Choices

My husband’s faith in allopathic medicine was approximately as robust as my disdain of it. I’d had a handful of horrific experiences with doctors and I’d had good experiences with alternative practices. Coupled with my shamanic worldview, that made a holistic way of looking at well-being natural for me.

I had long been passionate about wellness, favoring it over going to seed, becoming ill, and needing remedial measures. Maintaining wellness was, in my mind, necessary for the full contact living I preferred. That meant getting enough sleep, eating well, meditating, working out regularly, and otherwise doing whatever it took to give me abundant energy, vigor, and a strong immune system so I could take on everything life had to offer.

Wellness practices were, at best, an afterthought for Howard. He ate well to the extent that he was eating what I cooked for him and, fortunately, he loved my cooking. But left to his own devices . . . well, if good nutrition was in the mix, it was only there by accident.

We had very different ways of looking at wellness. I was proactive and enthusiastic about it. He was reactive and laid-back. A brilliant thinker, he just brought his body along for the ride. And I was willing to go along for the ride because I loved him.

He stayed in his head and out of his body and it never seemed to occur to him that the prostate cancer might return and metastasize. When he was first diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1992, he had placed his faith in the urologist. It was his body and his choice. When the prostate cancer returned and metastasized, he again put his faith in what doctors had to say. Again, it was his choice. My job was to support his choices.

More than once during his illness, friends and acquaintances asked whether I was employing energy medicine techniques with him. The assumption always seemed to be that I would pull some tools out of my bag and work on him—with or without his knowledge. It was a poor assumption. I had been impeccable about receiving permission before doing any kind of energy work on anyone and was not about to change my approach with him. But I never actually sought permission because I was told by guidance during meditation to stay out it. And it was given to me as bluntly as that. Stay out of it. I could give him my support and I could direct the energy of love towards him. That was it. No energy healing techniques. No pressing him to try alternative healing modalities. Support and love. Period. I chose to accept that guidance.

It must be said that I can be opinionated and downright pushy on important matters. Most of my controlling behavior had always been directed at myself, but that didn’t mean I couldn’t be forceful in fiddling with the lives of those I loved. In this instance, though, I was strangely at peace with the admonition to stay out of it. I sensed that this was an unfolding of events agreed to before we’d ever met, before we’d even entered our human bodies. I didn’t like the diagnosis but I somehow knew that this was Howard’s heroic journey, and while I was lucky enough to be his companion along the way, he was the one choosing the path and he was the one choosing whenever there was a fork in the road.

So Howard began treatment. His doctors threw hormone therapy and chemotherapy at the cancer. They checked his PSA on a regular basis and periodically did bone scans, CT scans, and other tests to see what was happening with the disease. For years, bone scans had shown nothing, despite troubling PSA seven or eight years following his prostatectomy. He’d been put on hormone therapy to address those concerns.

When cancer did show up in the bones, it was in his spine, ribs, arms, legs, and skull—typical for metastasized prostate cancer, as I eventually came to understand from my research, but alarming when nothing has shown up in scans until cancer shows up everywhere in the bones.

That bone scan was the only one that ever definitively showed cancer in the bones. The doctors had trouble finding anything in scans from that point on. But when prostate cancer metastasizes to the bones, it forms osteoblasts, which essentially harden the bone. That seemed to make it more difficult to see in a scan. The PSA was, for a long time, the one test that gave some indication of whether the treatment de jour was working. And when one treatment failed to lower the PSA from bouncing-off-the-wall-alarming to just alarming or stopped impacting it much at all, another chemical cocktail was introduced.

Between early 2007 and late 2010, Howard burned through every kind of treatment his doctors at the urology center could throw at the cancer. And then he was referred to an oncologist at a cancer treatment center. They threw more drugs at the cancer, ultimately gaining Howard’s agreement to try experimental drugs.

Through all of this, he maintained good humor. Through most of it, he seemed to believe that allopathic medicine would hold the cancer at bay. I wasn’t so sure. I did a fair amount of research online. Nothing suggested that any treatment was curative. At best, the cancer could be held at bay a little longer. But the word palliative was used over and over. The treatment of metastatic prostate cancer was, essentially, palliative in nature and nothing from Lupron to Casodex to docetaxel to Zometa was going to save him. He chose to believe—until the last weeks of his life—that he was going to beat the cancer and eventually die of something else.

I chose not to tell him what I’d learned in my research.

Copyright 2011 by Melanie Mulhall

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7 Responses to “Choices”

  1. Maria Weber Says:

    Hi Melanie,
    This was an excellent post. I wish I had had a chance to meet and know him a little.

    Like

  2. Gail Storey Says:

    To be able to show respect for Howard’s autonomy under the stress of his illness–wow, I’m even more inspired by you than before, and that’s sayin’ somethin’! This is a beautifully written post. I especially love your characterization of Howard as bringing his body along for the ride!

    Like

    • Melanie Mulhall Says:

      Gail,

      Thanks, Gail. It took a few years of marriage before I got to that place. You knew Howard. He had a brilliant mind and he was a tough guy with a strong body. But the body always took a backseat to the mind for him and the mind drove him to some pretty interesting places.

      Melanie

      Like

  3. Helena Says:

    I agree with Gail. But I have always admired the way you walk your talk. It is one of the many ways I have seen you live with integrity and grace.

    Like

    • Melanie Mulhall Says:

      Helena,

      Thank you for that. It means a lot to me. I think that most human beings have the ability to rise up and be whatever is needed when it counts. Your own husband has demonstrated that over and over again. The only thing needed is the willingness to open your heart. And when we do that, many things come into focus.

      Melanie

      Like

  4. Rosemary Carstens Says:

    Thank you for sharing you and Howard’s journey, Melanie. I know it was a difficult one but I, too, feel it is so important to allow others to choose how they will navigate their end days if they can. Some employ resistance to everything like my mother has (but it’s worked quite well for her lately, so who knows!) and others have some pretty unique approaches. I just hope when my own time comes I’ll have the courage to face it in my own distinctive way.

    Like

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