More than Nine Years Have Passed

Today, I begin revamping the web site by adding features that may improve the readability and access to information. I am also adding a section on books on cancer.

When I first started working on this web site, I only had done one site before The Enneagram in the Electronic Tradition. Now that I have developed Jewels By Mala, NewTerra, Jobs-Are-Us, Mountain Sangha, and MICAH Affiliates, as well as internal web sites for The Technical Committee, I have enough experience to do a better job on Yellow Stream.

In the meantime, I am experiencing excellent health. My last cystscopy was in June, 2005 and everything was good. I am experiencing no after effects of the radiation or chemotherapy, other than ease of exhaustion.

My son, Micah is living in New York and doing computer graphics and web site development. He has started a theatre company, QED Productions with a group of his friends. He produced and acted in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia last November at the Greenwich Theatre, which Mala and I attended. The group plans three productions for next season. Come if you can!

Rachael is entering her last year in architecture school at Woodbury University in San Diego, CA. She is a lovely and kind young woman with a bright future.

Jessica graduates with honors and a double major in Spanish and Journalism from the University of Oregon in three weeks. She will be teaching in Spain in the fall under the auspices of the Spanish Consulate. Mazel Tov – Jessica.

Mala is a wonderful and supporting spouse. She is doing great work with her jewelry designs.

For the past four years, I have been intimately involved with the Mountain Sangha in Mill Valley. Our sangha practices in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, whom I’ve written about in previous chapters. Please read My Breakfast with Thay to see what happened when I visited Plum Village for the second time in March, 2006. It was a wonderful visit!

My Buddhist practice now consists of morning meditation, tennis when possible, walking meditation, and reading of Buddhist scriptures. I am an aspirant in the Order of Interbeing. I am also working towards offering a class on Mindfulness in Healing through California Cancer Care and other institutions. The class is based on my experience, which is documented in these pages.

My tennis game continues to improve. I play for Harbor Point and our team went to the divisional playoffs last month as a wild card team. My partner and I won one match, but lost two others – one in a tie break. I try to play every day that I don’t have to go to Palo Alto (where my office of TheTC [see below] is located).

I now have perhaps the best work in the computer industry. I am working as a consultant to the Technical Committee (TheTC) of the Department of Justice. TheTC is chartered to monitor the compliance of Microsoft with the antitrust settlement agreement which just has been extended until 2009. Because of the work I did between September, 2004 and December, 2004, 30 engineers have jobs and we are making sure that Microsoft correctly documents their proprietary networking protocols for licensees.


Two Years Later

On January 19, 2000, I had a cystoscopy which resulted in atypical cells in the wash. However, I did not find out about this until several weeks later because I went to India on business and then to France for vacation. While in France, I went to Plum Village, where Thich Nhat Hanh (lovingly call Thay – beloved teacher) lives for most of the year. Plum Village consists of three hamlets: Upper Hamlet, where monks live; Lower Hamlet, where nuns live; and New Hamlet, also where nuns live and guests stay.

In India, I trained programmers at Cybermedia and visited the Osho Commune. This is a place where I had been in 1975! There were a lot of changes to the grounds of the ashram, but, even though Osho died, the atmosphere wasn’t very different from 1975. My wife had been there as late as 1978. If you go there, you’ll find lovely grounds and gardens, and workshops on just about any spiritual, psychological, or physical discipline you wish! I found it very much fun and enjoyed the food there so much.

Plum Village was another story. I arrived there during the Tet celebration of the Lunar New Year. The monks and nuns were immediately hospitable and welcomed me with open arms. The next several days were filled with feasting, consulting of the oracle, visiting the rooms of the monks and nuns, and talks by Thich Nhat Hanh. I found Plum Village to be one of the richest spiritual experiences of my life. I have such great respect for the sangha (community of monks and nuns) and this brought me even closer to Thich Nhat Hanh.

During one of the oracle readings, Thay spoke about how someone who thought they had cancer could be having a wrong perception and therefore talk themselves into the disease. After the session completed, I approached Thay with the question I had about my friend who was suffering with glioblastoma – the worst form of brain cancer. We took each other’s hands and Thay said to me, “Perhaps you can consult the oracle!” Little did I know that the results of my cystoscopy were not negative.

A little while later, in the room of the abbess of Lower Hamlet, one of the senior monks answered the question for me. He said that the person should live her life as fully as possible in each moment. Five weeks after I returned home, my friend passed away. On the afternoon before her passing, she went out to lunch with her daughter. She fully lived up to the monk’s response.

When I got home from my travels, my wife told me about the results of the cystoscopy. I went into a mild depression, knowing that I asked Thay about my friend, when, perhaps, I should have asked about myself! I wasn’t ready to deal with a recurrence. Is anyone ever? On Wednesday, March 1, 2000, I went into the hospital for a biopsy under surgery, as recommended by Dr. Neuwirth. Two days later, I found out that all the tests were negative. I could breath a sigh of relief!


Lessons Learned

To continue my story, I’d like to share with you some of the lessons I’ve learned in dealing with cancer. First and foremost is the love and support of caring friends and family. For this, I am very thankful, and don’t know exactly what to say beyond how difficult it would have been without them.

Secondly, I learned the value of doing my own research, and, at the same time, having the support of competent physicians and healers. I could not ignore the input of the doctors, but I knew enough to present a viable alternative. I am grateful to Doctors Harry Neuwirth, David Gullion, Francine Halberg, Sara Huang, Robert Belknap, Peter Carroll, Jeffrey Norton, Peter Klaphaak, and William Shipley for their willingness to put up with my radical approach to healing. When I think about the possibility of having had a radical cystectomy and compare it with the treatments I’ve had, I really count my blessing at having made the right decision for me. The radical cystectomy could have led to complications too numerous to understand at the time of the surgery. I am happy that I bypassed this option.

Thirdly, I don’t have any clue about the direct effect of the cancer support groups, alternative medicine, supplements, body work, and psychotherapy had on the physical healing of my illness, but they were all indispensable for my emotional and mental healing. To this, I owe a debt of gratitude to Dr. Martin Rossman, Thich Nhat Hanh, Leslie Davenport, Anna Halprin, Michael Broffman, Gail Teehan, Elyse Genuth, Dr. Van Vu, Dr. Patricia Frisch, and Alan Sheets for their contribution to my healing efforts, be they of the body, emotions, mind, and spirit. I guess I’ll never know whether these methods had anything to do with my healing, but I don’t want to think about how it would be if I hadn’t done them.

Finally, even with all the love and support of the people I’ve already mentioned, I have to acknowledge my own part in this process. I did my research, found a creative outlet for my experience in these pages, practiced mindfulness during critically ill times as well as healthy ones, and continued to look forward to a happy and healthy life beyond cancer. My goal has been to maintain as much mindfulness in all my activities as possible, including, but not limited to time on the tennis courts, walking meditation, computer work, and enjoyable outings with family and friends. My experience has been beneficial to other people, as well, through my web site, support groups and contact with friends taken ill by a similar disease. I am happy that I can help them, but not quite happy with the path that led me to the knowledge I have to do so.

In conclusion, let be state once again how important I think it is to combine the best of Western medicine with natural healing methods to come up with a treatment plan that can result in a cure. The process of healing the body must be accompanied by the process of healing the emotions, the mind and the spirit.


Eric Vormanns

Eric Vormanns is a West African energy healer residing in Belgium.  He is in Marin until September 29, and I was referred to him by Leslie Davenport.  My session with him left me quite sad.  Even though he thought the cancer would eventually go away, he thought that I was not doing what I came to this life to do.  He thought that I should be writing, teaching, and practicing in the areas of healing and spiritual growth.  I felt sad because I knew that I lacked the courage to devote my life to these activities.  Of course, this web site and other activities contribute, but I don’t feel that it is enough.  I need to get Healthy Cells Grow All By Themselves published and appear on talk shows all over.

In the evening, I went to Anna Halprin‘s class.  The picture I drew was quite amazing.  It was called, “grib-it,” and featured a frog and the stream of life.  I felt quite good expressing myself through this drawing.  It seemed to contain everything that I experienced in being with Thich Nhat Hanh.


Stop Cancer In Its Tracks: Healthy Cells Grow All By Themselves
Buy This Book
to learn about
Mindfulness in Healing

Thay’s Lecture

This evening, we went to Thich Nhat Hanh‘s lecture at the Berkeley Community Theater along with 3500 people attending the lecture.  It was fortunate that I planned to attend this lecture because not all of the news I got today was good.

Dr. Gullion had the results of the cystoscopy and the needle biopsy earlier in the day.  While Dr. Neuwirth saw no visible signs of cancer, the wash of my bladder revealed atypia cells and other carcinoma cells, which could indicate that there is some microscopic cancer in my bladder.  However, Dr. Halberg and Dr. Huang both assured me that these cells could be a result of the radiation.  As a result, I have to go in for a biopsy under anesthesia on October 3 to have my bladder checked out.

The results of the needle biopsy of my left thigh were inconclusive.  The preliminary indication is that I have a schwannoma, which has to be surgically removed in order to accurately identify it.  This means another set of doctors at UCSF, and perhaps a three night stay in the hospital there.  I have to be able to walk on my leg before they’ll let me out of the hospital.

I had an opportunity to talk all of this over with Leslie Davenport after seeing Dr. Gullilon.  She was very helpful, but I had already seen that although these procedures are complicated and time consuming, neither one of them are extremely dangerous.


More Waiting

I found out today that the biopsy sample had to be send to Stanford University for more tests.  Apparently, the tests that they could run at Marin General Hospital were not conclusive, so they needed to consult the expert in the field, Dr. Richard Kempson.  I found out about all of this by repeated calls to Dr. Head without hearing anything in return.  So I picked up the phone and called Dr. Jacques, the pathologist at Marin General and he told me the news.  He identified the mass as a stromal tumor, either from fat or the nerve sheath, but he wasn’t certain if it was malignant or benign.  So here we have to wait through the entire weekend or more for the results.  By the way, I also phoned Dr. Kempson, but he had not received the sample yet.

My session with Leslie Davenport was helpful in dealing with all of this stuff.  I think I’ll be able to make it through the weekend because of the Day of Mindfulness with Thich Nhat Hanh tomorrow!


“Pain, Love, and Happiness”

On Labor Day, I drove down to the University of California at Santa Barbara with Nancy Aberle, Gail Teehan’s friend from the Feldenkrais for a six day retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh.  We made the trip in about six and one-half hours, and enjoyed getting to know one another.  I imagine that she is a wonderful Feldenkrais teacher.

I was truly amazed at the turn out for the retreat, and how well organized it was for so many people.  I was placed in a dorm with an 85 year old gentleman, J. G. from Laguna Beach.  He was truly marvelous the whole six days.  It was wonderful to see a wealthy old Jew be so taken by Thay (a nickname for Thich Nhat Hanh).

Our meals were taken in silence in large tents set up by the dorm.  The food was strict vegetarian for the entire six days, and it was remarkably good.  I think I might have even gained three or four pounds!

The days began with walking meditation with Thay to and along the beach that runs at the edge of the campus.  With each step, there is one inhalation and one exhalation.  Naturally, I used “healthy…, free…” the whole time.  After about thirty minutes of walking, Thay would sit on a dune practicing sitting meditation for about twenty minutes, and we would all join him.  Then we would walk back to the central part of the retreat in the same manner as we walked to the beach.  On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, I walked and sat with three feet of Thay during the period of walking meditation.

After breakfast, there was always a dharma talk – a talk about the teaching of Buddha and the practical application of them in a life of engaged Buddhism.  I was familiar with about ninety per cent of what he spoke about, but the look on his face, the excitement in his voice, and the presence of his being are well worth the time spent.

Following Thay’s talk, one of the monks or nuns led us in mindful movements, which I later learned are related to qi gong.  I was especially interested in them because of my workshop plans with Gail Teehan on “Mindfulness and ART in Healing.”

The schedule called for sitting meditation after the dharma talk, but it usually changed because of an extra long talk or other events.  When I sat, I noticed that I was not obsessing about next week’s diagnostic tests – a biopsy of a mass in my thigh, and a cystoscopy.  I found myself able to maintain a degree of mindfulness that kept me pretty much in tune with the present moment.

The afternoons were filled with special interest groups, dharma discussions, and supposedly a period of sitting meditation.  I attended a special interest group on death and dying led by Joan Halifax, Ph. D.  Joan is an ordained Zen teacher in the line of Thich Nhat Hanh, Seung Sahn, and Bernie Glassman Roshi.  She is the founder of Upaya and resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The first time we met, she spoke about being with the dying person without trying to fix them.  If they were open to teachings about mindfulness, we should speak with them, otherwise, we should just be there with our mindfulness engaged in “loving speech and deep listening.”  The next morning, I had a private interview with Joan.  I wanted to discuss my practice as it related to healing the cancer that was in my body.  I could tell that she was deeply moved by my story, and she had me tell it again to a small group of her special interest group in the afternoon.

Following the special interest groups, there were dharma discussions.  The first day, we had a tea ceremony, which was lovely.  The other days, we spoke about Thay’s dharma talk, the “Five Mindfulness Trainings“, and other topics which people brought up.  I found myself speaking a lot and sharing my story with this group also.  We seemed to get very close in a matter of hours.  I expect to continue my friendship with several of the people I met in my dharma discussion group.

The schedule called for sitting meditation after the dharma discussion groups.  One afternoon, the thirty-four monks and nuns that were traveling with Thay from Plum Village were invited to demonstrate some of the chanting they do in their practice.  The chanting was so wonderful.  It seemed as if they all had wonderful voices.  Thay, himself, introduced us to many of the monks and nuns.

On that same afternoon, Nancy came to visit me.  After the chanting, we took a walk on the beach and I talked her into staying for dinner.  She did not stay for the evening program.

The evening programs were varied and wonderful.  Monday night, Thay gave an introductory dharma talk.  Tuesday night, Sister Chan Khong offered “Five Earth Touchings”.  The five earth touchings consisted of acknowledging our physical ancestry, and our spiritual ancestry, along with honoring the ancestors who made freedom possible in our corner of the world.  The final two touchings were to people we love the most and people we love the least.  I was moved to tears by most of this experience.

I spoke with Sister Chan Khong the next day before lunch about the “Five Earth Touchings”.  I also told her about my illness and how I used mindfulness as a healing tool.  She shared with me two stories about people who also used mindfulness with their illnesses.  I then told her about “healthy cells grow all by themselves,” and she said, “With your wisdom and Thay’s teachings, you are going to be fine.”

On Wednesday evening, there was a presentation of the Five Mindfulness Trainings offered by several people in the Order of Interbeing.  I found this quite helpful, as I planed to take them along with the three refuges of the Buddha, the Dharma (teachings), and the Sangha (group of people in the practice of the dharma).  In other Buddhist traditions, the Five Mindfulness Trainings are known as the Five Precepts for lay people practicing Buddhist meditation.  I am going to try to get permission to put the text of Thay’s Five Mindfulness Trainings on this site, but for now, I’ll simply summarize the intent of each one.

  1. Respect for life – non-killing
  2. Respect for property – non-stealing
  3. Avoidance of sexual misconduct
  4. Respect for others – loving speech and deep listening – telling the truth
  5. Avoidance of intoxicants – drugs, alcohol, certain TV programs, etc.

I have been practicing most of these precepts already, and the formal presentation was quite interesting.  I took all five mindfulness trainings on Saturday morning when they were offered by Thay.

On Thursday evening, Sister Chan Khong presented the “Three Prostrations”.  These involved our relationship to time, space, and the whole stream of life.  Once again, I was deeply moved.

The last night consisted of questions from the sangha and answers from Thay.  He responded spontaneously to many wonderful questions.

The whole retreat reminded me of Thay’s description of the life of the Buddha in Old Path White Clouds. The walking meditations suggested Buddha’s travels in what is now India and Nepal.  He walked everywhere with a sangha of about 1500 bhikkhus and lay people.  The silent meals reminded me of how the bhikkhus would beg for food in the villages and towns and return to the forest to eat their meals together.


Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha
My Favorite Book

Another No-Cancer Day!

Today was another day that you wouldn’t think I had cancer unless you asked! I spent the morning scanning images from the graduation and Father’s day last week. In the afternoon, we went to visit friends in San Mateo, and we took a walk that was the longest walk I’ve been able to manage since completing the chemotherapy. I didn’t think too much about my disease until I arrived home exhausted. Then I felt it in spades and choose to listen to Thich Nhat Hanh.


Suzanne’s Birthday

To compensate for cutting her finger, Gail Teehan agreed to meet me for lunch today at Kitty’s Place. At least, this gave me the opportunity to tell her what was going on with me and to find out what her trip to Santa Barbara was like. After lunch, we took a nice walk in Fort Baker on Hawk Hill, where we saw magnificent views of San Francisco, the Pacific Ocean, and Rodeo Beach. I was fairly exhausted from the effort, and decided to rest for a few hours.

During my rest period, I watched two documentaries on Tibet on PBS. The plight of the Tibetans is as bad as any people in exile. I felt like spending the $500.00 to attend a reception for the Dalai Lama that I was invited to on June 10, and I still may do so. When I was in India in 1975, I visited the village of Bodh Gaya, the location of the Bo Tree where Buddha became enlightened. There was one Tibetan restaurant there, and I at there frequently. The people were so kind, even though one of the spoke very little English – just enough to all me to order. There is a special beauty about the Tibetans I’ve met, and along with Thich Nhat Hanh, I consider the Dalai Lama the most influential Buddhists of our day. If anyone is interested in helping out the Tibetan cause, please let me know!

When the programs were over, I decided to go to Suzanne Schmidt’s birthday party, which turned out to be very special. Instead of the usual shuffling around and trying to figure who to talk to, Suzanne told us a story about her life, and two other women read pieces of their writings. I was touched by all of this, for I felt that each one of the women were more accomplished writers than I, and I had something to aspire to in my writing. I am not putting myself down, I’m recognizing the talent I saw last night.


A Midsummer Night’s Dream

My wife and I went to see a production of the ballet, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Our friend’s daughter danced the leading role and she looked like a professional. I was very moved by the performance as a whole.

Today, however, has been as sad day for me. I woke up feeling very vulnerable and emotional. I am a little afraid of the next round of chemotherapy and radiation, but besides that, I’m sad that my energy has not returned to its normal level. I feel physically and emotionally exhausted most of the time, even though everyone tells me how good I look. Having cancer is such a drag. I really need to pull myself together. Writing helps. Mindfulness helps, but I feel some underlying sadness now that is hard to deal with. It could be that I am just doing too much since the last surgery, but I keep thinking about my disappointments in life. I know that these feelings are impermanent and that I’ll feel better soon. Maybe after dinner!

All day I had been thinking about Thich Nhat Hanh and how I’ve used mindfulness to keep calm. At one point, I was feeling that mindfulness had kept me alive, and I started to cry. I’m planning to attend a retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh in September in Santa Barbara. I explained all this to Dr. Rossman as we drove to a restaurant in Mill Valley. As we walked in, I looked over to the wall on my left and saw Reb Anderson, former abbot of Zen Center! I spoke with him briefly about my illness and about my mindfulness meditation. I had placed his name and that of the current abbot in my Wizard at the beginning of my illness, but I have never got around to calling either one! Now the word is out.


Copyright © 2004-2018, Jerome Freedman, Ph. D.