Editor’s Note: The Courier asked cancer survivors and/or family members to share their stories during October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
A few people have written to tell of their experiences.
We thank all the people who participated. As many of you said, you want others to know about the experience and to always have hope.
Their stories will run often this month.
“No one has ever survived this kind of cancer,” the Harvard oncologist told me back in September 1988. “It is a rare and very fast-growing form of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. Sloane Kettering in New York City has only seen 50 cases in the last 10 years, and no white male 37-year heterosexual has ever survived. You are Stage 4 with complications (massive pleural effusions).”
“What are his chances of surviving?” asked my family, and the doctor would only cross his fingers.
It was very ironic that I got this cancer, as I was on a media team that was making Deepak Chopra and Maharishi AyurVeda household words. I had been in perfect vibrant health, an active hiker, then (and now).
My father was a hospital administrator and consultant. I grew up with mixed signals: the doctors were brilliant and great people, but their system limited them to drugs and they couldn’t think out of the box; they are brilliant technicians but lack training in vital areas of nutrition and bedside manner. So, I was, from the outset what Bernie Siegel (author of “Love, Medicine, and Miracles”) called a “difficult patient.” Dr. Siegel noted that the patients who take an active interest in their treatment, asking frequent questions and sometimes going against medical advice, were the ones that survive.
It was quickly found that I had a tumor the size of a fist in my throat choking me. That explained a lot! The CHOP protocol worked quickly, dissolving that tumor, and I got through tumor necrosis (the breaking up of the tumor and the spread of that material throughout the body). I was re-admitted to Mass General Hospital in Boston again for a total lack of white blood cells and put on a rescue remedy. Then, two months after my first treatment, I was in Intensive Care Unit for 12 days fighting for my life against pneumonia.
After that, consulting with various doctors outside of the cancer complex at Mass General, I decided to quit the chemo, brain radiation and spinal taps in favor of rebuilding my body with special herbs from India and a rejuvenation protocol (now offered at the Raj in Fairfield). I was totally devastated by the chemo and lack of sleep caused by the Prednizone, and couldn’t hold down food from nausea. My body was trying to throw off the “emergency medicine” and get back to some balance. The AyurVedic treatments were designed not to cure disease but to promote good health, but they gave me what I needed most: vitality, strength and some hint of happiness.
Meanwhile, the oncologists were upset that I had taken a break from chemo, etc., and told me they had gotten approval for a bone marrow transplant from Dana Farber Institute, a procedure that would “bring me to the brink of death, and then we will re-inject your bone marrow” and I was prescribed three years of continuing chemo, etc. after the transplant. My oncologist quoted a published study and told me that three out of 23 patients had survived this type of bone marrow transplant, which angered me. “You want me to bet my life on one chance in eight? Who is on drugs here, doctor? (I didn’t continue, and saved the insurance company $300,000)”
Ten months after I started, I was back to walking without leg braces (after losing strength from the chemo), and loving life again. I was grateful to have the best of “emergency medicine” and the best of alternative medicine. For a few years after, everyone and their brother was calling me to ask me to talk to their wife or cousin or whomever about their cancer treatment. My answer included these points: realize that the surface condition of cancer is a symptom of an underlying imbalance in the mind-body connection and that this must be restored, and it could be. If your condition is terrible, by all means take allopathic medicines, but don’t be afraid to break from it to get much-needed vitality back through expert-prescribed herbs and rejuvenation therapies. Take “rasayanas,” herbal supplements that promote longevity. First of all, go to an established Maharishi AyurVeda clinic and take the rejuvenation therapy; it will promote your recovery very quickly. And practice verified techniques for improving health, namely Transcendental Meditation. Be honest about your feelings: of course you are scared, that is natural; if you aren't scared, then somebody isn’t being honest.
People ask me, “So your cancer is in remission?” and I answer, “My health was in remission briefly, but that has been restored.” I change the emphasis because too many people fear the problem without re-defining it: cancer is an opportunity, a forced opportunity, to go deep inside, bring out the strength you need and restore balance to enjoy life.