Three weeks ago today (May 13 2021), I learned from my previous doctor in Squamish that cancerous lesions were found on my spine at T8. Which explains the middle back pain I had been experiencing the past few weeks. Since then I have also learned through a gastroscopy, that the abdominal pains, pressure and random inability to swallow which I have also been experiencing, appear to the result of esophageal cancer. Which is likely stage 4 and metastasised to the vertebrae at T8 (now confirmed) and apparently the bones of my skull where a bump has made itself known (now confirmed). Still no word on various biopsies which should identify the particular form of esophageal cancer and subsequent treatment plans. This news arrives 11 years and a couple months after my mother died in my arms when lung cancer spread through her body and took her away on March 30 2012.

“I would like to believe that when I am once again faced with my own mortality, I would sit tall in the saddle, secure my hat, snap the reins and charge headlong towards the Ocean of Transcendent Reality, riding a steed empowered with Perfect Courage and True Grit. But that would be how I believe, how I would like to think, I will face my own inevitable mortality. Now that I am facing the mortality of my own mother, I have no steed, I have no courage, I have no True Grit”. (March 30 2012 – My First Goddess)

After a 7 hour ordeal last Sunday of not being able to swallow and a dozen or more times vomiting up flem and some strange tasting slime, I went to Sechelt Emergency at 01:00 am Monday morning (May 24 2021). A day later I was out and have been managing pain reasonably well with hydromorphone, Tylenol, other off the shelf pain meds and what works best of all, cannabis. I am being booked into Lions Gate Hospital for a stent to be placed in my esophagus so I can swallow. Solid foods are out now. It was the steak (first and only bite!) I cooked on Sunday which triggered the episode. I am now on a diet of soup, yogurt, juice, smoothies, pudding and ice-cream. Sort of a Cancer Diet with deserts! BONUS!

On the doctor front, fortunately I have been taken in as a patient by a local integral medicine GP so I could not be in better hands. Sitting there and talking with a medical doctor about Stanislav Grof, Abraham Maslow, Ken Wilber, Ram Dass (Richard Alpert), transpersonal psychology and integrative medicine in general, literally brought me to tears of gratitude! Operating under a philosophy and model of wellness that are defined by the whole person (body, mind, spirit, environment etc) rather than simply the treatment of physical symptoms, integrative medicine has much in common with transpersonal psychology. And just like with transpersonal psychology, it simply makes logical (and scientific) sense. Given how much we know about the fundamental interconnectedness and mutual interactions/dependence between physical, psychological, emotional, social, spiritual and environmental factors, ALL medicine should be integral medicine. If you don’t what integrative medicine is, you should.

What is Integrative Medicine?

  1. Patient and practitioner are partners in the healing process.
  2. All factors that influence health, wellness, and disease are taken into consideration, including mind, spirit, and community, as well as the body.
  3. Appropriate use of both conventional and alternative methods facilitates the body’s innate healing response.
  4. Effective interventions that are natural and less invasive should be used whenever possible.
  5. Integrative medicine neither rejects conventional medicine nor accepts alternative therapies uncritically.
  6. Good medicine is based in good science. It is inquiry-driven and open to new paradigms.
  7. Alongside the concept of treatment, the broader concepts of health promotion and the prevention of illness are paramount.
  8. Practitioners of integrative medicine should exemplify its principles and commit themselves to self-exploration and self-development.

    Source: Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine

In my opinion functional medicine is (or should be) dead and ALL medicine should be integrative medicine. The evidence and science is overwhelming. Health and wellness is NOT simply the absence of physical symptoms. Health and wellness is a WHOLE PERSON concept where physical, psychological, emotional, lifestyle, social factors, meaning, the environment and spirituality ALL play a collective role in supporting human health, wellness and flourishing. The Fourth Force of psychology (transpersonal psychology) is also an INTEGRATIVE psychology which takes into account the entire person: body, mind, spirit, social factors and of course non-ordinary states of consciousness. With the explosion of interest in psychedelic medicines and research, transpersonal psychology seems poised to take off and enter main stream consciousness.

Also fortunately, I seem to have spontaneous days of zero pain, zero pressure, zero constriction and almost as if nothing has happened! Yesterday was one of those days and I look forward to more.

Along with solid foods, I have also learned that too much movement or physical strain can trigger more pain and pressure. Elevated emotions, tension or conflict can also trigger more pain and physical discomfort. Therefore wherever and whenever possible and with all my heart, this dude is trying to abide, remain in a peaceful state, chilled through and through and leverage mindfulness, meditation, suitable psychedelics and other drugs as needed or when effective. Fortunately, and once again, cannabis comes to the rescue with helping to maintain a lovely, peaceful and chilled state. In fact, smoking a nice J with some hash crumbled in, will almost instantly relieve (temporarily) around 99% of all pain and discomfort while enveloping me with a warm, comforting and soothing sense of relaxation and calm. Compared with 1mg of hydromorphone (either IV or capsule) which will take me to around 90% relief, but without the warm, comforting and soothing sense of relaxation and calm from a J. How’s that for a cannabis-for-pain argument? A bit of ketamine is also (occasionally) offering physical, psychological and existential comfort. A strategically, mindfully prepared and highly ritualised heroic dose of psilocybin is also being considered.

Johnny Stork Pirate Costume

Halloween (2014)

I am not saying there haven’t been tears, emotions, tension, stress, conflict or drama. There has, but this is to be expected given the circumstances. And the stress surrounding the financial impact is starting to grow and is likely only going to get worse. I am now very limited in how much time I can spending sitting up working on the computer (spinal pain/pressure which means I need to go on my left side to reduce it, if at all), so I have already had to give up a recent contract. I now smoke cannabis during the day for pain relief and keeping my relaxed. But it also makes it harder to get out of chill-mode and try to get some work done. Together there has been a significant impact on my ability to earn a living and cover the bills. On top of the impact to my tech work, my coaching practice is now on hold and I had to decline a couple of clients who were ready to start with a Microdosing Strategy for Well-being that I have been developing. I am likely not going to be able to pay all of next months rent and my visa and other bills go unpaid. New costs around medicine, foods, travel are also starting to show up. I do plan to apply for CPP and any other financial support which may be available. And there is also the unrest, the guilt, the shame, that comes from knowing I am placing an even greater burden on Gemma. Yes, no shortage of reasons to be stressed but I am doing my best to find some sort of physical, emotional, spiritual and existential balance. Part of which means still trying to be useful in my local community. Being in service through the Sunshine Coast Computer Kindness Program, Ask a Geek group and the Sunshine Coast Renters & Landlords group. Or my larger communities of Psychedelics, Microdosing & Wellness, the Canadian Psychedelic Association and MAPS Canada where I am currently only lurking to keep up with their great work. I hope to be able to contribute/volunteer once again when I am able.

As we (Gemma and I) learn more about what the future holds and what the treatment options are, we will continue to learn, adapt and accommodate these many new challenges. Love, compassion, respect, humility, kindness, some fun, the support of friends and communities both online and locally, a bit of luck and a bunch of drugs, will help get us/me through this. And if not, well I reconciled and embraced my own mortality long ago when I took a long lead-fall off the Stawamus Chief rock climbing when I was 24. I had a near-death-experience which transformed my perceptions of self, consciousness, life, death and reality itself. That experience evoked such a profound curiosity to understand what had just happened, that I entered university and began my life-long educational journey into neuropsychology, consciousness studies, research, transpersonal psychology and spirituality. When combined with many early and transformational experiences with psychedelics during my early teens and 20’s, a lifetime of engaging with various spiritual, meditative and self-exploration practices, along with the past three years of a revived psychedelic exploration and microdosing ritual, I am good to go.

“Death is the only wise advisor that we have. Whenever you feel, as you always do, that everything is going wrong and you’re about to be annihilated, turn to your death and ask if that is so. Your death will tell you that you’re wrong; that nothing really matters outside its touch. Your death will tell you, ‘I haven’t touched you yet.” (Carlos Castaneda, Journey to Ixtlan)

But MOST fortunate for me, and something for which I am immensely grateful, is that I am loved, supported and cared for by an extraordinary women and friend. Thank you, thank you, thank you sweetie. Thank you and bless your kindness and compassion Gemma Cowan (aka the Empress of the Unknown Universe).

For the most part these first three weeks have been tolerable, the doctors have been moving fast and I am confident in how things are moving along so far. I have started dealing with some of the logistical possibilities like a will, executor, applying for my CPP, thinking about what to start selling or purging so as not to leave Gemma with the burden of dealing with it. I have also started reaching out for support with my many technology, community or other support groups I manage like the Sunshine Coast Computer Kindness Program, Ask a Geek and others. I have also shared my condition with my son.

However, the rapid rate at which this is evolving, the frequency at which I am noticing or experiencing new or changing symptoms, and the likely fact this is stage iv esophageal cancer, is certainly troubling. Both Gemma and I are trying hard to accommodate and adjust to this new reality. And although we have both been showing signs of the stress, our mutual compassion, kindness, love and respect will help us weather this through. I will also be trying to write more often now and will certainly be using this as a way to document, track and share my experiences and results with various alternative, complementary and even psychedelic treatments . This way I not only identify pain management and treatment tools which work best for me, but it also may provide useful information for others dealing with cancer or curious about the potential role for psychedelic medicines (beyond treating end-of-life distress). Lots to do, lots to plan for, lots to consider but until my doctor gets the results of the biopsies, the initial treatment plan or strategy wont begin. Once it does I will be extensively researching my options across all/any modality of treatment and working with my doctor to develop a plan. Along with more writing I may also start video blogging as a way to not only share my experiences and learning, but to network with other’s dealing with cancer.

 

Johnny & Gemma

Johnny & Gemma

References

(2016) Psilocybin produces substantial and sustained decreases in depression and anxiety in patients with life-threatening cancer: A randomized double-blind trial.

(2012) My First Goddess

(2019) Why Interest in Transpersonal Psychology is Growing

(2019) What is Transpersonal Psychology and Can it Change The World?

Defining Principles of Integrative Medicine