I hope you find Anita’s story compelling as I do . . . this encounter is turning out to be quite an eye-opener for me! When I came to HKG [Hong Kong] last month, my intention was to scrutinize her clinical history, and to either validate or invalidate her claims. Having satisfied myself with the factual details, I actually find myself becoming more and more intrigued with her fantastic experience . . . especially the message she brought back! While clinical details can be a bit tedious for the general reader, I do want to provide them to you as reference, so that you can really appreciate how ill she was, and how dramatic a recovery she made. I hope that, plus a couple of personal observations, can put Anita’s story on a more solid foundation:
1. A chronologic account of Anita’s illness . . . In the Spring of 2002, she noticed a firm swelling just above her left collar bone. This was obviously an alarming sign to her physician. It was biopsied in April that year, and determined to be Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. She was “staged” as 2A (early to mid/asymptomatic). You knew all about her reluctance to undergo conventional therapy, seeking a variety of alternative approaches. Her disease slowly progressed over the next 2-1/2 years. By 2005, it began to interfere with her well-being. The cancer involved more and more of her lymph nodes, and became more and more enlarged. She also developed what we call “B symptoms” . . . night sweat, fever, skin itching, etc., all pointing to disease progression. She also developed pleural effusion (accumulation of fluid) on both sides of her chest, and throughout 2005, required several attempts to “tap the fluid” since it began to interfere with her breathing. By X’mas 2005, her course accelerated, and she began a downward spiral . . . the disease in her neck and chest wall was infiltrating the skin, resulting in large infected ulcers that would not heal. Unable to eat or absorb nourishment, weight loss, marked fatigue, muscle wasting . . . and her kidney functions started to be compromised.
The morning of February 2 found her unable to get out of bed; her entire face, neck, and left arm were swollen like a balloon. Her eyes were swollen shut . . . all due to compromised venous drainage from her head and neck, by massively enlarged and matted lymph nodes. She was gasping for breath as a result of massive pleural effusion bilaterally, despite using supplemental home oxygen. Feeling utterly helpless, her husband and mother called her family doctor for help, who urged them to get her to the hospital right away. There, an oncologist was alerted, and was shocked by the shape Anita was in. Another oncologist was summoned due to the difficult decisions she presented. Several other consultants were called in to address different failing organ-systems. The consensus was that she would not survive without intervention. While chemotherapy might be highly toxic in view of her multiple organ failure, it would be her only chance. During that night, she underwent multiple examinations with MRI and CT, had 2 liters of fluid tapped from her chest, started on 3 of 7 chemotherapy drugs*, and [was] placed in the ICU. This was when Anita drifted off into what she described as her NDE.
*The chemotherapy regimen called for 8 cycles of 7 drugs, each cycle taking three weeks.
2. Anita’s dramatic recovery after she emerged from her NDE . . . The evening of Feb 3, Anita awoke, sat up, and declared to her family she would be okay. She conversed with the oncologist, who was baffled by her ability to even recognize him.
On Feb 4, Anita demanded to have her nasogastric tube removed, and promised her doctors she would eat what they brought her in order to gain some weight. She asked for her iPod to be brought from home.
On Feb 5, she greeted her doctors by asking them if they wanted to “join the party”; They eventually agreed to release her from the ICU on Feb 6.
By that time, much of her neck and facial swelling had resolved; the massively enlarged lymph nodes began to soften, and she was able to turn her head for the first time. The drugs for her first cycle were completed in mid-February. A plastic surgeon was asked to:
- a. biopsy a lymph node on her neck, and
- b. skin graft the large open sores on her neck and axilla. He could not find any lymph node on examination, and schedule her for an ultrasound examination prior to the biopsy; He would also do the skin graft at the same time.Three ultrasound exams failed to reveal any obviously pathologic lymph nodes. On Feb 27, he eventually biopsied one from her neck . . . and there was no evidence of cancer. The skin ulcers healed on their own without skin grafting.
The oncologists eventually agreed to let her go home on March 9, after her second cycle. She celebrated her birthday on March 16 at Jimmy’s Kitchen, and went to a wedding, dancing and drinking champagne on March 26 . . . then began her third cycle. They all came to a compromise by doing a CT-PET scan after 6 cycles (July 24) . . . she was given a clean bill of health, and they stopped 2 cycles short.
Her recovery was certainly “remarkable.” Based on my own experience and opinions of several colleagues, I am unable to attribute her dramatic recovery to her chemotherapy. Based on what we have learned about cancer cell behaviors, I speculate that something (non-physical . . . “information”?) either switched off the mutated genes from expressing, or signaled them to a programmed cell death. The exact mechanism is unknown to us, but not likely to be the result of cytotoxic drugs.
I think my encounter with Anita’s experience shall set the stage for me to learn more about this phenomenon, and about the true nature of our selves!