“Those who suffer most, attain to the greatest perfection.” ~ Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, UK Baha’i Publishing Trust, 1972 eleventh edition
I sit by my mom, trying to patiently watch over her, hoping she soon wins this long battle of more than eight years. I don’t want to watch her suffer. Her pain pains me. Her sadness sorrows me. I pray for healing, for transformation for her, for me, for all of us.
I see how Maman Nahid now has weakened by the intense grief from the loss of my father almost six months ago just before the lockdowns of 2020 pandemic. I watch her grieve. She deeply grieves amidst her own battle with cancer. It’s not easy to watch. It’s not easy to be part of, though I consistently remind myself her suffering physically, emotionally and mentally is like a tree being pruned to perfection. I watch her, as I did my dad and so many others, blossoming gradually into spiritual perfection. I feel so blessed to witness and to be part of this journey. What a gift!
As I sit with her, I find myself immersed in prayer, in a different world of thought and wonderment. I begin to reflect upon the past 30 years of experiencing one close family member after another battle cancer. I deeply wonder. I wonder why I have been surrounded by so many family members with cancer since the moment I stepped into Bastyr University as a naturopathic medical student almost 30 years ago? Why was I lead to earn a fellowship in Integrative Cancer Therapies more than 12 years ago? I wonder why, every time I try to switch specialties, I am pulled back into caring for a cancer patient. I wonder why we were discovered by documentary cancer series film makers who interviewed my husband and I on the comprehensive integrative adjunctive cancer therapies we offer at Holistique Naturopathic Medical Center. I ask myself is there something I haven’t learned that I need to learn? Or is it something I have been gifted with so to help others through their journey? Or is it as much of a wake up call for me spiritually as it is for my mother, my patients and family members fighting this difficult disease? Or perhaps, I am to learn more empathy? Am I needing this process to transform? Why do I continually get pulled into journeying with a person with cancer? Why?
The Healer of All Ills
As I ponder, I gaze over to my mother. She has become slow in her movements, lethargic and deeply burdened by sadness and fear now. All my life, Maman Nahid, as her grandkids call her, has been my number one supporter and rock. No matter how difficult it was to let me go at the age of 22, she supported me when I decided to move from Vancouver, Canada to Seattle, Washington to study naturopathic medicine. How could a woman who was once so brave and courageous, turned down every conventional therapy and fought all the negative comments and prognosis that were thrown at her by her conventional oncologist and primary care doctor, suddenly be weakened by the simple emotions of grief and fear? Cancer diagnoses had not scared her. Her prognosis of one year given to her eight years ago had not scared her. In fact, she has always joked about it. Determination to fight her cancer naturally has been her strength. She chose integrative cancer therapies such as diet therapy, ozone and hyperbaric oxygen therapies, intravenous vitamin C therapy, acupuncture, biofeedback therapy, etc. instead of chemo and radiation. Through it all, she has been strong, courageous, determined, and full of love and life despite the relentless discouragement from her environment. She has disregarded the negativity of others; her focus has always been to thrive, to heal and to demonstrate to others the true path towards healing. Adamantly, she has continued to be true to the integral healing system her grandmother had taught her as a child: the body has the capacity to heal itself and the Healer of all ills is the All-Mighty Creator.
Doctor of Paradise
You could say within my mother was instilled the Baha’i belief (and within me too) that the Greatest Healer is our Creator. The Baha’i Faith focuses on the medicine of the future; herbal medicine, diet, nutrition, and hydrotherapy in conjunction with spiritual healing take priority over prescription medications and surgeries, toxic therapies such as chemo and radiation. Her grandmother, Bibi Ridvan, who was a well-known physician, one of the very few female physicians of her time in the city of Yazd, Iran, raised my mother, teaching her this type of natural medicine. My mom watched Bibi heal many patients. In fact, her very name, Bibi Ridvan, means ‘Doctor of Paradise’. Patients who visited her often were healed by the very encounter they had with Bibi. I often feel Bibi Ridvan’s spirit, especially when I am with my patients. She stands over my patients and I, guiding me and helping me be a hallow reed to allow healing energy to flow through me to them. As a result, I feel guided into paradise when I’m with patients. She works through me, continuing her healing work and always reminding me of the Most Great Healer. I now feel Bibi’s presence, as does my mom, as we journey together through her cancer and emotions, working towards transformation.
After all these years of fighting cancer, I watch Maman Nahid now be stricken with grief and fear. I watch how her grief regarding my father’s passing interplays with the grief about her own body. The fear of dying became real when my father passed away. And now the fear of dying she is experiencing is confused with the fear of dying my father experienced during his last few months. Is this fear of dying hers or is it his? Is the grief of her own body weakening hers or has she taken on my father’s grief of his own decaying body? Is she grieving the loss of her husband? Or is she merely taken on his story of suffering? Though as a Baha’i, I see how grateful she is my father has been released from his mortal cage, flying freely in the world beyond with wings of joy, it doesn’t change her current reality about the possibility of dying and suffering. It is all too real; all too confusing. Her soul yearns to be with him in the next world; yet she knows it is not her time. She is physically alone, without her husband in this physical world in the middle of a pandemic with so many worldly uncertainties, and her own body is now beginning to age and fail. Yet, she knows he is with her at all times spiritually. He is taking care of her in ways she never dreamt. She feels him but doesn’t want to accept he is physically not available. She fears she is heading towards the same direction as he; though she knows she is not, for she is currently stronger than he was near his death. So much confusion…so much emotional chaos….so much relearning to connect with him in ways she may not be used to. It takes so much energy, so much love, so much courage, and so much hope to overcome all this sadness and fear. What a priceless process; one that I feel so blessed to witness, as it gently molds my mother towards emotional, mental, and spiritual transformation.
I can feel her journey. I watch her process all this and more; and yet, I am left helpless. I see the cancer that was once in her physical body is now presenting itself as a cancer of the emotions, blocking her spirit. Cancer is about cellular confusion. And she is now experiencing emotional and spiritual confusion. Is there such a thing as a spiritual cancer? Is the emotional/spiritual confusion reflected in a physical cellular chaos, we call cancer? In other words, is cancer a physical expression of the emotional/spiritual confusion? Has medical science missed this concept of ‘spiritual cancer’ as a root cause of the physical cancer?
No matter how much I help her medically, I feel absolutely helpless in helping her with the ‘spiritual cancer’ she may be fighting. I am not able to help her with her spiritual journey of grieving, of gaining her courage back again, of her letting go of her fears and grief. I can accompany her but I can not take it away – I wish I could, but I can not. I can pray for her and on her behalf. I can ask Bibi for assistance. I can pray to the Supreme Healer to work through me to assist her in her healing journey. Nevertheless, I feel limited and powerless – perhaps because I am.
I think about how much easier it is to journey so closely with my patients, guiding them medically, emotionally and spiritually, and allowing the Creator’s healing power to flow through me to them. But why is it so difficult with my own mother as it was with my own father? Perhaps, it is because I am her daughter. I am part of her and she is part of me. It’s like a generational blindspot. I can not point out her blindspots, because they are the same as mine. I can only accompany her.
I have come to realize the journey of spiritual growth and development, and overcoming the spiritual cancer, is something each one of us must go through alone with the support of our family, friends, and doctors. It is similar to being born into this world…we go through birth alone with the accompaniment of our parents, family and doctors. I have noticed that once my patients overcome their spiritual cancer, their physical cancer begins to regress. If they refuse to address the spiritual cancer, no matter how extensive and powerful their physical treatments may be, the cancer never completely resolves.
Our spiritual progress is something we are responsible for by ourself. Our own connection and journey for spiritual enlightenment with our Creator is ours alone. No one can interfere. We can guide others perhaps. We can pray for our loved ones in their spiritual journey. But ultimately, the journey of aging, of dying, of letting go, of grieving, of overcoming fear and of fighting the real spiritual cancer, is up to each one of us. We each must decide on our own. It is a spiritual journey my mom is traveling alone and yet, my soul, as her daughter, is traveling in parallel with her. When she transforms through her blindspot, I hope I do too. My mother is my first spiritual guide, leading me towards my spiritual perfection in ways she is not aware.
Lessons I’ve Learned
So perhaps, the deepest lesson I have learned and continue to learn journeying with my patients, parents, and family members through life with cancer thus far, is to address the spiritual cancer that comes along with the physical one. I must treat not only the physical but also the co-occurring spiritual condition. I am constantly learning, practicing, and helping my patients to let go, to trust, to be hopeful, to be fearless, to be courageous, to have faith, to accept, to be full of love and to love deeply beyond the physical, to connect with others at the soul level, and to recognize the Source of all healing. I have learnt that as doctors, we play a pivotal role as a ‘hallow reed”, allowing for the healing energy to flow through us from our Supreme Healer to the patient. It is not just about the medical prescription. Cancer promotes a spiritual transformation for the patient, the family members and us doctors. With every patient, every family member, every precious soul with cancer with whom I cross paths, I am being transformed just as they are. They are teaching me something new as I teach them. They are helping me heal as I help them heal. As they grow spiritually towards perfection, they help me grow spiritually in ways I didn’t know I could. Ultimately, I am utterly grateful to be reminded daily of my life’s precious work: healing towards transformation.