about cancer and death and life (follow up)

Perhaps I should start to accept that writing these newsletters have become a rather loaded event for me. I often, through the years, expressed the wish and even promised that HA!News would become more regular. Yet it refuses to. Especially after the last letter on “the Golden Voice” relating the “miracle” of a dramatic turn around of an advanced cancer.

The response was strong, mostly positive, and curiously, not so much about the recovery itself, but about the understanding and the particular approach to cancer described.

“I do think that the time for us, in this world, to turn away from external beliefs and seeking pleasure by attaining more and more wealth and living superficially, is on our doorstep. It is time to live from our hearts and approach life holistically. There is so more to this life than just the surface, which I think you have grasped fully.” (Linda Sittig)

“Thank you for the message.. I have read it several times and absolutely agree with you, 100%. We create our own illness, whether it is physical, emotional, psychological. The challenge is what to do about it – how to say no to the 4th cup of coffee for the day, the last cigarette at night, the extra glass of wine, the endless list of “to do’s” , the stress and pressure. How to connect with the self, and more than that, with the divine being within, and with the divinity of the universe. I have chosen to practise law for the past 15 years – it has been very stimulating at times, but for the most part, is deadline driven, very stressful, very demanding. There is no space for creativity. The power is given away..” (anonymous)

“verry timely… verry relevant… had been talking about inner work and what happens to us (and our relating in the outer world) as a result… with a friend… moments before i received this” (Biren Shah)

But my letter was also infused with an unmistakable excitement. Here was a close friend whom I saw lying with the sweat of death heavily morphined, three months later walking about. On that day (16 Dec – later called “miracle day” by friends) she sang again and the pain receded such that she was off morphine for two months, during which time we were twice on the phone with long conversations about her process of healing. It was indeed no mere last gasp of life such as what happen to many dying people when the brain gets infused with oxygen, providing some hours or even days with a surge of clarity and presence.

The Golden Voice and I discussed this in some detail. She related to me what happened during the two months I was touring in the US (Oct, Nov last year). Firstly, she moved from her lonely flat to a more communal setting with gardens and caretakers. Secondly, she went through a most grueling inner process of emotional work, facing up to deep and long standing fears and insecurities. She described this as one of the most difficult processes to go through during her eight years of dealing with cancer. I have little doubt that this was instrumental in her turn around.

When I visited her in December, three key things happened: she was able to bring me and two musician friends of her together for the first time (she had a great capacity and longing to connect like-minded people), she could sing again, and a strong sense of a possible future was reborn in her (having just dealt so deeply with her past).

There could only be one physical explanation for the fact that the pain receded on that day: the cancer relaxed. She was given a breather. She was actually breathing more fully again. And in the subsequent two months, she flourished. She spoke with much energy and inspiration to many of her friends, she moved around more and even went as far as getting her car fixed to drive, which she did on occasion. Her spirit was running fast ahead.

On the phone we also talked about her physical process of healing – the immense task the body has in draining material that is discarded by a receding cancer. How she had to Google (yet again) her way through this as the trained staff around her basically had no concept of a cancer that heals. They kept trying to get her back on morphine even though she repeatedly told them she did not need it. She even had trouble with certain relationships as her recovery was met with resistance and doubt.

Yet she remained overjoyed, as I and others were. I told her on the phone that something deep has shifted in her personality too. Gone was the feeling that she could speak more than she could listen – the typical theatrical rants she could fall into. Her talk become conversational to a degree that she had never before and much more firmly focused on sharing her deeper gifts – and story – with others.

“My first reaction is – whouw – speechless – no words to express what I feel by this message. I think I could better express it with my drums or by dancing what it does to me :-). It feels from the heart and so true and honest.” (Irmgard Cottaar)

“I love what you wrote, it is so good to hear of someone so close to death, when all seems lost, to connect with the life force which only knows life and shine again.. and sing ! Thank you for sharing such an amazing and enlightening story.” (Pauline Forster)

“I salute the Golden Voice for her courage and discovering her essence in her time of darkness, you cannot turn out that light that burns so brightly in each and every one of us.. (when) you realize your interconnectedness with all things, (that) we are part of this natural world. We all have a gift to give to make our world a better place.” (Sue du Plessis)

The question which is surely lying on the minds of many of you by now is, how is she doing? Was this for real?

It was for real. Many people heal from the most atrocious forms and conditions of cancer. All of us heal from cancer on a daily basis as we are equipped to deal with renegade cells all the time. But when the body starts losing this battle and serious conditions result, it needs most serious conditions to enable a turnaround. Part of the reason why the Golden Voice survived for so long after she was given up by conventional practitioners was that she joined alternative supporting communities, courses and healers. Part of what hampered an even earlier recovery – in her own words – was that she was not good at sticking with any particular treatment for too long, even if it proved to be successful. She retained a restlessness throughout.

This journey – from healing practice to healing practice – took her to various parts of the world (perhaps the travelling in itself was a healing or stabilizing agent). But finances forced her to settle back home in her flat, which also saw her deteriorating steadily. The miracle phase since December did not come from any special treatment or supporting community that truly trusted a natural recovery. It was essentially the result of significant personal work. The change in her was a shock and joy for all to see. Yet she was crucially alone in it. The only real new (and viable) horizon in front of her depended on herself: to stand up and perform again. It was a huge task which she grabbed with all she had.

“For years this has been my life philosophy and sound knowledge about the essence of life. Our experiences from conception, emotional energies during pregnancy, after birth and later in life cause memories, emotional disturbances and eventually diseases and cancer (next to genetic, external, toxins and virus, bacteria damage). Our health depends on emotional balance. The essence is being in balance by experiencing the incredible wonder of living, live with love, and above all the ultimate is forgiving with the heart. This I learned whilst living in South Africa for 11 years, after apartheid, and from my two dearest friends who could forgive from the heart after living in a German and Japanese concentration camp during WW2, and from my mothers homeland Hungary, after communism wrecked Eastern Europe. Then life can be lived in passion for one’s purpose in this life, doing the things and following the path with love. No cultural, religious, political beliefs without a universal base of honesty, not harming other life on our planet. Taking care that our planet will be safe for all our generations after us, our responsibility for the survival of the human race.” (Miklos Schermer Voest)

“I salute the Golden Voice for her courage and discovering her essence in her time of darkness, you cannot turn out that light that burns so brightly in each and every one of us.. (when) you realize your interconnectedness with all things, (that) we are part of this natural world. We all have a gift to give to make our world a better place.” (Sue du Plessis)

“I love what you wrote, it is so good to hear of someone so close to death, when all seems lost, to connect with the life force which only knows life and shine again.. and sing ! Thank you for sharing such an amazing and enlightening story.” (Pauline Forster)

I was reminded of another “miracle” story which became quite famous in South Africa, that of Essie Hannibal, who were on the verge of death with a “terminal” disease that left her only skin-and-bones. A radical intervention by a man who loved her, saved her. He took her off to the desert. In isolation, she was put on a fruits-and-nuts-only diet. Over a long period there she recovered bit by bit. Although she became known for her dedication to this diet and the book she wrote on it, it was much more than just the diet that healed her. It was also the focus and rest she enjoyed, the spiritual health of such isolation in nature and the emotional care of a man who truly loved her and wanted her to live.

The Golden Voice enjoyed all of these factors, yet in a broken way. My feeling is that she was ultimately left alone in her quest (and this also by her own choice to a certain extent). She turned the deepest corner and ran forward with the process of healing. But as one close friend put it to me, she ran too fast. A few weeks after I wrote the newsletter on her, and even days after she was still beaming with positive energy, she rapidly lapsed. And died.

The news came fast to me via Facebook. I was brought to a standstill. Like many others, I had to rack my brains to make sense of it. And I had to cry so bitterly

No. She did not make it. I felt a sense of guilt coming over me: was it not on many of us who basically stood on her sidelines, passively looking at her to see if the miracle was for real? Expecting her to give us the answer rather than engage along with her? We are so conditioned by a cynical medical mindset that treats the body as a fixable machine rather than part of a living being (that inherently knows how to heal itself) that we carry an almost innate scepticism when confronted with such a turnaround.

Now that she is no more, I can reveal her name: Lisa (Melman). Lisa knew this about cancer: that it is not only a problem, but also a wake-up call, a mechanism to highlight deep structural cracks that needs attention. Not only something to despair about, but to be thankful for.

My question, on hearing the tragic news of her death, was this: even though she had wonderful and caring friends and family, doing so much for her especially during her last days, who of us are truly equipped and able to walk along her in such a healing journey? To climb this mountain of recovery with her? Who of us could take her to a desert and give her such focused care, so dedicated to follow a natural and thorough path with her?

There are surely other perspectives on her story and I do allow for that. Mine is this: Lisa gave us (all who knew her) true hope. Yet her death is a stark reminder of what it actually takes to rebuild a body and a life from such a deep end. Lisa tasted the wonder of healing off-and-on throughout these eight years, and most dramatically since December. Yet the task of rebuilding was just too much for what was required to accomplish it. She was a shining star in a skeptical universe. She was looking for focus and tranquility in one of the most stressful cities in the world. She was in dire need of the encouragement and practical knowledge of people familiar with and trusting in natural recovery.

Knowing that she was very much depended on her own efforts, she threw in too much of her weight into resuming a normal life. Her still weak body soon lagged behind. The disconnect she was moving away from, re-appeared in another form.

And at some critical and mysterious point, her spirit gave up too

After that her end was rapid. At her funeral, I spoke to a number of close people who had regular contact with her during her last weeks. The emotions ran high. Many people gathered to bury her remains. It was a rainy day. The red soils of Johannesburg formed sticky mud that soon covered everyone’s shoes as we walked the narrow paths between the graves. After all have left, I returned to her grave and cried again. Having had an intimate relationship with her a decade ago, having felt and touched her body so close to death, having heard her sing again and listened to her lively voice, what remained of her lay there now, in front of me, beneath the ground

“I am especially moved by this : ‘And even though she has certain convictions of a supernatural reality, she did not allow any belief in a “life after death” to provide an escape away from what cancer really intends: to heal life within this life and prevent an unnatural death.’ I understand what you are saying … How can we be with what our being is trying to communicate rather than run from it.  How can I be with this, listen and learn its message, is the way of love.” (Elise Maxheleau)

Humans throughout the ages have devised many ways of dealing with death. Mostly they are designed to ameliorate the finality of it and to make sense of our persistent consciousness of the “life” of others, even after their bodies are buried. To me, coming from my father’s death too, I find such deep solace and closure in bringing my consciousness of the departed one home, so to speak. And that home lies right there, beneath the soils. Lisa keeps “living” through what she inspired, through the lessons she imparted and through the feelings that remain around the deep memories inside of us who knew her. Those are the seeds of life that can sprout from her death. But Lisa, as a real person, like all of us, has an end – a moment in time that the fullness of her is no more. A moment where she truly goes off stage and make space for another

I told you that her miraculous healing gave me hope for the cancerous world we are living in. Is my hope now killed

It is not. But it is tempered. Some of you might think that my reaction previously was naïve and perhaps irresponsible, creating false hopes where recovery is unattainable. Some might even take this as an affirmation for cynicism towards alternative (natural) healin

“Having lived with both HIV and now TB (twice) I understand what it feels like to have one’s life threatened. But it is in that space that we are given an opportunity to transcend ourselves to become MORE!” (Clive Harvey Fox)

I have realized this: that cancer is no sudden event. It only seems sudden to many of us because of the shock that comes with diagnosis. Cancer is a common reality throughout our lives. The cancerous cell is really a cell in its original state of free procreation. “Healthy” cells simply learnt to live together with other cells in functional harmony. How do we get to the point of too many cells falling back on their original state again, threatening the life of the whole organism? That is a slow process and many factors are usually involved – environmental, physical, spiritual, mental and emotional factors. To disentangle these – to reverse the process – is likewise a wide-ranging and slow endeavour (using weapons of mass destruction may only help in some cases and mostly leave more harm than good)

Lisa survived the disease, but not the healing process – strange as it may seem. Let us who look at the world with a view to contribute to its healing also not be fooled into thinking that a few dramatic moves will turn us around

Each of us are cells in the body of humanity. Are we running our own courses as if nothing else matters, or are we feeling ourselves as part of the whole

It’s up to us, each cell, each day, each small initiative, to keep rebuilding battered communities and a neglected earth.

Lisa’s golden voice will not be heard again, as I thought with such excitement earlier on. But her death can sprout us into doing even more the things which reconnect our runaway minds with our bodies and our hearts with one another.

For my part, Lisa’s song will not die. I will make sure the world still gets to hear it.

Lisa Melman

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