HEALING TESTOMONY… Prostrate cancer
New York Times editor Dana Jennings writes each week about coping with an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Michael Kassin April 7, 2009 · 10:16 am
Dana, you continue to inspire me. In that spirit, I’m happy to share my own story about prostate cancer, and a miraculous, spiritual awakening, that has helped me to be where I am today. I hope others can benefit from it.
“Good morning, Leo,” I said, stepping carefully through my landlady’s kitchen. Leo, her ill-tempered schnauzer, bared his teeth and gave a low snarl. I wasn’t afraid of Leo, but I did find his constant nastiness toward me depressing. After all, it was starting to feel like the whole world shared his sentiments.
My marriage was breaking up, my PR business was struggling and here I was, at age 49, a lonely boarder letting a room in a house and scrambling to make the rent. It was like being thrown back to my twenties, but without the insouciance of youth. In six months’ time, one thing after another had been taken away from me. I’d gone from a comfortable middle-class existence to this.
On top of that, today I had a biopsy to look forward to. A recent physical had revealed that my PSA test numbers were high. A high PSA is a possible indicator of prostate cancer. I’d insisted on seeing a specialist, and He suggested a biopsy. I said a quick good-bye to my landlady – side-stepped Leo – and got on the road to the doctor’s.
The procedure was quick but memorable. “We’ll call you in a week with the results,” the doctor told me. “Try not to worry. Men your age have PSA spikes for a lot of reasons. It doesn’t necessarily mean cancer.”
Easy for him to say. After all, he didn’t know how my luck had been running of late.
That night, back in my rented room, I lay awake staring at the ceiling. Maybe he’s right, I thought. I shouldn’t jump to conclusions. Then again, like that old blues song says, if it wasn’t for bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck at all. Not lately.
I’d grown up in an observant Jewish household, but I wasn’t that observant right now. Bob, my older brother, had recently sent me a beautifully bound copy of The Five Books of Moses – that is, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I’d read a little each morning, and eventually made it through the whole thing. Then, for no particular reason, I began reading a beat-up New Testament a friend had given me years before. Don’t ask me why. Maybe I was secretly hoping God was testing me like some character from Genesis, and if I passed he’d pop up and give back all the good things in my life. I know that sounds simple, childish. But sometimes I got the feeling that there really was a reason I was reading all this stuff. Maybe God was preparing me for something. So each morning, no matter what, I read on.
A week later, my doctor called with the biopsy results.
“I’m sorry, Michael,” he said. “It’s cancer.”
I don’t think I spoke for at least a minute. I didn’t know what to say. Strange how a single word can carry so much fear – how it can change everything in a second.
“Given your age and your family history,” the doctor told me, “there’s only one logical choice. Surgery.”
“What about kids?” I managed to ask, surprising myself. My soon-to-be-ex-wife and I had never really agreed about kids so we’d never had any. But I’d always pictured them in my future. Now, at age 49, that dream was being taken away.
“Well, that still might be possible…” he said, but that didn’t sound too reassuring.
And I needed some reassurance. So I attended a prostate cancer support group at a nearby hospital. Do you know what surprised me most? How much emphasis there was on the spiritual aspects of dealing with the disease. “There are two parts to recovering from prostate cancer,” the group leader told us. “One part is physical. The other is how you look at things — what you believe.”
In the days that followed, I sat down at my computer, made phone calls, got more information. The more I read, the more confused I got.
Then one morning I was eating breakfast at a local diner – — and I read about a woman with advanced breast cancer who ran a day spa. She’d been given weeks to live by all her doctors. As a last-ditch effort, her husband took her to a faith healer. The woman recovered.
Before I knew it, I was down at that spa, asking to learn more. They told me they were having healing classes there. In fact, a man named Nigel Mumford would be speaking there that Thursday about the power of prayer and healing. Did I want to come?
Nigel Mumford was not what I’d expected. A stocky, handsome, self-effacing Englishman in his early forties, he was—I kid you not—a former drill instructor in the British Royal Marines, who’d discovered his gift for healing basically by accident. The kind of guy, I thought, who wouldn’t put people on.
But the minute I arrived at the event, I had second thoughts. Other than Nigel, I was the only man there.
“Prayer may or may not heal your illness,” Nigel told us. “But it does do something every bit as important: It helps you to heal inside.”
Fair enough, I thought.
“Now,” said Nigel, “I’d like you all to break up into groups of three. We’re going to pray for each other.”
Again I was seized by the feeling of not belonging. But there was no turning back. I pulled my chair over to two others.
“Why don’t you sit down first?” one of the women said. “We’ll pray over you.”
At least I won’t have to do all the praying myself. I took a seat, and the two women got behind me. This is crazy. I closed my eyes. Just try to relax and go with this, I said to myself. Just…
Something warm – almost hot – pressed against my abdomen and lower back. I opened my eyes. Nigel was standing in front of me, his hands on my stomach. His hands were generating the tremendous heat. And they were trembling. Soon my abdomen began to tremble too. I thought it was going to split open. It was so strange, so impossible really, that I almost jumped up out of the chair.
I forced myself to stay still. The heat spread. So did the trembling — through the rest of my lower body, my chest, my head. It felt like a rocket ship taking off inside me. What on earth was going on?
Whoosh! All at once this heat, this energy I was sensing, surged out of me, as if I were some kind of human champagne bottle that had just blown its cork. I looked around. The room was exactly the same as it had been a moment before – simple, not fancy, neither church nor clinic. A plain vanilla room. Yet everything was different. The fear that had come to inhabit me those past weeks was gone. In its place was… love. That was the only word for it. An actual, physical presence. It seemed to fill not just me, but the whole room. The whole world, perhaps.
“Is he okay?” one of the women standing behind me asked Nigel.
“Oh yes,” Nigel said. “He’s fine.”
I bumbled through the rest of the evening. At the end of the event, some of the women lingered to talk to Nigel. I waited for them all to leave, then walked over.
“How did you do that?” I asked.
Nigel smiled. “I didn’t do anything,” he said, giving me a clap on the shoulder. Then he pointed upward. “He did.”
The next morning, I looked at myself in the mirror. Had it all been a dream? A product of my desperation? I went downstairs to the kitchen. My landlady was there. So was Leo.
“Good morning, Leo,” I said, stepping carefully around him and expecting the customary morning ugliness.
Instead, Leo—whom I had never, ever been able to touch before this moment– raised his head and trotted over to me. He sat down, looked up, and brushed my leg with his paw. Leo was waiting to be petted. By me.
My landlady was staring at Leo as incredulously as I was.
Half-expecting to lose a finger, I reached down and gave Leo a tentative pet on the back. Leo didn’t move. He brushed my leg with his paw a second time. This time I reached down with both hands, sure I would get it. But Leo just sat there as I gave his sides a rub. That’s when I knew something had happened to me. And of all the creatures on earth, Leo was the one who let me know it.
I went ahead with the surgery. It was successful. I continued to pray, a Hebrew prayer, a Christian prayer and later, a Muslim prayer, every morning and every night. And my life changed– for the better this time. I’m now married to a beautiful, strong, deeply spiritual woman (Nigel played bagpipes at our wedding) and we have two beautiful kids. That I am a father may well be the greatest miracle of all.
What does this all mean? That God capriciously adds and subtracts from our happiness? That I’m a recipient of incredible luck? No – luck had nothing to do with it. Something happened to me that night, something more than physical healing. I had a deeper healing, one that I was preparing for even without knowing it. Maybe God took a chance on me because I was willing to take a chance on God.
When we are open to Him – as I was that night with Nigel – the most incredible changes can happen to our lives. And change itself is a hint of miracle.
Look at Leo.
From Dana Jennings: To all of you, I wish you a peaceful and healing week. As always, your
comments teach me, touch me and sustain me.