to life.

After returning from this trip to Tibet and India, I completed my residency training in internal medicine, and went on to complete three additional years of fellowship training in hematology and oncology at the University of California at San Francisco Medical Center.  These were very challenging, but exhilarating, years, as I moved closer and closer to my goal.

After completing fellowship training, I finally became a board-certified medical oncologist and fulfilled my vision from medical school when, in 1994, I opened an integrative cancer center, the Geffen Cancer Center and Research Institute, in Vero Beach, Florida.  My staff and I offered leading-edge conventional medical treatments for cancer, along with a wide array of complementary healing modalities for patients and families.  At the base of all of this, however, our treatment was offered in a spirit of genuine respect and caring for the well-being of our patients and their loved ones. It stemmed from a true desire to do all we could to help them heal, as fully as possible, and to experience love, support, connection, and the feeling of being truly cared for — on all levels of their being.  To me, this is the fundamental shift that has to occur for medicine to fulfill its ultimate potential.  It felt wonderful to be able to help and support so many people in this way.

JTC-Front Cover (Final)In another powerful vision that occurred during this time, our approach was developed into a coherent body/mind/heart/soul/spirit program for whole-person cancer care, called The Seven Levels of Healing.  In 2000, I published the first edition of a book — The Journey Through Cancer: Healing and Transforming the Whole Person  which describes this program and whole-person approach in detail. The Seven Levels of Healing is a powerful map of what human beings encounter in the search for wholeness and healing on the cancer journey — or in the face of any serious life or health challenge.  Even more, it demonstrates a way to skillfully and effectively support patients and loved ones — as multidimensional beings — within the context of mainstream medicine.  This map became the foundation of the care that my staff and I offered to thousands of patients and loved ones over ten years, and it has guided my support and care of others ever since — including myself, on my own cancer journey.

In 2003, it became clear that my time practicing medicine and running a cancer center was complete.  I wanted to see if I could bring The Seven Levels of Healing program to a wider audience, and implement it successfully in other cancer centers — which I was able to do over the next number of years through my consulting company, Geffen Visions International.  But at a deeper, personal level, the calling for greater inner healing and understanding was compelling me to leave the day-to-day practice of medicine and devote myself more fully to exploring other healing and spiritual traditions.

These explorations involved four great paths, among others.

Papaji-laughing72To begin, one of the most profound and important events of my life occurred in 1994, when I traveled again to India and met the great spiritual master, H.W.L. Poonja, affectionately known as Papaji to the thousands of seekers who came to see him over many years at his home in Lucknow, India.  Papaji was a direct disciple of Ramana Maharishi, one of India’s most renowned and revered sages.  Papaji was himself a realized master in the Hindu tradition known as Advaita, which honors the oneness of all life and recognizes consciousness as the ultimate substratum of existence.  Papaji introduced me to this ancient tradition, and its profound approach to life.  I was deeply privileged to spend many hours in close, personal contact with him on several more trips to India before his death in 1997.  He remains a shining star in my heart and soul, and I was indelibly changed by his presence in my life.

Another profound domain for me was the field of transpersonal and Jungian psychology.  This was initially facilitated by an extraordinary transpersonal psychotherapist, Dr. Sandy Sela-Smith, who I first met in 1999.  Under her incredibly wise, gentle, and skillful guidance, I pursued over many years a long and extensive exploration of my life and personal history, and discovered profound dimensions of healing that can be accessed through a conscious exploration of the human psyche and soul.  Sandy helped me to discover and heal wounded parts of myself that had been buried for decades, that were crying for love, acceptance, and expression.  It is hard to describe how profound and transformational this process was, and continues to be, in my life.

Next, in 2004, while continuing to work with Dr. Sela-Smith, I met Dr. Stanislov Grof — the renowned psychiatrist; one of the founders of the field of transpersonal psychology; and creator, along with his beloved wife Christina Grof, of Holotropic Breathwork.  The extraordinary understanding and technology of Holotropic Breathwork offers participants — in an exquisitely designed, safe, group setting — access to deep, inner healing resources and unconscious parts of the human psyche that include and transcend one’s personal biography, and which often contain the psycho-spiritual roots of illness and disease.  I enrolled in his training program and four years later became certified as a Holotropic Breathwork Practitioner.  I have tremendous gratitude and admiration for Dr. Sela-Smith, Dr. Grof, and the leadership of the Holotropic Breathwork community, including Tav Sparks, Diana Medina, Diane Huag, Matthew Stelzner, and others.  The psycho-spiritual healing and insights I received from their guidance and skill have been life-changing for me.

In 2007, I discovered an entirely different world of healing: shamanism, indigenous healing traditions from North and South America, and the sacred plant medicines Ayahuasca, Peyote, and San Pedro.  I met a South American shaman and dived deeply into the world of shamanic medicine and healing, making multiple trips to South America, participating in astonishingly deep and transformative healing ceremonies, vision quests, and sweat lodges, and experiencing profound inner revelations.  For a while, I actually thought I would become formally trained as a practitioner in these traditions.  However, after several years, and for a variety reasons, my relationship with this shaman ended.  This was a very disappointing turn of events, and I was unclear about the direction my life would now take.

Then, four months later, I was diagnosed with cancer, and my entire world was turned upside down.

As I have shared in this blog, the cancer was diagnosed at a relatively early stage, and at first it looked like I would be cured.  But nearly two years later it returned, and then, just over a year ago, it began to spread — catapulting me even more deeply into the efforts to heal and survive, which still continues.

Along the way, for all these years — and during my entire cancer journey — I have been traversing the two worlds of science and spirituality, which have been the focus of my life for so long.  I have been trying as hard as I can to understand who I am as a human being, the meaning and purpose of my life, and how to best help myself and others to heal in the face of the great paradoxes and challenges of modern life, including cancer.

My intention has been to navigate between these worlds as consciously and skillfully as possible, and integrate the best and most important gifts and technologies they have to offer.  As a cancer patient, this integration has not been easy; first of all because the medical model — in which I was trained and practiced for many years, and which I respect on so many levels — openly acknowledges its limitations in treating, let alone curing, metastatic cancers such as the one I have.  It focuses almost exclusively on the physical dimensions of health and disease, and does not acknowledge, let alone understand, that who we are as human beings extends far, far beyond the physical realm.  Nor does it acknowledge the tremendous healing potential that can be accessed and received in the spiritual realms of life.  Nonetheless, the medical world clearly has an important role to play in my efforts to heal and live.  At the same time, the spiritual world — including the incredibly profound healing traditions I have loved and explored so deeply, and which are filled with exquisite and vital insights, treasures, and healing potential — cannot offer a clear or reliable path to a cure for me, or anyone, as well.

TeepeeOver this past year I have been blessed to connect with a beautiful community of people involved in the Native American Church, which embraces many elements of the Native American worldview and traditions.  I have participated in a number of traditional ceremonies that have been greatly healing and inspiring for me.  It is extraordinary to experience the healing energy that is created when a group of sincere, loving people gather together in a teepee, around a carefully-tended fire, for a time of sincere prayer and gratitude, and with the intention of facilitating healing for everyone.  What an incredible gift!

In the midst of all this, I am continuing — at least for now — with chemotherapy treatments, radiation treatments as needed, and regular visits with my conventional medical doctors and specialists.  I also continue to pursue a variety of complementary and alternative healing modalities that make sense to me, which feel safe and grounded, and which I find inspiring and helpful.  Most recently, on the medical front, I’ve been receiving the chemotherapy drug Doxil, on a monthly basis.  I have received three cycles to date, and have found that I generally recover from the side effects of this drug after a couple of weeks.  I am finding the courage to continue with this treatment as long as it continues to show evidence of positive benefit, which it most certainly has — although not without challenges.  Next week, I will receive my fourth cycle of Doxil, and we shall see what happens thereafter.

I am also continuing to gratefully receive the blessings of the spiritual traditions that have so deeply touched and informed my life.

In the end, it all remains a Mystery.  I  continue to do my best — pursuing the deepest blend of science and spirituality that I can find and imagine and create — while working closely with my doctors and healers to see what might be possible.

The journey continues to unfold, as I have also shared, with “focused action and intention, wrapped in the arms of surrender” … one day at a time.

I hope this overview of my journey to bridge the two vast worlds of science and spirituality will be meaningful for others  — especially those who are struggling to find a synthesis that speaks and makes sense to them, wherever they may be on their own journeys in life, or in dealing with cancer.

Thank you again for your love, support, and good wishes.