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An Open Letter from Babz Chula

One thing is for certain: There is great opportunity in this situation. For in the darkest depths somehow the human spirit emerges warrior-like and there is warmth, and humour, and curiosity. The fear retreats. This is how the warrior wins.

In this challenge lives a connection to people everywhere. A connection to their suffering. To the lonely senior citizen who has outlived a family. To the starving child on a dirt floor, and to the young man who squandered the life before him. To the broken hearted and the fearful. To the depressed and disillusioned.

We all deserve to survive. We all deserve to live. We all deserve tobe cradled in loving kindness. And there are no guarantees, no deals or negotiations that can be made. Not one of us has any more
knowledge of the “mystery”. We are all naked and alone.

I feel so lucky to know that. To really know that. There is huge relief in finally surrendering to something greater than myself. To know that I will breathe in and breathe out and breathe in and breathe out until the moment when I do not breathe in again. At that moment I will begin a new adventure.

And that is what this is all about for me. I feel not one bit of self pity. I feel lucky, indeed, up lifted by this opportunity. I get to contemplate my death! I get to meditate on the great mystery. On space and
emptiness. On Babz and No Babz.

The opportunity to contemplate my death has always been there. I was just never courageous enough to take it. Too busy. Too fearful. Too full of Babz. Now, I get to think about others. In fact, it is only when I am giving to others that I actually feel free of fear.

Thank you. I am astonished and humbled by your generosity. Please do not forget the other woman. The woman without support and friendship. The man who suffers from loneliness and fear. The people who live on the other side of an abundant life,
such as mine and yours. Please remember that they need our help, too.

If there is any curiosity about the alternative treatments that I am receiving, or the path of integrated healing, I urge you to get a message to me, and I will give you as much information as I can…or go to the websites and phone numbers of the practitioners on my treatment plan and they will fill you in. Take control of your healing. Ask questions of your practitioners. Demand information. There is power in knowledge.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Death. Not in a morbid way. It’s more like contemplation.

Three years ago my dear friend, and the father of my children, died in our arms. The arms of his family. It was an ordinary moment, wasn’t it? Isn’t death the most ordinary of events? Why, then, did it feel so extraordinary? Why, then, is the moment of Philip’s passing so embedded in my mind..my heart? Why was its effect transforming? To me. To our children.

Mystery. I think it is the mystery of Life and Death. And the way death informs life. Who we become when all is said and done. I guess I could just as easily say I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Life. But, it’s death that has my thoughts, somehow. I try not to be fearful. It could happen anytime. Cancer or not.

This life has been good to me. I know it’s abundance. I can hardly find a single complaint in my heart. My family. My friends. Even the challenges of life: the career struggles, the financial worries, the dashed hopes and disappointments, the broken hearts, the tears, the fears, seem to me to be opportunities for something…for growth? for wisdom? for understanding? I don’t know. For something. Something good.

Still, there is a troubling in all this abundance. I think it’s anattachment to this big fat gorgeous life. And how could we not be attached? How could anyone look upon a miraculous winter dawning without jaw dropping awe? Or the sound of rain on the roof and the bite of a damp Pacific Northwest morning without wonder at this miracle we are living?

I imagine myself at ninety sitting with my grandchildren and great grandchildren at my feet. We are telling stories. There is laughter. The image is so strong it is palpable. This is how we attach to life. We make up the future and wrestle with the past. And I am hooked in.

So, then, the issue becomes: How do I hold this life lightly in my hands? Gently. How do I prepare to let it go? Gracefully, and with dignity.

It occurred to me recently as I stood on our deck one windy afternoon, letting the cold wind pass over me, that this is Eternal. Eternity is a moment. The moment where one is entirely present. The moment where space becomes something tangible. Something to lean into. A force that holds one gently upright. Where the simple act of breathing in and breathing out occurs in a supremely unconscious moment of trust. A moment taken for granted, really. Of course, as soon as one begins to contemplate this miracle, the moment is lost. Say it ain’t so!

What makes me any more deserving of your support than, say, a dying child on a dirt floor in the Congo, or a freezing homeless man on Main and Hastings? Lots of people get cancer and struggle through it without support. Many people who are sick would like to have alternative treatments to recover from the toxic effects of chemo and go back to work some day. Just because I’m an actor and it may be difficult to find work as a bald, yellow puffy person, does that make me more deserving? Is it Karma? Luck? Do I
have a great work of art still in me? Is there something else I need to do in my life? And so, what?

I only know for myself that there is healing in giving to others. And this disease has given me the gift of
knowing that we are all one Being. Really.

Please remember that other woman, too. You see her
everywhere. The one on the other side of an abundant life… who suffers…and weeps and is frightened. Please do not forget that she needs your help as well.

I am astonished and humbled by your generosity. I have a million thoughts about why me? I read the comments you have made in regards to me and my work and I weep with gratitude for at your deference and respect. I think about how artists are devalued in our society, and I think back on the struggles of raising kids with no money, and, yeah, I guess I could complain, but all it makes me think about is how all the adversity in my life made me more creative. More resourceful. I became a more thoughtful person. I
listened more carefully to others. I found that there was joy in a gesture of generosity.

Not always. I was not always so careful. Cancer made me careful. Careful of others.

I am there for you. For every one of you. It has to be that way. This cannot be about me. It must be about all of us, about community, and World. Cancer is the opportunity we’ve been given to all be better at what we do. To be bigger of heart and greater of mind.

Bless you. God bless you all.

Babz Chula

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Update from India, Feb 13

When I left Vancouver my feet were swollen to twice their size and I could not walk without my cane.  I a so full of vitality and strength right now that I can’t wait to return to Vancouver and the West End and Stanley Park. I will be walking around the Lagoon if you are looking for me… jogging, even.

It remains to be seen as to whether or not my numbers match up with how I am feeling, but hopefully they will reflect my current state of mind and the cancer will be under some kind of control.

Tomorrow we leave Sreedhari and go o Cochin for six days.  Anne and I intend to have manicures and pedicures and to get in some shopping therapy.  On the brochure for Sreedhari they refer to us as, “inmates”. No kidding.  We feel like we are escaping.

I will try to blog from Cochin in a few days, but so far this looks like it may be my last entry until I return to Vancouver where the Winter Olympcs are taking place so be patient with me and wait for the wrap up to this most amazing adventure.  Ah…India.  Once she touches your heart it is forever.  My love to you all.  I am soon to be home where I will hug you all.

–Babz

PS.  WE WATCHED THE OPENING CEREMONIES FROM ACROSS THE WORLD THIS MORNING.  HOW FANTASTIC IT WAS TO BE THERE IN VAN WITH ALL OF YOU.  INDIA TO HOME…WE LOVE YOU!!

Update from India Feb 5

I realize yesterday’s blog entry was lacking…so today I’m going for something new and different.  Anne has loaned me her computer for an hour or so and I am going to try to catch you all up to speed on the happenings here.

My six A.M. dose of ghee has been increased by 1/4 and tomorrow it goes up to double the amount.  I have an elaborate and extensive way of getting this medicine down and keeping it down which I will describe:  there is a nose piece that goes to Anne’s sleep apnea machine that she has been so kind to loan me.  It is a nose plug.  There are two nostril pieces that one inserts into the nostril that are held together by a plastic ring.  The effect is much like a cow being led by a ring through the nose.  But the selling point for me is that it completely blocks out one’s sense of smell, which seems to be the only way to get the ghee past the mouth.  It is a taste almost like a smell and wants to repeat for an hour or so.  The only way seems to be to either hold your breath or use a nose plug.  This makes going back to sleep a near impossibility as breathing through your mouth tends to dry it out.  That, and the fact that laying down flat in a sleeping position lends itself to indigestion and seems to aggravate the situation.  So.  I struggle to get it down and then I sit up and mouth breathe and try to fall asleep again. If I am able to get to the sink, I’ll brush my teeth, but the sink is at the top of Anne’s bed and I do not like to wake her.  About an hour and a half later I am brought a different kind of medicine that is thick and sweet/hot and bitter.  This requires many glasses of luke-warm water to wash it down and get rid of the aftertaste.  The secret, tho, is keeping it down as it’s mixing with the ghee that is trying to digest in your stomach.  Needless to say, morning medicine is not something I look forward to.  At noon I have a cold water treatment.  Actually, today is the last in a series of nine.  Apparently, the oil massage that starts tomorrow is more pleasant.  Currently, I am massaged for ten minutes or so with warm, medicated oil and then lowered slowly into a cool herbal bath and submerged until my liver and spleen are under water.  I lay in this for fifteen minutes, or until I am chilled.  Jaia helps me out of the tub and gives me a bucket bath until I am warmed up and the oil is partially dissolved from my skin.  After that I am toweled off, dressed and instructed to rest for half an hour.  I am not sure exactly the names of the herbs used in this treatment, but I am so thoroughly exhausted and drained when it is over that I have to fight to stay awake.  It is as if all my energy was sucked out by the herbs.  The treatment focuses on clearing the liver and promoting liver function.  I am not sure if it is doing the job, but before I left Canada my liver would tend to pulsate and throb occasionally, and it has not done so since the treatments.  Later in the day I seem to regain my energy in general, but the breeze stops at around two and things get very hot and still around here.  Anne and I consider this brain dead hour and we often lay in a stupor on our beds sweating and panting in the 37 degree heat wishing for a breeze through the bamboo… anything to break the monotony.  By evening the mosquitoes are out, but once protected from that we play cards on the balcony outside our unit with Ray and Luben and often other guests at Sreedhari.  Bedtime is nine-ish and we try to get to sleep by ten or eleven.  I will never forget, for the rest of my life, laying in the dark in this long, bare room and talking with Muggie in the night.  We laugh and cry.  It is a golden and magical time and I’ve come to adore her.  A great Canadian dame, that Anne Wheeler.

A rather tense development is the increasing concern for Muggie’s brother, Kenny.  The irony of the situation does not escape us.  He is in Vancouver in cancer care at VGH and we are here on the other side of the world doing the same thing, but in a very different way.  I pray for him constantly and keep an eye on Anne and attention to her mood and state of mind lest she start to fret or worry for him.  I think about how I would feel were it my own brother instead of hers and cannot imagine how I would be able to remain on this side of the planet.  She is extraordinary… and so is he from what I understand.

I have one week and a little more before I leave Sreedhari.  I am anxious about how all of this will read when it comes right down to my blood work and the numbers.  My home care will continue for three months after I return, and I just hope I can stall any suggested treatments by the conventional doctors until I see the final results of this attempt to arrest the cancer.  My concern is that the results of this treatment will not be final until more time has passed, and it’s causing me some worry.  Nevertheless, I have given this my everything.  It is not always easy here and initially I was hit by many obstacles, but these last weeks have seemed fruitful, and I am hopeful that something  has changed for the better.

I will continue to blog when ever possible and I thank you all for your support and your prayers.  I feel you with me.  I carry you in my heart minute to minute.  You are with me when I awake and when I go to sleep.  I love you.  I thank you.  I will see you soon.

Update from India, Feb 4

I’m trying for the new post here before the electricity goes or the computer craps out… I am here for ten days more. My treatments have become intense. I am on ghee…which is clarified and medicated butter and very difficult to take. It does, however pass the blood/ brain barrier and consequently the medication in the ghee gets carried to all parts of the body which is a good thing. I cannot describe adequately the fatigue one feels as a result of the treatments and the heat in combination. I’m often simply wrung out and laying on my bed in front of a fan for an entire day with a crippling headache.

I am anxious for this to be over, but am still giving this my all. There is not much time to turn things around even tho I will be sent home with three months supply of meds. My understanding is that those three months are particularly telling and that things seem to continue long after leaving here.

We will go to the old European area of Cochin after leaving here to a guest house that Muggie found in a book. The airport is just outside of the town and on the19th we fly to Mumbai, London, and home.

I will try to get to computers along the way and keep the loop open, but it is nt always easy to find a connection. Please be patient and I will blog again soon. I love you all and miss home terribly. I hope to find a better computer in town so no more typos, etc.

-Babz

Photos from India

These photos are taken by Luben, Anne Wheeler’s partner.

Update from India January 24

All Right.  It’s time for a blog entry.  I can tell because on this end things have shifted again.  It’s been three weeks here.  It seems like forever, though…the days just blend into each other much like the way the tropical breezes tear down through the river’s corridor and blast everything away that was still and stagnant…

It is uncommonly beautiful here in Kerala.  The growth is lush and green and rich.  Almond trees and nutmeg trees line the property… even a cashew tree or two… tall, broad leafed they dance in the breeze.  Periodically a small canoe-like boat with one or two guys works its way down the river for a pile of dirt from somewhere.  Idyllic.  Women washing laundry at the bridge, and men washing their prized cows.

Anne has moved into my room.  The men are finished with their treatments and are moving into a guest house down the road from us on Monday, so she will stay with me and keep going with her treatments, and I have started my treatments in earnest now that I’ve stopped vomiting and seem to be able to handle the meds.  I have a mysterious pulsing in my chest… left breast area and left lung… that is causing me some concern.  It’s not a new feeling, but last night it was profound enough to keep me awake most of the night resulting in very poor sleep and the need to take pain meds from home.  I’m keeping a close eye on all of that.

The men are having “vasti” for the next two days.  This is the part of the treatment where they clean you out at the very end.  A vasti is like a colonic of sorts.  You fast on rice soup and periodically a tube is inserted into your anus and lower intestines that flushes out any waste that has accumulated there over the course of treatment.  My understanding is that the stomach swells up and then release comes and it’s apparently wonderfully cathartic.  Anne will start her vasti next week…and I will have mine in three weeks.

I was reading in the afternoon yesterday and I drifted off into a dreamlike trance.  I woke chewing and salivating.  Seems I was dreaming of two soft boiled eggs and toast and butter.  It was so delicious.  When I woke up and realized it was a dream I was so disappointed!  It’s the first thing I’ll eat when I get home.  Yum.

I think something is happening here.  I am feeling more energy and that things are moving thru me.  Once the pulsing in my chest settles down I will not be concerned.  I am still convinced that this was the thing to do.  The West can offer me nothing but chemo.  I’ve got to give this a try.  The stories that come out of this place are amazing.  I was just told today about a boy across the river who fell out of a coconut tree and became paralyzed from the neck down.  He was taken to the hospital and had major surgery, but after months of misery and no real improvement his mother brought him here.  VasuDevan worked with him for months with herbal concoctions and treatments.  Today he is walking with braces, and VD says that if he’d gotten to him before the surgery, he is convinced the boy would be fine today.

The feeling here at Sreedhari is definitely one of healing.  Vasudevan and Seena are the real deal… as is every one of the staff here.  The people who are here that are returning to this place for the third and fourth time swear by it.  I could not be in a better situation.

I love you all so much.  I miss you terribly and long to return home to you healthy and healed.  Thank you for standing strong with me.  I am forever grateful.

Update from India, January 15

Seena came running into my room this afternoon to tell me about a guy who was here for four weeks and left the week before we arrived.  He   has cancer…a large tumour in the center of his chest.  He was given three months of meds to take back with him, and has been religiously following the regime.  The plan was for him to return home and begin chemo and radiation treatment.  He was given a scan last week after being back for a few weeks, taking his meds, and preparing for chemo. The oncologist is floored.  The tumour is gone.  Gone!  He refuses to believe it’s the Ayruvedic treatments and wants to go ahead with chemo and radiation, but the guy is saying no to this…and they will take  another scan in a month to validate the findings.  He is confident that the tumour will still be gone.

I have to say that this story could not have come at a better time for me.  I have had another awful day: after vomiting again last night, and feeling, generally, like I start over every day.  Seena came to me with this just as I was finished eating what I was able to of lunch and while I struggled to keep it all down.  I went to treatment right after that somewhat buoyed by this information.

I lie on a hard table with my head on a pillow, naked, except for a loin cloth. There are three women in attendance: one on either side of me and one heating oil at my feet.  A contraption containing cold buttermilk mixed with oil and herbs is hung above my head.  It is like a bowl with a hole in the bottom.  The buttermilk drips on my forehead and down my hair for an hour while the two women massage me on either side in large amounts of herbal-based oil.  This treatment is for the central nervous system…and I am slowly starting to feel the effects of it… I’m just slightly more awake and alert… my stomach, despite  the discomfort, is functioning a little better than before.  Hopefully, they believe, I will stop vomiting and be able to do some of the more therapeutic treatments… the ones I came here to do…. the ones for cancer.
So, even though this has been a rather slow and difficult day, I am  somewhat hopeful that things are shifting.
Muggie and Luben went to Cochin today to get the computer fixed.   Having film equipment and other delicate things here in this dust and humidity is really dicey.  They are in a cab for three hours either way.  There are two lanes of traffic going either way, but no one honours that…people drive all over the road and horns are honking constantly.  The exhaust fumes are ridiculous…it’s quite stressful. I really wanted to go but was not allowed.  I may end up being in India and seeing nothing except the inside of this clinic and the one-horse town down the road.  That would really be strange…but, then…this whole thing is strange.

Update from India January 14

Ok!!  I think the tide is turning.  I’m still vomiting, but we are   slowly going ahead with subtle treatment and medications.  Slowly…in   that specifically Ayruvedic way.  Yesterday was actually all right.  I   didn’t vomit until evening and I was able to drink a long, cold glass   of buttermilk at lunchtime that soothed my stomach and actually stayed   down.  I am skinny skinny right now.  The ten lbs or so that I   conscientiously gained before I left flew off my bones by the third or   fourth day I was here.  I’m a little concerned, but if I can get some   stuff down in the next few days I should be all right.

The night fears and terrors that I experienced are fading as well.    This could mean that toxins are leaving my body…but also I have Anne   Wheeler here and she is so awesome…so totally generous and kind that   she has moved into my room for the long nights and when I wake up in   the dark she is there to calm me down.  I could not do this without   her…and I have made a new friend for life.  She is such a wonderful   and wise human being.  I am so lucky to have her here with me.

Ray and Luben, too.  Everyone here is rooting for me and hoping that   soon this starts to make sense.

I miss home…all of you.  It feels like I’ve been gone forever…but   it occurred to me today that it is not even a month since XMAS…so,   clearly, one’s perception of time is altered in these kinds of   situations.  It is very different here…so very different than   home…and yet, people are the same everywhere.  The weather is hot   and humid…it’s sub tropical.  I am not that far from the equator.    The other day Anne and I made the mistake of walking to a small   village nearby in the heat of day.  We were dripping by the time we   got home…and completely crazy to have made the attempt.  What is it   they say about mad dogs and Englishmen?  So, obviously, the weather is   affecting us…but the sense that we are far away is always prevalent   as well.  Last night was a big new year’s celebration in the tiny   village and they set off fireworks and drummed deep into the night.    The sounds were so foreign and strange to us, wafting out over the   river.  I became aware of how very far away from home we are.

I will know in the next few days whether or not this is the right   treatment for me.  Sometimes I am still unsure.  If I am still   vomiting I will have to question the wisdom of continuing here.    However, there is huge benefit to me in the herbs and potions that   they have used so far.  My legs were so swollen when I first arrived   that we spoke of taking me to hospital, but after a week or so of   treatment they are back to normal.  I will let you all know what  transpires.

Right now a fierce breeze has come up and I can smell the coconut   husks and shells that they are using in the kitchen to stoke the   fire.  The air is swirling with a pungent smoke and the palm trees are   rustling.  It is very beautiful here, as you will see from the photos   we bring back.  I’d like to email them to the blog, but this computer   cannot handle the download…so you’ll have to wait.

Please take care, all of you, and stay well.  Health is wealth and that ain’t no lie.

Update from India January 9

I am really in the shits now.  It’s been many days now coming down from jet lag and a really horrendous journey, as well as the beginning of treatments and a virtual wave of toxins passing thru me as I begin to cleanse.  It was so bad that I was ready to come home.

Here’s the deal:  We are awakened at 6am with medicine. At 7:30am they bring us tea, and at 9 we eat a breakfast of rice cakes and chutney.  Mmmmmm.  I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night with the most horrible and uncontrollable fear… it’s finally breaking. The doctor thinks it is chemo coming out of me.  I certainly hope so.  If this was the way I had to feel while here, I wouldn’t make it.  The paranoia and fear has been truly awful.  Thank god for Anne Wheeler who stands by me and never judges even though I’ve been a real pain in the ass.

We are in the middle of a small village, bordering a river that runs lazily down to the ocean.  It is lush jungle… lots of bugs… very, humid and not very fancy.  There are huge spaces of time where nothing happens.  Nothing.  We sit.  Bedtime is at 7:30 or 8pm.  No wonder I wake up at 3am!  The palm trees sway in the breeze and it is jaw-dropping gorgeous.  There is a distinct feeling that India is “out there” somewhere teeming with life, but here it is very quiet and remote.  I’ve had a lot of problem with my legs swelling and just today we finally got them down and it looks like it’s under control.  There is such a different style to the medicine here.  My legs were wrapped in a special mud and elevated twice daily, then I was given a milk bath with twelve different root herbs infused in the milk and honestly when it was over my legs were half the size from when we began.  Three gorgeous and committed women work on your body at one time.  They are listening to music and singing and their hands are so loving and caring, your legs would stop swelling, too.

I found a spider the size of my head last night in my bathroom.  Luben got rid of it and called me a big baby head.  Yeah.

The people here are amazing.  Dr. Seena is a beautiful young ayruvedic doctor that runs this clinic with her father-in-law, Vasu Devan.  VD looks like Frank Sinatra.  Seena is so elegant and wonderful.  She’s really skilled and I feel safe and confident in her care.  I’ve been vomiting up some of the medications and it’s not always easy to deal with the way things smell here–even the food–which is prepared according to treatment, so it ain’t exactly delicious.  For some reason I’ve just kind of become sensitive to smell here and so I’ve been losing my cookies quite regularly. It will pass.  I think most of the negative stuff is passing as I write this, actually.  I dunno… there’s just something about the dead of night… pitch black… and you’re in India and it’s so different and so strange and sometimes I just wanna come home.  Of course… to what?  To chemo?  I mean… I’ve got to give this a chance.  It’s just that it’s hard.  The treatments are difficult too… very rigorous… not at all peaceful… except the milk bath was kinda soft.

I miss you all so much.  I so appreciate my home and my family and friends.  You have no idea how I cherish you all.  I will try to get to the computer at least twice a week.  I feel like I am very far away and it is not easy to let it all go and let it all be.  I want to know what is going on with all of you so email me and keep me in your thoughts.

I love you.

Babz

Babz update from India

The trek from Vancouver to London to Mumbai to Kochi gives me shivers to just think about. Honestly, it was like a pilgrimage. Somehow, we all held on to our sanity and all of a sudden we were here. It was probably 38 degrees when we landed in Kochi and the taxis picked us up to take us to Sreedhari. At that point my legs were already so swollen from the airplane hours that it hardly mattered anymore. People all along the way were kind and accommodating and we were constantly being approached and aided in our attempts to find the proper gate for takeoff and bathrooms and these are not easy things to find when there is no signage and the airport is miles long. Anyway… we arrived and are here and are settling nicely into the routine.

It is very rustic… a little like girl scout camp. The food is basic, but clean. It took a few days for all of us to get the mattresses we needed and the rooms that worked out best for each of us, but we are getting the hang of it now.

I met with a specialist that the clinic brought in to advise them in treating me, and spent one half day at a clinic in a neighboring village…. a filthy and daunting experience… getting tests that this specialist felt he needed to assess my situation. It felt gratuitous to me, but I guess he needed to see x-rays and ultra sounds to know what he was dealing with. I didn’t like that part very much.

I am finally, though, beginning to have treatments and taking the medications that they are prescribing to me. They are mostly mixtures of muddy combinations of herbs that I swallow and gag back five or six times a day. They are hesitant to begin the massage treatments on me while I am still swelling, as things get dicey and can get worse.

OK…this is going to happen alot. I will be typing and suddenly have to sign off because a line for the computer begins to form and I’ll be under pressure to finish up and share. So. I will continue as soon as I can get back here to type some more.

I love you all. I miss home terribly, but the horrible fear and panic I was feeling has disapated and I know where I am. India. The continent. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.

Love.

Babz

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