It should have been the high point of Diva Nagula’s life. At 40, he was a physician who was recently married and hoping to start a family.
Then came the curveball.
He noticed swollen lymph nodes in his neck, a sign that the body is fighting infection. But Diva hadn’t been sick and felt well.
As a precaution, he had them checked out, only to receive jaw-dropping news from the doctor:
“You have stage-four, non-Hodgkins lymphoma.”
Given how well he felt, he immediately wondered if the doctors had made a mistake.
“I was obviously in denial at first,” he says. “I went into research mode before I would put my body through the hell of chemotherapy.”
Watch and Wait… Before Trying Chemotherapy for Lymphoma
Determined to avoid chemo, Diva scoured the internet and medical research to understand everything he could about his diagnosis and how to tackle it.
Lymphoma and other forms of cancer don’t run in his family, so how had he, a seemingly healthy man in his prime, developed it?
“My conclusion was that it was 100 percent lifestyle-related, not genetic,” he says. “I knew after researching this that I had to change my lifestyle and I had to find a way to make my body non-toxic.”
From food to personal care products to the air we breathe, our bodies are constantly under assault from toxins.
His doctors recommended he begin chemotherapy as quickly as possible. Instead, he decided to watch and wait, and try to shrink the lymphoma in alternate ways.
First, he cleaned up his diet, eliminating all processed foods in favor of organic, whole foods. He cut out grains, gluten, corn, soy and sugar. The goal: reduce inflammation and increase phytonutrients, which are the much-needed nutrients found in fruits and vegetables.
Based on his research, Diva also eliminated foods that he learned could increase the growth rate of cancer cells. He cut out all carbohydrates except for those found in vegetables. He also reduced his intake of foods with glutamine, an amino acid found in some protein-rich foods such as red meat, wheat and all dairy products except for cottage cheese.
A nutrient-rich diet would also support a healthy microbiome in his gut, which has been shown to bolster the immune system. Toward that end, he also added probiotics.
When Diva tested his nutrient levels, he found surprisingly low levels of vitamin D for someone who frequently golfs and lives in Florida.
Besides adding vitamin D, he brought on other immune-boosting supplements such as CoQ10, magnesium and colostrum.
To modulate his levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, he took adaptogens such as the herbs Rhodiola and ashwagandha.
Diva also realized he had underestimated just how toxic stress could be. Up to that point, his life had been a constant pressure cooker, from pushing himself in high school and college to the super-human rigors of medical school to the demands of working as a physician.
Fortunately, he had recently left the medical practice where he’d been working, allowing him to relax and focus on healing. He slept more, meditated to calm his mind and concentrated on being in the moment.
Reluctantly Resorting to Chemo
After seven months of clean living, Diva returned for new scans – hoping to see his cancer shrinking. Instead, he was crushed to learn it had actually accelerated.
He reluctantly accepted that he would need to begin chemotherapy and immunotherapy. However, instead of the most aggressive form of chemo, he went with one level down.
Once a month, he received a day-and-a-half of Bendamustine as his form of chemo and Rituxan for immunotherapy.
After all his hard work, Diva had started chemo feeling defeated and deflated. And admittedly, during his active treatment, he let go of some of the healthy habits he’d started leading up to chemo. He returned to eating what he wanted and became more isolated and down.
“I didn’t have much of an appetite to begin with, with the chemo,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, I wasn’t as diligent in some of my healthy practices because at that point I had started to get depressed again and I had this defeatist attitude.”
No More Cancer
Diva had planned to complete six months of chemo, but instead, stopped at five.
“My body was so devastated by the effects of the chemo,” he says. “My immune system was so compromised.”
After completing treatment, he went for follow-up scans and was relieved to learn they showed ZERO signs of cancer.
He had put his lymphoma into remission – 13 months after his diagnosis.
Diva explains, however, that follicular lymphoma is an indolent form of cancer. Even though it may not be detected, it’s still in the body.
“It’s really important to maintain a lifestyle where you don’t foster or fuel the cancer from coming back,” he says.
A Post-Cancer Career Pivot
Grateful to be cancer-free, Diva became determined to keep cancer from a comeback. He returned to some of the healthy lifestyle practices he’d begun leading up to his treatment: a clean diet, regular exercise, meditation and reconnecting with family and friends.
Though never a very religious person, Diva turned to spiritual practices. For him, that meant recognizing that there is a higher power and actively trying to remain in the moment – not ruminating.
When it was time to return to work, he did so with a new perspective. Following treatment, he completed a fellowship in Andrew Weil’s program for integrative medicine at the University of Arizona. Integrative medicine combines Eastern and Western approaches to medicine, or natural and conventional.
He has since opened a concierge IV therapy business in Washington, D.C. as a franchise owner and CEO of IV Doc. For those who may have had a tough week, day or night, from too many drinks, endurance sports, food poisoning or a bout of the flu, IV nutrition can replace lost vitamins and electrolytes.
He also documented his inspiring story in the book, From Doctor to Patient: Healing Cancer through Mind, Body and Spirit.
But chiefly, he wants others to know the importance of addressing the entire body throughout cancer treatment and beyond.
“It’s all about balancing the mind, body and spirit to attain proper well-being,” he says.
Tips for Supporting the Body Before, During and After Chemo Treatment
Diva offers several suggestions for supporting the body before, during and after cancer treatment, but cautions everyone to check with their health team before trying anything. Every person is different.
Movement – Gentle exercise in any form helps move the blood and lymphatic fluid.
Detox – Sweating in an infrared sauna helps rid the body of toxins rapidly. But be sure to replace those fluids with lots of water.
Hydration – Drink tons of water or electrolyte drinks to help flush out the toxins associated with chemotherapy.
A lower toxic burden – Shoot for an organic diet free of pesticides, and non-toxic makeup and personal hygiene products.
Mindfulness – A positive attitude and remaining in the moment are critical, Diva stresses, to accelerate the healing process. Meditation and spirituality are just two of the practices that contribute to mindfulness.
Added nutrients – With your doctor’s blessing, adding vitamin D and colostrum can aid immunity. Magnesium may help with sleep and prevent muscle spasms.
Counseling – Cancer treatment is as tough on your psyche as your physiology. Consider talking with a licensed therapist.
What works for one person may not work for another. Consult your health practitioner for professional health advice before trying any new approaches.
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