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Fighting Cancer With Qigong: Chinese Mind/Body Techniques

Imagine being locked in a room for a month while high-dose chemotherapy drugs are dripped into your body from several IVs. Your hair is gone, eliminated from previous rounds of chemotherapy. Every hour you get sicker: vomiting, diarrhea, which you have to perform on a tiny commode so the doctors can check its contents, tremendous headches,  and the painful, churning feeling in your  bones as the chemotherapy destroys your marrow. After  your marrow is destroyed the nurses will attach a bag of clean marrow to an IV and drip it into you to recreate  your immunessystem. If nothing goes wrong, like a failure of these cells to engraft properly, you’ll be out in four weeks, hopefully cancer free Or you may catch a cold from a visitor and die of pneumonia.

But the cancer can come back, as it did with me—four times between 1991 and 1996. Those were the toughest six years of my life, and if I hadn’t practiced Chinese mind/body techniques for thousands of  hours over those years and since,  I wouldn’t be here today.

Here’s how it began: In 1991 I was working in the corporate world, as was my wife, and we had two small sons aged 2 and six months. We had just built a huge saltbox on four acres of land on a fresh-water pond. I had everything to live for. Then I was diagnosed with Stage Four Lymphoma of the bone and given six months to live. At that moment I vowed I was going to live to see my sons grow into men.

I read everything I could about the practices of people who had survived terminal illnesses—the common thread was meditation and visualization. So I mediated several times a day while being administered double doses of CHOP chemotherapy and the impossible happened. In six months I was cancer-free. I’d beaten it, or so I thought.

About a  year later the cancer returned and the doctors recommended a bone marrow transplant, as the lymphoma cell was very aggressive. The chemotherapy in a transplant is about five times more powerful than that used in normal chemo, so I knew I would need an edge to survive. I dug deeper into the mind/body connection and discovered that the Chinese had been utilizing this connection for thousands of years: They called the art qigong—energy work.

I studied some gentle moving sets, like tai chi chuan, with a local instructor, and practiced diligently. I flew through that transplant, barely getting sick, and got out of  the transplant room in record time. I thought I was cured and could go on raising my children.

For about a year, I was okay. Then the cancer returned. The oncologists insisted on a second bone marrow transplant as the only way to destroy my aggressive lymphoma. This transplant would be three times more powerful that the first, with preliminary hospital stays designed to kill as many cancer cells as possible with high-dose chemo before the actual transplant.

I knew I had to go deeper into qigong to survive this ordeal. I planned to call a famous kung fu master in Boston, Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming, to see if he could teach me.  By coincidence, a local flyer announced that his top disciple, Rami Rones, would be holding a qigong seminar in a nearby town. Rami Rones was one of the top martial artists in the world. He’d won gold medals for forms and fighting in Europe, the U.S. and even China. So I approached him and asked him if he wanted to take on a new challenge: helping me beat cancer.

He took me on as his personal student and taught me warmups, seated qigong sets, moving sets, and most importantly a standing set called Embrace the Tree. Embrace the Tree is  the single most  difficult qigong exercise to do: You stand with feet parallel, knees bent a couple of inches, sacrum tucked and back straight, head level, with your arms held  in an arc a few feet in front of your chest. The posture is designed to gather energy from the atmosphere into the crown of the head, and energy from the earth into two cavities on the soles of the feet. The arcing of the arms stimulates the thymus gland underneath your sternum on top of the heart. Your thymus gland kicks out T-cells, your body’s natural cancer killers.

The goal was to practice Embrace the Tree for one hour. That’s what the advanced practitioners and masters of internal martial arts regularly did. At first, I could only get five minutes. The pain, from lactic acid buildup, was severe in my shoulders and legs. But as Dr. Yang says, every day is a drop in the bucket, and one day the bucket is full. I tried to add a minute a day to my practice, sometimes only thirty seconds. By doing this, as the end of three months I was Embracing the Tree for an hour.

For a few days after each round of preliminary chemo, I couldn’t exercise at all. I was just too tired from the high doses of chemo. Rami said to not worry about missing a day here or there. But as soon as you can practice, you should.

I went into the bone marrow transplant feeling strong, and once again I got out in record time. The doctors were amazed: with one transplant under my belt, my immune system and energy should have been severely suppressed. I did get sick from the treatments, but not as badly as most people.

Finally, I felt cured. Then a year later the cancer came back in my spine. My wife and I were devastated. I had stopped Embracing the Tree because I thought the cancer was gone for good. I began this exercise in earnest again, and with one round of the original CHOP chemotherapy, the cancer was gone.

It never came back. That was twelve years ago. My sons are aged 21 and 18, full grown men. I reached my goal, and I practice qigong every day.

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