Two blogs in less than twenty-four hours! Whoa! As part of Lung Cancer Awareness Month (brought to you by November) I am going to share a little about someone who is very special to me.
I met Christian Nataline five years ago—we were guests of our mutual oncologist Dr. Shaw at a function where she was being honored. I was struck by how young Chris looked and learned that he’d been diagnosed just after turning thirty-one. He’d been married less than a year (to his amazing wife Karen) and was the father of an eight month old. Like me, he was also a mutant—ALK+ and stage IV.
As it would turn out, Christian and I often had appointments in the cancer center at MGH on the same day and our relationship started to grow. As many of you know, there are certain things about this journey that can’t be understood by anyone other than a person who is walking the same path. Like me, Christian has had a wide variety of treatments (which is another way of saying the response/progression cycle). He started out with chemotherapy, moved to crizotinib and then zykadia and is now on alectinib. Along the way he’s had a good deal of spot-welding (radiation) too. And in the midst of all of this, Chris and Karen became parents to a second daughter.
As fellow warriors (apologies to those who dislike the military language, but the two of us really have been on the frontline together for quite a few years now) we have provided each other with encouragement, love and a ready ear. We’ve each talked the other off the wall a time or two as well–sometimes this shit gets all too real. He calls me mumma and I think of him like a son/true friend. I love this kid.
Yesterday I called him to ask him a couple of questions. First I wanted to know what kept him going. His children, Christina and Danielle–Chris is a stay at home dad now. And his wife, Karen, who has never for a moment doubted Chris (he’s had a crazy idea or two along the way) and has always believed in his ability to prevail. I opined that she is his rock and he laughed and said she (Karen) says the same thing about him–he is her rock, her home. She is also his best friend and he ‘loves her so much’. It’s a pretty powerful foundation, this little family of four.
Last year Christian relocated his family to Florida. I was sad and worried about his leaving Dr. Shaw’s care (she still checks in on him), but the warm climate and slower lifestyle seems to suit him. Karen works in a health food store now which is a good thing, because Christian pays a lot of attention to what he eats–I get a huge kick out of the photos he will put up on Facebook with the ingredients for a fresh smoothie. Prior to his diagnosis, Christian was a martial artist; practicing jiu jitsu. He can no longer compete, but he is instructing his eldest daughter in the art. There are good schools close by and family too, and Christian seems happier so I think he made the right choice.
Christian’s approach to care is somewhat unconventional as well. He takes a “let’s just do everything” viewpoint, embracing both western medicine and alternative treatments. He has utilized cannabis oil for tumor reduction and pain management. Psilocybin, peyote, and san pedro have all played a role for Chris spiritually. However, it is ayahuasca that has been the real game changer; the drug that Chris says ‘saved him’.
When I ask him to explain, this is what he said (ayahuasca is a powerful hallucinogen): “When you see your own death…it relieves you of the sense of fear and you realize that everyone is suffering, but in different ways. You work through losing your attachments to living including family…but you see the vast internal life in all of us. Our next step is to transition to energy and a never ending cycle. You see the bad, the love, but also that life is a gift. You understand that we’re all interconnected to each other and with the planet.”
I think for Chris his spiritual work with the hallucinogens has helped him to wrestle with the twin demons of fear and loss; he’s come a long way. I wondered what message he would like to share with others. First, if someone wants to pray for him that would be wonderful. However, he doesn’t want anyone to think for a minute that he’s not going to make it (I hear the defiance in his voice and I’ve got to say, I like it :) He also wants everyone out there to know that he loves you (and he means this). It is also important to him that people believe that what we are doing (walking this cancer path) is not in vain—that each of us is a guiding light for those to come. That what we are suffering/going through now will help our grandchildren to come.
It is a lovely sentiment on this Thanksgiving Day. I am thankful for my beautiful, powerful, ever evolving friend Christian.