May 8, 2010
Pelicans, Coconuts & Butterflies:
One Woman’s Inspiring Journey to Find a Natural Cure for Breast Cancer
Like a good novelist, Ani Kaspar starts her non-fiction memoir “Pelicans, Coconuts & Butterflies” in the middle of the action. We first meet her in the emergency room, struggling with breast cancer and septic shock, hooked up to an IV with a temperature of 105, and struggling to breathe while an unconcerned nurse does little to help her.
While this powerful opening scene is a bit in your face, it is understandably and appropriately so. The book’s style becomes gentler and more poetic as it continues, but Ani never fails to express her righteous frustration along the way, both with men who have difficulty loving her because of her illness, and with a health care system that seems more interested in making a buck than finding humane ways to fight breast cancer.
While breast cancer has long been a concern for women, this book is timely in its look at health care and insurance during the ongoing debate on health care reform. That any woman should have such inhumane and limited options as chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery, and have to pay such outrageous amounts of money to survive leaves the reader sympathetic, angry, and even fearful for his or her own medical future. Ani explains, “My medical insurance is dismal. After working since I was sixteen, succeeding in my personal and professional endeavors, after contributing to my country, to its people, to its economic stability, health insurance for me, an American woman, is wretched.” By the end of the book, we learn that she has paid more than $250,000, and while her cancer now appears to be benign, it can always return. No wonder, as Ani notes, 75% of bankruptcies in the U.S. are filed as a result of medical bills.
After this startling, attention-grabbing introduction, Ani takes us back to the previous year, describing how she left working on Wall Street to move to the Southwest and live a healthy life, a life where she managed risk to keep herself safe and healthy, even having any metal fillings in her mouth removed to avoid toxicity. So how, she must ask after being so cautious about her health, could she suddenly get breast cancer?
She has many answers for this—some the fault of the government and human failure to take care of the environment, while others are the result of stress she experienced. She waged war on Wall Street, not so much as a financial advisor, or as a high-powered career-oriented person, but as a woman seeking to be treated with respect in a man’s world. She won that battle, and in turn, lost her career. “Weapon-of-mass-destruction stress management is necessary to transcend such a career loss. Choose a word, any word. Meticulous tension for nine years was my life. Worth nine breast cancer spots.”
Ani asked herself, now that she had cancer, what should she do. She could not agree to chemotherapy or the other violent means to cure her body by using poison to fight poison. Instead, she sought natural healing, energy healing, and alternative therapies because, “The dis-ease doesn’t frighten me—it’s the treatment, the horrifying, barbaric, perverse treatment that frightens me the way it does most cancer patients. And rightfully so.” Ani provides a great deal of support for her decision by noting that less than 4% of women treated for breast-cancer do not see a recurrence of cancer within five years, and chemotherapy is only effective in three-percent of treatments. Furthermore, breast cancer is largely the result of earlier health care mistakes as Dr. John Goffman has explained, “Our current estimate is that about 75% of the current annual incidence of breast cancer in the U.S. is being caused by earlier ionizing radiation, primarily from medical sources.”
Ani’s decision to seek alternative natural healing is unusual in the United States, but she notes that in Japan, Germany, and Russia, a large percentage of cancer patients don’t go through chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery but seek less invasive methods of treatment. Furthermore, she firmly believes that today’s health care industry is profit-driven, while before Nixon’s administration, health care was not-for-profit. Now doctors can reject patients if they can’t pay, and the treatments used are often less effective than profitable. Ani refused to let her body be part of this corporate greed in the health care system:
I know natural cures exist. I know our current health care system cannot profit from them because they cannot be patented, and that’s why every sector of the system pursues the invasive protocols that bring in so much money. And I also know that even our own conventional world medical community has the heart, the brilliance, and the astounding financial resources to deliver a humane cure to all cancers. Because I know these truths, I will not allow one moment of profit from my body. I refuse to allow you, the conventional medical community, to treat my body until you do it humanely.
From here, we follow Ani in her quest for natural healing, as well as her efforts to write her book, to share what she has learned, and to eliminate stress from her life while finding balance in a loving relationship with a man. She visits Lake Atitlán in Guatemala to escape the criminality of her country and a life sick with breast cancer, to heal and be at one with her soul. Her writing becomes poetic and meditative, and the beauty of the natural world around her inspires her words. At times, her style reminded me of another Anne—Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her classic meditative book “Gift from the Sea.”
Ani finds and loses love throughout her efforts to heal her cancer. She strives for lasting relationships, something to which her readers, male and female, will be able to relate. She finds the courage to love and seek love even in the face of her illness, and she learns how to love herself. Toward the end of her journey, she tells us, “Today, I know the past four years were the best years of my life. With each mind-bending, spirit-expanding twist and turn came only another opportunity for my heart to open farther, for me to love more, for our gracious, holy Gaia to lead me to her boundless heart of love.”
“Pelicans, Coconuts & Butterflies” is many things. It is a memoir; it is the journey of a woman through cancer. It is a call to women to want the best in treatment: “Nothing else but the very best treatment options is our human right.” It is a shocking look at the health care system. It is a love story.
A long time has passed since I’ve read a non-fiction, prose book that is so poetic and so beautiful—surprisingly so considering its ugly topic. The fear, pain, questioning, and hope that fills a woman with breast cancer is an impossible thing to understand without suffering from the dis-ease oneself, and yet Ani Kaspar brings us as close to understanding it as I think possible. Her ability to share honestly her experiences and emotions in such a revealing and invigorating manner makes this book simply astonishing.
For more information about Ani Kaspar and “Pelicans, Coconuts & Butterflies” visit www.PelicansCoconutsandButterflies.com .
— Tyler R. Tichelaar, Ph.D., author of the award-winning Narrow Lives
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