I am alone at home, on a Wednesday in January 2014. My wife Noelle is teaching a shamanic workshop across the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. The phone rings. The doctor’s voice is somewhat shaky, “It is cancer, stage 4 advanced lung cancer, with metastases.” I am stunned, I feel immobilized. For several months I have been coughing and very short of breath. Because I had asthma as a child I have been treated by my doctor for asthma. Finally Noelle, thankfully, asked my doctor that I have a chest X-ray, concerned that I had pneumonia. The tests revealed so many nodules in the lungs that one could hardly see any open space. I am a non-smoker and have no family history of cancer.
As I try to center myself, my immediate response is to feel compassion for the doctor and I tell him that I know how hard it must be for him to make this call, and I thank him for telling me the whole truth. Then I pick up my drum, calling all my spirit helpers, asking that they hold me and support me, and asking for guidance as I prepare to tell Noelle when she returns later that evening and my four children and eight grandchildren. I journey and shapeshift into a Kapok tree, a sacred rainforest tree I have become very close to. The tree tells me “Life does not belong to you, you belong to Life.”
Further tests in the following days reveal that the cancer has metastasized to the brain – there are 26 small brain tumors -, and to three of my vertebrae. No other organs are affected. I know this is a life-threatening situation; it could be a matter of just a few months.
My shamanic practice has been a major support for me, just as have been the love and care of Noelle, my family and so many friends. I regularly communicate with many around the world through the Caring Bridge internet site, and have experienced firsthand the healing power of a virtual community. The phone call with the diagnosis arrived a few weeks after I had sent back to my publisher the galley proofs of my book The Shaman Within (1) with my final corrections. In the chapter on the Art of Healing, I recount an experience I had twenty-five years earlier, when X-rays revealed a sizeable spot in my lungs that looked like possible lung cancer. A month later I was operated on and the biopsy showed the spot to be scar tissue, likely the remain of an infection like desert fever. I did not have lung cancer. This time I do. During that past experience I had learned much about life, death, healing, and myself. These ongoing teachings are deepening with my current experience. It is a wonder, and I dare say, a blessing the way spirits work and teach us.
Early Guidance from Spirits
Soon after the diagnosis I do a shamanic journey with the intention of meeting with my power animals and spirit teachers, asking their support, and finding out what they want to tell me. As the journey starts my power animals take me way up into space in the Middle World. We stop far away from the planet, where the Earth looks like a small sphere, the size of a small soccer ball. My power animals point to the Earth and tell me “The Earth is hurting. Your body is also hurting. Your body is the Earth.” I think of the cancer in my lungs and of the destruction of the lungs of the Earth, my beloved rainforest. And I know that my healing is not an isolated process; my healing needs to be an intimate part of, and contribute to, the healing of the Earth.
In this and other journeys, my spirit guides urge me to have a clear intention concerning what was happening to me. I love this world, I love life, I love my body, and I do not want to die. I go inside and I know. I speak and repeat my intention to my spirit guides, and to the Universe: If the Universe and spirits are telling me it is time to go, so be it; and if there is the smallest crack or opening I want to go through it and live another twenty years.
From the very start, with the guidance of my spirit helpers, my relationship with my cancerous cells has been one of love, respect and gratitude. The cells in my lungs have helped me breathe in the past and now many are ill. I am grateful and I thank them for the many teachings they are bringing me. My culture wants me to win the war on cancer. Even some of my relatives and friends, with heart, tell me: “Claude, you’re strong, you’re a fighter, you’ll win this war.” I do not want to wage a war or fight my cancer cells, there is already too much warring and fighting among us humans going on everywhere. I am not invaded by an enemy. My cells are ill. I love them regardless.
Treatments and Healings
Early February, 2014, some good news start arriving from my physicians. A genetic analysis of the tumor tissue indicates that I have a fairly rare mutation, only found in non-smokers, for which there exists a specific chemo-therapy. The chemo, called Tarceva, is in the form of a small pill that I take every morning at home. It has practically no impact on my immune system, the only side effect being a skin rash. Further MRI tests show the brain tumors to be sufficiently small and adequately located in the brain that I am eligible for the Gamma Knife radiation treatment at the University hospital where I receive my care. The treatment uses high-energy gamma radiation that is focused on each cancer nodule, so there is no impact on healthy cells.
From the very beginning, I also go on a strict diet (primarily no sugar), which continues today, and seek various alternative healings. I work with an alternative healing practitioner who has prescribed various Chinese herbs, mushrooms and other herbal supplements. I have regular acupuncture sessions, massages and various bodywork. From the start I have asked for full openness and cooperation between my alternative and western medicine healers and physicians. I want no separation. I am grateful that this has been the case.
I also had shamanic healings from shamanic colleagues; from Arkan, a Quechua shaman from the Peruvian Andes trained in Lakota ways; and from Manari, a shaman from the Upper Amazon rainforest.
My journey to the spirit of gamma radiation
The Gamma Knife procedure takes nearly five hours, as I lay for 90 minutes at a time under the radiation dome with my head immobilized.
In preparation I had done several journeys to the spirits of the hospital, of the radiation dome, and of the gamma radiation to honor them, bless them, and ask for a most appropriate outcome in accordance with the greater harmony of the Whole, now and into the future.
When the procedure starts, I again journey to the spirit of gamma radiation. The spirit shows itself clearly as an elder woman. I ask for guidance as I undergo the procedure. The spirit reminds me that right after the big bang, at the birth of our universe, the first manifestation of matter or energy was in the form of high-energy electromagnetic radiation — that is gamma rays. Some of these gamma rays, as described by Einstein’s equation E=mc2, were transformed into matter and antimatter, with the matter, quarks and electrons, becoming the building blocks of atoms, molecules, stars, planets and our own bodies.
The spirit of gamma radiation tells me: “You are being healed by your cosmic ancestors”. We are all descendants of these primordial gamma rays. Hearing this brings a fundamental change to the medical procedure I am undertaking. I am no longer being bombarded by radiation, with all the scary aspects of this. Instead, my cosmic ancestors are healing me. This is a sacred treatment. The five hours in the dome are filled with joy, wonder and gratitude. Since the treatment, the brain tumors are no longer visible.
The spirits of cancer and Tarceva, and my Tarceva ritual
Early on, I did several journeys to the spirit of cancer, which showed itself as a large anaconda. What I learned was that this cancer was about change, transformation; and when I asked about the lungs, the spirit said it was about a change in expression. I also learned that what may have caused the cancer in the past was not important. I needed to live fully in the present moment, to focus on the present healing.
I journey daily to the spirit of my chemo, Tarceva, with whom I have become very close. The spirit, which shows itself in the form of a mermaid, has given me much advise on how to live in the moment, how to be with the cancer. She has taught me a ritual which I perform each day right after I get up, as I take the daily Tarceva pill.
My usual morning ritual consists of cleansing, protection and shapeshifting , after which I contact the spirits whose various ordinary reality manifestations I will encounter during the day. I now contact my cancer cells and send them love and gratitude. I ask that, if appropriate, they use the spiritual and bio-chemical energy of Tarceva, the energy of the supplements and food I take, and the power of the healings and love I receive to transform themselves into something beautiful, something that can leave my body and go out into this beautiful world. I connect with the healthy cells in my lungs and ask that my lungs breathe in love and breathe out love. I connect with the cells of my brain. I ask that my brain be of service to the world. I contact the spirit of the microbiome, the multitude of bacteria, viruses and fungi that inhabit our bodies. I express gratitude for helping in my healing. I ask that it reminds me daily that everything is interconnected.
Holding the Tarceva pill in my hand, I then turn toward the six directions, asking the spirit of Tarveva and of the directions that my healing contribute to the healing of friends and relatives who have requested this from me, the healing of the Earth, and the healing of those brothers and sisters in the world who have no access to the medicines and healings I am privileged to have.
Three months after I start the Tarceva, the lung and vertebrae tumors reveal shrinkage, and they have remained stable since then, with no spreading, which is what this chemo is meant to do. I was no longer coughing and my breathing was again normal. I am in good health, my weight is again stable, my energy and vitality have been steadily increasing. I hike, I play tennis. I have much gratitude.
Special teachings I have received
The teachings I have received from spirits, and continue to receive almost daily as I seek their guidance on my current life journey have been many. I only share a few here. A huge oak tree in a nearby valley told me: “Live every moment as if it was…. the first, not the last.”
I asked spirits guidance concerning a paradox I live with. Strangers see me as quite healthy for my age, I do not look sick, I feel fine. Yet I know that inside me is a potentially fatal disease. I need to hold both truths at the same time. Spirits reminded me that this is what we need to do throughout our entire life, holding life and death at the same time. I knew that spiritually and mentally, and have written about it. Now I know and live this paradox bodily.
Another major learning came unexpectedly during one of my morning rituals. Spirits reminded me that when I first voiced my intention to live another 20 years spirits willing, I knew why I did not want to die – I love this beautiful world. They told me that morning the real question I needed to answer is: “Why do I want to live?”
These are two very different questions. I quickly realized that my immediate answers to why I want to live – such as to be of service, or help the human species be in harmony with the Earth and all its inhabitants – were too mental. This is not just a philosophical question. I realized that I need to go much deeper into the essence of Life. I started a deep inquiry that is still ongoing. Part of my answer, which cannot easily be put into words, is that I want to live so that I can, in every moment of my life, live the sacredness and interconnectedness of everything. In whatever way this manifests itself.
Spirit messages in ordinary reality
As we know, nature has a way to teach and heal when we are fully conscious in ordinary reality. Nature has blessed me in this regard. I want to share a few simple, yet profound, interactions with nature.
I regularly hike to the ocean, about two miles from our home, to seek guidance and healing from the spirit of the ocean, whom I call Yamaha. Early in my life with cancer, when I was still coughing and breathing with difficulty, I sat one day on a rock in the small wild beach, far away enough from the surf. I honored Yamaha, blessed her, and asked if appropriate to send me a healing, as well as to all my brothers and sisters also seeking healing. My safety-oriented mind watched the ocean as two large waves came crashing down in front, sufficiently far from my rock not to cause any concerns. Then I closed my eyes to just listen to the ocean surf. At that moment a huge wave that must have come up on my left, came crashing down on me from behind and from the side, totally drenching me up to the waist. Then things quieted down again. I had never seen a wave come up that far on this beach. My body was alive. I felt I had received a huge healing from Yamaha. I thanked her.
A week later I am sitting on the same rock, with Noelle on my right, as we look at the ocean. A crow comes flying close in front of us and lands just to my left barely two feet away. He’s also looking at the ocean. Then he starts making sounds, eerily similar to when I clear my throat to lessen the cough, a raspy sound that I find unpleasant for myself and others around me. The crow continues and I respond, clearing my throat with the same raspy sound. The crow starts again, and we go on back and forth for a good five minutes. It is an intense conversation. The crow then preens himself on the chest, his lungs. Then the female crow comes flying right in front of us and lands next to her mate. She preens herself. He stops preening himself and preens her in the areas she cannot reach with her own beak, primarily the top of her head, her brain. It is sweet and tender. Then he softly takes her beak in his own beak, and they stay that way, without moving, for a while. Then she flies away to find some food at the base of the cliff. He soon joins her.
From that day on, my coughs and rasping, which continued for a few weeks, took on a different meaning for me. I knew, as I did after the healing with Yamaha, that I was not alone on this journey. Nature in all its manifestations was accompanying me, loving me, caring for me.
There have been many other such blessings from nature beings, and they have continued to this day. I am grateful.
Journey into the Unknown
My journey with cancer has been one of seeking to live in the moment, and moving every moment into the Unknown. It has been filled with many more adventures, too many to recount here. A brief note on two of those.
In June 2014, as I was working with my dermatologist to control the skin rash the chemo caused back then, I was diagnosed with skin cancer on my scalp, a melanoma 5 centimeter wide. This cancer was unrelated to my lung cancer. Faced with the daunting prospect of having to deal with two life-threatening cancers, I journeyed to the spirit of cancer, searching for meaning. The spirit lovingly, but rather nonchalantly, told me that I had had radiation therapy, was using chemotherapy, and had worked with spirits to render them sacred treatments. The spirit said that now I had the opportunity to do the same with a surgery treatment! I had Moh surgery in July, which was successful and completely removed the melanoma. It is a cure.
In November of 2014 I met unexpectedly in San Francisco the chief of the Sapara tribe, a shaman named Manari. The Sapara live deep in the Ecuadorian rainforest of the Upper Amazon. We had an immediate deep connection and Manari offered to give me a healing. He then said that my tumors were stable, and that if I so desired, this was the time for me to use sacred plant medicine that he and elders in his village would prepare for me. This would make my tumors healthy. A few months later I received three liters of the plant medicine, a mix of five plants, three of which Manari revealed and two of which are sacred and secret to them. In late April of this year, Manari was back in San Francisco with another three liters of a different plant mixture. My physicians were most supportive, and while saying that for Western medicine there is no cure and no remission for my type of cancer, added that there was much that is still not known. I am still taking the medicine and have felt increased levels of energy and vitality.
I face the Unknown everyday. And I feel blessed and grateful. I feel blessed and grateful for the many teachings I have received and am still receiving, for the love and support from spirits, for the love and care from my immediate family, my larger family, and so many friends from around our beautiful planet.
1. Poncelet, Claude, Ph.D. The Shaman Within, Boulder, CO: Sounds True; 2014.