Saying Yes

September 28, 2011

It’s evening in Dongguan. I sit here at my desk next to the open balcony door, feeling the heat of the day finally mellow into a bearable warmth. Construction sounds waft up to my room on the 15th floor of Southern University Medical Hospital Renkang, some kind of drilling, I think, for the new bullet train they plan to build right outside the hospital. This is how it is in China: construction. And lots of it.

The very sweet nurses in their white starched caps and little bows have just come in to check on me, cleaning my new PICC line (a long-term iv port I became the proud owner of yesterday) and hooking me up to my two hour drip of “Chinese medicine.” I’m not really sure what the yellowish liquid is flowing into my vein at the moment, but it supposedly helps protect my liver and stomach from the low-dose chemo I’ve been on for the past week.

Life in a hospital in southern China has had its interesting moments, to say the least. Mostly, I’ve just been going with the flow, stopping to inquire when a nurse aims her hypodermic needle at me (“what’s that?”) and asking the doctors questions, such as about the possibility of using traditional Chinese medicine. The team of doctors chuckled at that one. “What’s so funny?” I asked the translator. She said: “They’re laughing because we’re in China. Of course you can have Chinese medicine.”

Sara left two days ago and I was tempted to pack myself into her rolling duffle bag and fly home with her. New England. Fall. Crisp, sweet, fresh air. Leaves turning every color of the sunset. Apples. Butternut squash. Acorns crunching under foot. Walks in the woods. My children. David. My children. When I imagined two months on my own (and now I understand it may very well be more like three months), I saw myself in meditation and deep reflection. I imagined a retreat, filled with yoga and writing and good books, and time. Lots and lots of time to just go deeply into my healing without having to juggle the thousands of needs of two small children and a household. I figured I would let out an enormous sigh of relief to let go of all my obligations and just take care of myself. What I didn’t anticipate, what I didn’t factor into this 8,000 mile journey, was just how much I would miss my boys.

I decorated my room with beautiful, colorful Indian prints, sarongs, the magnificent purple healing quilt my Rosh Hodesh sisters and I created together before I left, and pictures of the kids and David from our recent trip to Wellfleet. The nurses and doctors have all laughed and pointed at the photos. Toby and Leo have earned many thumbs-ups, and nobody will believe me when I say Leo with his gorgeous face and long locks is a boy. The cleaning women are especially fond of the photos and I can tell by the crinkles on the sides of their eyes that they are smiling behind their paper masks.

I stare at those faces daily. I long for my family deeply. And while people have said to me all along that I have so much to live for, meaning the children, I always nodded and dismissed the comments as trite. Isn’t that always the case: the mother should fight for her life for the sake of her children? Yes! The answer of course is yes! When I feel far away and homesick, I look at my boys and I think that this is for them. I have never felt my motivation to live more strongly or deeply as I have since arriving in this very far away land.

It’s that “yes” that brought me here in the first place. From the moment I said yes to my Mass General Hospital oncologist’s proposal for chemo for the rest of my life, my world has turned inside out and upside down (no wonder I now find myself exactly on the other side of the world). After calling to set up appointments for a port, a scan, scheduling the start day for biweekly chemo infusions, I wept incessantly. For three days I tried to pull myself up from the abyss of despair but I just couldn’t find my way out. Throughout the last year and a half, whenever I had received difficult news I had always found a way to integrate the information and come to peace with a decision forward. This time was radically different.

I had to say “yes” to chemo for the rest of my life to realize that in fact it was a “no.” My soul told me that if I went that direction it would be the beginning of the end, and whether or not that’s objectively true doesn’t matter (can we ever know anyway?). I understand enough about cancer, cancer recovery, spontaneous remissions, placebo and nocebo effects to know that our beliefs heavily influence, if not determine, our outcome.

I backed myself out of the corner I had felt trapped in, and began to ask the simple question: Are there any other options? According to my oncologist, there weren’t. If there were, he maintained, he would have told me about them. But that answer just didn’t feel good enough. And so I began to look, first through the Moss Report and then on the web. What was happening in other locations? Other countries? I considered some of the major alternative treatments, like the Gerson method of juicing, strict diet, and daily detox through enemas, but that didn’t feel quite right either.

Following the clues, the studies, the anecdotes, online message board conversations, and the mind-numbing amount of information on the web, I eventually learned about sono-photodynamic therapy (SPDT). I first heard about SPDT when I called a patient liaison to inquire about cancer treatment in Germany and Mexico, which is another destination for SPDT. She told me the basics of SPDT: chlorophyll, light, sound waves, oxygen. She described it as internal photosynthesis, since the chlorophyll sensitizers interact with the light waves and sound waves to produce oxygen (singlet oxygen). My body lapped at each of these words as though I had been walking through the desert for miles and someone had just handed me a glass of cool water.

“Really?” I said incredulously. This treatment spoke to everything I believe in about healing. I hung up the phone stunned and my fingers immediately flew to the keyboard, typing in SPDT to my browser’s search engine. The more I studied and read patients’ blogs, the more I knew that I had found my treatment. From deep inside my body came a slight humming, it was the singing of yes. A true yes. A hallelujah yes. And it was a quiet yes too. Full of determination and clear seeing and a future, a long, long healthy future.

And then I came to the realization that my singing yes wasn’t going to take me on a simple trip to Mexico for SPDT but all the way to China to work with the founder of this protocol, Dr. Wang.

“China?” I said to myself.

“China?” I said later to David.

“Why not?” he replied. “The world’s not that big of a place anymore.”

“But how…” and before I could blather on about the time away or the exorbitant expense, my husband, my beautiful big-hearted husband who has stretched and grown and held steady through all of these months and whom I’ve totally and completely fallen in love with all over again but more deeply and widely and knowingly than when we first met, that man said to me: “We’ll make it work.” And when the tears welled up in my eyes, he put his arm around me: “I support you babe,” and he hasn’t moved his arm away since. We’re 8,000 miles apart and that arm is still around me.

I think I needed to tell you about how I got here before I can tell you about being here. And being here is a big deal. On every level. Most importantly, I feel so much care and encouragement from Dr. Wang and his team. These dear, smart, beloved people want to do everything to see their patients get well. Dr. Wang has never made me any promises, but with his broad smile and kind eyes he has told me repeatedly that he will treat me gently yet effectively.

One afternoon, when I wasn’t feeling well, Sara went to the hospital canteen to get me some simple noodle soup. There she ran into Dr. Wang, who told her in so many words: “Your friend’s problem not big one I think.”

Now that’s my kind of fortune cookie.

May it be so. May it be so.

A sweet and healthy New Year to all.



  1. I love you so much, Shira! I say YES for you. I see you, I hear you and I love you. China? Not so far, for you are within me, and I within you. Let the love flow, the yellowish fluids flow, the healing energy flow, the apples and honey flow. I am writing you into my book of life tonight, dear one. Shana tova. A good year, may it be so.

  2. May it be so!

    Sending love to you
    & the whole little village on the 15h floor.


  3. I dreamt of you this morning and woke up to see you were writing us at the same time.In my dream you were in China, standing in a pool of healing water which was a little above waist high with a group of people and someone was guiding you all to go under as part of your treatment….kind of like a mikveh I guess. I was so excited to be with you and watch your healing and then the dream suddenly disappeared and I woke up wishing I could see. So much love sweet one, xox

  4. dear shira
    we can FEEL and SEE your light shining thru your words!!!!!!
    we, too, say YES! YES! YES! to your healing process and this amazing journey that you are on…
    with love and many new years blessings,
    eileen and ed

  5. Shira-

    Bill and I are sending your are blessings .

    Below is my cousin Linda who is living in Bejing with her husband Phillip. Her Skype is below!

    She will look forward to your contact.
    L’Shana Tova – and Bon Anniversaire!


    086-138-1004-5402 (China)
    01-650-888-0262 (USA)
    skype: lindabea60

  6. Love you. Love this. Love that you are doing this. It is HARD HARD HARD but so right!!!! Thank you for the post. Sending healing love your way! xoxo

  7. Shira,

    L’Shana Tova
    I am so glad to hear that you found a treatment and way to have that makes your being say yes. I’m here saying “Yes”, loundly, clearly, and filled with light.

  8. Shira, Thank you so much for posting. Know that there are many voices joining with you in a resounding YES to your healing.
    Much love,

  9. Thinking of you and holding you in my heart at this time! Saw Toby yesterday at dropoff and gave him a wave, he looked happy and ready to race into the classroom. Keep fighting!

  10. Hi honey,
    I’m standing beside and behind you with deep trust in your yes. In the midst of this Jewish New Year is also Navaratri, the nine nights dedicated to the many forms of the goddess Shakti in India. The first three nights is Durga, next three is Lakshmi and Saraswati is the final three with a tenth completion night of Dussera dedicated to celebrating good. Dance is a central way to honor and invoke these divine feminine energies.

    May the potency of this time from all directions permeate your body with strong healing love, and whatever else you need.

    Love you, Stace

  11. L’shana tova, beautiful Shira. You are always in my prayers. Thank you for sharing your journey with all of us. You inscribe yourself in the book of life by living so joyfully and completely every moment.


  12. We send you so much love…I really am grateful to read your journey in your as always creative, funny, and tangible writings……A big Yes for Dr Wang’s prognosis! So much love!…..

    George, Joy & Max

  13. Dear Shiralove,

    Your expression is much appreciated and brought forth a few tears of compassion and love for you and your boyz.

    All is well and thriving at your Arlington home. Would you post some images of your healing center there in Dongguan, including your Chinese supporters?

    I was visiting with George, Joy and Max last eve and they send their love and greetings.

    I whole-heartedly support you in your being and doing and am staying closely connected to you and your family.

    Wishing you great new beginnings in the New Year!
    With big love,


  14. Keep saying yes Shira! Keep saying yes!

  15. Oh Shira
    What a woman you are. Shanah Tova to you. Big love here for you and sending you so much healing, compassion. Such a blessing to read your words. Many tears. Hoping that the light and sound and your trust and wisdom all come together and support, heal and lift you up through this time. You are very loved and missed. All saying yes. Sending the beauty of fall your way.
    Love Avi

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