Four years ago, I was told that my type of lymphoma had a high cure rate.
Two years ago, after a nonstop arsenal of almost every chemotherapy drug ever invented, daily radiation treatments for two months and a month's stay in a hospital isolation room completing a bone marrow transplant, I was handed a terminal prognosis. I was given the option of receiving more chemotherapy, even though all my treatment in the past had failed.
I lay in bed with a pharmacy of pills and a stockpile of alternative cancer literature and pondered my next move.
Even with the hope of a possible cure, it had been difficult enough to face the continuous needles and nausea of chemotherapy. Now, they called me "terminal" and tried to sell me on the idea of continued chemotherapy as "the only thing to do."
My heart told me that, at only 19, I was far from ready to die. My books told me there was a cornucopia of alternative treatments to try. My mind told me there was only one thing to do: I was going to heal myself or die trying.
I was immediately attracted to and intrigued with the macrobiotic diet. Both a philosophy and nutritional system, macrobiotics theory is that cancer growth can be slowed or even stopped when one adheres to an all organic, radically low-fat, low-protein, no sugar, high-fiber diet--basically a whole grain, vegetable-based diet. I flew to the Berkshires of New England and for 10 days embarked on a new way of eating. Black seaweed. Sticky brown rice. Bitter greens. These would become my staple foods. It wasn't an easy transition. Pain riddled my cancerous body. A mourning of all the past foods and restaurants I loved surfaced. But day by day, meal by meal, I persevered.
Gradually I was getting stronger and the cancer, while it wasn't vanishing, was stabilizing. I also began to enjoy my new diet. I was metamorphosing myself from a fast-food junkie into a connoisseur of whole grains and vegetables.
Cooking became my passion. I looked at each day as another opportunity to create fresh, healthy and beautiful meals. With my new-found energy, I also learned yoga and started seeing a therapist to figure out patterns of behavior that were limiting me.
My symptoms of disease, now not constant, would come and go like night and day. I'd have a great day and then all of a sudden at 1 o'clock in the morning, I'd wake up crying in pain. I was not bedridden nor was I the picture of radiant health I worked so hard to achieve. But there was more: Something gave way inside of me and I began focusing on getting the most out of my life by turning my physical limitations into limitless thinking.
New, exciting "firsts" happened. My first camping experience. My two-and-a-half- year absence from school ended as I began college. For the first time in my life, I cultivated meaningful and deep friendships. I resolved to live each day to my fullest, taking loving care of myself, and, through relaxation and deep breathing,not getting overwhelmed during times of physical pain.
A few months ago I celebrated my two-year survival since the doctor's (not mine) issuance of a terminal prognosis. I recently saw my oncologist who humbly admitted that I did more for myself than he could have ever dreamed of doing for me.
While the words "cured" or even "remission" are not something he or even I would use, we both know that what I've accomplished is pretty special.
Quite recently, a lump in my groin has been exploding in size. Pain-free moments are few and far between. There are still many possible treatments. I could try a newly invented chemotherapy regime or one of the many non-mainstream alternative treatments. It seems very much like two years ago revisited.
Inside me, beneath the joy of being alive and the pain I endure from being alive, is my intuitive spirit. I will let it guide me down the path that is right for me.
My journey continues.