by Lorraine Kerz
“It is reasonable to expect the doctor to recognize that science may not have all the answers to problems of health and healing.”
“I made the joyous discovery that ten minutes of genuine belly laughter had an anesthetic effect and would give me at least two hours of pain-free sleep; when the pain-killing effect of the laughter wore off, we would switch on the motion picture projector again and not infrequently, it would lead to another pain-free interval.”
– Norman CousinsHealing comes in many forms and sometimes in the most unexpected of ways, as political journalist and world peace activist Norman Cousins found out when confronted with a painful connective tissue disease. He was told that he had a one in five hundred chance of recovery, so he created his own recovery program, which included massive doses of intravenous vitamin C and self-induced bouts of laughter. We do not know for sure what cured Cousins of his illness; but I suspect that whatever the reason for his cure, the quality of his life was improved through the choices he made. For most young adults with cancer, challenging and often painful treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation, and/or surgeries are frequently part of the course of healing. Along with the physical pain of cancer, there is also the anxiety, fear, and constant worry that can be as difficult to maneuver around. Doctors work hard to find cures and alleviate pain, and I believe that most in the field of oncology have a deep commitment to the work they are doing and put not only their intellect, but often their heart and soul into their work as well. And still, it takes a village as the saying goes. During the time Sy was battling cancer, healing did not happen in the way we had hoped or expected; his cancer treatments stopped working early on. And yet, through the way in which Silas handled his situation, I believe that he was able to maintain as much independence as possible throughout his illness, which gave him a better quality of life. The entire oncology staff at Mass General, including his doctors, nurses, surgeon, and social worker, respected him as an independent, intelligent, funny and compassionate young man who wanted to be in control of his own medical treatments. They understood that he had no choice over what was happening in his life, and recognized the importance of him taking charge over decisions that needed to be made around his care. Sometimes Sy would want to go home from the hospital sooner than his medical team deemed in his best interest, and they worked with him around this; at times compromises would be made, at times they wouldn’t; but ultimately it was Sy’s decision. Sy also took charge of cleaning the IV pick line that administered medication through his veins throughout the day during the final months of his life, and gave EMT’s clear, respectful instructions around care in transporting him to the hospital during emergencies around pain management, when necessary. But there were other forms of healing that was deemed equally important during that time; some found through trial and error, and some inherent to the strong willed, fun loving person he was. Laughter was up there at the top of the list, and so we watched hours of comedy, and delighted in his quirky, fast, and often dry sense of humor. Photography was an incredibly healing modality, and he spent as much time as possible photographing the world around him. Whether it was from his wheelchair or even his bed, he captured many powerful images through the camera lens. Along the way, reiki, foot reflexology, massage, and medical cannabis found their way into the mix, and all of these proved to be as helpful as traditional medicine in what they had to offer for management of anxiety, nausea, appetite, and quality of life. So it is with Sy’s Fund that we understand the importance of an individual’s expression of healing, and the ways in which their choice of gifts can mean so much. Whether it is a camera, an online class, a laptop, reiki or massage sessions, or art supplies; they all have the power to heal.