On the last day of my stay at Oasis of Healing, I was deeply touched listening to the story of 76-year old geologist Dave. He didn’t know I was there researching, but when he told me his story and I told him I what I was there to do, he said, “Please feel free to tell any part of this.”
He is from Canada but fell in love with the U.S. when he read the U.S. Constitution as a teenager. His mother reverently told him it is the second-most inspired document in the world (the Bible being first). Dave’s father told him he was born in the wrong country, and when Dave set foot on American soil at the age of 26, he never turned back. I told Dave I grew up in the lap of government, Washington, D.C., and I have the same feelings of emotional patriotism about the origins of my country. He said, “I can tell that about you.” I told him about going to see the movie 1776 in a theater in the District of Columbia in 9th grade, and being in love with the U.S.A. ever since. I’m proud to share a birthday with Abraham Lincoln, read David McCullough’s works on American history, and once taught American Heritage at BYU. So we bonded over our passion for this country.
When he was diagnosed with prostate cancer 14 years ago, Dave knew he’d never choose chemo or radiation. He chose protone laser treatment. So 3.5 years ago it came back, metastasized to his ribcage. University of Arizona docs implanted a radioactive drug called Zolidex that time-releases over three months. After a series of these treatments, the doc told him he was sorry, but it wasn’t working. “You have 2 or 3 months to live,” he told Dave, and “I can make you more comfortable with morphine.”
Horrified, I said to Dave, “Did you ASK the doctor to give you a death prediction?” “No,” he told me. “And how did you feel about that?” I asked.
I can’t remember the word Dave said to me. Stronger than “rather presumptuous” but not quite as strong as “outrageously arrogant.” Something about God Complex.
As it turns out, people don’t like doctors to predict their death. (Dr. Lodi says this is the definition of warlocks: pronouncing curses on people. When they do, people tend to die on cue. That’s not prescience or voodoo or evidence of how smart the doctor is: it’s people giving up and deciding to die. The body does as the mind commands.)
Dave went immediately to his lawyer and settled his affairs so his wife and children wouldn’t have any conflicts over settling his estate. But then he began studying alternatives and ended up with Dr. Frank Shallenberger in Carson City, NV. Eight months later, his PSA had dropped from 180 to less than 1.
But it also turns out doctors don’t always know. Dave is now 3.5 years past the death sentence given him by the millionaire oncologist whose prophetic abilities are apparently rather sketchy.
Unfortunately it would then take 8 months and 3 surgeries to clean up the scar tissue from the original oncologist’s laser treatments, which sent his PSA sky-high again. Dr. Shallenberger, now a close personal friend, sent Dave to Dr. Lodi.
Dave has been at Oasis of Healing for 6 weeks. He’s fighting on two fronts, since he cracked two discs in his back and couldn’t walk when he arrived in Mesa. But feeling is returning to his legs and he is feeling better. He is taking IV hydrogen peroxide, Vitamin C, sodium selenite (Dr. Lodi is one of only two American docs using it) and IPT.
He said: “Cancer is more than a sickness. It has a spiritual side. It reaches right into a person. It’s like a darkness, like you’re sinking into a hole.” (The other cancer patients in the room all began nodding as he said this.)
He said: “I was once shot, and my lung deflated. Once I was hit by a train. I wasn’t supposed to live, either time. With this, I’ve fought hard. I’ve come this far. I’m not going to quit now.”
Dr. Frank Shallenberger said to Dave, “There’s no reason you have to lie down for this. You’ve got a really great chance of something else getting you before cancer does.”
Dave repeated this quote to me a few times, in the beautiful story he told me of a rich, abundant life: of his parents, a wife and children, a professional career, dual citizenship on this continent, harrowing experiences he triumphed over…a life well lived. I told him about my grandmother beating Stage 3 cancer, with her diet. He asked me one thing: “She was a woman of faith, wasn’t she?”
Indeed she was.
How much does it matter to Dave, to have a doctor who believes he can live?
Dr. Shallenberger in Nevada, Dave says, is a real healer, so different from the chemical-factory docs who assigned him a number and, Dave says, gave him 10 minutes before sending him for the pre-determined chemo cocktail from the book of codes issued by insurance companies.
[Interruption from Robyn: Jerome Groopman's book "How Doctors Think" documents that an M.D. will listen to you an average of 6 seconds before they are done listening and have slotted you into the drug or procedure they're going to prescribe, or the specialist they want to hand you off to.]
Dave said to me, “I have an engineering background: I knew better than to undergo ‘Slash-And-Burn.’ But I never knew there was a Dr. Lodi. That he went to Columbia and left a highly paid medical practice in New York City….” He was emotional and his voice trailed off.
“He has a real face, Dr. Lodi does, he’s a real person. When I dealt with oncologists, I didn’t know who they were. These guys renew my faith in human beings. When I was a kid, John Wayne was our hero. Dr. Lodi is an unsung hero. We all need our heroes. He and Dr. Shallenberger are pioneers; they are my heroes.”
I’m sure Dave’s wife and family are deeply grateful he didn’t go home to die, back in 2008. He is the kind of man you want to sit and listen to. I am blessed to have enjoyed some of his aura and life experience last week. What struck me most about his story is that he was so buoyed up to have someone believe he could live, to have someone educated in biochemistry believe that he, Dave, is bigger and better than cancer.
Surely that belief can be far more powerful than a fistful of mutant cells.