As a supplement for medical interventions, I have completely revamped my diet — minimal sugar and saturated fats — along with thrice daily meditations and visualizations based on the Simontons’ method for improving immune clearance of tumor cells. Many people will object to these methods as fancy versions of placebo; to them I quote the immortal Al Davis: “Just win, baby!“
I don’t care if it’s the placebo effect or not, if meditation and visualization puts me in a calm, confident frame of mind – that is nothing but good. As mentioned earlier, I promised my little girls I would do anything if it improves my chances to keep being their daddy. I’ve been reading the Simontons’ book and more recently Martin Rossman’s book on the same topic. Both are good in their own way, and both make the point that a person’s imagery will evolve over time, and that records should be kept on which direction things are moving. In that spirit, here is an update on three new visualizations in my routine.
1. Dartboard challenge for eliminating residual tumor cells
While we all sincerely hope that Dr. Chicoine removed every single glioma cell during his masterful surgery, unfortunately gliomas are diffuse and have poorly defined margins, so it is up to the immune system to clear any residual tumor cells. Research on visualization methods indicates that symbolic visualization is often more powerful and effective than anatomically or biologically correct visualizations, which is why I’ve returned often to the scene in Lord of the Rings where the Riders of Rohan break the siege of Gondor. Seriously, I can watch the Anglo/Saxon cavalry crash through the orcs all day long. It has never failed to cheer me up.
But recently, I have been thinking about a scene from my childhood. My mother grew up in Seneca, KS, a small town of about 2,000 people near the Nebraska border. They hold carnivals in the summer, including many classic games: bingo, ring toss, etc. One of the best is a game where balloons are pinned to a sheet of plywood, and you can buy darts for 10 cents apiece, and if you break a certain number of balloons, you get a prize.
In my mind, there’s a 10×10 grid of balloons, each representing a residual tumor cell that needs to be destroyed. How many residual tumor cells are there in my brain? This is unfortunately unknowable, and frankly, one residual cell is too many. 1,000 tumor cells to destroy would be too demoralizing, and a dozen would be a bit like wish-thinking. The man running the game is my surgeon Dr. Chicoine. I imagine walking up to him, say I would like to take a shot at the balloons, and ask how much the darts cost. He replies: “ten cents apiece.” I pull out my wallet — I can smell the leather — and I pull out a $100 bill, with its special anti-counterfit strip and Ben Franklin’s delightful frown, and say: “in that case, I’d like 1,000 darts please.” Dr. Chicoine replies: “we don’t have 1,000 darts for you, but you can have all the darts we do have, and feel free to just keep firing until you break all the balloons.”
That suits me just fine, and I imagine taking a handful of darts in my left hand, passing them to the right one-by-one — the darts are heavy and substantial; they feel good in my hand, the fancy kind with little union jack flags on the fins — and I bulls-eye each balloon in turn. One-by-one, in perfect rows of popped balloons. When I get down to the last remaining balloon, I get a little nervous, and the muscles in my arm tense up, but I tell myself: “you’ve already broken 99 balloons, just relax, you can do this.” Then I test the tip of the final dart — razor sharp — and nail the final one. I win my prize. It is a giant, stuffed panda about the size of Shaquille O’Neil, and I hand it over to the girls, who rejoice loudly. I kiss my wife and hug my mom, dad, and sister. There is a pile of unneeded darts lying on the table next to me. This visualization leads naturally into visualizing myself with this goddamn illness in the rear view mirror.
2. Another party game: Pinatas
The Simontons talk in great detail about how they like to see their patients using violent, aggressive imagery during their visualizations. They like it when patients draw pictures of fish with big sharp teeth attacking weak tumor cells, or knights with long, sharp lances skewering confused and disorganized enemies. This agrees with my argument that anything that can be done to tamp down feelings of helplessness and hopelessness should be encouraged. I like thinking about a classic Steve Martin scene from “Parenthood” where he’s hosting a birthday party for a thousand screaming children, and the pinata malfunctions.
Steve Martin, ever resourceful, jumps in and dismembers the pinata using a hacksaw. I can watch this clip all day long; possibly Steve Martin’s best moment. It’s easy to image a glioma cell as a paper-mache pinata the size of a soccer ball, and thrashing it with my baseball bat, garden tools, golf clubs, chain saw, and even the lawn mower. Friends who have watched Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels as many times as me, can probably imagine the Vinny Jones scene with a car door that occasionally makes an appearance in this specific visualization. Enjoyable, and perfectly emblematic of my feelings towards glioma cells. I would add the YouTube link, but it’s a bit graphic, while the Steve Martin clip captures the same idea with less outright violence.
3. Elimination of tumor cells
The Simontons are adamant that an essential part of your visualization should include the dead and dying tumor cells being engulfed by macrophages, degraded, and then eliminated in bodily excretions. Their reasoning is that it should be 100% clear that tumor clearance is a natural process that requires no magic or intervention – it will happen on its own. Taking them at their word, I’ve included this image in my meditations as well. And, editorially, I will admit that this is an especially satisfying reflection of what I think of glioma cells, and where I think they belong.