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Treating terminal cancer patients in an integrative way can have enormous value for the patient as well as for the partner, family and caregivers.
When conventional cancer therapy is no longer able to offer the patient any further hope or chance of improvement, an integrative medical approach has a great deal to offer. I have had many patients who were given a few weeks to live and then survived years longer than predicted.
NATURAL THERAPIESI recall Derek who came to me with terminal lung cancer and a prognosis of three weeks; he lived five good years receiving regular vitamin C infusions, ozone haemo-infusions and self-administered mistletoe injections. These treatments powerfully support the ailing immune system and help suppress cancer growth. A supportive lifestyle with the best organic diet, good water supply, appropriate mobilising exercises and quality supplementation, together with an improved external environment (avoidance of cell phones, toxic chemical products, mould and house dust elimination), and an optimal internal environment (bowel cleanses, gastro-intestinal, liver and kidney support, dental care, and microbial and parasite elimination), go a long way to improving quality of health.
EMOTIONAL SUPPORTAnd beyond the support of the physical, functional side, the moral, psychological emotional support is often even more valuable and beneficial for the terminal patient. A few months ago Jenny came to see me with stage-four colon cancer that had spread to the liver. She had been offered chemotherapy as an option for a few more months of life. She had the look of a dying person when I first saw her and was extremely despondent about her future outlook. I had to put aside my own doubts and fears and finding my courage and optimism, told her that together, as a partnership, we could make a difference. Did she wish to accept my will to help her, with her own courageous and positive mindset, since we had various ways of helping her. She responded with radiant hope in her eyes and chose to start immediately with intensive high-dose vitamin C and ozone therapy and later sono photo dynamic therapy (SPDT).
Her whole demeanour and will to live changed within days, and for many weeks her strength and appetite improved and her condition stabilised. Finding the empowered director who could best guide her through her illness and the internal physician who was able to help her manage her symptoms were powerful self-supportive skill aids to stay positive and centred. We are well aware that her liver is possibly irreversibly damaged and may never recover, but she has many days of high quality health. At the same time she has the time and space to face the deepest life challenges of letting go of her most precious attachments, something we all have to do at some time at our own threshold of life and death. These encounters with her innermost feelings may help her find acceptance and the courage to cross this threshold with peace and dignity.
THE THRESHOLDThe time shortly before death may be a very difficult one as the dying person comes to grips with his or her mortality and fights it with all the power of the subconscious forces of the soul. There may be resistance, anger, depression, bitterness, resentment, anguish, despair, fear, grief, regrets and many other feelings. This is the time when someone needs to be there reminding them of the bigger picture and creating the most supportive, loving and nurturing space. Reminders of the best moments in their life, achievements, talents and empowered experiences, are very helpful in supporting them across this threshold. It is a gift for both to accompany someone through this dark night of the soul, allowing and encouraging them to go there and experience the worst of the worst. For ultimately, they will pass through this, overcome the darkness and find peace and tranquillity, often heralding the last days or hours of life.
COPING WITH DEATHThere are different ways of dealing with the passing of our departed loved ones and naturally our attitude to death is a very personal one. Customs and traditions may determine how we do this and need to be fully respected. Frequently however, ignorance, fear and conventional conditioning dictate the manner in which we say goodbye to the physical presence of those with whom we shared the most intimacy in life. We may believe that the body should immediately be removed to the mortuary for cold storage, for legal or hygienic reasons and that it is the professional role of the undertaker to manage all of this. Or we may be petrified to have a dead body in our homes, perhaps never having been in the presence of one before and possibly having all kinds of associations and prejudices regarding the dead and dying. Or we fear that our children should never witness death, that it could be psychologically damaging to them, again based on a myriad of preconceptions.
Mastering the misconceptionsAll of these reasons are mostly founded in ignorance or fear-based assumptions that can be easily transformed with clear rational insights. Firstly, there is no legal requirement to immediately remove the body. One can call an undertaker at any time to help store the body in preparation for the funeral or cremation. As long as one has made out a death certificate one can bury the body in one’s own back yard, not that any one would wish to do this. Camphill Villages, for the mentally and physically impaired, all have their own cemeteries as do all self-contained communities. Secondly, if cared for in the right way, there are no adverse hygienic reasons to keeping the body at home for a few days. Thirdly, the more one becomes accustomed to seeing a lifeless body, the easier it is to be in its presence. When one can put aside one’s own personal prejudices and antipathies around death, one can experience a deep calmness and peace around the lifeless body. And if one watches the changes that take place over the next few days, one can be astounded at the transformation that happens, where the face of the deceased becomes more and more translucent, shining in a radiance and beauty never seen before in life. Such an experience can be deeply moving, for me always inspiring, for some life transforming.
Saying farewellWhen one is prepared to confront one’s old habits and preconceived ideas, and there is incentive to do things differently, it is not too difficult to make other choices. It may help the bereaved family to get used to the finality of death and to gradually take leave of the loved one by keeping the body in the familiar home environment for one to three days. Ancient traditions kept the body in ‘wake’ for three days or three parts of days because the belief was that the soul needed several days to properly detach itself from the body. During this time, at least one person close to the deceased – family members, friends, or even acquaintances – would be constantly present with the departed, in thought or reading some passage that had relevance or meaning during life. It is interesting in this regard to observe the changes that take place, especially in the countenance of the deceased over this period of time, where frequently a softening, relaxing, colour – and even fragrance – change comes over the facial features. This extended time with the deceased may allow one to say things in the presence of the body that cannot be easily said without this presence. People may come by and pay tribute, their respects, give honour or make their peace with the deceased. Even children find comfort in taking their leave of departed family members, for so frequently they are removed from the scene of death and for the rest of their lives feel they were never given the chance to say goodbye.
Create a sacred placeThe body can be washed with appropriate body cleanses and oiled with fragrant oils, then clothed in the most favourite garments and placed on a bed in an appropriate room, adorned with flowers, the head and upper-clad body open and visible, the lower part covered. The head of the bed is raised so that body fluids can descend by gravity to the feet and legs and if the temperature is high, air conditioning or cool fans will delay the natural decomposition process. Favourite artifacts, photos and special personal objects can, if deemed appropriate, be placed among the flowers and messages around the body. The home and especially the final resting place, becomes transformed instantly into a friendly, celebratory and sacred space. At the right moment the undertakers can be called to remove the body or, in certain situations, it can be taken directly to be buried or cremated.
CONCLUSIONTaking charge through conscious participatory awareness brings one so much closer to the greater reality and the challenge of this precious threshold opportunity, for all concerned. It can be a transformative and healing experience for all involved.
DR RAOUL GOLDBERG
He has practised Integrative Medicine for 35 years in Switzerland, Germany and his homeland, South Africa. His work includes managing an Integrative Health Clinic, the Syringa Integrated Health Centre, and practising as a clinical doctor and counsellor, Waldorf School Doctor, lecturer and researcher. He is the author of Awakening to Child Health and Addictions in Childhood and Adolescence. Dr Goldberg co-founded the South African Complementary Medical Association (SACMA). Contact no: 021 762 2364.
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