Airdrie resident Tony White was Alberta’s first official cancer patient to receive the go-ahead to undergo psilocybin (psychedelic mushroom) therapy.
After three peaceful weeks following his first treatment session, White passed from his cancer on Jan. 20.
White’s widow, Rebecca Crewe, is now telling the story of her husband’s final weeks and how important the therapy was to him. She said his legacy should advocate for the benefits of psychedelic therapy and the positive impact it can have on others going through similar diagnoses.
“When I went to go pick him up [after his therapy session], I was completely gobsmacked at what I saw,” she said. “He could move his body like I hadn’t seen him do in months. It was shocking. I was expecting the spiritual and psychological impact, but I was not expecting the physical impact.”
White was diagnosed with terminal Stage 4 bladder cancer right around the time COVID-19 arrived in Alberta last spring. Crewe said White had been diagnosed with Stage 0 cancer around two years earlier.
David Harder, founder of ATMA Journey Centers Inc. and executive director of SYNTAC institute, helped convince Health Canada of psilocybin therapy’s benefits. He said the therapy isn’t meant to cure cancer, but help with physical pain management and mental healing.
“The biggest thing for Tony, was that it gave him his peace back,” Harder said. “For those last two weeks, although the cancer was very advanced, it allowed him to really live.”
According to Harder, a psychiatrist was on hand to aid White during the four-hour journey, where he lay down on a couch to navigate through his psychedelic experience.
“We had the most beautiful ceremony,” he said. "It was a huge honour to be able to provide this for him and his family."
White did his only treatment session on Jan. 1. Crewe said the final weeks with him were powerful and passionate.
“He was coming to grips with his mortality,” she said. “He was so sick before the therapy. Afterwards, he was back. I believe in my heart and soul that this medicine gave him two quality weeks with me, where he was himself again.”
Crewe said White’s sense of humour returned and he was more present during his final weeks.
“We had some really beautiful conversations,” she said. “We enjoyed every moment that we had,” she said. “He had this peace about him that I have never seen before. He was just calm. He wasn’t tormented anymore, that is the best way I can describe it.”
White passed away on Jan. 20 at home in what Crewe described as a beautiful and peaceful setting surrounded by family.
“It is heartbreaking,” she said. “I have had a lot of time to reflect – grief is not an overnight process – but I am no longer afraid of death. That energy and that love has to go somewhere.”
Crewe said before White’s passing, they had a number of conversations about the therapy he underwent.
“Honestly, his experience made us passionate and made us feel like we were put on this earth to advocate for this,” she said. “I had a dear friend of mine who passed away last year from pancreatic cancer and we discussed how much peace and relief this could have provided her and others.”
White, according to Crewe, was a very private man and a self-proclaimed introvert. Despite this, he was so moved by the therapy he found himself doing media interviews near the end of his life to get the word out about what he experienced.
“It’s astounding,” she said. “That has become our passion, and that is how I want to honour Tony."