In 1998 at the age of 24, I worked in the U.S. Congress with plans for law school. However, the unexpected emerged when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. In the midst of vulnerability and uncertainty, my world immediately changed.
One month later, I had awake brain surgery at the National Institutes of Health where the entire tumor was removed. I felt profound gratitude, and sometimes conversely, parts of me were extremely broken with some physical and psychological pain. As I aspired to engage in actions, I became motivated to embrace my own quest for optimal health and healing. I used various strategies, yet overall I was only scratching the surface.
In 2004, I was finally informed with a brain tumor recurrence that actually became very visible in my MRI scans since 2000. In confusion and chaos—into the other side—I conducted more research, acquired multiple opinions, asked important questions, and requested copies of reports on a regular basis. I also began to further think outside of the box conventionally, and create a path with integrative cancer care for the whole person of the body, mind-body wellness, spiritual vitality, social support, and a cleaner environment.
Through highs and lows, after extensive integrative cancer treatments over many years—including three clinics in Europe and a tremendous more in the United States—I needed conventional treatments. I had my second awake brain surgery at the University of California San Francisco in 2011.
Due to more tumor growth, in the fall of 2013 I needed additional treatments. Research led me to the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA), and I chose Los Angeles as my new home.
Without a doubt, I needed a top-notch medical team, and I found one led by Linda Liau, MD. PhD, a neurosurgeon and neuroscience expert. Dr. Liau is one of the top 1% of neurosurgeons in this country as ranked by U.S. News Top Doctors and is known internationally. For my third awake brain surgery in November of 2013, Dr. Liau focused in removing the tumor while protecting cognitive functions, given that the brain tumor resided in my left temporal lobe and had the potential to impact my speech, memory, and hearing. Some of the brain tumor removed by Dr. Liau was used for a clinical trial of the DCVax-L immunotherapy dendritic cell vaccine. After surgery, I received radiation and oral chemotherapy in early 2014, and then the dendritic cell vaccine developed by UCLA.
I continue to have MRI scans on a regular basis. I cannot know with 100 percent certainly what will happen in the future, and I do see myself living a long life with a vision to accomplish a tremendous amount.
Indeed, challenges can be transformed into opportunities. Since the beginning of my healing quest, I started doing volunteer work in the brain tumor community through fundraising, lobbying Congress, and speaking at the U.S. Congress and brain tumor conferences. Two years after my initial diagnosis and surgery, I joined the broader cancer community to work for cancer non-profits, and as a consultant to the National Cancer Institute and Food and Drug Administration. From there, I reached a point to not only focus on the disease but expand into the whole person. I immediately got a job at National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Through body-mind-spirit guidance, in 2004 I started my own business evolving into Integrative Cancer Care for the Whole Person and Healing Focus® as a Cancer Coach, writer, consultant, and speaker. I strongly feel through my intellect, heart, and soul that this is what I’m meant to do. Brain tumor patients—and anyone with cancer—deserve to experience optimal health and healing. I hope to support the process. Time is of the essence.