On Thursday March 29th 2012, while enjoying a cup of hot coffee in my West Village sublet, I wrote these words in my journal: “things are real quiet right now in my life, I’m not pining over anyone and my workload slowed down, my family is all, mostly, getting along…my inner life is very active though, I feel that makes sense…I have the sense that I’m preparing for some intense and awesome action…there is also a sense of a falling away, like things that seem to matter, won’t for much longer, or don’t, or never really have…”
I’m a Jersey girl, raised on the beach, and on Sunday April 1, 2012 I hopped a Greyhound bus and headed home. My niece’s mother picked me up from the bus station and on the way home she expressed a deep concern she and my brother had for my father. He hadn’t been feeling well, and I knew that, but I wasn’t around to really see what was happening. My brother had been speaking with a local nurse practitioner about Dad’s symptoms and she suggested we take him to the hospital immediately. Being an independent and stubborn, yet incredibly generous Italian man, he refused to visit the ER at 11pm, but agreed to go the next morning.
We were both nervous. His stomach was severely distended with veins popping as if they were about to burst. He was experiencing edema, and had had a cat scan 10 days earlier, ordered by his primary doctor, but they kept canceling his appointments. So, after being admitted to the ER, we sat and waited for them to receive the cat scan results.
Nothing could have prepared us for what we were about to hear. The doctor sat down and asked if we knew what the cat scan “said.” We, of course, did not. He lowered his eyes a moment and then told my father he had hepatocellular carcinoma. Liver cancer. The cat scan also showed he had cirrhosis and that the hepatitis B was active again. My jaw dropped and my heart sank. The doctor left the room and my 63yr old father turned to me and said, “I’m dead in 3 months.”
My father had incredible insurance, so his gastroenterologist sent us to one of the top ten hospitals in the country. We had about 6 days between his diagnosis and our appointment, and in the interim I immediately went to work on his diet and life style choices. Being a Holistic Health Counselor, Yoga teacher, Thai Yoga Massage Practitioner, certified Fitness Design Expert, and Reiki practitioner, I have a vast set of tools, skills, knowledge and deep understanding of what the body/mind/soul needs to thrive and heal. I’ve been practicing in the field of holistic health and wellness for over 8 years and in that time I’ve encountered some challenging situations, but nothing fully prepares you to be the caregiver for your ill parent, especially about 20 years sooner than expected.
I’ve designed my life in such a way that I was able to easily leave NYC and come back home. I had kept my apartment in Jersey, and I spent everyday for the next 2 ¾ months at my fathers side.
I transitioned his diet from that of the highly processed and chemicalized standard American diet, to an all organic whole foods diet. I gently introduced high quality supplements and herbs into his body that were known to alkalinize the blood, cleanse the liver, support the immune system and profoundly enhance the natural process of daily cell renewal. I researched foods that have been shown to cause cancer cell apoptosis (cell suicide). I had to purchase some of them on-line, such as apricot seeds which contain a high amount of vitamin B17, which has been shown to cause cancer cell apoptosis, and which are not readily available in the United States. I gave him Thai massage and Reiki treatments, and used yoga and light movement to keep him active. I knew we needed to bring his body/mind back into a state of balance so we could unlock his body’s natural ability to self-heal. We needed to enhance his immune system while slowly cleansing his body.
Things were going well at first, his energy levels were up, he was enjoying his new diet, we were finding ways to be playful and laugh amidst the intensity of the situation and he trusted his doctors. He was an old school South Philly Italian, and luckily his doctor was on-board with my philosophy for healing and encouraged Dad to listen to me. He was a kind man who really wanted to help my father, and I am thankful that we had the pleasure of having such an open-minded physician.
Then the chemoembolization’s started. His cancer was advanced, his immune system was suppressed and his tumors could not be removed. I discussed my concerns about chemotherapy with him and he turned to me and said, “It’s my life that’s ending.” That was not any easy statement for me to hear coming from my father’s mouth. What could I say to that? I believe that mind- set trumps everything, and so I chose to allow myself to accept his decision so he could feel free, supported and good about his choice to receive the chemo. I felt a little better that he would receive it through the embolization process, which is a newer method whereby the chemo (or radiation, known as a radio embolization) is delivered directly to the tumors through a catheter. I figured that since the chemo was not being delivered systemically then we had a better chance of supporting and enhancing his immune system. He had 2 embolization’s, one month apart from each other.
He needed to stay overnight in the hospital after his treatments. His second was performed on May 24th, 2012. I picked Dad up the next day. His eyes were neon yellow, and would remain that way.
On June 7th I called an ambulance for my father. He spent the next two weeks in the hospital. He presented with severe weakness, disorientation, and confusion. He had fallen the night before. The diagnosis was hyponatremia, sodium depletion, which was brought on by his Lasix (furosemide), a diuretic that prevents the body from absorbing too much sodium. He had been on this medication since his diagnosis to treat the edema, but three days before he went into the hospital we had been told by the nurse practitioner working with his doctor that he could double his dosage to relieve the uncomfortable swelling from his last treatment.
I was there with him every day. You simply have to be with your loved one when they are in a hospital to advocate for their proper care. I spoke with every doctor. I asked for treatments such as high doses of vitamin C delivered intravenously to help his immune system, they didn’t have it available. They asked me questions about the foods I brought him and my knowledge as an “alternative” practitioner. They did test after test, procedure after procedure, and administered experimental “cocktails.” The liver started to take down the kidneys.
One evening I had given him strawberry kombucha (a naturally flavored organic fermented tea that alkalizes the blood, amongst other things), in between his Arterial blood gas tests (measuring blood acidity). I didn’t do this purposely. The doctors were surprised when his blood acidity levels had shown improvement on his second test. They couldn’t understand this because he was clearly worsening, but I knew the kombucha had caused a measureable transformation in his body, that quickly.
On June 24th, at 10:31pm, lying in his own bed, I by his side, my father took his last breath, 7 hours after we arrived home from the hospital and one week short of 3 months since receiving his diagnosis.
The cause of death was hepatorenal failure, kidney and liver failure, brought on by the chemoembolizations, as was expressed to me by his doctors and listed on his death certificate. The chemo had leaked out of his tumor. His already weakened liver could not handle the direct shot of chemo and there was no alternative or conventional therapy that could help him.
I am passionate about the use of natural methods to heal the human body. These methods go beyond food, herbs and supplementation. They also encompass the mental, emotional and spiritual levels of human existence, and they are very absent in conventional care as it is practiced in the mainstream at this time.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this abridged account of the journey through cancer I experienced with my father. I understand this was an intense story to read. I tried to find ways to lighten it up, but the truth is that experiencing cancer is intense, and sugar coating doesn’t serve anyone well. The unabridged account of our journey tells of a beautifully humbling experience that deepened our relationship as father and daughter, and has since deepened my life in a profound way.
I am here to share with you what I’ve learned and to support you in your healing journey. My intention is to inspire you to own your health, to own your body/mind’s natural capacity for self-healing, to bring ease, grace, laughter and peace to your process and for you to inspire your doctors to look outside the current mainstream approach to healing cancer.
In Love and Light,
Deana Maria Bonafiglia