Helping A Parent Through Cancer
by Elizabeth Pasquale, December 22, 2008 —
As many of you know already, my Mom was diagnosed with cancer just before Thanksgiving. She had a malignant tumor under her right cheek bone, in the sinus, and it was pushing up into her right eye.
Up until now, cancer had been only in my practice. Even when it occurred in my own family, I heard about the surgeries and treatments usually after they happened. Or an elderly relative would die and I’d hear “cancer”.
But this time it was my Mom and I made the rounds of oncologists.
The first three said that nothing could be done. It was in too difficult a place to remove surgically and so we should go home, call hospice and prepare to die. They each also gave us the name of an oncologist at Beth Israel Hospital, Dr. Mark Urken, and said to see him first. What they said was that he would probably say the same thing, but go see him, because he’s done some of these difficult sinus surgeries.
Dr. Urken told us he could remove the cancer through surgery. He could cut the middle of the mouth, including the palate, the nose and under the eye. If the eye was invaded, which was likely because Mom had begun to have double vision, then he would have to take the eye. He was very sorry about that and said he would do a biopsy during the surgery just to be sure.
Mom said she was afraid to lose half her face. So Dr. Urken told her again exactly what he would do and that Dr. Okay would build her a prosthesis for her mouth and he would rebuild the cheekbone.
Eventually she would get a false eye.
Dr. Okay came in and talked about what he could do and took a mold of her palate.
A nurse, practitioner Jackie Chiang, came in and talked with us and then took me aside to schedule the surgery. We couldn’t have it the following week because that was Thanksgiving. Dec 2 was the day.
Dr Urken told my mom that this was a major surgery. She was strong and had just had a major surgery, a shoulder replacement in June, and had come through great. This surgery was major and would be tough. But there was no effective alternative. Radiation would not work on this type of aggressive tumor.
My purpose in writing this is because of what I learned about traumatic stress, aka post traumatic stress disorder, which we hear so much about when it comes to our war veterans.
We don’t hear about it much when it comes to surgery. My mom had a 6 hour procedure in which her face was cut into, her cheek bone, upper palate and right teeth and eye removed, her scalp cut to get replacement tissue, a piece of titanium inserted for a new eye socket, the right side of her neck cut to take lymph nodes and a square of tissue taken from her thigh leaving a big red bruise.
Having met Dr. Mark Urken and his surgical partner of 20 plus years, Dr. Buckbinder, I know it was done with the utmost care and loving compassion.
Unfortunately for mom’s unconscious body, her cells felt that they were being attacked while she slept. Her body felt as if someone was trying to kill her.
I took the night shift and by that I mean I spent the nights at the hospital with mom. My dad and siblings would come and sit with her all day. (We are lucky to be a big family.) I would come at 7 or 8 PM and stay until 7 AM and sometimes until Dad arrived at 10 or 11 AM. Mom was 8 days in the hospital after the surgery. I could go home by day and see a client or 2 and catch up on paper work and phone calls.
I didn’t know I would be so happy to have my holistic health business. Because of that, I have access to a company that markets top quality nutritional products. As soon as Mom came out of intensive care (she was there 3 days), they said she could eat only shakes, soups, and puddings. I immediately began an aggressive nutritional supplementation program. I made her nutritionally enhanced shakes twice daily with very potent vitamin supplements pulverized and added to the shakes.
I am certain that is why she regained health so quickly with no complications of infection. She got pneumonia right after surgery in the ICU, but it went away very quickly, in less than 2 weeks, when it can be a serious complication for elderly patients.
Here’s what I found out about trauma and surgical recovery:
My mom had a really hard time sleeping after the surgery. At first it was nightmares that woke her up after a few minutes of falling into deep sleep.
My practice of CranioSacral Therapy (CST) has taught me to communicate nonverbally on the cellular level, the unconscious level, with my clients. So I began to ask mom’s cells what they were feeling. They “told” me that they were afraid to let mom go to sleep because the “attack” came while she was asleep. So they created nightmares that would be sure to wake her, thereby “protecting” her from another attack which might come during sleep.
I used CST to talk with the cells. I explained to them why the surgery was not an attack, but a life saving method. It was a tough sell.
I explained that she needed sleep to heal. I then used the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) from Gary Craig (emofree.com) to release energetic blockages caused by the trauma to get the cells to give up their fear, relax, and let her sleep.
I went through the EFT treatment, which consisted of tapping places on Mom’s body, meridian points, the same ones used in acupuncture. I did the EFT treatment numerous times over my 8 day stay, and when I did, I could always feel Mom’s breathing change and she would fall into a deep sleep. After 2 or 3 days, the nightmares ceased almost completely.
Because of the significance of the surgery, the added fears in the recovery intensive care unit, and minor panics and assaults that come from being in a hospital, no matter how ideal the situation is, one session was not going to be enough.
The CST and EFT had to be repeated daily to address changing concerns and new ones. Mom healed rapidly and well.
Another difficulty was the swelling. Mom put on about 15 pounds of fluid. Her face was initially swollen almost beyond recognition and her body as well. It was hard for her to move or coordinate her fingers or toes. Of course, she couldn’t swallow at first and it was days before the trach was removed from her throat.
All this was very scary. I used Lymph Drainage Therapy (LDT) daily to release the swelling, especially around the face. The day after surgery, I worked manually with a light touch, keeping a distance from the fresh incision sites and I worked energetically, on the incision sites, at a distance from them. I was soon able to work very lightly directly on the incisions and on the rebuilt cheek.
With LDT, the way I learned it from Dr. Bruno Chikly, I can feel the flow of lymph under my fingers. When I first felt Mom’s, it was totally shocked and stagnant. In the area on the right neck where they had removed the nodes, the direction of flow after a day or so was detoured around that area, crossing behind the cervical vertebrae to the other side and down the left.
A few days later, the lymph was able to go down the right in a fairly normal fashion, sans nodes. What an amazing recovery system the body has! So ingenuous!
I felt the lymph of the check, hard like plastic at first and days later moving and become more flesh like. The lymph around each of the sutures took only days to figure out detours around the stitched areas. In less than 2 weeks the facial scars along the nose completely disappeared.
We were warned to watch for infection, redness around the sutures. I never even saw a hint of pinkness or felt any warmth at all.
I often work on people months or even years after surgeries. I feel the lymph is still congested around those areas even years later. Through LDT, I help the lymph return to either a normal or alternative pathway, allowing the person to feel a comfort not felt since the surgery. I wonder how much longer it would have taken Mom to heal if I didn’t have these skills.
Another thing to mention: when I say I did CST & EFT repeatedly during Mom’s stay at the hospital and later at home, I didn’t do it in my traditional way as I would in my clinic. Because Mom was often not very accessible in the hospital bed, I was forced to work energetically and mind-to-mind, with much less hands-on than I normally do in my clinic. Instead of putting my hands on my Mom to address an area, and tapping on a meridian with my fingers in EFT or manipulating a bone in CST, I would merely imagine it instead. I found years before in my practice that vividly imagining it and doing it produce the same result. Also, because I was often half-asleep when I worked on her (which is in no way a deterrent, but an advantage), I was able to do things my conscious mind would have interfered with had it been awake.
Eight days after surgery, we came home. Mom would sleep upright on the sofa, her legs up on a hassock. She came home with pneumonia and had a deep hacking cough, so it made sense for her to sleep sitting up.
Almost every morning at 4 AM, Mom would wake up and we would discuss her decision to live. She wondered if it was the right choice. Her quality of life would be diminished. She wouldn’t be able to eat, drink or look normal. I would explain both to her conscious and unconscious, which at 4 AM is very accessible, that she was already eating soup, shakes, and taking tea. She would soon be able to eat and her swelling went down daily by 2 or 3 pounds of fluid.
I told her if she decided to die, I would honor her decision. But she must not think that it would be easy to die. Dying would also be very hard work. Either way, living or dying, both would be the biggest challenges of her life.
Every night we wrestled with the fear of going to sleep. There were no more nightmares, but still Mom was afraid to sleep. With the EFT, CST & LDT, after a few days at home she was awake all day, on the computer, participating in life and that night, she slept 11 hours. I felt success. We had turned the corner. Soon she would be back up in her bed and I could live in my own home again.
We had a great visit with Dr. Urken, Dr. Okay and the whole team the next day in NYC. We came home optimistic and upbeat. That night, around midnight, I suggested Mom go to bed. She said, “No, I’ll watch TV first.” I felt my heart sink as she sat in front of the TV with Dad, watching a murder movie.
To the rest of the family, it looked comforting to see them in their old habits. I was unsure. When Mom went to “bed” in the chair, she was visibly upset.
I went to sleep in my post on the couch an arms-reach away.She awoke repeatedly, every hour or so, saying she couldn’t sleep. I was more in sleep mode than therapy mode, so I watched and didn’t jump in, wondering what had happened to set us back.
At four AM we talked. I was thinking, “What was different tonight from last night when she slept so well?” She said, “I’m afraid of going to sleep.”
I realized the doctor visit had stirred fears up again. I had seen her very nervous when we were there and had done LDT on her as we waited for the doctors to arrive to talk with us. But the visit was enough to set off unconscious and conscious alarms.
Also, I told her, she had watched TV, a murder movie, just before bed and that had set off alarms as well. She said she was afraid of dying in her sleep. I did EFT on the fear of dying in her sleep.
She was telling herself over and over, “I can’t sleep, I can’t sleep.” I pointed out that her body was obliging her and waking her up as she was requesting.
I told her to tell her body instead, “I could sleep much better. I love a good nights sleep. I want to awake alive, alert, joyous and enthusiastic about this new day.”
I hardly finished my sentence when she fell into a deep sleep and slept soundly from then to 9 AM.
So I can see there is more work to do. Tonight I will have to go over this with her. I’ll tell her she has choices here. To have a good nights sleep, she can
1. Go to bed early, by 10 or 11.
2. Don’t watch TV before bed. Instead, read something funny or light hearted or inspirational. Or watch a funny movie.
3. Tell your body that you love to sleep, enjoy a good nights sleep, feel safe and happy.
4. Tell your body you want to awake alive, alert, joyous and enthusiastic about this new day!
5. As soon as you awake say, “I am alive, alert, joyous and enthusiastic about this new day. I fairly sizzle with joy and enthusiasm. Always in the right place at the right time, I admire the way the Universe conspires on my behalf with synchronistic magical opportunities that I act on now!”
Step out of bed and as one foot hits the floor, say “Thank.” As the other foot hits, say “you.” Trot to the bathroom saying “thank you, thank you, thank you…”
It’s now a week later. After a good EFT session, Mom began sleeping in her bed and hasn’t had any trouble sleeping for a few nights now.
The prosthesis in her mouth is the challenge now. She wants to learn how to do it herself so she can be independent, yet she is unsure of her ability to do this and panics. We’ve been doing the EFT on this fear so I’ll let you know how it goes.
The other day, she vented her anger, fear, and frustration. She said, “They shouldn’t be allowed to do this to people! I am a cripple! They made it out to be so easy! They said I would have a glass eye! Where is my eye? When will I get it?”
Then after we did EFT, she was calmer and said, “I shouldn’t complain. I know I will get through this. I can do it. I don’t have any pain. I’m getting better every day. It’s just hard right now.”