Here are two more of Peg Staley’s letters to her friends about cancer.
Peg writes these letters regularly to keep friends in touch with her progress, and her discoveries. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share them with a larger audience.
A 56-year-old psychotherapist from Saunderstown, Rhode Island, Peg discovered in October 1978 that she had a tumor in her right breast.
She is married and has five sons, two of whom still live with her in their country home, near the ocean.
For copies of the three issues of THE SUN in which “Facing The Struggle” has appeared, send $4.25 to THE SUN, 412 West Rosemary Street, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514.
July 30, 1979
Many people responded to my last letter. One friend asked for particulars of my physical state and I do want you to know. The cancer in my breast continues to grow. My nipple has broken out into sores, somewhat smelly and weeping so I wear a bandage to absorb the stuff which reminds me of childhood bouts with poison ivy. Occasionally I have pricklings of pain in my breast or along my rib cage under my arm. My breast is probably twice as large as the healthy one.
Facing this question stirred me to go back to look again at my decision not to have chemotherapy or radiation and what I found angered me. I wrote in my diary, before I knew this diagnosis, and after I had been doing research and reading, “If this is inflammatory cancer, my decision will be easier since medical science does not have any answers. I will have to find my own route.” It was, as you know, inflammatory AND I found myself wanting to believe in an easier route. I wanted to believe that doctors could cure me. I am angry at myself. But worse than that the doctors also wanted to believe they could cure me and I am even angrier at them.
Oliver Cope had suggested his book The Breast as a reference. I will quote from it: “Another of the most virulent of breast cancers, fortunately rare, making up not more than 5% of the cases, is the so-called inflammatory cancer. It spreads rapidly like infectious cellulitis or carbuncle. Surgeons have long known that attempts to cut it out only spread it farther. The effect of radiation is uncertain, and drugs thus far have failed to do more than temporarily stem its growth.”
Rose Kushner, a medical reporter who developed breast cancer, researched treatments and then wrote a complete description of her findings in a book called Why Me? She often presented a different view than Dr. Cope. On this subject she agrees completely, stating, “Inflammatory cancer is virulent; surgeons are pessimistic and many pronounce it inoperable. Others will irradiate the breast to shrink the tumor and then do a mastectomy, but results have not been good.” She continues, “The decision should be the woman’s since doing nothing means certain, not probable, death.”
Dr. Cope supplied me with a copy of my medical record when I requested it and I get further confirmation here. On the day of the biopsy he recorded little doubt that this is inflammatory carcinoma and the slides showed a “highly undifferentiated, invasive tumor with many lymphatics in the tumor area filled with tumor cells.” The record goes on to report his conversation with the oncologist who said, “Immediate chemotherapy would be advisable. It hasn’t been very successful.” My italics for emphasis!
This is the same doctor who told me, when I asked what would happen if I did not take chemotherapy, “You will be back in two to three months begging me to help you,” with his voice ringing with hostility. I understand that he does not like to feel impotent. It angers me that he can share that ambivalence about the value of treatment with a surgeon and get enraged when I, not only a patient but also a woman, question his recommendation. Reactions like these, added to the difficulty I have had in getting straight answers especially when the answer is “we don’t know,” makes me very distrustful of any so-called information from medical practitioners.
The parallel to Three Mile Island jumps out. No one yet knows the long term effect of the massive therapeutic radiation and chemical dosages used in the last few years. Both are carcinogens and carcinogens often do not show effects until 10-15 years later. These are not treatments to be agreed to lightly. And official reassurances to the contrary, no one knows yet what the long term effects will be. The unfortunate people who closely witnessed the first bomb tests in New Mexico are all dead now. Soldiers in Vietnam exposed to defoliating chemicals are getting cancer in disproportionately large numbers. People living near atomic power plants where there has been an accident are also developing cancer in alarming numbers. The residents near Three Mile Island are being assured they are unharmed. The official doctrine continues to be “conceal the damage”.
I live in my body. I have a right to the facts. Unhappily, I still expect that a healer would let me know the facts to make my own choice. My belief in doctors is dying hard. And I am discovering other healers whom I can trust. I believe that I have given myself months of activity and normal life by changing my diet, working to heal my relationships, and especially to heal my estrangement from God.
The literature on the dietary cures of cancer consistently reports cessation of pain as the first noticeable effect when diet is changed. I imagine that these pain-free months have been a response to that shift in my own diet. And I am determined to find the way to respond to this disease in my body that will be effective. I do not know what “rapid spread” means. I do know that I am well, sleeping, eating and working comfortably and I do not believe that I would be doing any of these had I agreed to radiation. The future may indeed hold darkness, pain and fear. I know this and I am enjoying my life as each day goes by.
Many doctors have been upset by my words. In my last letter and again this week I acknowledge that some of my anger comes from my need to cling to medical truth as a savior. In going back to my sources to write this letter my anger flamed up. And my anger awakens echoes in many others who share with me their stories of deceit, lack of information and paternalistic decisions made by medical staff alone without involving the patient in any way even in the face of a clear request. My doctor friends believe either in a conspiracy or that they are scapegoats. So did Nixon as the horror and waste of the Vietnam war grew more and more apparent to the country while he in his isolation continued to believe that he alone knew what was the right action.
On a totally different note, I have been to an intensive weekend in South Fallsburg with Muktananda and will go back for a three-and-one-half-week course for the month of August. I debated a long while about being away from home for this period when my time with family may be short. Andrew helped me to decide. “Peg,” he said, “this sounds more right for you than anything I’ve heard you talk about.” And then he blew me away by saying, “If three weeks now will improve the quality of our remaining time together, no matter how long, then it is worth it.” What a lovely man and reaction!
I begin to understand from my experience at the ashram that God is truly closer than breath, nearer than hands or feet and that I will be alright whether I live or die. And this understanding stretched back into history. In an intensive weekend Baba circulates through the meditation hall and touches each of the 700-800 people personally in just the right way. After his touch, I found myself breathing out forcefully with a sense that I was filling the upper part of my lungs for the first time in my life — my breath became quieter and began to make a funny little clear whistle in my teeth. I recognized the sound. As a child I lay in bed at night as the sun went down hearing the wind blow through my window screen making exactly the same noise. I knew then that, had I ears to hear, God was with me singing me to sleep. The wind he created played the harp he created and I am the child he created whose ears were opened to receive.
I live in my body. I have a right to the facts. Unhappily, I still expect that a healer would let me know the facts to make my own choice.
India is a land of spiritual expertise just as we are a land of technological development. Baba has reached the goal of being one with God which gives him the capacity to be with each of the hundreds in his presence. The place Ben Bentov is talking about in his book [Stalking the Wild Pendulum: On the Mechanics of Consciousness] of being at one, everywhere and nowhere, is where Baba lives. Each one in that room sensed an individual and personal connection to him. There have been many healings around him. He does not emphasize the physical ones, although they occur frequently.
My cancer seemed somewhat less swollen as I left the ashram. I saw in that what Baba calls shakti, or kundalini, touching and changing lives. I’d call it the Holy Spirit of Pentecost; The important thing to me is that Muktananda not only can talk about it, he is what he says. This divine energy or power can consume our impurities whether of mind, body or spirit. And I intend to give it the best chance I can to do so. My doubts, my unwillingness to trust, my anger suppressed into cancer or beginning to emerge can all be consumed if I will let them go.
With love to you,
September 8, 1979
Three and a half weeks of immersion in life at Baba’s ashram and taking the basic course in Siddha Yoga have changed my perspective dramatically. The physical improvement which I had hoped for did not occur. In fact the deterioration continues. Once again none of my expectations were realized. And, true to form, I was surprised instead by what did happen.
The major shift for me is a forceful acknowledgement of my will and intentions to live. Before I left I was working with Leie Carmody and told her that I wanted to live to see and know Peter and Anne’s baby, due in February. Just before going to the ashram I got a call from Pete to say that Anne had miscarried and lost the baby which is very sad as it is the second time they have been disappointed. But the message I began to understand for myself in this loss is that my reason for living must not be located in anyone or anything outside of myself. And I’ve found that reason.
All of my life I have been able to get by and to do well without exerting my full energy and commitment. I did very well in school, married, raised a family, completed important jobs in the community, became a therapist, made many friends and never once pushed to my limit. When I studied the philosophy of Siddha Yoga and experienced the beginning of the spiritual path I began to grasp that here is a challenge worth every ounce of determination, learning ability and perserverance that I possess. I also understood that the grace bestowed by Swami Muktananda and my own self-effort are the two wings of the bird of spiritual progress. They must grow in balance. As the wings lengthen, my pace will quicken. Right now, I am taking baby steps and feel in this business of learning meditation as though I’m back in kindergarten again.
It is reminiscent of my first workshop in Esalen Institute in 1969 when I watched intrigued, astounded and in awe as the power of Gestalt therapy worked wonders in the lives of the participants who plunged in while I waded on the edge. Baba is a master therapist and his skill is knowing exactly what is right for each person. The ashram life and discipline provide surroundings where growth is stimulated and fostered all the time. The lessons abound. The goal of taking responsibility for oneself, for becoming fully aware, of paying attention to process are similar to therapy. The depth at which it happens — like the people who simple decide to stop smoking and do so without trauma or the way in which my death wish dropped away — surprises me. I don’t see the machinery. The results are startling.
I, for instance, had never been fully conscious of how much I have longed for a really worthwhile challenge. I uncovered my want to push with all my strength and energy. And even that’s not quite it. I want a goal worth devoting my life to. Baba would say that every goal short of union with God is eventually found to be inadequate. I am beginning to believe this, to understand what it means and to see that this is true whether I get there in this life time or in a future one.
Chakrapani is Baba’s astrologer, who is not only psychic but also a skilled astrologer and a practical man. He read my chart and saw me living into my 80’s as a productive useful woman healer, first enlarging my healing capacities and then in the last 17 years becoming a lecturer, author and teacher. This attractive picture adds further impetus to my intention to live to enjoy it.
But meanwhile I saw my physical disease enlarging and kept wondering how under the sun this rosy picture would come about. On returning home I first retreated into a shell of protectiveness. I felt the shift into a normal busy house as terribly intrusive, and I had no protection at all. I felt like a soft-shelled crab scuttling about looking for inviting crannies. But in four days I discovered lots of energy and began putting pieces together in my head as I emerged to tackle my world and my responsibilities.
I have been working on my health with Angelica Redleaf, a chiropractor, using a modified Dr. Kelley diet. A friend at the ashram who knew something of his methods asked me what parts I was using. Her question made me realize that I was not even still following the modified diet. What a half-assed way to work! So I took up a recommendation Angelica had made months ago and decided to do the full program. I called the nutritional counselor in Little Compton and have begun the program. It involves massive doses of dietary supplements and various cleansing routines.
Leie Carmody and I agreed yesterday that it’s perfect for what ails me. The requirements are finicky. Some supplements are taken one half hour before the meal, some with the meal, some afterwards and some every two hours during the waking day. Daily cleansing enemas are required to flush out the toxins as the supplements begin to wash them from their tissue-locked locations into circulation. The program is not cheap. It requires large doses of time, attention, energy and money. Progress will be related to my willingness to follow a routine for my own benefit. It’s quite a cure for my lack of commitment.
Then a few nights ago my nephew, Tad Staley, was here and told me of work he is doing with a young man in Boston to trace the roots of disease back through various lives to the initial source. I went to see him yesterday, liked him and will also start seeing him.
Swami Muktananda, Dr. Kelley and Richard Greene are an unlikely trio. All three believe in working towards a balance of health rather than curing the symptom. Baba urges people not to get side-tracked by visions of lights, hearing beautiful sounds, by learning to see auras, having out of body experiences or even developing healing powers, which all can happen in the process of Siddha meditation. The goal is to discover and learn to live in that inner Self where one knows the bliss of being at one with God. Positive and negative actions are in total balance in that space. Baba lives there. He can teach us to do so, too.
Dr. Kelley says that full physical health is possible when we get our body balanced. Do not be side-tracked by the elimination of obvious symptoms. Stay with the program until you discover the full health you may never have known. He had cured his own cancer and many others. And he, too, can teach me. Richard is also eager to get to the source or root. He wants to see each person uncover the decisions which they have made, which restrict lives and to have the opportunity to change them.
So now I meditate early each morning for an hour, often from 5-6 a.m., which is meditation time at the ashram. If you want to meditate at another time please call and I’ll make plans to be here with you. I need practice and companions add power. I will pursue the full dietary regime of Dr. Kelley and will work with Richard as long as it is profitable for us both.
Also, on October 23, Swami Paramananda will come here to Saunderstown to lead an introductory program in Siddha meditation. She is one of the few women swamis and I am glad that she will be here to lead us in chanting and meditation as well as to speak about her own experiences.
This program will give you an introduction to this powerful type of meditation and as Swami Muktananda expects to be in Boston in November, will give you a taste in case you want to have more contact with him. I do.
I am not a follower. I am “looking and seeing” and intend to spend more time with Baba when I can arrange it.
My love to you,