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What Happens When You’re Diagnosed with Leukemia

Driving back from the doctor’s appointment, I was sobbing. It felt like agony. I was banging my fist on the steering wheel and literally shouting out loud, “why me?”

Medical Diagnosis Fear

I’d wanted to be a firefighter. Not always like from the age of 4 but more like ten years. Something about it seemed noble and purposeful. After 9/11 I even tried to volunteer for the army thinking it was my duty to do something in the wake of that horrific trauma inflicted upon us all.

I was finally in a position to volunteer in our new town in Connecticut. It felt fitting to do this because of my longer interest in the work and as some small way of honoring the 343 firemen who died that day.

The first stage of becoming a firefighter was to get an extensive physical. This first part was great. The doctor said I was in terrific shape for a 41-year old man.

The second stage was a kind of nightmare.

After picking up several frantic sounding voicemails, I reached the doctor’s office only to hear the grave sounding voice at the other end of the line state: “we believe you have Lyme disease and a form of leukemia called chronic lymphocytic leukemia or CLL.

I honestly thought this must be a terrible mistake. Like the denial stage of the 12 steps of dealing with death.

Retesting only confirmed the initial diagnosis. I spoke with the doctor who now felt like my lifeline and he referred me to a specialist. I felt like I didn’t want to let go. He felt safe to me. I could tell he was trying to dislodge himself from my emotional grasp. In desperation I asked him how long he thought I had to live. The last thing he said to me was ten years.

I was referred to a hematologist / oncologist who also confirmed the diagnosis then proceeded to tell me they don’t know what causes this condition and they don’t know how to cure it. Sitting there in a state of fear, she breezily told me not be worried. I was still worried. Telling someone “not to worry” doesn’t work. I noticed pictures behind her of two small children. I had three small children at home and knew instantly that she would never have the time to figure out my situation. I knew she has only a few minutes for each patient and with two little ones, a full life at home.

I left her office feeling desperate. In the car on the way home I shouted, “why me?” and banged my balled fist on my steering wheel. This seems in retrospect like the anger phase of the stages of dealing with death.

I wanted more than anything to find another human being who’d successfully walked this path before me and found light at the end of their dark tunnel. I searched and searched for this person and for shreds and shards of information that would unlock this puzzle and allow me to live to old age to see my children grow and have families of their own.

I joined the fire department to save the lives of others. It’s ironic that in becoming a firefighter the process may have saved me as otherwise I may not have known about the leukemia or Lyme until much later.

In the wake of 9/11 with all the grief and fear in the population, it was hard not to have this horror present in one’s daily life. At the time I worked on Wall Street less than 2 blocks from ground zero. I had pulverized and congealed dust from the explosions and collapse caked upon my office window. The acrid smell of the smoke and dust hung in the air for well over a month after the attacks.

9 11 Ground Zero

During this time, I heard an expert on terror explain how best to deal with fear. He said three things were necessary to regain your center:

  1. Research and understand your enemy

  2. Change your life to deal with the threat

  3. Take action

It occurred to me that people diagnosed with cancer and other potentially life-threatening diseases are suffering from a form of terrorism. Just the word “cancer” most often invokes feelings of fear, powerlessness, hopelessness and death. This is precisely what terrorism is designed to accomplish.

The three steps the expert outlined made perfect sense to me and I endeavored to follow them assiduously.

I decided to look deeply and closely into the face of leukemia and understand it better than the oncologist I’d visited twice. I began exhaustively researching this word and the condition it represents daily.

I began seeing a wonderful psychologist as I sensed it was vital to fire on all cylinders to meet this crisis with every tool at my disposal. My diet began to shift and I investigated supplements.

One session the therapist asked me a question that shook me and changed my life. I’d just said to her that I felt as though a dark cloud was following me everywhere. I feel it and almost see it hanging there above me like the evil cloud of smoke that hung for so long over lower Manhattan. When I said this to her it was absolutely true in my mind. Her response to me was: “what if the dark cloud is actually a mirror?”


For the first time I began to understand that my power might be greater than I’d ever imagined. My thoughts, words and the feelings that flow from them might be reflected back to me in a reality I was creating.

If on some level I created this condition, couldn’t I then find a way to un-create it?

I found my way to a naturopath and working with her allowed me to see and perhaps feel a glimmer of hope for the first time. Far from saying we don’t know what causes this and we don’t know how to cure it, I learned that naturopathy digs deeper. I resonated with the theory that the body becomes sick when it’s overloaded with toxins. This made sense to me.

Dr. Harte tested me for heavy metals poisoning and the results came back severely elevated levels of lead and off the charts poisoned with mercury. I had something to hold onto now which was a cause. With a cause in hand I could now take action on removing these toxins.

The three steps the terrorism expert outlined were being practiced and I began to feel more and more in control. Despite fear bubbling up at odd moments, the emotional tide was beginning to turn in my favor. I wasn’t out of the woods but I felt like a might have found a map.

Dr Harte taught me about the concept of a “healing crisis”. This is where things actually feel and seem worse BEFORE they get better. She explained how a sort of retracing occurs as the body detoxifies itself and re-experiences the negative effects of the toxins as they leave the body.

In the prescribed sauna one day, I noticed large hive-like welts appearing upon my stomach and chest. Even after I emerged from the heat, they were still hot and very itchy. I called the Doctor in a controlled panic and asked her what to do. Should I stop the saunas? Her answer was very important to me. “Keep going”. This seemed so radical. She explained that my liver couldn’t handle the overload of crap so my body was pushing it out through my skin. The toxins were so nasty they were reacting with my skin and creating this terrible rash.

I dutifully and faithfully kept up the saunas and noticed to my amazement that the welts began to turn into much smaller welts. From here as I continued then into pinprick marks and then nothing as I kept returning over and over again to the sauna.

“When you’re going through hell, Keep Going” – Winston Churchill

I learned from Doctor Harte that healing isn’t always a straight line upwards. This is especially true with longstanding, chronic issues.

If you have a contractor come to remodel your kitchen. I promise you it will look and function much worse after the first 2 days of work than if nothing is done at all. We have faith in this process and are willing to endure the dust and disorder because we trust it will get better – much better in the end. Why not with matters of our health?

In my daily research and search for answers, I gradually moved from the strictly cause and effect understanding of disease and the disease process to the vast power of the mind over the body and then into the spiritual aspects of sickness and health, death and life.

The first phenomenon I found that opened my eyes was the placebo effect. Most are familiar with the concept of how a person can take a medically inert and meaningless substance they think is powerful medicine and have a remarkable physical change. Digging deeper I found this to be absolutely incredible. My research indicated that 33%-70% of the effectiveness of a drug comes from the placebo effect!

I learned that more expensive drugs are more effective than less expensive drugs. That multi-colored capsules are more effective than single colored capsules.

I read of cases where people taking a placebo thought they were taking chemotherapy, became nauseous and had their hair fall out!

I was sold. The mind controls the body.

Now I needed to figure out how to control my mind…

(Exerpted from my upcoming book.)

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