At the first hospital he was sent to, the medical approach and process made Russell feel isolated and depersonalised. In the last weeks of his life he recorded his thoughts and feelings on tape about this and the process of coming to terms with his illness.
Andrea, his mother, explains it this way:
“Russell found it very difficult to develop a doctor/patient relationship based on trust rather than on dependence and compliance. He found that the doctors were not open to him as a person. They were also not open to any extra, holistic support for him; in fact, it was totally rejected. At one point Russell said: ‘I am totally depersonalised at the hospital. They say: ‘Here comes the lymph’ meaning ‘the lymphoma patient’.
“From this came a loss of personal power and for a time he was depressed. But instead of making him a compliant patient, it got him fighting. He reached out to other cancer patients, despite the lack of support from his clinician, forming a self-support group with them and speaking about his experiences more widely on the radio.
“Towards the end of his 18-month journey of deepening self-awareness and an inner, healing transformation, he gave a few talks about his process, which were recorded.
“He talked about the crisis of a family with cancer; the difference between hope and faith, of moving from inappropriate hope to faith in oneself and the connection to one’s own being.
“The talks were on specific subjects, for example, death and dying, learning resilience, the Tao as a philosophy of being: of flowing and not fighting the flow. In this process, what developed was his spirituality.”
Andrea’s reflections on the journey with Russell
Russell’s mother, Andrea, promised him that she would help to disseminate the insights he gained from his experience that ‘healing’ is not necessarily about a cure.
Rather, healing can be experienced through the acceptance of one’s body and what is happening, and this can involve a healing of the soul and the spirit.
Andrea wrote about this way of understanding healing in an article called ‘Death in the Family: An experiential account’, with Dr Maurice Silbert, their family GP who had forged a special relationship with Russell. The focus of the article was, as Andrea wrote: ‘How the family learned to deal with the crisis of a life-threatening illness’.
The article was published in the South African Family Practice Journal in January 1988 and in Fair Lady magazine in March 1988. It outlined the process of moving from fear and anxiety during hospital treatment to finding sources of complementary treatment.
After Russell died, much of Andrea’s practice for the next 30 years as a therapeutic, clinical social worker focused on working with cancer patients and their families. She worked with the family as a system and as a team, encouraging open communication, focused on the ‘healing of the whole person’.