Traveling with cancer presents its challenges but on this day, I tried to see the opportunity. It was Day One of CancerRoadTrip, one year ago. My first stop was…
By Bhava Ram
This blog entry is compliments of Bhava Ram, former NBC war correspondent. His tale is nothing short of amazing. Here is an overview of his new book, Warrior Pose. You can click here to order it.This is me in Afghanistan during the Soviet War in that country. I’m standing in the middle of a group of mujahideen freedom fighters surrounding an anti-aircraft artillery gun. It was 1986, and my career as a broadcast journalist was skyrocketing. I was a war correspondent, every story was an amazing adventure and I was reaching heights in my career that I never dreamed possible..
But shortly after coming out of Afghanistan I took a rare vacation, luxuriating in the tropics. A terrible storm hit on my final night, and while trying to close a storm window I fell from a ledge and cracked the lowest vertebra in my back. That was the beginning of a descent into chronic pain, painkillers and alcohol that almost destroyed me.Being young and very Type-A, I gritted my teeth and pushed forward. Apartheid in South Africa. Drug wars in Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. The front lines of the Persian Gulf War. Being put in charge of Asia for NBC News with a stunning home atop Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. Seven years later, the pain getting worse by the day, I was on assignment in the Philippines when the crack in my spine became a break. I hit the floor screaming and was soon flown from Asia to San Diego for spinal fusion-laminectomy surgery.
The surgery failed. I was declared permanently disabled. My identity was instantly gone. I was locked in a body brace, had to walk with a cane and was unable to sit up for a meal. The pain was even worse and I was given even stronger drugs. I continued to eat like a foreign correspondent and drank even more wine at night. Soon I weighed in at an obese 225 pounds. I mastered self-pity and was filled with anger, fear, anxiety and rage. It was a free-fall into the abyss on my own inner darkness.Despite a marriage in which I confess it was difficult for my wife to be with the person I had become, my first and only child, Morgan, was born in late 1997. As I fell deeper into pain and darkness, he became my only touchstone to the world. But a few months later, I was diagnosed with Stage Four oropharangeal cancer metastasized throughout my lymphatic system. It was from exposure to depleted uranium used on American weapons in the Gulf War.
I was told I had two years to live… at best. Morphine was added to my arsenal of drugs. To sooth my throat, stout beer replaced the wine. I often couldn’t speak. I became even darker, and hit the bottom of the abyss.
As my son turned two, he finally became aware that his father was dying. One morning he came to me as I was lying flat on my back and said with tears, “Get up, Daddy!” Those three little words cracked something open in my heart. But how to get up? Days went by. The mantra Get Up Daddy flooded my mind. Finally, at my family’s urging, I decided to check into a hospital, detox off all the meds and alcohol, and die with dignity, showing my son that his daddy did all he could to pull it together before leaving the world.
After so many years of heavy medications, detox was the darkest night of the soul. Ten nights, actually. Heavy withdrawals. Tremors. Hot and cold flashes. Uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea. Complete insanity. When I finally crawled out of my hospital room, the pain was worse, my head was pounding, and I had no idea what to do next. That’s when the hospital invited me to join a small experimental program blending ancient eastern healing practices with modern, western holistic modalities. I jumped – or rather limped – at the chance, and soon I was on a journey into Mind-Body medicine.
One month into it, I began therapeutic Yoga. I don’t know why, but somehow I knew the very first day that Yoga was my path to healing. The cynical journalist still inside of me scoffed. My Soul said otherwise, and fortunately my Soul prevailed. Six weeks later, the clinic closed because insurance companies refused to reimburse patient costs.
I went home and turned an office in my house into my healing room. I practiced 12-14 hours every day. Yoga postures. Pranayama. Visualization. Meditation. Veganism. Fasting. Ancient yogic purifications. I began to shift away from my victim mentality and took charge of my life. I even thanked the cancer and broken back for being the catalysts for my personal transformation. It worked. Two years later I was 80 pounds lighter, pain free and cancer free.
Best of all, I fulfilled my son’s greatest wish and carried him on my shoulders through our hometown’s annual Christmas Parade. Daddy got up.My son is fifteen years old now. We recently rappelled down San Diego’s tallest waterfront building to raise money for a charity supporting disabled kids. He is still the joy of my life, and whenever things seem difficult in life I still chant Get Up, Daddy!
I’m sharing this because I have learned that each and every one of us has a great inner capacity to overcome incredible obstacles and challenges in our lives, to heal and grow and manifest ourfullest potential. It takes a deep desire, hard work, devotion and a willingness to change all the parameters of our lives. But when we do, and begin eating right, exercising right, reducing stress, thinking positively and taking charge, miracles can happen. I know it’s true, because if someone as sick and lost as I was can do it, so can you!
Bhava Ram is the founder of the Deep Yoga School of Healing Arts in San Diego. His new book, Warrior Pose, is a memoir detailing his healing journey. He and his wife hold healing workshops, retreats and trainings, plus see private clients. To contact Bhava for healing services or public appearances, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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