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From the Townsend Letter
December 2006


Pathways to Healing
Steven Sles: Facing the Big Questions
by Elaine Zablocki

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I knew Steven Sles in college, although I didn't know him well. I was studying political science; he was an artist. You might see him at any time, navigating the corridors in a wheelchair, talking with friends. He'd had cerebral palsy since birth and couldn't use his hands or arms; he used his mouth to hold a paintbrush. When Swarthmore opened the Pearson art gallery, Sles presented the first one-man show there.

Steven SlesThough we lost touch for many years, we recently reconnected via e-mail. I learned that, in addition to continuing work on his paintings and other artistic works, he's also composed music and released two CDs. He has won awards for works in oils, casein, silkscreen inks, and stained glass. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in London, and his name appears in 18 editions of
Who's Who.

"He approaches music as he does painting, treating sound as if it were color," says Robert Rai, a music educator and composer who works closely with Sles. "Unlike painting, music has the added element of time. While a painting offers a single image, music offers a series of images progressing through time, varying in tone color, density and intensity."

One source of Sles' creativity is his active spiritual life as what he calls "an unconventional modern Hasidic Jew." Reflecting on the options and restrictions of his life, he says, "We play the hands we are given. Judaism teaches that clarity of mind is a great attribute; it reflects G-d's [sic] mind. I strive to live in unity and closeness with our Creator, instant by instant."

This July, he sent an e-mail to all his friends, saying his bladder cancer had spread faster than expected.

I declined bladder removal, chemotherapy, and radiation. I assembled a superb team of naturopathic doctors, skilled nursing care, and other therapists to help me balance the various conditions I am living with. The urologist gives me "several years" if treated with chemotherapy and radiation. We will see what G-d H-mself [sic] apportions me.... I ask you to celebrate my glorious if challenged life with song and dance and prayer!

Natural Medicine to Cope with Challenging Life
When Sles talks about his "gloriously challenged" life, he's referring to the various medical conditions he faces. In addition to cerebral palsy, he is dealing with scoliosis, restrictive lung disease, allergies, asthma, and arthritis. He has found that alternative therapies have been effective in helping him to live a full, productive life. "Spiritual union with divinity is the cornerstone of all healing and self-healing," he adds. "Many religions can be doorways to health and wholeness. For me, knowing about sages such as the Hasidic masters of Jewish tradition, or the transcendental experiences of other spiritual leaders, provides encouragement and suggests possibilities."

He copes with restrictive lung disease and allergic asthma, using a heating pad, oxygen, and air purifiers, as well as homeopathic, a llopathic, and naturopathic treatments. "I combine all of them, including breathing exercises and elimination of stressful relationships whenever possible," he says. He has experimented with diet and uses vitamins, supplements, and organic foods. To avoid reflux disease and hiatal hernia, he practices relaxation, plus a focus on chewing and swallowing slowly. He uses homeopathic remedies often and finds they are milder and less "intrusive" than allopathic remedies.

Sles image


Ink Pattern for "My Father in Tree"
Oil on Canvas, 1981
Reproduced Courtesy AMFPA

Due to his cerebral palsy, Sles has severe scoliosis, and by 1995, his spinal curvature had progressed to 130 degrees. An orthopedic surgeon warned it would lead to suffocation within five years. Sles tried Rolfing over a year's time and saw a definite improvement, although the methods were harsh, he says, "akin to torture." Then he found a Fieldenkrais specialist and massage therapist who "combined homeopathic, Chinese, and nat ive medicine in her potpourri of endlessly innovative manipulations and gentle stretchings, five days a week for thirty months." She brought in a structural integration therapist, a doctor of herbal medicine, and a colonic therapist. "Together these innovations improved my pulmonary function and reduced scoliosis by 25 degrees. We reduced involuntary movements significantly and attained never-before-experienced finer motor control," he says.

Sles has benefited from treatment by Lance Morris, NMD, who has developed a customized nebulizer formulation, including NAC amino acid as the primary ingredient and also germanium. "This makes it easier for him to breathe, breaking up mucus and improving oxygen perfusion," Morris says. "The array of methods Sles has used shows how natural treatments can help someone who is coping with several medical conditions. When we integrate holistic alternative modalities with al lopathic medicine, we can offer our patients improved outcomes."

Sles notes that he has been able to obtain the best possible therapy, including massages one to three times a day, because he is blessed with royalties from his artistic work through the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting Artists (AMFPA). "I regret that such extensive care is not accessible to many others who would benefit from it."

Facing Cancer
Sles was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 1995. The cancer was surgically removed and appeared to be gone. In 2006, when he learned it had recurred, he was faced with a challenge all of us may face at some point in our lives. In response, he made important decisions:
• He did not act immediately on the first treatment plan proposed by his local doctor.
• He sought additional expert opinion from several sources.
• He enlisted natural therapies to help him combat cancer.
• He considered how much effort he wanted to put into fighting cancer, given his particular situation in life.

By Steven Sles
"Youthful Love Fantasy"
Oil and Spray Paint on Canvas, circa 1958
Reproduced Courtesy AMFPA

Upon diagnosis, his urologist immediately scheduled weekly thiotepa treatments and offered bladder removal, chemotherapy, and radiation as options. Sles chose to meet first with an oncologist and radiation specialist, as well as his naturopathic physician, before deciding on a course of treatment. He ruled out any thought of bladder removal. "I do not wish to live that struggle," he says. "I am experiencing natural aging, compounded by cerebral palsy and diminished health after four pneumonias. Certainly G-d [sic] beneficently endows me with great strengths, but like anyone else, I must accept my mortality, my limitations. I have lived fully, precisely because I know how to live happily within realistic limitations."

As he consulted various specialists, his information about the cancer and about his options increased. He saw a radiation specialist who thought the cancer was smaller than the first doctor had sugg ested. This specialist recommended seven weeks on radiation treatment, low-dose cisplatin once a week, plus anti-nausea medication. "I am seriously considering it," Sles says. "My urologist brought me as far as he could and sent me to good specialists. Now, I will be researching the subject on my own."

At present, Sles is considering various options, including aggressive vitamin C treatment and dietary changes. In the past, he relied on steaks and other high-protein foods for energy, but now he has switched to a vegan anti-cancer diet. He will use hospice and aggressive pain management as needed, if and when they are needed. "I have made no final decisions yet," he says. "I am researching medical facts, thinking about potential side effects, and weighing the impact on my life. Jewish law is clear that when faced with a life-threatening condition, a person's own assessment may outweigh that of the finest doctors. This situation is yet another opportunity to explore and elucidate G-d's [sic]will."

Elaine Zablocki is the former editor of CHRF News Files and Alternative Medicine Business News.

For more information about Steven Sles and his music and poetry:
For a gallery of his artistic work:
For practical information on coping with cerebral palsy, go to the United Cerebral Palsy Society: Look for postings by Steven Sles under "Health and Wellness, Speak Out," for his responses to questions and comments on his own experiences.

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