If positive vibes and hope could save a life – as so many of us innocently believed during Ian’s cancer trial – then Ian would be alive today. But, sadly, positive vibes and hope did not halt the cancer that continued to advance.
The reality of this relentless cancer came crashing upon us, yet again, when Ian’s mid-section became completely numb, just days after his 23rd birthday . Was it growing tumors pressing on nerve structures within his spinal cord? Or, perhaps a severe case of peripheral neuropathy, a side effect of one of the many harsh chemo drugs that pulsed through Ian’s veins for many months.
Ian was no longer a candidate for chemo trials on the mainland or immunotherapy, an emerging cancer treatment discussed at length with Ian’s oncologist. Ian decided — with our full support — to hang his hope on naturopathic treatment protocols designed to wake up his immune system so it could fight the cancer naturally.
I knew what treatments Ian needed, including the highly touted high-dose intravenous Vitamin C. However, driving him around to various appointments on Oahu was getting more and more difficult as Ian became weaker. In addition to his core being numb, Ian’s hands soon malfunctioned, just as his legs had. In time, he could no longer hold a fork, write with a pen, or text on his phone.
I searched and prayed for a one-stop facility that could care for Ian and provide all of the naturopathic treatments in a concentrated manner. My prayer was answered when I came across a naturopathic treatment center on the Big Island. It sounded perfect.
They could administer all of the treatments we desired and more, all in one place, under the care of an experienced naturopath doctor. They administered the world-renowned Gerson Therapy diet, a strict diet of juicing and specific whole foods – much as we had been doing on our own for the past month. Plus, they could administer progressive protocols commonly used in Europe to treat cancer.
Ian was sitting in the recliner in our living room when I gave him the news about the treatment center and what they could provide. He listened carefully and then a huge smile came over his face. He looked over at Lei and said, “Want to go to the Big Island?” Of course, she did.
We all could feel the extreme urgency of the situation; this was Ian’s final stand.
We quickly arranged a consultation with the doctor who had to approve the visit. I was asked to complete a lengthy survey of Ian’s medical history and secure Ian’s health records before we arrived the following Monday – just five days away. Being a Kaiser family and with Ian having had treatment at numerous hospitals and treatment centers, the task seemed insurmountable.
I got them in three days.
Once we decided to go to the treatment center, Ian called his close friend Erin and asked for a big favor. Erin, who was like a sister to Ian since high school, had previously offered to coordinate a GoFundMe campaign when he was first diagnosed. Ian initially declined because his medical insurance was covering the majority of the chemo and radiation expenses. However, the naturopathic treatments were mostly not covered. A 2-week stay at the naturopathic treatment center with a slew of unconventional protocols would be a very expensive endeavor, but we were determined to get there. Erin launched the GoFundMe page within 24 hours.
The response to the campaign blew Ian away. Within days, thousands of dollars were raised. Over the course of the next two weeks, the campaign gained more and more traction as friends shared the campaign on social media. Ian saw the name of each and every person who donated and he could not believe the generosity of friends, family and even complete strangers. In the end, through online and offline donations, the campaign surpassed its goal. While the financial support was critical, it was secondary to the outpouring of love Ian felt in his greatest time of need.
During that same week, Ian’s friend Jordan came to visit. They, too, were great friends since high school. In recent years, Jordan and Ian became best of friends. Due to his post-collegiate endeavors in farm-league baseball, Jordan was away most of the year. But, thankfully, Jordan was home on a quick break. It was time for Jordan and Ian to hang out.
If Jordan was shocked by what he saw when he arrived, he hid it very well … as a best friend would. A very underweight Ian shuffled around the house and because he couldn’t use his hands, he was assisted with eating.
This was a significant change from just a few months prior when Jordan was home and visited Ian. At that time, although a bit run down from chemo, Ian took it upon himself to direct Jordan in some tough off-season conditioning at a park near our home. They came home and devoured home-made enchiladas. It was a very good day.
But, on this night, they sat in the living room and chatted late into the evening.
It was the last time that these two friends would spend time together, in this life…
Because Ian was so weak, the naturopathic center requested that Ian have constant family support to assist him with basic activities. Lei and I had determined to spend the two weeks there so that Ian would always have someone by his side. I booked three flights on Hawaiian Airlines for Monday.
However, Ian had a very rough weekend. For the first time since he was diagnosed, he suffered tremendous acute pain three nights in a row. The pain arrived each time like a subtle side pain but would rapidly increase until it was unbearable. Ian had been off of pain meds for several weeks but agreed to take morphine to curb the excruciating pain. He saw it as a means to an important end – getting to the Big Island. Also, what started as slight pain and stiffness in his neck quickly became a bigger problem. It hurt to move.
Ian’s oncologist warned against us going to the Big Island, fearing that Ian could lose his ability to travel home. But, with everything in him, Ian STILL wanted to go…it was his Hail Mary.
By Sunday, it became evident that traveling on a commercial airplane was just not going to be possible, with long lines, security checks and upright seats. We cancelled our Hawaiian Airlines flights for Monday and booked a small (prop) charter plane. In a last minute decision, we decided Dave and Zach needed to come with us.
This was a trip that the five of us needed to make together as a family.
The night before our departure, I went to a local health store to purchase some personal items that the center requested we bring along. An employee kindly offered assistance. As he helped me locate the items, we talked about Ian and what he faced. The employee excused himself and said he’d be right back. He returned in a minute holding a paperback book, titled “The Gospel of John.” He asked if Ian was a Believer, and I assured him that he was. I took the book, despite that we have many Bibles in our home. I thanked him from the bottom of my heart for his compassion and later threw the paperback book into my suitcase.
On Wednesday, September 21, 2016, Ian, Dave, Zach, Lei and I boarded the charter plane holding on to the shred of hope that Ian would find his miracle on the Big Island.
Despite all the stress of the trip and the dire situation we were in, I took a few photos on that day, including this photo of Zach and Ian preparing to deplane on the Big Island.
A picture is worth a thousand words. As heartbreaking as it is, I’m thankful to have it.
It is the last photo of our sons together…
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13 (NIV)