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Home > Newsletters > September 2004 >

A Healing Story

By Alicia Sky Varinaitis-Kunerth

“You have a brain tumor.”

At age 30 and eight months pregnant with my first child, it was the last thing I expected to hear out of the doctor’s mouth. I had never been sick or dizzy. Had never felt nauseous or woozy or had headaches. One day, without explanation or forewarning, I began to have grand mal seizures. Mark, my husband of two years, was the one who found me in our home office, seizing. He called 911 and I was rushed to the emergency room. A pregnancy condition called Eclampsia was first suspected, but after two brain scans we were told that the cause of the seizures was a golf ball sized tumor in my left frontal lobe. I remember thinking, “This isn’t happening. This can’t be real.”

I was immediately admitted into the High Risk Pregnancy Ward at Encino-Tarzana Hospital, where I stayed for six weeks until the birth of our beautiful daughter, Ashlyn Pearl. Seven days later, having recovered enough from the c-section delivery, I was transferred to Cedars-Sinai Hospital for brain surgery. A wonderful surgeon, Dr. Keith Black, did an amazing job removing the tumor. Afterwards, he told my husband that surgery had gone “very well” and that he was confident he had “gotten everything he could see.”

One week later, Mark and I were in Dr. Black’s office to review the tumor’s biopsy results. With hopes of “please let it be nothing” floating around in our heads, we were floored by the results. The tumor was classified as a Grade IV Glioblastoma Multiforme. The doctor’s exact words were, “These types of tumors are incurable…” My first thought was, “I won’t see my daughter take her first steps.” Sorrow, grief, heartbreak, despair – it’s hard to accurately describe what we were feeling. To their ultimate credit, the doctors handling my case were always extremely positive and quick to remind us that although the tumor wasn’t curable, it was highly treatable. I was young, in good health and a woman – three factors that put me way ahead of the norm in terms of life expectancy. The ordered course of treatment: Seven weeks of daily radiation done concurrently with monthly oral chemotherapy.

Even though I knew that the radiation and chemotherapy would be hard, I was extremely surprised at how much the treatments drained me. The medications I was taking made it unsafe to nurse my daughter and they also made me too tired to stay awake through a single bottle-feeding. I was spending most of my days knocked out in bed just trying to keep down chicken broth and crackers. And, due to the intense radiation treatments, I was losing my hair. I still remember the day I was in the shower and chunks of my hair just began falling out. I didn’t even have to pull. That was the day it hit me, “I’m truly sick.” I was weak, exhausted and overcome by depression. Despite all the books I read about positive mind over matter, I couldn’t find the energy or the will to even begin to battle the cancer. The “Western Medicine” approach to my disease was slowly obliterating my life. It would take something powerful to turn my life around. That was when a friend told me about the Tao of Wellness.

My friend was being treated by Dr. Mao for an especially severe case of lymphoma. I will readily admit I was a skeptic of Eastern medicine, including acupuncture. I didn’t see how small pins poked into the skin could amount to anything substantial. So, I don’t know exactly what it was – perhaps my friend’s copious enthusiasm or perhaps I was just too tired to protest – but I am so enormously grateful I agreed to meet with Dr. Mao.

The Dr. Mao-prescribed combination of healthy diet, herbs and acupuncture helped tremendously (and immediately) with my never-ending fatigue and nausea. I was able to keep food down, which meant I started to gain weight, which in turn helped me to grow physically and emotionally stronger. I learned to meditate, which cleared my mind for powerful healing suggestions. I found I was no longer held hostage by the fear of dying. I couldn’t necessarily quantify my positive reaction to the treatment in physical, easy to see terms, but I felt better on the inside. And that made all the difference in the world.

About three months after I started with Dr. Mao, I had a follow-up exam with my radiation oncologist. I thought that after the radiation treatments were complete, my hair would return. The hair not affected by the treatments had started to grow, but I still had a very large, noticeable bald spot on the left side of my head. It was funny how much I resembled my infant daughter – both of us had a ring of hair around the base of our skull, but the top of our heads was smooth. During the exam, I asked when I should expect my hair to return. She paused, I think cautious of my fragile emotional state, and said gently, “The radiation levels your tumor required were very intense. The hair follicles in that area are most likely destroyed.”

Looking back, I should have hit my knees in thankfulness for the technology that could burn away any remnants of cancer cells that surgery had left behind, but in truth I was devastated. It’s hard to gauge the progress of your healing unless you can look at yourself and see actual positive changes. Without my hair, I looked sick. Since I looked sick, I felt sick. My doctor was saying my hair would never grow back. Who was I to dispute her educated assessment?

Later that day, Dr. Mao walked into the treatment room to find me sitting on his table, weeping. I could barely speak, I was crying so hard. Upon hearing what my doctor had told me he said, “You must never listen to doctors – not even me. Every single person is different. No one can tell you what your body will and will not do.” He then brought in a small bottle of herbal liquid and told me, “Scrub this on your head with a toothbrush twice a day. It will make your hair sprout.” I took the liquid home and did what Dr. Mao had told me to do. About three weeks later I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were actual “sprouts.” My hair was growing back! About six months later I returned to the oncologist that had deemed my head a barren wasteland and she was stunned. She even wondered out loud (jokingly, let’s hope) if she had administered the correct dosage of radiation. Six months after that I had my first real full-head-of-hair haircut. That was a great day.

Dr. Mao’s advice not to take everything a doctor says to heart was profound. And I truly believe the brown herbal formula he prescribed regenerated my hair follicles. But it was a simple story he told that day that gave me the inspiration to start reliving my life. He told me to be happy because I looked like a Buddhist monk. I wasn’t in a place where I could joke about my baldness, but Dr. Mao insisted he wasn’t teasing. He asked, “Do you know why Buddhist monks shave the top of their heads?” I did not. He told me, “It makes them closer to God.”

Closer to God.

That was what I had come to Dr. Mao to hear. Instantly, all my sadness and fear about being bald for the rest of my life melted away. It was what I had been praying for all along. I needed to hear that God was by my side, battling my disease with me. I accepted, truly for the first time, God’s will instead of my own.

In July of this year, I will be two years cancer free. I believe I am cured. If ever an MRI shows any tumor regrowth, I feel confident I will beat it. And if I don’t and it is my turn to pass from this life, I will not fear the unknown. I will embrace it. Thanks, in large part, to Dr. Mao.

This Month's Articles

September 2004
Volume 2, Number 6

A Healing Story

First Aid: Little Secrets in the Kitchen

Recent Research

Ask The Doctor


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