Father-Daughter Bond Achieves the Impossible 
in Father's Battle Against Cancer 

Experience of Jennifer (Arlington, Virginia) and Alton Zarbock (Tonopah, Arizona) 

My name is Jennifer Zarbock and I have been practicing Nichiren Daishonin's Buddhism for 18 years. I introduced my father, Alton Zarbock, to this Buddhism 15 years ago, and he has been practicing ever since. He is now 79 years old.

Almost four years ago, in July 1997, Dad was diagnosed with an incurable form of cancer that does not respond to chemotherapy. The oncologist told him, "You only have three to six months to live. Please get your will and funeral request in order. Your cancer is widespread and extensive. It's too far gone. Chemotherapy will NOT help you." My father and I started chanting for his life. The only weapon we had was Nam Myoho-renge-kyo.

Dad's cancer was a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma lymph cancer. The lymph is a circulatory system that removes the fluid from between the body's organs and tissues and returns the nutrients back into the blood. Lymph passes through the arms, legs, chest, abdomen, and neck. With the cancer blocking the lymph of my father's body, the lymph could not do its job and remove the interstitial fluids. Fluid built up in his legs and his ankles swelled. Fluid accumulated in his abdomen and he looked like he was nine months pregnant; he could barely eat because his stomach was squeezed by fluids. Fluid built up in his chest and crushed his lungs so he could hardly breathe. He was hooked up to an oxygen tank. By inserting a big needle into my father's chest, the doctors sucked out three liters of fluid every two weeks. Because the lymph fluid contains a lot of nutrients, if it is not returned to the blood's circulatory system the body starts starving to death. My father became thin and frail.

According to the doctors, my father was supposed to die three to six months from his diagnosis. He has, of course, survived well beyond that. But by December 1997, the cancer had ravaged my father's body. 

In spite of Dad's symptoms, he chanted three hours every day. I took a temporary leave of absence from my medical research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, so I could chant for my father. I felt that I could not let him die while I pursued my career. I was deeply frightened and stayed with him for one month at that time. We held each other's hands as we desperately chanted for his precious life. 

Gradually, all the symptoms of cancer started to disappear. His chest and lungs were clear of the fluid build-up. His ankles were no longer swollen. And instead of looking like he was nine months pregnant, he looked like he was only three months pregnant. He was gaining his energy back quickly and returning to normal. My father has not had his chest tapped since March 1998.

Suddenly, in August 1998, he started vomiting and lost his appetite. My father's left lung stopped functioning, he was mentally slow, and he lost a lot of weight. It was not clear what was causing this sudden decline. The nurses told my family that his left lung stopped working because the cancer had grown into his lung, and he had lung cancer. They said that he was mentally slow because the cancer had grown into his brain, and he had brain cancer. They said that he was constantly vomiting because he had stomach cancer. I knew this could not be true. All the chanting we had done would not have allowed the cancer to grow. But the doctors and nurses were at a loss for what to do for my father. They accepted the inevitable his death.

Again I flew from D.C. to Arizona to be by my father's side. When I arrived, I was shocked to see him. He looked like a concentration camp survivor: just skin and bones. He could barely walk or talk. His breathing was labored he wheezed heavily, gasping for breath. When I spoke to him, he could barely understand what I was saying. When I looked into his eyes, I saw death. Yet I refused to be controlled by my fear and sorrow or be intimidated by death. I know that nothing is stronger than Nam-myoho-renge-kyo. Everyone around Dad the nurses, the doctors, my own family members attacked me verbally; I felt like everyone was against me. They told me that I was in "denial" and that death is a part of life, and that I must accept my father's death. But I knew different. 

President Daisaku Ikeda wrote, "But the losers in any struggle have already allowed themselves to be defeated before the battle begins. They have lost to the insidious workings of resignation, cowardice and lethargy in their own hearts" (World Tribune, August 14, 1998, p. 4); and "No matter what might happen, no matter what you might be told, no matter how difficult your present circumstances, as long as you win the battle with yourselves, you will be victors in life" (World Tribune, April 21, 1995, p. 4). Guided by these words, I knew I had to keep fighting. My whole family was so scared that they distanced themselves from Dad and me. My father and I were truly alone. But I was not going to let my father go without a good fight.

I chanted eight to nine hours every day for my father's life. While spoon-feeding him, I chanted daimoku with the prayer that life would enter his body. After three days of chanting, I figured out what was making my dad mentally slow. The nurse had him on four tranquilizers per day. As soon as he stopped taking the tranquilizers, he became alert and he was able to chant a little. But his vomiting persisted and he could not keep food in his stomach.

As he vomited, his entire little body was absorbed into a convulsion. The convulsions were so violent I thought that the vomiting would kill my father. I held both of his hands in mine as he vomited and chanted daimoku at the top of my lungs: "Nam Myoho-renge-kyo!" But no matter how much I chanted, I could not stop his vomiting. After each of his vomiting spells, his frail body shook and trembled. I felt helpless as I watched my father struggling for life. On the third night of my visit, I was beside myself and I went to my hotel early.

President Ikeda says that before a lion attacks, he takes three steps forward and one step back, and waits. When the time is right, then the lion unleashes all his energy and attacks. But that one step back is critical. Advancing and advancing blindly is no good; one must re-assess the situation. That night, I took my step back.

I knew everything depended on me, so I chanted to remain calm and relaxed. The next morning, after chanting 30 minutes, I had a powerful revelation, and I literally saw the word "Zantac" appear in front of my eyes. I felt my heart explode! I knew this was the key to stopping my father's vomiting. Zantac is an antacid that prevents the stomach from producing acid and can be bought in any grocery store. My father was vomiting a lot of stomach acid as well as his food. I realized that my dad's stomach was producing too much acid, which led to his vomiting.

As soon as I gave him the Zantac, his vomiting became controlled and he was able to eat. After one week of my visits and constant daimoku, his left lung began working. After he had been eating without vomiting for three weeks, his strength and vitality returned. But on the fourth week of my visit, he vomited. At first, I could not figure out what was causing the excess acid production that made my father vomit. Then I figured out the cause.

The nurse assigned to my father's case had had the doctor prescribe a patch that goes over the skin. The patch looks like a big bandage and delivers through the skin a powerful narcotic, fentanyl, which is 1,000 times stronger than morphine. This narcotic commonly causes nausea and vomiting. It also inhibits breathing. My colleagues, physicians at the National Institutes of Health, feel that my father could have lost his left lung as well as his life due to the administration of this narcotic.

While my father was in no pain, most patients with his type of cancer are supposed to be in a lot of pain. This nurse just assumed he was in severe pain and gave him the patch. She never told my family that the patch could cause nausea and vomiting because she herself did not know. Nor did she tell us that my father was put on a very heavy narcotic. When we removed the patch, my father's vomiting completely stopped. 

The oncologist did tests on my father in January 1999 to re-evaluate how far the cancer had spread. The CT scans show that my father's cancer had gone into remission. Four years ago, in 1997, the X-rays showed the cancer was "widespread" and "extensive" throughout my father's body. These most recent CT scans, taken in January 1999, show only a little bit of cancer. My father never had chemotherapy, or radiation, or surgery. All he did was chant Nam Myoho-renge-kyo. The doctors could not believe his recovery.

Now, my father is exploding with energy. He is breathing and eating and driving quite well and running around joyfully. Dad renewed his driver's license in April 2001. He is walking on the treadmill ten minutes a day and lifting weights one hour each day. He weighs 165 pounds and is fat and sassy for a 79-year-old. He is still chanting three hours a day and enjoying his life, only because of the power of Nam Myoho-renge-kyo!

My father and I were determined to kill the cancer completely by July 2001, but in fact, he overcame it one month earlier, at the beginning of June 2001. There is not one cancer cell left in his body.

I told my father, "Dad, King Hussein, who was King of Jordan, had the same type of cancer as you. He had all the money, power, and fame in the world. But it still did not save him. He died within 7 months of his diagnosis, in March 1999. You have been alive for 4 years with this cancer. And you overcame it!" My father said, "Well Jenny, since I am a retired janitor and retired school bus driver, I may not have all the money or fame in the world like King Hussein. But I have all the power. I have Nam Myoho-renge-kyo."

My father and I have always been close, but through this ardent life-or-death struggle our love for each other has deepened. Before I left Arizona the last time, my father cried as he told me, "Jenny, your love has kept me alive. I love you more than you will ever know." I appreciate my father for having adopted me from an orphanage in Hong Kong and for loving and caring for me through all these years. I deeply appreciate Nichiren Daishonin and the Gohonzon for my father's life, and I deeply appreciate the SGI and President Ikeda for teaching me how to fight, and to NEVER EVER GIVE UP NO MATTER WHAT!

[Another version of this experience appeared in the World Tribune.]



Copyright 2002 Gakkai Experiences Online