"I want to live!" Her words came over the phone strong and clear. They were spoken several months ago by my friend Gayatri Marx. At the time, we were dialoguing about a choice she wanted to make.
It had been a year since Gayatri was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. After that, following the advice of her medical doctors, she braved surgery and chemotherapy. The treatment worked to some extent and the tumors stopped growing. But the oncologist told Gayatri that chemotherapy would not make the cancer go away, but, at best, keep it at bay for a time. He gave her 18 months to live.
Gayatri hated the way the chemotherapy made her feel. She had always lived a pure life, keeping her body clean, eating well, practicing yoga daily. A direct disciple of the great Himalayan sage Swami Rama, Gayatri lived her yoga, putting Swami Rama's teachings into effect in her life. Because the doctor gave her no hope the chemotherapy would eradicate the cancer, Gayatri questioned whether continuing the chemotherapy made sense.
In conversations over a couple of months, she grew more and more clear that she didn't want to keep doing the chemotherapy. The sense I got was, "what is the use of living like this?"
But the oncologist told her that if she went off the chemotherapy, the cancer would rebound and she'd die in a few months. She was in a tight spot.
In our conversations during this time, my intent was to help her find her own answer to her situation. It was clear to me that I didn't know what the best path was for her.
Gayatri and I were what Swami Veda Bharati, my meditation teacher, calls kalyana mitras, "noble friends on the spiritual path;" friends who support one another in their spiritual growth. She and I first met in 1988, at The Meditation Center, Swami Veda's center in Minneapolis. Over the years, from time to time we'd talk, mostly on the phone, occasionally seeing one other. In time, a friendship grew in which we supported each other's progress in our lives and on our spiritual paths, the true meaning of Kalyana Mitra.
I respected and felt inspired by Gayatri's devotion to yoga, and, because she so embodied the teachings, I learned just through contact with her. In return, I did my best to listen to her and help her find her own answers to whatever questions she had. Our friendship was mutually beneficial.
It was a shock when she told me that she was diagnosed with cancer, and I was deeply worried when she decided to stop the chemotherapy.
At first, after she stopped the chemotherapy, the tumors seemed to decrease. But soon they came back.
A few weeks later, while on vacation, I phoned to check in with Gayatri, and she very excitedly told me that was starting "Gerson Therapy." She wanted to live and was convinced that this new direction could help her. I'd never heard of Gerson Therapy and tried asking her questions, wondering whether there were any statistics of results from this new direction she was going in. But my questions seemed like cold water being thrown on her. She was so committed to her new direction that I felt it was important to be supportive of her choice. Later that day, I spoke with Linda, another friend of Gayatri's, and we both expressed worry about her choice and felt helpless to do anything about it.
Unfortunately, things went downhill in very short time. In not much more than a month, Gayatri was near death. Rather than healing her, the therapy she was doing seemed to speed up the disease process. She was suffering from malnutrition, her body had withered terribly and she was extremely weak.
Previously Gayatri and I'd talked about her seeing an Ayurvedic doctor in Sonoma. Now she decided to do that, hoping things could be turned around. Linda and her husband Johnathan happened to live near this Ayurvedic doctor, and they picked her up at the airport and drove her to the doctor's center where Gayatri stayed for a week.
After a week of Ayurvedic therapy, Gayatri was released and moved in with Linda and Johnathan. She was noticeably better, but soon went downhill again. Linda and Johnathan invited her to stay with them and Gayatri accepted their kind invitation. Soon she needed hospice care in their home.
On intake, the hospice doctor expressed an opinion that Gayatri only had two week to live. The hospice nurse thought days. Gayatri lived for 2 1/2 months.
Despite her catastrophic illness, Gayatri continued to embody the teachings of Swami Rama. She had no energy, could barely eat without becoming sick, yet she continued be joyful, kind, loving, and interested in life. Several times she prompted Johnathan and Linda to take her out shopping or to get some ice-cream. When I sat with her, she was so interested in what was happening in my life, so supportive and encouraging. Her calm love and dignity, even in the face of such devastation of her body, were inspiring. She continued to be my kalyana mitra even through the process of dying.
Gayatri died peacefully on December 28, 2013. Even her sickness and death brought about positive events. People who loved her came together into a make-shift community. New friendships were kindled and old friendships strengthened. My personal encounters with her filled me with gratitude for having such a beautiful friend. The people who helped Gayatri are now talking with one another about how we can be available as a community to support one another as we all grow older.
Gayatri's dying wish was to send whatever money she had left over to support the work of the Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust (HIHT), the hospital built in Dehra Dun, India, by Swami Rama. Unfortunately, all her funds were depleted in the final days of her life. So friends are gathering donations to make her wish come true. If you'd like to contribute, please click here https://www.hymla.com/index.php/opportunities-to-servecharitable-giving, then click on the "donate" button. When you get to the PayPal page, after entering your donation information, be sure to write "Gayatri HIHT Donation" in the field that opens when you click the link that says "add special instructions to the seller."
"Death is not the end of life, but simply a pause in a continuing story." Swami Rama, Sacred Journey.