Fight For Your Life
An Inspirational Story by
Cynthia Brian

I remember exactly what I was doing when my sister called to tell me that my father was dying.

When the phone rang, I was at my desk preparing for the next class I was to teach on self-esteem. "It's cancer," said my sister, "the doctors told him to go home, drink his best wine, and enjoy what was left of his life. There is absolutely nothing that can be done to save dad. He'll die within three weeks."

I was shaken to my soul with grief. Then the anger set in. "How could these doctors write my dad off like this?" This was my dad who I adored and worshiped. My father couldn't possibly have cancer. He is a farmer, healthy and robust. He has always eaten well, mostly the fruits and vegetables which we grew ourselves. Daily he worked in the fresh air and because of farm work, received plenty of exercise. He had enjoyed a very clean and happy life. His one indulgence was his glass of red wine each evening with meals which came from the grapes of his vineyards.

My mind began to flashback on all the special moments with my dad. I was the eldest of 5 children, growing up on a farm that boasted grapes, walnuts, cattle and kids! (We were the kids.) My parents owned a large private vineyard and would work from five in morning when the first rooster crowed to seven at night when the last lamb had been put in the barn. He taught us the value of hard work and the pride it reaped. I can still hear him in the morning climbing the stairs to wake us while he whistled happily and announced "Wake up, sleepy heads, it is a BEAUTIFUL day." He would lift us onto the caterpillar tractor to plow the fields with him and then teach us how to drive. In the springtime, he'd find baby jack rabbits whose mothers' had been killed. He would stop the tractor, get off and put the bunnies in his coat pocket and bring them home to us to raise until they were old enough to fend for themselves. He was so strong that he could lift my sisters and I off the floor with one finger. When anything was broken, he could fix it. When we misbehaved, he never yelled, just looked at us with those big brown eyes and let us know we had disappointed him. He would saddle the horses for us, and tighten our wire ski bindings, and make us a special concoction of warm sweet milk with bread when we were sick. He'd pile the seven of us in the Willie jeep and straight up the hill we'd drive to have a picnic. Being with daddy, was better than being at Disneyland! I remembered how he cried when he walked me down the aisle on my wedding day, and how at the funeral of my sixteen year old brother who was killed in a farm accident, he held up my mom and the rest of us who were near collapsing. He was our tower of strength, our lion in winter, our gentle, patient, loving father. Now he is only 63 years old, still madly in love with my mom after 42 years of marriage, and has 11 grandchildren that he does the same wonderful things with and for them.

I determined right then and there, my father was not going to die. I decided to take charge.

The next day all 22 of us gathered on the farm in Napa County. My dad was the picture of health. I took him aside. "What's going on dad? You look so great!" "I've never felt better in my life," he said, "but everyone has me buried and gone."

My father's words fueled my determination to not let him die. How can doctors-ordinary humans just like you and me be so sure there is nothing to be done? In my fathers case the doctors said that if surgery was performed to remove the cancer he would die on the operating table or bleed to death.

At the library I checked out every book I could find on cancer. I bought books and tapes by many authors including Bernie Siegal, Gerald Jampolsky, Shakti Gawain, and Wayne Dyer. I called all my friends who are doctors or married to doctors and asked for help. I contacted anyone I knew who had struggled with cancer. I wanted experts and answers and we had no time to lose.

Everyone was gracious. Everyone I called had some information. One friend told me about the 800 Cancer hotline. Another told me about cancer societies, the Physicians Data Query (PDQ), research centers, and medical schools. I quickly learned that my father's cancer, though rare, is highly treatable and occasionally curable.

I studied laughter therapy. My mother, father, and I flew down to the late Norman Cousins who had cured himself from a life threatening disease by laughing. I'll never forget Mr. Cousins words upon meeting my father. We walked into his office and he shook my father's hand. He looked him straight in the eye. "I can see you are a winner, " he said. "You can beat this." We began our own therapy of positive thinking, mind over matter and laughter. Every day I sent my dad a funny joke so he could get a good belly laugh.

One of the most touching things that happened at this time was when we had to fly to UCLA medical center for emergency tests. My father's insurance carrier was refusing any coverage for this condition and my folks could not afford the steep airfare. In desperation I called every airline to beg for a discount because of the emergency. I bless United Airlines daily for giving us a special deal.

The harder I fought for my dad's life the more doors were opened to us for treatment. My dad and I talked several times a day and I could see he was getting as excited and optimistic about possible treatments as I was. "But I'm worried about your mother," he confided," because she is so afraid that I'll suffer with the surgery and that I'll die." I took my mother aside. "Mom, you have to think positive, you have to believe in dad's ability to heal himself" She shook her head slowly and tears ran down her cheeks: "I want to believe, but I trust our doctors and they say there is no hope...that we're wasting our time and giving dad false hope." I understood her fears, but felt deep in my heart that a miracle would occur.

Finally, we found three experts who gave us some great news.

They all concurred that my father's cancer was treatable. The treatment - surgery, after all!

But now the real fight began. His national HMO insurance carrier refused to pay for any tests or surgery judging that any treatment was "experimental". This appears to be the most common evasion tactic and I guess it discourages most patients from getting help. Not us. We had seven second opinions all stating that surgery could save my dad's life and that this would be a normal procedure. After several conversations with various insurance officers, I contacted the C.E.O. of the company and asked him why coverage was not being considered. In so many words, he asked me to look at the situation from the insurance carrier's was just too expensive to try and save a dying was cheaper to let my dad die. I was astounded! I let him know that I was prepared to give the company the worse publicity imaginable and on a national level beginning immediately and that a legal battle would commence. Approval for surgery was ordered by the following morning!

The night before surgery we met with the medical team. I asked all of them to give my dad positive messages throughout the five to six hour surgery. "Please tell him over and over again that he is doing well, that he will awake hungry, thirsty, and comfortable," I pleaded.

They agreed to allow a tape recorder in the operating and recovery rooms playing tapes of soft music, and words of encouragement.

On the day of surgery, my mom and I made a tape for my dad. We recorded for him some funny Italian songs and told him how much we loved and needed him in our life. When we met my brother and sister in the parking lot, they added their own thoughts to the tape: "Dad, you better get out of here soon, because it is a real pain to park here!"

We got some bad news when we walked into the hospital. He had already been taken into surgery and we hadn't been able to say goodbye. What was worse, especially for my mother, was that my dad didn't have the tapes in the operating room. The tapes had become the difference between life and death. My mother feared that if dad didn't have the tapes he would die. We both felt confident in the surgeons' ability and my dad's great attitude, but I knew in my heart the tapes might make a difference.

"Don't worry." I told my mother, " I'll take care of it"

The nurses didn't know how to get the tape recorder into the operating room, so I did something I had only seen in movies. I happened to be wearing green sweat clothes the exact same color as the doctors' scrubs. I placed my pager on the outside of my pants, grabbed a mask and rubber gloves from a nearby utility closet and marched into the surgical center as if I belonged. With an air of authority, I calmly handed the nurse my son's three foot long boombox with five cassettes. She set it up and my dad was in business. (I can't recommend this approach for everyone, but my dad did get his tapes, and awoke from his operation alert, with little pain, and very hungry and thirsty.)

After the successful operation, my dad kept visualizing his tumor getting smaller. He sent messages to his body. And everyday he laughed. He truly believed he would recover. He believed in prayer and miracles. In his mind he would draw pictures of himself growing old with my mother and watching the 11 grandchilren grow up. He made a conscientious decision to live.

He was released from the hospital a week ahead of schedule. He lived happily and healthily with my mom on the farm for three more years. He went to work and was as busy as ever plowing the fields, mending fences, whistling in the morning and saving the bunnies. He still had his glass of homemade red wine every day, and I still sent him a daily joke.

1991 Cynthia Brian

Epilogue: 1994

The fact that daddy lived three more marvelous years after being told he had three weeks was a miracle. A miracle that he created because he fought for his life. When daddy died, he was at peace and he died the way he had total harmony and with dignity. My brother had died on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. My daddy died on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in my arms on his farm, in his room overlooking the vineyards he had tended with love for almost 50 years. Small miracles? We believe.

If you or someone you love has been told "there is nothing that can be done", take charge. Find help, find the experts, don't stop until you are satisfied that everything humanly possible has been accomplished. Then still don't stop. Be assertive; get the facts and don't listen to doomsday prophets. Be a winner, associate with winners. Heal yourself through prayer, meditation, faith, hope, and love. Believe in yourself. Believe that you alone have the power to heal yourself. Create goals for yourself. Release the fear and begin loving yourself and others. Forgive those who have hurt you in any way and send them love. The power that you will feel will be immense. Don't accept "no", don't accept mediocrity, challenge yourself. Get books and tapes from the library and bookstore that will help you on your journey to peace and health. Listen to the doctors that you trust and believe in your recovery. See the future with you in it. Believe in the power of your body, mind, and spirit! When you do all these things, the quality of your life will be so exceptional that you will rejoice in the miracle called life. Life is a great gift, be thankful. I wish you success and love.

Some recommended reading in your fight for life and the quality in that life:

Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness
Bernie Siegel, M.D., Love, Medicine, and Miracles and Peace, Love, and Healing
Gerald Jampolsky, M.D., Teach Only Love, The Seven Principles of Attitudinal Healingg and Introduction to a Course in Miracles
Leo Buscaglia, Love and Living, Loving and Learning
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, On Death and Dying and To Live Until We Say Goodbye
Carl O. Simonton, Getting Well Again
Marion Morra, Choices, Realistic Alternatives in Cancer Treatment
Shakti Gawain, Creative Visualization and Living in the Light
Dr. Wayne Dyer, The Sky is the Limit
Dr. Sidney Simon, Getting Unstuck
Alexandra Stoddard, Living Beautifully Together
Robert Schuller, Discover Your Possibilities and Tough Times Never Last, but Tough People Do
Zig Ziglar, The Secret to Staying Motivated
Greg Anderson, Cancer Conqueror
Louise Hay, You can Heal Your Life

1994 Cynthia Brian

Cynthia Brian is the eldest of five children raised on a farm in Northern California by the two best parents in the world. She credits them with her high self-esteem and self-direction. Cynthia is married with two children and is an actor, model, screenwriter, interior designer and acting instructor working on building confidence and values in young people. She believes that we have the power within us to achieve incredible heights. Think great... Be great!

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Last Updated November 19, 1997