My Father’s Last Days…and Thoughts on Health Care

I noticed I have not posted an entry since end of last year.   (Thus this longer-than-usual post!)

During this interval I have been balancing demands at work with supporting my ailing father.   He passed away about two weeks ago at age 69.  He had been diabetic since his mid-forties and was diagnosed with colon cancer two years ago. One can say his conditions were typical. Diabetes has been on the rise and colon cancer is quickly becoming # 1 cancer killer for those living the urban lifestyle (and these conditions are unheard of in isolated rural areas where people still follow a traditional lifestyle and eat organic and wholesome food).  Cancer is expected to be the leading cause of death by 2010.  Chances are most of us are going to die a cancerous death one day…

My father is the third person in my life I lost to cancer in the last two years.  And with him I got to see closely how cancer can be like…

I decided to share my private experience publicly in this blog because I think people can be better prepared what may happen to them or to someone they care about.  And they can choose earlier to educate themselves in order to better help themselves and others.  Do you know someone who has cancer, or someone you are worried may get cancer…?  As tight as your schedule is, the sickness and perhaps the funeral of a loved one may derail your schedule in an unforeseeable way. Last month a friend consoled me when my father was in the hospital.  The next day I found myself consoling her because her own father died suddenly from a stroke with no prior signs at all.  Heart attack is another increasing cause of death related to lifestyle and diet, and is the # 1 fatal disease worldwide. Half the time there’s no symptom except sudden death.

(This photo taken in Feb 09 at my birthday party is the last photo
taken with me and my father, less than 3 months before he died)

The relapse of my father’s Colon Cancer:

We discovered the relapse of my father’s colon cancer in January this year.  After the surgical removal of the cancerous tumour in his colon two years ago, his cancer marker was kept very low for about a year with mainly nutritional and herbal support.  He ate much less meat and increased more plant based food and took health supplements regularly.  And he took up Chi gong after his operation.  He was functioning quite normally for a while and no one would have guessed he had cancer.  We were all very happy about that.  About 9 months ago, he started to go back to his pre-cancer diet with much more meat and less vegetables and veggie juices/soup.  And he lost his initial interest to his chi gong practice.  How we are creatures of habit… My mother and I were worried…

In January we were told the cancer had metastasized to his lungs and there was nothing conventional medicine could offer for treatment. Luckily or unluckily he could not take chemo, the normal recommendation, because his longstanding diabetic condition had greatly weakened his kidney function, which is required to detoxify and eliminate the toxins from chemotherapy. (It’s a well known fact that chemotherapy is highly toxic and it kills the cancer cells as well as the healthy cells.)

My Father’s Diet and Lifestyle:

My father was not the heaviest meat eater or the most stressed person I know…but he did have a soft spot for the meaty aspect of Shanghainese cooking and associated a meal of richly flavoured meat dishes accompanied by white rice, noodles or dumplings as good living.  He would eat until he was very full and he ate fast.  And he preferred watching TV to doing exercise.  After he retired early due to his diabetes, he made some adjustments, which included eating smaller meals.  He did a lot of volunteer work with the elderly and the handicapped (so that was his form of exercise). He would just eat something on-the-go or go to yum-cha (a Chinese tea house and restaurant).  He valued his ‘freedom’ to eat whatever he wanted without me and my mother watching him. When he was by himself at home he would often just fix up something quick and poor in nutrition, even though we had more nutritious options available in the fridge.  He didn’t care if he was eating reheated food that has been sitting in the fridge for a week or more. He deeply believed that what he had been eating all his life was not all that different from what his ancestors ate. It has not been easy to get into his head how our environment, the nutritional value of foods and our lifestyle have changed so drastically and that our body’s ability to deal with all these has not caught up…

In my experience helping my clients and him, I have seen that the hardest is not to change the diet, but to change the mindset. 
Brown Rice and Constipation

It took him a few months and the first diagnosis of his cancer (stage II at the time) to switch to brown rice.  (Years before his colon cancer we started eating brown rice by mixing with white rice and used a lot of water to cook it)  I think his decision was based not so much the nutritional and ecological reasons, but simply because he could tell the difference brown rice made to his bowel motions.  Like most people he had assumed that if brown rice were so good, the doctor or the government would have told him… Actually the standard recommendation from the oncologist is NOT to eat fibrous food because their theory is the colon is narrower with the cancer so fibrous food would cause constipation.  But my father’s body was telling him something else.*

(This photo was taken 7 months before he died, with
my mother at my i-Detox office opening)

*In his last stage, for easiest digestion, we tried to give him more blended raw food with my sprouted brown rice protein powder (superfood smoothie) as much as he was willing to take it.  (The texture of my favourite smoothie is not appealing to his Chinese palette unfortunately so he didn’t always take it and didn’t enjoy it.) The body needs high quality protein at this time for cell repair.  (That’s why the standard medical professionals would recommend cancer patients to eat meat and drink milk….which sounds counter productive as these foods contain a lot of toxins, are hard to assimilate. and acidify our internal environment..but meat and milk are more commonly available)  Nutritionally, as we know cancer cells feed on sugar so starches should not be a main source of food for cancer patients.  They should use more slow release carbohydrate sources.

“A Pill for an Ill”:

When my father had to start taking insulin injection a few years ago, I think a part of him thought he could eat whatever he wanted with it because this was what he had been told by his friends.  Most of his life, like most people in his generation, he would go to the doctor for a quick fix.  When he got a cold, he went to the doctor and asked for the “strongest” drug that would stop the symptoms in the shortest time.

Our “health care system” has conditioned us to the belief of “a pill for an ill”, and its main focus is  “sickness management”.  When you see a doctor and they tell you you’ve got diabetes, heart disease, cancer, or any of these chronic degenerative diseases, it’s like a death sentence and you are told you won’t ever get well.  You can only expect  to “manage” your “sickness”.  My father had bought into that…and the prevalent belief that if you are sick, you take medicine or have surgery, and then make some changes temporarily, then you can continue your old lifestyle and diet when the symptoms are gone.  Curing sickness is the job of the doctor.   He only started to shift after being diagnosed with cancer…but holding on to familiar beliefs often seemed easier, especially when his body was weakening and his mind and will too.  He became more resistant to what could help him and became irritable towards the end.
How I was Raised:

Growing up I was the weakest in health in the family and I was born prematurely.  But thanks to that I got more interested in health than anyone else in the family.

When I was growing up and when I was sick, my parents would take me to the doctor to give me a shot.  It was much later in life that I discovered how western medicine really works, after experiencing side effects from the supposedly “safe” use of drugs.  My mother is from the generation that was told formula was better than what her own body was able to provide for her babies.  So even my little body was rejecting the cow’s milk given to me and never was able to finish the amount recommended, she did not quite know what to do.  I grew to be a top student – I topped my class in the number of cavities at age 8… (matching the number of cavities to my age!). Then another “expert” (the dentist) recommended fixing me with mercury filled amalgam, a toxic substance he would not even touch with his own bare hands.  People have told me I am “a little crazy” all my life – I think I have a good reason to be!**  And many of us do too!

**Mercury is a known neuro-toxin.

What do your doctor (and dentist) know about food and your health?

Only 6% of medical school graduates in the US have received any formal training in nutrition and how food helps prevent or reverse diseases.  I asked my local medical friends and it seems the lack of training in regards to food and healing in this part of the world among our medical professionals is not much, if any, better.   And most dentists have not heard of the dentist-turned-nutritional researcher Weston Price who discovered the unmistakable link between the mother’s and children’s diet and dental health and jaw formation in the last century… Have you wondered why all of a sudden the newer generations have croaked teeth and our parents had teeth like piano keys?  And your dentist blamed it on your “genes”?

If Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine” and the original Greek meaning of the “doctor” is “the one who educates”, then something is very off here…

Cancer and your genes?  Cancer and children…

One well established fact is that most of today’s diseases are lifestyle and diet related.  And cancer is NOT what we have been designed to get.  Cancer was rare when most of us were growing up.  But cancer incidences have doubled in the last 30 years worldwide.  Cancer is expected to be the leading cause of death by 2010, which means, most of us are going to die a cancerous death if we don’t do something about it.

And many of us live in fear and resignation believing we are inevitable victims of our “genes”.  If we develop cancer because of our genes, how did our genes suddenly decide to mutate collectively?  Cancer has  even become the number one killer among children worldwide.  The embryo is exposed to toxins that would affect its development in the mother’s body before it is even born… And yet we treat problems like ADD and learning difficulties with more chemical drugs.  Our approaching generation is being poisoned in their mother’s womb and they don’t have a choice to be born predisposed to depression, attention deficit, sexual malfunction… As they grow up they continue to be conditioned by the culture to eat foods that make them sick and unhappy and to treat their symptoms with more drugs that keep them sick and unhappy and needing more drugs…

My father’s realisation…

I remember a few months before my father died he had constipation. I managed to help him with natural and non-habit forming ways to alleviate the problem (aloe vera juice and a magnesium oxide product).  Since he was coughing a lot (cancer cells in his lungs), he asked the doctor to give him something to help.  As soon as he took the drug, his constipation resumed.  He threw away the drug the next day and his bowel became normal again.
What cancer cells gone wild can look like…

In his last days, the cancer growth in his lungs not only made his breathing short and laboured (which also kept him coughing and unable to sleep at night), it also made it hard for him to eat or drink.  Even without chemo, he lost appetite and even resisted drinking water.  He kept saying he was “full” but he had eaten close to nothing.  We couldn’t even give him vegetable juices.  And I knew in my heart he really needed high amount of raw fresh organic vegetable and antioxidant and enzyme rich superfoods to reverse or control the metastasis… he was rejecting most of what had proved to help him control his cancer before.  He practically starved himself to death.  When I held him towards the end there was only a bag of bones.  Three weeks before he died, he lost 10 lbs in one week… He was 5 feet 8 and he was reduced to around 100lb towards the end.  (We didn’t weigh him at the end, but 3 weeks before he died he weighed around 120lb)
Our last efforts to save him… and what you may expect in a hospital…

He believed in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) and we had used it all along.  (It’s so important that he believed in it himself.)  But when he wasn’t able to eat and drink much, I thought the last thing that could help him quick was to put him on intravenous Vitamin C. This safe “alternative” treatment has been widely proven to target cancer cells without side effect like chemotherapy and can reverse cancer.  But he needed to be able to breathe and sleep first which seemed more important at the time to him.  I can imagine it must have been very scary for him not being able to breathe properly.

We sent him to the hospital to first get him on oxygen and help him regain some strength.  He was not really given any treatment in the hospital, which (expectedly) dismissed the IV Vitamin C treatment.  They didn’t recommend blood transfusion or removal of liquid in the lungs which the Chinese doctor suggested us to do, saying there would be “risks”. When he entered the hospital, they told my mother they would make him feel better.  Naturally my mother said “yes please” (who would say “no please make my husband suffer more” in that situation). Later we realised what they said was a euphemism for “we’ll help him die as painlessly as possible here”.

Hospital food consisted white rice congee and milk powder… Health supplements are forbidden in the hospital, so we smuggled in the Brazilian green propolis and melt them in his drinking water (although he wasn’t able to drink much water).  When he could no longer eat, he was put on basic saline solution… He would probably be better off on fresh green coconut water with all of its life-giving enzymes and minerals… (green coconut water was used in WWII for emergency rescue) and of course like IV Vitamin C, it’s not available or permitted in our hospital…

It’s shocking to see how his health plummeted in less than a week in the hospital.  He thought he was going to regain strength with the oxygen support (which we intended to rent for home use) and then we could get him out to do alternative treatments.  But it never happened…

An unprepared farewell…

Five days after he was admitted, he went into a coma.  The hospital called us in the middle of the night to let us know they could not wake him.  It happened so quickly we were all a bit shocked… Then they gave him morphine.  When I came to my senses digesting what was going on, he already left us.  Later I asked the doctor why they gave him morphine in the first place… He was sleeping and his breathing was okay with the oxygen support.  He was not in pain.  Morphine, which is a toxic substance, didn’t seem necessary… It would only have quickened his death… The doctor said this approach was agreed when he was first admitted into the hospital… That was when I caught on with the euphemistic hospital lingo.  I have to admit I was not trained in it so it takes experience to learn it…

I hope he was peaceful when he breathed his last breath…none of us was there when he passed on early morning.  (We were exhausted and went home to sleep the night before.) When we arrived, no one was rescuing him.  They said he would suffer more if they did.

Possible difference between private and public hospitals…

According to a friend whose family member is in coma for months and is being kept alive in a “vegetable” state for almost a year in a private hospital, a patient may expect to live longer in a private hospital as there is money to be made as long as the patient is kept alive.  In government hospital there is no reason for them to keep what they consider a “lost case” alive.  That may be a consolation… He didn’t have to suffer for too long…

Does medical insurance make a difference?

My father is the only one who was not covered by medical insurance in the family because his diabetes, detected early in life made insurance very costly so he didn’t bother.  However when I come to think of it, medical insurance is only useful for accident and emergency rescue and will not do much for a condition like this anyhow.  Most of what we had spent on my father for his cancer support was on “alternative” treatments and nutritional supplements that are not covered by insurance.

Isn’t the best insurance one can get for oneself is investment in their health?  At least in my experience and observation, prevention is much cheaper and easier to adminster than trying to turn around a terminal disease…

His final “good times”…

I didn’t have the chance to prepare my father to die or say goodbye when he was conscious.  Perhaps he was still thinking he could walk out of the hospital soon, when he ate his last relatively satisfying meal – the day before he went into coma, he had unusually good appetite.  My mom who fed him said he even downed the whole bowl of the white rice congee with shredded provided by the hospital, on top of the soup she had prepared for him.  And he told my mom how great he felt when he had his body wiped clean that day…that was probably the best time for him since he went into hospital…he must have been quite satisfied and went to a deep sleep…

So perhaps his higher self didn’t want to go on anymore… Or he would not have been so resistant to the raw food and supplements that once proved to keep his cancer cells under control.  He did even try the wheat grass I grew for him towards the end.  I was most impressed… When he said “I’ll just chew the grass to get the juice, don’t bother with juicing” and just shovelled the wheat grass in his mouth, I joked that he looked like a cow.  That was the last laugh we shared.  He gave his best shot.  But perhaps it was, indeed, “too late”…

“I wish I had known earlier…”

I acknowledge that many people may prefer to live a shorter life than to change their way of living.  That’s fine – we all have our freedom to choose and the responsibility to take the consequences.  Two months before my father died, he said if he had known earlier (by which he meant before he was diagnosed the first time) he would have paid more attention to colon health and diet.  He would not have kept his health problems to himself.  He would have told us earlier.  He would have embraced the foods we recommended to him earlier.  He re-read an article my mother gave him about how the digestive system is the most important of the entire body and the prevalence of colon problem in today’s world.  I think it all really sank in after his relapse. I hope if he was to be reborn he wouldn’t have to learn it all over again.  It’s just taken him a whole life to learn it…

At some point in the past he had said that if he got so sick he would hide and not be found by us… (He often had very “original” ideas which he would keep to himself most of the time) In his past volunteer work he had seen how debilitating old age and sickness can leave people and perhaps he’d rather die than be come dependant on other people. He had said he would not want to go to a hospital to die… He said that when he was relatively well… The truth is he still wanted to live when he was in that critical stage. When he couldn’t breath properly and gasping to breathe he clearly wanted to live.  He wanted to change his Chinese doctorr, to go to the hospital…He allowed us to help him.  He did not hide or kill himself…

Peace…precious peace…

In his coma, we spent the last precious hours together.  I didn’t need to change his diet nor his belief anymore… There was peace and acceptance.  At some point I knew he was to become a statistic of death by colon cancer, or death by infection in the hospital, or death by drug reaction in our medical system, all of which are the most common causes of death nowadays.  And when I accept his inevitable death, I knew even if I could not have saved him personally I could still help other people, before it’s too late.  And their lives are as precious as his…There family would be as affected as we have been and will be…

There was a strange sense of relief…

Acknowledging the medical professionals

I know the hospital staff members are mostly well-intentioned people and they really believed they were doing their best to let him die in peace.  Someday all of us have to die.  They have helped my father die with some dignity, as his dependence for other people did not last for very long.  My sister wondered if his resistance to drinking water in his last days was due to his unwillingness to wet his diaper… we’ll never find out… He never liked to bother anyone… he’s so used to helping others.  He didn’t cry for help in pain as he was sedated before he had a chance to really bother the nurses.

I know many in the medical profession are genuinely well intentioned, humble and open to learn how to really help people.  And I thank them for that.  My father had a lot of respect for the staff at the hospital where he died and in the past he had consistently made donation to them to acknowledge them.  

Good intention and results in reality…

However it is very clear to me that how we are “caring” our “health” in our “health care” culture is not focused on supporting wellness and finding and treating the root cause ofThe US spends more money per capita than any country in the world and its health care efficieny is  abysmal.  More people die from reactions to drugs and infection in the hospital than any other causes of death.  A similar situation is in many “developed” parts of the world.

The prevalent healthcare paradigm does not encourage people from taking responsibility for their health, and completely discredits the body’s natural ability to heal.  One can even say the current system keeps people sick, especially the kind of chronic conditions that are least effectively cured by conventional Western medicine, precisely because these provide most recurrent profit.

“Good health makes a lot of sense, but it doesn’t make a lot of dollars.”  Well said in the Food Matters (documentary on food and health).  There’s no money to be made if everyone eats wholesome and organic food, banishes chemical drugs and does exercise and gets some sun… (Oh yeah didn’t your doctor tell you “don’t go under the sun or you get skin cancer!”)

Can we “afford” being healthy?  (Or can we afford not?)

I some hear people say they can’t afford organic food, or that eating superfoods and healthy foods is expensive…but these are NOT people with limited means.  Many have lots of expensive”toys” in life and live in expensive apartments.  In our prevalent culture, it seems much easier to see value in spending thousands of dollars for a handbag  or  a diamond ring that “lasts a lifetime” than spending half of it on a year’s food to support a body that is designed to last for a lifetime…

My father too had said organic food and supplements were expensive, it’s as if he was not worth it… But he didn’t say that in his last days…

In our current context, people would rather pay through the nose on inadequately proven drugs and medical procedures that don’t work, trusting misled doctors trained in new science rather than trusting their body’s own wisdom and time-tested wisdom from cultures that have survived and strived thousands of years.  I can say my illiterate grandmother who lived to 90 had more wisdom about food and healing than the average MD.  She was robust most of her life.  She was under the sun a lot too (and she smoked…) She died a natural death.

As we have become too busy in this culture to stop and use our common sense – and our indifference allows ignorance and mass misinformation to spread.

It’s encouraging however to see more people are stopping to question.  I heard that Harvard medical students are rebelling against the control of the pharmaceutical industry in the medical school:http://www.foodmatters.tv/_webapp/Newsletter%20-%20Harvard%20Medical%20Students%20Rebel%20Against%20Pharma-Ties

Let’s cause an “epidemic”…

Recently we have another “pandemic” scare… Would Swine Flu be the next epidemic?  One wonders why all we hear in the media is how scary it is and how we should wear masks and be afraid of people, take  unproven vaccines and use toxic bleaches (which create horrible pollution and super bugs) with no mention as how WE can strengthen OUR OWN immunity.  And what about how we can use non-toxic ways to clean our environment and stop poisoning our ecosystem and ourselves?  What about the affordable, safe and effective natural remedies mother nature has always provided to keep us healthy?

Isn’t it time we took charge of our health and refused to be controlled by the fear-based paradigm of sickness management?  What about causing an epidemic of health together?

If we refuse to be fooled and misled, we could spur a real FOOD REVOLUTION and a HEALTHCARE REVOLUTION, one that will free us from paraonia and empower us to survive and strive for many generations to come.

The deadliest “viruses” are indifference and resignation.

“I believe it to be perfectly possible for an individual to adopt the way of life of the future…without having to wait for others to do so. And if an individual can observe a certain rule of conduct, cannot a group of individuals do the same? Cannot whole groups of peoples – whole nations? No one need wait for anyone else to adopt a humane and enlightened course of action.” ~ Gandhi

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