Cancer means different things to different people. Most people, when they realize they have it, are too balled up with fear and pain to speak about it. Peg Staley is different. A 56-year-old psychotherapist from Rhode Island, she learned last year that she had a tumor in her breast. Peg shared her thoughts about this with her friends through a series of letters — her way of turning an intensely individual experience into a teaching for all of us.
Val Staples, a physician’s assistant who lives in Durham, and who occasionally writes for The Sun, is a friend of Peg’s and showed us these letters. We asked Peg for permission to reprint them, and she kindly gave it. In response to our request for some information about her, Peg writes:
“I am a Gestalt therapist who was a chemistry major at Vassar, a wife and mother of five sons, a lady volunteer, the founder of the first school volunteer program in Rhode Island and am waiting to see what my next transformation will be like. I live in the country, near the ocean with Andrew, my husband, and two of our sons. Our family always includes members by choice. Currently Paul Wurtner and Andy Smyth also live here. My letters seem to describe much of my life. In addition, I have started to organize a birth center (New Beginnings, P.O. Box 541, Warwick, Rhode Island 02886). Twenty months after our first meeting, we are hiring a midwife. The principles on which the birth center are founded have been those I’ve followed in my cancer treatment. I’ve been a therapist for the last six years. I love to walk on the beach, to raise and eat my own vegetables, to read, and most recently, to be noisy. And I’ve come to a deep appreciation of the richness of my WASP background after years of considering it to be unbearably narrow and constricting.”
OCTOBER 22, 1978
Dear Friend: I am in the greatest transition of my life so far and am writing to share this experience with you. I have cancer in my right breast and the medical report is that the cells are a fast growing and invasive kind. . . . I first went to Oliver Cope in Boston the first week in October. The mammogram at that time was inconclusive and a biopsy was done on Tuesday, October 17th, when Andrew and I returned from celebrating Peter’s marriage to Anne Williams in Santa Fe on the 15th. The wedding was a wonderful celebration with all our family and hers together as well as close friends.
I have cancer in my right breast. . . .
I spent time in Santa Fe alternately calling to arrange for flowers and food and gathering information about types of cancer, opinions about treatment and possible options open to me.
My search has been to discover how I might best be a full and primary participant in my own healing. I have felt and received love and healing energy not only directly from the Lord but also poured out to me from those near me. And I am immensely grateful that my learnings in the past few years have given me tools to use in the months ahead.
One friend encouraged me to see this time in my life as a new world to be explored not with fear but with inquisitive curiosity and interest. Another prayed for me to remain in love, not fear and this enabled me to stay open to the Lord’s presence in strength and solidness during the biopsy which I had chosen to have done as an outpatient under local anaesthesia so that I might consciously participate. A call to a counselor at the Simonton’s cancer clinic in Texas helped me to focus on the secondary benefits which I get from having cancer (my answers were excitement and attention) and to begin looking for less destructive ways to get them.
A second question helped me to explore why I would want to give myself a life-threatening disease at this point in my life. A visit to consult with Jack Downing1 in New York helped me to sort out which therapies made personal sense to me and gave me the chance to spend time with Avery Brooke.2
The encouragement, challenges and love of many others have been deeply important. And I want you to know my plans so that you can see where you may fit in.
Healing ministry is basic. St. Peter’s in Narragansett is a healing church which I attend regularly. Also at 6:30-7:00 a.m. and at 8:30-9:00 p.m. I will meditate and ask for healing here in Saunderstown. I welcome anyone who wants to join me at those times either in Saunderstown or wherever you are.
Nutritional therapy to build up my own immune system is also basic. I have been following a cleansing, nutritional diet in direct contrast to my usual pattern of “sweet-eating, over indulgence in refined foods and animal fats.” I also expect to work with Michael Schacter3 in Nyack, N.Y. to establish an optimum diet. To exercise restraint and moderation where I have been indulgent seems important in itself but even more crucial as a paradigm of the needed cellular change in my body.
I have ordered books and tapes from the Simontons4 and will work with them to visualize healing.
This event has transformed all of us. I am searching for a family therapist to work with us as a group, as a system, which has allowed or at least not prevented one member from getting seriously ill. And I expect to work with Stan and Christina Grof5 in November when they come to Vermont. In January I will spend 5 days in Escondido, California with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross.6
On Tuesday I also go to Boston to start chemotherapy. Surgery is out.
The cancer cells are of a type which has already spread. One lesion is deep in my breast on the chest wall. And my breast is somewhat swollen and inflamed, and not, thank God, sore.
Yesterday I realized the strength of the word malignant. When I view cancer cells as malignant I give them power and worse I give them evil power. They are weak and confused cells that have gone on dividing uncontrolled, unlimited. I can indeed project my fears, my anger and hostility into them. It makes more sense to me to say with firmest love “Enough! I will not let you destroy yourselves and me. I will restrain you and stop you.”
I have listed the ways in which I expect to do that. And ultimately I know that I live in a paradox. I will do what I can. I will fight to live. And I may die. . . .
This letter is intended to open doors and not close off channels of communication. I expect to write every other week or so, and my friend Paul Kervick has offered to help by taking care of mailing them. I will not ask him to continue to send them to you unless you let me know you want to receive them. Many details about my work and life are unclear as I move into my new world.
Thank you for listening.
I love you.
NOVEMBER 13, 1978
Dear Friend: Trying to write this letter is like trying to report on an acid trip. There are so many levels of understanding and interconnected links that I need a 3-D map to sort out the events since I first wrote. My need for excitement is certainly being met.
And I am also grateful to each of you who has paid such special and loving attention to me. I am deeply touched by letters, phone calls and messages as well as by those who have come in person to meditate and pray with me. As 2 or 3 of us sit quietly, gathered together, I feel the support and presence of many more who are with us in spirit and in love.
I feel blessed with love which has helped to strengthen me as I have made important decisions about my life and the treatments I will follow. And I have fallen into fear, into the dark tight places of hopelessness. There is no doubt that I am physically healthier than I have been for a long time. I know I can be whole. And I am aware that my need is for cleansing on many levels.
This new world of mine is rich and varied. Two weekends ago Cynthia Finn7 was here in Saunderstown. I had important time alone with her and she led a workshop in Past Lives. One such life as experienced by a member of the group was a deeply spiritual one that taught me that once you give up an image of God carven through fear that you must move into a new place. I felt that shift when I decided not to have chemotherapy. . . . I found myself unable to agree to poison my body in the name of healing. It was hard to tell Dr. Leone, with both friends and Andrew present, that I would not take the chemical treatment scheduled for that morning. Andrew knew my decision and supports me in making it. The crucial thing for me was to be solid and sure in my decision. I am not ruling out chemotherapy altogether. And I appreciate my ability to give myself time to decide what I want to do.
Last week Sean Carmody8 called to offer a gift. He had been working with John Grinder9 who had just returned from working with the Simontons in Texas. Sean offered to work with me and it was an incredible hour. He worked with the deep unconscious part of me that is giving me cancer. He approached with deep respect and appreciation for that part which, having been walled up, needed to break out of the cell and to live whatever the cost. Much of the work was non-verbal. This part of me agreed to co-operate in my healing and the tumor seemed shrunken as I left the house in Lincoln. It has not stayed that way — and I return to Sean tomorrow to work some more. It is very helpful to work with someone who knows that my attitude and intention will affect cellular change in my body.
Fear keeps me from trusting my capacity to heal myself.
And my body knows it.
I continue my diet and have begun work with Angelica Redleaf10 a chiropractor, on diet, cleansing my body and kinesiology. We have begun family therapy with Anne Varna-Garis,11 who trained with Menuchin12 and is a marvelously healing young woman as well as seven months pregnant.
Next week I go to Jacksonville, Florida for 3 days to attend a healing mission at San Jose Episcopal Church with Emily Gardener Neal whose book, The Healing Power of Christ, was given to me by Mary Scott and which has been a source of wisdom and understanding. I continue to attend services at St. Peter’s and have also asked for healing at the Apponaug Pentecostal Church.
I continue to be very involved in my process. It is clearly going to be a struggle. Dr. Cope’s notes speak of this as a stubborn tumor. And we have already done much. I am seeing very few clients. So I find time to play, to walk in the woods, or on the beach, and to let out a playful light-hearted Peg who has been hidden for many years behind an earnest, serious solemn mask. I could assume surface gaiety. I begin to feel joy.
Meditating the other day, I suddenly knew with recognition the words of the Christmas story — “Fear not, I bring you tidings of great joy.” I feel tears in my eyes. Last weekend in the Gestalt group a friend read the Bene-Gesserit prayer from Dune about fear as the mind-slayer. Fear is the opposite of love. Fear is tightness, holding on, afraid to lose, to let go. Fear keeps me from trusting my capacity to heal myself. And my body knows it. When I get afraid, uncertain, tense and upset the cancer grows. When I relax, image myself as whole, the cancer gone, a block of ice melted into life-giving water by the heat of the sun-light at its center it does indeed diminish. The struggle wages back and forth between these two images and realities. Please continue to send your prayers and love as allies on the side of light.
My love to you,
NOVEMBER 28, 1978
Dear Friend: One hundred years ago today Wallace Campbell, my father, was born as Jane reminded me on Sunday. Last week my son David gave me a copy of thoughts he had written down and one of the lines was, “I know that the process you started within me won’t stop if you die.”
Today I am very conscious of that process, of all the richness and love as well as problems to be resolved, which I inherit and pass on to others. And that, just as I have taken on a legacy from my parents and their parents before them, so also, I have handed one on to my children.
One of the most painful and healing moments since I last wrote was the realization that the family I co-authored with Andrew has just exactly as hard a time sharing emotions as the family in which I grew and in which I felt so starved as a child. I have consistently found emotional nourishment outside of my immediate family and am immensely grateful to Paul, to Cookie and to Andy Smyth who have lived here, shared my life and given me places where I felt free to express whatever I needed to. In a session with Anne Varna-Garis when Tim did let me know how important I was to him and at the same time let himself feel the emotion behind his words, I saw how rare such moments are for us. It is immensely healing to see this, and to begin to work together as a family group to allow ourselves more intimacy. And, I also saw how my expectation that such intimacy is not possible within the family defeated my wish for closer communication. I feel more ice melting as we all begin to break free of its frozen immobile grip.
Rich Hochman gave me Eileen Caddy’s Footprints on the Path. She started Findhorn Garden in Scotland with her husband Peter. Her book speaks powerfully to me. Yesterday, I read a section on how much harder it is to unlearn something you have come to know and trust as a secure guideline than it is to learn something new. Of course, one must let go of the old to allow the new — the chicken breaks out of the egg, the baby is born, we let go of life into death. I let go of Peg as healthy and explore Peg with cancer, a life threatening disease.
My first explorations were, as many of you pointed out to me, frenzied and obsessed. I would study and learn all I could. And I have accumulated and sifted through a great deal of information. The most important result of my trip to Florida was to let go of my obsession with breast cancer. On the last day of my mission after the 10 a.m. communion service and before the evening healing session, I was walking on Jacksonville Beach. I knew I needed to go there. As I walked along, I suddenly felt very peaceful. I thought, “I do not understand this.” And immediately I flashed on the “peace which passeth understanding.” I will continue to do all the things which I believe I am to do to be involved in my own healing and in a real and wonderful way, I have given my healing into the Lord’s hands. I had many very special, powerful experiences during the mission and find myself to be rather like a shy teenager in love for the first time wanting to keep these moments private.
My sense is that the wind shifted for me in Florida. The analogy comes from a letter of Cookie’s written after she had been out near the forest fires which raged out of control all around Los Angeles 2-3 weeks ago. She made the connection to inflammatory cancer and felt very moved by the sight of wild fire. The Santa Ana wind blew all the smog away so the flames could be clearly seen and fanned them so that the firefighters were powerless. They could only evacuate people. And then the wind shifted. The fierce bellows of the Santa Ana dropped, a shift came blowing the flames back toward burnt out areas and the fires died down.
I have a spiritual guide named Abraham who comes to me in meditation. When I first met him I only reached to his belly and I cradled my head against him. I have grown and am now tall enough so my head comes just under his chin. For a long time I had no sense of his features and face except an impression of a beard. When I finally saw his face, it was ravaged and eaten away as though by leprosy. He did not answer my question as to how this had happened. Now his face has healed, and I understand that he ate himself away in attempting to be his own source, to be his own well-spring. As I have understood that I am a channel for God’s love and not the source, I am now able to see another place where I put unbearable stress on myself which I could not sustain without becoming ill. To say nothing of the pride I had to drop.
I provided a perfect seedbed for cancer by long-time neglect of some basic rules of good health and by ignoring signals of stress in my life.
A few nights ago Andrew and I went to see Interiors. The daughter Joey, in talking to her mother, says, “The trouble is, mother, that you have a sick psyche and at the heart of every sick psyche is a sick soul.” I know. And I believe that it is not just psychic illness which has its origin in a sick soul. That, too, I learned in Florida.
And I also know that what I’ve found out and what I am doing are right for me. They are not right for you — some pieces may fit, use them if you wish. You cannot adopt my path even though some of the signposts may be useful.
I see the doctors at R.I. Hospital, where I did start chemotherapy 3 weeks ago next Monday. At that time, they will evaluate whether the tumor which was still increasing has been arrested and is shrinking. I believe it is. And of course, I want it to. I have had virtually no adverse reactions to chemotherapy and, as I wrote in a letter to Oliver Cope in Boston, I believe that my delay in starting chemotherapy allowed me to choose it with the full cooperation of my outer and inner selves. It was scary to say “no” when the medical opinion was that any delay was very dangerous, but I believe it was more important for me to say “yes” wholeheartedly. And it seems to me that, as Avery quoted from the Bible in writing about the “poison” of chemotherapy: “Everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” . . . 1 Timothy 4:4., my acceptance made it easy to take.
I send you my love as I receive yours, acknowledging that both are reflections of a Greater Source.
DECEMBER 22, 1978
Dear Friend: My cancer is shrinking. On Monday I went for my 6th chemotherapy injection and on December 28th I will meet again with Dr. Leone to decide on the next steps. A week ago I checked the medical record to be sure that my report of Dr. Gherkin’s findings, when she saw me after 3 injections, was accurate. At that time she measured the tumor as 4 cm. When I started it was 8-9 cm. Since Dr. Leone had told me that a 50% reduction after 6 treatments would be a good result, I feel very pleased. Dr. Gherkin also reported that she could detect no other lymph node involvement and that the ones under my arm, which had been palpable, were no longer so.
I am totally convinced that the ways in which I have been working to reduce stress in my life have had a powerful effect. I reduce stress by eating healthy foods with low amounts of material to be eliminated. I reduce stress by coming to better understanding of the non-productive ways in which I try to twist the world to make it work my way. I reduce stress when I let the outcome lie with the Lord and not with my efforting. I reduce stress by paying attention to driving my car so I am not strained. This was an eye-opener. Andrew has taught me defensive driving. The difference here is looking ahead to decide the least stressful action in the next few moments. Thus it is not protective but evaluative. It also means paying attention to my body and letting my muscles relax as soon as I notice them tightening up rather than tumbling out of the car a tight wad of cramped flesh at the end of the trip. And it means driving with my hands at 5 and 7 o’clock on the wheel instead of at 10 and 2. The tension that is destructive is unconscious and to take just this one simple situation and to look at it from the point of stress was very relaxing.
Sean had been insisting all along that to have energy available to heal cancer, I must not spend a lot of it fighting stress. And I got more corroboration from a marvelous article Alec Randall sent to me written by Norman Cousins for the December 1966 issue of New England Journal of Medicine. He writes of his successful bout with a form of cancer, 99% fatal. He prescribed vitamin C in massive doses, old movies from Candid Camera several times a day (on the principle that laughter is a fantastic stress reducer which also eliminated his pain for 2 hours at a stretch) and rest in a hotel room which was 1/3 as expensive as the hospital and with much more nourishing food. He worked with a doctor whom he had known and respected for 20 years who took medical tests before and after vitamin C as well as before and after laugh therapy which clearly indicated a healthy physiological response in his body. Why wasn’t this picked up and hailed as a breakthrough? I can’t find out.
When I have talked to doctors about the possibility of working immunologically with myself I have been told of research with self-immunization, with other kinds of injections. I wonder why the relatively simple steps of building my own immune system have been almost totally ignored by the medical profession. I have not encountered within traditional medicine anyone (and I have met concerned and caring doctors) who encouraged my belief that I could reverse the breakdown in my body which allowed me to get cancer. And I have taken some simple and obvious steps which are inexpensive and which have vastly increased my chance of stopping and reversing a cancerous growth. There is other corroboration. I have read a remarkable book given to me by Dorothy Shutak at St. Peter’s Church, written by a surgeon, William Standish Reed, called Surgery of the Soul. His belief in the healing power of Christ as well as of the existence of spirit and psyche even when a person is under anaesthesia or in a coma led him to adopt an attitude of respect for the patient reminiscent of Dr. Frédérick Leboyer’s work with newborn babies. He describes “vegetables,” so called, who recover in a hospital and remarkably quick recoveries from surgery when the patient is treated as though he could indeed hear and take in the experience. Respect, paying attention to a person whether they show response or not is in itself healing. And I found it exhilarating to read of a doctor who understood and was willing to apply all the principles of true healing — not just in his own attitude but by insisting on the same from all of those attending the patient.
I find myself angry and determined. I do want to know why so much money is poured into trying to discover the cause of cancer and so little into experimentation with other forms of treatment which give more responsibility to the patient, and which help the patient to believe in her own ability to mend disease. My image of the medical delivery system is a giant teat. Everyone is sucking on it as though to let go is to die. The reality is we can grow up!
As I grow I realize a need to enjoy and be with women. A marvelous 2 hours with Bev Hall saw us laughing, reminiscing and catching up on our family news. She had been uncertain about coming for fear of being too sad. It was instead a vital, alive and nourishing time for us both. And I need more of these times. My womanness needs nourishing. I live in a world of many men. I am still making the acquaintance of women’s strength and love, my own as well as my friends. And that too is a lesson sharpened by breast cancer.
January 9th through January 26th I shall be in California. A visit to Cookie, to Sabira and Frida Waterhouse, a workshop with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, another one with John Grinder on self-hypnosis and hopefully a visit to Stan and Christina Grof in Big Sur as well as the opportunity to look over Synthesis Graduate School in San Francisco before I apply to go there in the fall of 1979 are all on the calendar. My next letter will be from there or shortly after I return. I make no promises.
My image of the medical delivery system is a giant teat. Everyone is sucking on it as though to let go is to die. The reality is we can grow up!
Meanwhile I continue to visualize my silly weak cancer cells as sheep, the chemotherapy as fire breathing, clanking stinking dragons and my white blood cells as St. George and as a way to clear up all the debris. I can giggle about the image as I sit in the hospital getting the injection imagining that others passing by wonder at the bleating, the whisps of steam, and the battle cries emerging from the room!
With my love for the new year and hope your holiday was truly blessed.
JANUARY 9, 1979
Dear Friend: Here I am having a peaceful sunny lunch in my Saunderstown kitchen instead of high in the sky on United’s flight No. 103 from Chicago to Los Angeles. After a hectic, busy week getting all the details attended to so I could leave for California with a clean slate, I drove to Boston yesterday. It poured rain all the way. I was tired. I had an extraordinarily fine session with Cynthia Finn who will be my therapist during the next 3 months while Sean is in San Diego. I had been feeling some stomach cramps during the day. They worsened as I drove home and I went to bed exhausted. As soon as I got home knowing I could never get to the plane this morning Andrew cancelled flights and called Cookie. Paul brought me a hot water bottle. Tim and Andy found the paregoric and I finally fell asleep. So I am spending the first day of my vacation in Rhode Island instead of en route.
Cynthia had just returned from a 12-day vispassana meditation retreat in Barre and my time with her brought me back to myself. We explored the feminine qualities which I recognize in Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and have trouble owning for myself. Of course, I know that since I can see them in her, they are in me too, but I found it hard to make them real until Cynthia asked me to embody them, to discover where they exist in my own body. It was powerful and beautiful to acknowledge Elisabeth’s light shining from my heart and being absorbed through my eyes and to see that as womanly, mothering love.
I also deeply admire Elisabeth’s ability to push the boundaries, to explore her innermost depths. That quality I found in my legs. As I stood to experience it, I discovered my tai-chi legs flexible, able to support me whether I chose to advance, retreat, or go sideways, and am delighted at the shift from the strong, quite rigid pillars of support I developed as a child when I felt, “It’s too early for me to have to stand on my own feet.”
As I stood in the room with Cynthia, I suddenly noticed the closed door and told her how much I disliked it. I want open doors in my life. I moved to the door and realized that it was not the right time. There was indeed a door knob. I could open it and walk through and I wasn’t ready to do so. Instead, I really looked at the door. I saw the flow of wood-grain like ripples and waves of water, the gradations in color and felt the somewhat coarse texture of unvarnished wood, that has not been sanded perfectly smooth. And once again I realized how I have been rushing my decision. Eight weeks of chemotherapy ends on Thursday. The medical recommendation is to start radiation as soon as I return from the West Coast. I have been talking to the radiation oncologists, to Dr. Leone and Dr. Cope, getting information about the effects both beneficial and harmful of the proposed treatment. Five days a week of radiation for 5 weeks for a total of 7,000 rads to kill off the lymph nodes in my armpit, under the collar bone and those along the right breast bone as well as irradiating the total breast area, with special dosage to the tumor itself to knock it out. Some lung tissue will be permanently killed. The blood producing bone marrow of the irradiated area will be stopped, hopefully only for 1-2 years. Since inflammatory cancer has no clearly defined boundaries to begin with surgery not only didn’t make sense then, evidently it never will. I appreciate the clarity of the answers I have received and am still not convinced that I will choose to go ahead with this treatment.
As I began to succeed I scared myself. What will it mean to be someone who wins; who does conquer cancer?
I certainly intend to explore alternatives while I’m in California and to continue to be aware that I have a decision to make when I return. Dr. Leone gave us over an hour of time at the end of a day last week to have a meeting with me, Andrew and our family. This was helpful. And I got part of my answer as to why medicine doesn’t focus much on natural immunity. Dr. Leone feels and I’ve since heard the same from other doctors that if even one cancer cell is left in my body that it will eventually grow and become one large tumor. So the obvious treatment is “search and destroy.” The parallel to our conduct of the Vietnam War is obvious and uncomfortable.
The stress theory which says that we all develop cancer cells all the time and that our body handles them makes more sense to me. I provided a perfect seedbed for cancer by long-time neglect of some basic rules of good health and by ignoring signals of stress in my life. Where is the balance point when medical science has eliminated the major threat and my body can now resume its own protective functions? How can I know that place? Who can help me to recognize it? These are my questions. And the door is not yet open. I am impatient to know. And I must realize as I did with Cynthia that I have much yet to learn on this side of the closed door.
One thing I have already learned is that each new decision is almost like making the original one all over again. Each time my will to live must be reaffirmed if I indeed intend to do so. I will also decide how I can best do that. I have had to let go of my picture of Peg as a healthy person to get used to Peg as a woman fighting breast cancer. The bigger jump is still ahead of me. As I began to succeed I scared myself. What will it mean to be someone who wins; who does conquer cancer? The jump now is to Peg — the winner. For me that is a leap, especially since my body, which I learned so early to distrust as weak and unreliable, will need a whole new image!
So I go to California to continue explorations tomorrow. This lay-over day has been important. I’m ready now.
With much love,
FEBRUARY 22, 1979
Dear Friend: The floor is littered with discarded first drafts of this letter. And my mind is full of thoughts I found on waking this morning. I imagine myself trying on a decision like a new set of clothes to see if it fits, and whether it looks and feels right. Some costumes are an immediate hit. Others take longer before I know. I am seeking devil’s advocates to help me judge. I test out what I am doing in the crucible of adversity asking family, friends, and doctors to give me their most honest feedback. This is stressful as many of you have said but I then know not only in my head but also in my body what my commitment is, since I have wrestled with each objection until I am satisfied and sure.
Many of you have heard me wish for an indicator in my body like the blinking red light on a motel phone which would signal me to pay attention. I wanted an indicator of malfunction so that I could know when I was being destructive. I’ve got it. I laugh ruefully to myself realizing that my wish has come true. Remembering the old wife in the fairy tale of the three wishes who, having wished in anger that a sausage grow on her husband’s nose, could only use the third and final wish to get it off again, I shall be very cautious about future wishes.
Instead of wishing for more magic I now see myself facing the struggle to use this cancer, this tumor, this indicator of health as a way to learn to live well. It is opportunity. I do indeed know now whenever my body is not functioning properly.
Each psychic, each channeling or message from my High Self has assured me that I need not die in the near future, and that healing is available for my asking. Where to ask, how to ask, whom to ask and how to be receptive to that healing are unanswered. Everyone who knows me and many who don’t have their own answers to these questions of mine. It is important for me to hear these answers, especially the ones I dislike so that I can learn to be sure of the path I have chosen.
I hate going to Rhode Island Hospital. I always come home discouraged and fearful and in touch again with the enormity of trying to work towards health using tools and methods that the experts within the medical system, whom I was taught to trust, believe to be ineffective, primitive quackery. And I cannot agree to radiation. I am thrown back on what I do know of alternate health care and my own experience of psychological and spiritual healing. The only sure sign of bodily healing came in the three visits to Greg Schelkun,13 a psychic healer who reduced the tumor, which had grown in California, by one third. When I returned home to the stress and jolt of normal patterns the tumor began to enlarge again and is now larger than before. (It is also firmer, more solid, with clearer boundaries and Dr. Leone is suggesting surgery may be an option.)
However, the medical delivery system can be destructive. I cannot change it. And I do not need to let it destroy me. These are strong words. And it feels good to say them. Doctors, nurses, secretaries, and technicians as well as patients get chewed up. It is not easy to go through the pain of transformation and self-examination, which is necessary if you do not buy the authority of the system and make your own choices. We are all part of that system. We’ve absorbed it into our beings. So it’s very difficult to take the good and say no to the rest and to decide which is which. It’s also lonely. And in the end I am the only one who can know what is useful for me. Joseph Campbell14 reminds us that each knight leaving King Arthur’s round table goes alone into the thicket of the forest to carve his own way to the Grail. I’m suddenly very aware of another deeper level of grounding and sureness as I write. A tremendous benefit of these letters, in addition to making connections with you, is the understanding I come to as I struggle to tell you what is true for me. And I see now for the first time and with tears that I can appreciate my cancer. Thank you Gabrielle, Greg, Tom, Cynthia, Dito, Paul and Andrew. I feel filled with gratitude and overwhelmed with understanding and joy. Can you hear my shouts? I’m not fighting it any longer. I am working with it. Thank you all. Thank you, Lord!!! Praise and thanks be to you. Thanks to you Itzhak, Sean and Leie, Elizabeth, Stan, Christina, Cookie, Peter, Anne, Hugh, Tim, David, mother, father, brothers, and sister, Sue, Sarah and to each of you unmentioned and important and loved who have helped me to arrive here. I’m trembling and need to go dance and sing. I’ll return and finish.
One hour later:
Ten days ago I woke with an image of Peg, the winner. And suddenly heard the phrase “I’VE WON.” Greg said to me that I’d won the Trojan War, now came the odyssey home again. Yes! that fits. My odyssey includes work with Gabrielle Roth,15 whom I saw in New York and who gave me some crucial lessons in releasing my body and sounds as well as encouraging me to let out my colorful artist, my sensuous, feminine and adolescent selves, also my angry, snarling and feline ones. The journey will also include work with Itzhak Bentor16 in Newton at Interface Healing Center who saw my swordswoman and power, as he met my High Self. And I continue with Cynthia, working to identify and enliven old, dull patterns and uncover new ones. No wonder I was bored and needed excitement. I’ve kept so much of me hidden, I hardly know who I am. I look forward to making my acquaintance.
And what about the trip to California? Each experience built on the next. I ran into Joe DellaGrote17 at Esalen and got an unexpected Feldenkrais treatment at exactly the right time. Stan and Christina were not able to go to San Francisco so Cookie and I had a marvellous healing weekend with them. After doing some deep work on anger with Elizabeth, I was lying on the grass after supper when a white dove flew overhead, circled twice and disappeared into the dark. Jane Pretat’s image, which she had shared with me, of a white dove struggling with a black object in my breast and her concern for my strength in the struggle seemed answered. Each one of us threw a pinecone into the fire at the end of our time with Elisabeth. And each then identified for our group of 70 what she was leaving behind. Remembering the lion in The King of Hearts who was so used to his cage he didn’t leave when the door is open, I threw in my cage. As simple an event as my luggage making an impossible connection in the Los Angeles airport and my seat in the plane, where I could see the baggage cart arrive at the last moment with my purple sausage and briefcase seems symbolic of the way events kept working out for me. There’s no space to tell you details of my visit to Cookie and Disneyland, my Vassar reunion with three classmates 35 years later, my stay with Sabira, the channeling with Frida or the visit to the graduate school and therapy with Tom Yeomans18 where I recognized that part of me which shrinks from becoming whole for fear that without hooks and eyes to attach to other people, I will not be loved. All are part of where I am now.
My love to each of you,
1 JACK DOWNING — Gestalt therapist, San Francisco, Ca.
2 AVERY BROOKE — Meditation teacher, Noropon, Conn.
3 MICHAEL SCHACTER — Medical doctor, Nyack, N.Y.
4 CARL AND STEPHANIE SIMONTON — Authors of Getting Well, they run a cancer counselling clinic which, Peg says, “is the major resource” in this country. He is a medical doctor, she is a psychotherapist. Their address: 1300 Summit St., Suite 710, Fort Worth, Tx. 76102.
5 STAN AND CHRISTINA GROF — He’s a psychiatrist and LSD researcher. She teaches yoga. They live in Big Sur, Ca.
6 ELISABETH KÜBLER-ROSS — The psychiatrist and author who has worked with dying people since the Fifties. Her Shanti Nilaya Center is in Escondido, Ca.
7 CYNTHIA FINN — Therapist, teacher of meditation, Lexington, Mass.
8 SEAN CARMODY — Therapist, Mass.
9 JOHN GRINDER — Co-author with Richard Bandler of The Structure of Magic.
10 ANGELICA REDLEAF — Chiropractic, Providence, R.I.
11 ANNE VARNA-GARIS — Family therapist, Providence.
12 MENUCHIN — Teaches family therapy, Philadelphia, Pa.
13 GREG SCHELKUN — Psychic healer, San Rafael, Ca.
14 JOSEPH CAMPBELL — Professor of mythology at Sarah Lawrence. Author of Myths Men Live By.
15 GABRIELE ROTH — Teacher of dance and movement in New York City.
16 ITZHAK BENTOV — Medical inventor studying energy, Waylands, Mass.
17 JOE DELLAGROTE — Teaches Feldenkrais method of body movement in Amherst, Mass.
18 TOM YEOMANS — Teacher, Synthesis Graduate School, San Francisco, CA.