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.
Though we lost touch for many years, we recently reconnected via e-mail.
I learned that, in addition to continuing work on his paintings and
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
Ink Pattern for "My Father in Tree"
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
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
who is coping with several medical conditions. When we integrate holistic
modalities with al lopathic medicine, we can offer our patients improved
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
from his artistic work through the Association of Mouth and Foot Painting
(AMFPA). "I regret that such extensive care is not accessible to
many others who would benefit from it."
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
• 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.
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,
I have lived fully, precisely because I know how to live happily within
As he consulted various specialists, his information about the cancer and
about his options increased. He saw a radiation specialist who thought
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: www.neatscape.com/StevenSles/
For a gallery of his artistic work: www.slescollection.com
For practical information on coping with cerebral palsy, go to the United Cerebral
Palsy Society: www.ucp.org. Look for postings by Steven Sles under "Health
and Wellness, Speak Out," for his responses to questions and comments
on his own experiences.