An Uncommon Cancer Journey
The Cosmic Kick That Healed Our Lives
This is a story that had to be told. Whenever I told people that my husband had been healed from one of the worst kinds of cancer, that allopathic medicine had given up on him twice, and that we had tried every kind of alternative and complimentary treatment we could think of, they would say,
You’ve got to write that down!
Then I told them about how our marriage was not too great early on and how we found a therapist who made us work like hell, forcing us to reveal shameful secrets and pent-up rage, focussing on keeping Jack alive a well as rescuing our marriage. Since people seemed very interested in the story, I would go on about how we both learned some wonderful healing practices, like acupressure, meditation and visualization, how we walked on hot coals to really get the power of mind over matter, and how Jack nearly died from one of the alternative treatments.
With that, everybody wanted to know more, and specifically, what we did that made the cancer go away. The answer to that question was to tell the whole story, after which they could make up their own minds.
But some of this story was rather unflattering for both Jack and me, so I procrastinated for years. Finally, my supportive writing group acted as witness during our regular Tuesday afternoon meetings while I pieced together the story’s fabric using scraps of journals and threads of memory. This process lasted about a year, and then the draft languished in its cardboard folder for several more years until I decided the time was right to find an editor and prepare the story for the wider world. It seems that as I grow older, honesty becomes easier. And perhaps it would help other care-givers come to terms with feelings and behaviors that are not always socially acceptable.
Although I’ve become a huge skeptic of longevity statistics, I recently read that the three-year survival expectancy for esophageal cancer is 1%. One of the textbooks I read in 1982, when Jack was first diagnosed, said that virtually no one survives esophageal cancer. I now know that statement is not true, not just because of Jack’s experience, but I also know of others who have beat the odds. In the years between 1982 and today, physicians and scientists have begun to document a vast number of cases where people with terrible prognoses have survived for many years. Some of these patients have been lost to the medical world because they simply dropped out of the allopathic system. Others have been labeled “spontaneous remission,” or just considered mysteries. Jack Hardesty is one of the ones who dropped out of the system.
Our journey took us to Bonn, Germany for medical treatment, where we lived for four months, savoring the cafe life in summer evenings, and traveling through France on one of our holidays from treatment. During most of this time, Jack felt surprisingly well, despite his dire prognosis and the rigors of treatment. Each time we got a piece of bad news about the tumor’s growth, Jack would just say, "Time to try something new." So we did. These new approaches left chemotherapy and radiation behind and concentrated on the nutritional, psychological, and spiritual approaches to healing. Which one or which combination worked, we will never know.
Life-threatening illness has been likened to a journey through the labyrinth, for the caregivers and loved ones, as well as for the patient. You can be pretty sure how you got in, and sometimes you’re just thrust in, but it’s not at all clear how you’re going to get out. I have learned that in the process of navigation, it becomes all about the journey rather than the destination.
The Cover Art
The vibrant painting that appears on the cover of An Uncommon Cancer Journey is the work of Jon Leach and Holly Werner of the Leach~Werner Studio. Jon Leach and my husband, Jack Hardesty, were the best of friends, and we carried Jon’s work in our gallery in Ashland. Jon and his wife, Nancy Nowak, have remained my good friends, and I often visit them on my way to and from Ashland. Nancy was the first reader of my book’s manuscript, An Uncommon Cancer Journey, and she gave me some useful comments as well as encouragement.
When I was considering various ideas for the book's cover, this particular image spoke to me, not only for the luminosity of its colors, but for what is happening in the painting. The vase tumbles but does not break. The flowers fall out, but somehow things come together in a congruent balance. It seems to be a fitting metaphor for our story.
Jack always believed in the healing power of art, hence the realization of his ambition to open a gallery when we moved to Oregon. "Graven Images Gallery" was, in his words, "a critical success and a financial failure." But we kept it open for three years, during which time we felt that we brought beauty into many lives. Jack would be delighted to know that the cover of a book about him bears the work of his talented buddy on the cover.
"Tumbler" - Leach~Werner Studio
Jon Leach and Holly Werner began their collaboration in 2011, resulting in a successful combination of abstract and floral design that I find very exciting.
Marriage and cancer take both partners on a journey in which survival of the marriage and surviving cancer are both uncertainties. In this emotionally honest memoir, Alice Hardesty writes about the two successive terminal diagnoses which her husband survived and the wide range of therapies tried: conventional with chemo, surgery, and radiation, mind-body-spirit, spiritual-psychic, and various alternative treatments, as well as individual, couples, and group psychotherapy. Just as it helps to read about what other travelers, pilgrims, or explorers encounter when venturing into the unknown, so it can for those who find themselves on a cancer journey.
-- Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D., Jungian Analyst and best-selling author of Goddesses in Every Woman and Close to the Bone: Cancer as a Soul Journey. Her latest book is Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman.
An Uncommon Cancer Journey is an unusual memoir about a subject that has been written about quite often. What makes it unique is not only the outcome for the author's very sick husband, but the journey through which they both travel — from conventional medicine to alternative treatment, to even more far-out alternative treatment; a spiritual journey from western to eastern, from fear and resignation to hope and persistence. From the author's regular acupressure treatments on her husband's body to the intense therapy through which they heal an almost-broken marriage, this story is written with such remarkable clarity and honesty that readers will accept, and perhaps even want to pursue, roads to healing that are open to the truly open-minded.
-- Judith Barrington, award winning poet and memoirist, author of several books, including Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art, and coming soon, The Conversation, her fourth collection of poems.
My experience and my belief is that cancer often is a “soul event.” Alice Hardesty’s book offers us such a good example of how that looks in real life. Alice writes about their ‘amazing physical healing amid the interplay of emotional and spiritual forces’ with refreshing honesty. Her story is compelling, illustrating what extraordinary experiences ordinary people can have.
-- Jan Adrian, Executive Director of Healing Journeys and founder of the conferences: Cancer as a Turning Point, From Surviving to Thriving.
Alice Hardesty makes it very clear that anyone on a cancer journey - patients or family caregivers - cannot remain unchanged. That wake-up call challenges and changes who we are, what matters to us, the depth of our relationships, even our view and understanding of life itself. We become more authentic, stronger than we knew, and more open to life's possibilities and deeper dimensions.
There is no guidebook for any individual path. This book is the author's unflinchingly honest personal story of her husband's diagnosis, their search for treatments, his recovery from a deadly illness, and both of their healing. Readers learn the three things she says she wants us to know: that caregivers have emotions they feel they shouldn't be having; that people even with the worst kinds of cancer can be cured, sometimes in non-traditional ways; and that a crushing blow of fate - "a cosmic kick" - can bring unexpected and profound gifts.
-- Ruth Bolletino, Ph.D. Co-Director with Lawrence LeShan of Cancer as a Turning Point - Mind-Body Psychotherapy and Counseling, also author of the book How to Talk with Family Caregivers about Cancer.