Depression and fear hit Steven Lee hard found out that he had cancer, as it would anyone. It hit Angel, our Dharma sister of Kechara House and Steven’s sister, even harder. Frequent arguments between Angel and Steven had kept them distant from each other over recent years, and when she heard the news that he had met with a serious accident because he had lost all control of his reflexes and eyesight, everything was suddenly turned upside down.
It came back to the basics for Angel – making amends with Steven and helping him to heal, both physically and inwardly. As doctors and radiotherapy battled to put things right, Angel worked on bringing back the calm into Steven’s and the family’s minds. It was down to two things: a deep faith in her Lama, H.E. Tsem Rinpoche, and his “prescription” for Steven – a reliance on Setrap and the recitation of Setrap mantras.
Diagnosing the illness
Upon going for a check-up, the doctors suspected that something was wrong with Steven’s brain. They soon discovered a huge tumour, a third of the size of his brain. When it was not diagnosed a virus, Steven had to undergo a biopsy, which finally confirmed it as tumour. The doctor gave him only two weeks to three months to live; his only very bleak advice to Angel was to “keep your fingers crossed!”
Angel switched her focus to concentrate on as much Dharma as she could with Steven, to prepare him ultimately for the worse. At that point, Angel’s last hope was that if he didn’t survive, then at least he would be prepared for his next life.
When Angel went to seek Rinpoche’s advice, Rinpoche assured her that all would be fine. He also recommended Setrap’s prayer to Steven and asked him to do black tea and recite one million Setrap mantras. That, and a strong faith in Rinpoche, were the first steps to restoring some of Steven’s confidence and hope. Angel let go some of her worry, and trusted that if Rinpoche said things would be fine, then it would be fine.
While Steven has never been inclined towards spiritual practice, he shared that he had always believed strongly in anything related to Buddhism. He had also heard much about Rinpoche and how he had helped Angel’s family over the years. When things came to a head with the diagnosis of his cancer, Steven relied strongly on his faith of Rinpoche and his prayers to the Buddha. He has even kept a photo of Rinpoche close to him, by stringing it around his neck.
Now, when he thinks back over the last few months, the former Ah Long and self-professed bad boy states with a brisk, no-nonsense air that, “Without Rinpoche, I’d be gone by now.” From what little he says during the interview, he adamantly repeats this particular statement.
Throughout the course of treatment – involving a strenuous 27 sessions of radiotherapy – Steven kept to the mantras. Though he has lost count now, he continues to recite whenever he can and will for the rest of his life. Rinpoche has since also recommended that he begin a Medicine Buddha retreat.
Steven shares that while reciting mantras, he would think strongly of Rinpoche, pray for the good health and long life of his family and think that others in the same situation may also have the opportunity to recite these mantras and meet someone like Rinpoche.
Less than two months after Steven began his recitations, a complete MRI of his brain showed that the tumour had totally disappeared. Even the course of radiotherapy treatment – which usually brings about severe dizziness, fevers, vomiting – did not give him any side effects. The loss of movement in his arms and inability to walk has now been overcome, without much effort and, when I met him for the interview, he looks subdued but robust and healthy.
However, through the humbling experience of his illness and the opportunity to do prayers and engage more strongly in contemplation, Steven admits that he does feel much regret for the things that he had done before. Now, he resolves not to do things that will affect people negatively and his immediate family, like Angel and Henry, notice a marked change in his attitude: there is a greater openness in him now, a stronger appreciation for the people who have helped him and an understanding of what family is all about.
I ask him how he would feel if he got sick again. He answers truthfully that he would still be scared and he would struggle to accept that it was happening again, but that at least there is now much stronger faith in the prayers.
Steven is now able to accept the facts of what has been happening to him more easily, he is (and looks) much happier and at peace, both with the things around him and with himself.
During the interview, Angel banters with him and laughs so hard she’s folded in half. There is a noticeably strong bond between them, fostered even more during this difficult episode. Angel is happy and relieved, as any sister would, to have her brother back on his feet; and Steven is happy and relieved for the larger peace and openness that he has gained.
He professes that, “People around me can see that what I was like before and what I am now – this is because of Setrap and Rinpoche.” As he heads down the confident road of recovery, he notes that he would like to tell people how Setrap and Rinpoche have helped him, and therefore, to indirectly share the practice with others.
When I finished the interview and get up to leave, he gestures to Angel to translate one last thing to me: that everything he had prayed to Rinpoche and Setrap for has been answered. And as he walks us down to our car and waves a steady, smiling goodbye, you know that the prayers have brought far more than just a physical recovery.