Let me tell you about my friend Christian: Day 26

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.

Christian and Karen Natalie

Christian and Karen Natalie

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.

Christian, Danielle and Christina

Christian, Danielle and Christina

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.

17 responses to “Let me tell you about my friend Christian: Day 26

  1. Chris truly is an amazing man, whom I am happy and proud to call my son in law. Love you Chris. Thank you for being his friend and writing this blog. ❤

    • Martha, I adore Christian but am equally in awe of your daughter Karen. Chris could not ask for a more supportive spouse and they have created a beautiful family/life together. And you should be proud.

      Linnea

  2. Happy birthday Linnea- prayers for you and Christian and your families today.

  3. I am thankful for you – for your longevity, winning attitude, candor and willingness to share your experience with others.

    My dad (a never smoker) was recently diagnosed with Stage IV mucinous adenocarcinoma of the lungs, and I was so grateful to be able to tell him that you exist, and indeed are out there really living – years after diagnosis. In short, you give us hope. Thanks.

    • Deidre, thank you for leaving a comment and tell your dad (my twin–there aren’t many of us with that particular histology) to stay strong and hopeful. In April I will mark eleven years and I’m pretty darn sure I’m good for (at least) several more.

      Linnea

  4. Happy Birthday Linnea. I am a long-time reader (and fan of yours) who came to your blog via the NYTimes piece from years back. Your beautiful writing and fierce intelligence has kept me captivated. Thank you for this, and for sharing Christian’s story and spirit with us all. Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Life.

  5. Marvellous and uplifting. Happy Thanksgiving you sweet soul

  6. One could describe christian when he was young as a sweet, kind, and spirited person. He has always cared about the condition of the earth and been there for others in need over and over again. He is a fighter, a critical thinker an advocate; equipped with a very strong moral compass. His critical thinking came at a critical time in his life. Christian knows that relationships are threads of life and need tending to; in addition to acquiring knowledge that there is something greater than himself here in this world. He treads lightly, he also know now how to be in this world without being of it. I love him greatly, I tell Chris, ” you are my favorite child” but he is my only. Godspeed Chris xo

    • Pam, I have never met you but feel as if I know you through your son whom I have come to care so much about. You describe him well. I love that you tell him he is your favorite (I have three kids but will say to the oldest—you are my favorite oldest child, etc…) But back to Christian. Our bond is such that despite the age difference I often draw strength from him; I am so very grateful for our friendship. Thanks for bringing him into this world.

      Linnea

      • Beautiful Linnea – lovely comments for my son. Your welcome for bringing him into this world. I’m glad you are good friends. I believe you are eleven years out?! Wow, so wonderful – happy for you! Chris was made to connect with people – he has never not been drawn to those around him. He has the gift. I would love to hear about your experience. And age – we know its really not about age right – it’s always about the relationship right – they are the threads that can cause us to be or become who we are. Happy Thanksgivingl Linnea – you are lovely – and thank you for joining in strength. Love to you

  7. So proud of you, Chris! – your cousin Rachel

  8. I also find myself feeling sorry for people that feel sorry for those of us Stage IV s. They give me looks I don’t need because I am not going anywhere, except for Paris, France for our 365th day of our marriage.
    Thanks for writing about great inspiration Linnea! Christian thank you for being one!

  9. Christian, keep up the faith and researching new foods and treatments. I’m proud of you!

  10. Christian is an amazing guy. Doing the research and hard work it takes to be healthy all the while keeping a positive attitude with his kids and living in the present. Keep it up! your loving uncle.

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