Supporting my loved one through cancer

By Sabina Rabold
Living Well Magazine Winter 2014

My life changed suddenly, dramatically and irreversibly on the 7th of August 2013. It was the day that I became primary support person to my loved one who, at the age of 47, was diagnosed with Stage IV Colorectal Cancer with secondaries in the liver.

I was shocked, bewildered and left with the kind of despair that all people I have met feel when a cancer diagnosis is given. My loved one was stunned.

I had been running The Gawler Foundation’s 12 Week Cancer, Healing and Wellbeing Programs and other related programs and workshops in Sydney for some years. I have worked with hundreds of people diagnosed with cancer and their support people, helping them to know how to respond best to their cancer diagnosis, giving them knowledge and tools to meet the challenges of cancer. I have learnt much from Ian and Ruth Gawler, learned people in the field of cancer care, and also from the many courageous people that I have come to know over the years. Those people who have faced up to cancer in an empowered way, working hard to become well and stay well. Now I needed this knowledge to support my loved one, helping him weather the storms of treatment, heal and stay well along the way.

So while our emotional roller-coaster took its path, we were able to step straight into action. The full Gawler program started the very next day after the diagnosis – juicing, diet, extra meditation and so on. We found an excellent holistic GP who did a number of tests to help us determine the regime of supplements needed and ordered big when we had our list together. We bought a better juicer. We bought a sauna. My loved one started on IV Vitamin C. We bought mountains of organic vegiesand other super-nutritious food.

I became the kitchen Goddess, spending hours juicing, cooking and preparing every day.

The relief that came from knowing what to do was immense.

While I started to research this illness, its treatment and cure intensely we also stepped on the medical merry-go-round: doctors, oncologist, surgeon… Each first meeting saw me give a little speech: ‘Dear Doctor, please assume that my loved one will be a survivor of cancer. While we realise that this is a life-threatening illness, we are doing everything we can to heal and recover. We are going all out for cure. Please support us in this’. The response of each of the physicians was interesting: from doubtful, to silence, to enthusiastic encouragement (from the oncologist – we will always love him for this). Then came chemotherapy: six months of intense chemotherapy, IV for two days, every two weeks. Throughout this time we continued all out with the Gawler Healing Diet and six juices per day, as well as about 35 supplement tablets, IV Vitamin C, saunas, exercise and so on.

While my loved one lost a bit of hair, he gained a bit of weight. He worked part-time throughout the treatment, never threw up, never  spent a full day in bed and continued to feel reasonable most of the time. The worst side effect of the chemo  is the peripheral neuropathy that he is still affected by.

The first glimmer of hope came in October: the CT showed indication that the tumours were shrinking. This was confirmed by a PET scan in November that showed that

the primary tumour, as well as all five liver metastases, had shrunk significantly. Hearing this was wind beneath our wings.

Despite the significant shrinkage of  the tumours we agreed for my loved one to undergo five weeks of daily radiotherapy parallel to the chemo in January 2014. Though advised to cease holistic treatment during radiotherapy by the radiotherapy doctor, we continued, having done much research and in-depth discussions with our holistic GP.

Again, my loved one came through  this ordeal with flying colours, worse  for wear of course but nothing like what had been predicted. Then a Godsend break from treatment and a further PET scan confirming there was no observable tumour activity in the colon or liver. This was confirmed by the biopsy done on the remaining tumour tissue that was removed in an operation some weeks later – no live cancer cells detectable. Phew.

Now, we are under no illusion, cancer is an unpredictable illness and this is early days. But we are trying to stay a step ahead. We are continuing indefinitely with all the things that we have found to be helpful; the holistic treatments, the check-ups, the diet and juicing.

If need be we will draw in any medical treatment that seems helpful. I am also researching preventative treatments that will see the cancer ‘nipped in the bud’ should it decide to come back.

So the effort continues.

Right after the journey with cancer started Ian and Ruth Gawler advised me to prepare for a marathon,  that this is the long haul… They are right and I am happy to say that so far, I’ve lasted the distance. And in this moment, my loved one is cancer free.

Twelve things I have been confirmed in through my experience so far:

  • After a cancer diagnosis how we respond matters a great deal. The sooner we respond the better.
  • In order to heal from cancer, we need to consider all options that are available.
  • Knowledge is power, the better informed we are the more confident we are in making good choices.
  • A holistic path is essential, for healing and for wellbeing and conventional medicine is a powerful ally.
  • Listening to the needs of the body, the mind and the heart is confirming of self and healing.
  • The Gawler Program offers a solid foundation for this holistic path, other aspects can be added from other sources. A good holistic GP is important.
  • It takes an empowered and courageous person with cancer to participate fully in the healing journey and go all out for cure.
  • A good support team is worth their weight in gold. It takes a dedicated, knowledgeable, determined and resilient support person or team to last the distance.
  • The task of the support person is different but also enormously challenging and we often don’t get the care and attention that the person with cancer gets.
  • It’s important to ask for help and support and let people know what help is best at what time.
  • The importance to hold both realities lightly: the reality that the future is uncertain and life is finite and the reality that there is much that can be done to be well and healed each day.
  • To accept that this is a difficult journey, to be ok with ‘whatever gets you through the night’.

Sabina Rabold is a counsellor and psychotherapist in private practice in Crows Nest, Sydney. She teaches a 3 Day Living and Thriving Program to people with cancer and their support people.  More information can be found at www.wellforlife.net.au.