Imagine being sequestered in a bone marrow transplant room for a month while high-dose chemotherapy drugs drip into a catheter in your chest, destroying your bone marrow--your immune system--and hopefully, all the cancer cells in your body. You have a headache which feels like a cheap red wine hangover, you vomit intermittently and have diarrhea continuously. For a month. And once your immune system is destroyed, a common cold caught from a visitor or a nurse could easily kill you.

Once your marrow is destroyed by the poison, white cells harvested from your blood are dripped back into you to recreate your immune system. If the cells don't engraft properly, you'll get sick and die. And before this all began, you had to sign a waiver acknowledging that the high-dose chemo would make you 10,000 times more susceptible than the average person to leukemia, other cancers, and brain, heart and organ damage. That's a stem cell transplant, and I went through two of them.

It began in 1991, when I was diagnosed with Stage Four lymphoma cancer of the bone. I was given six months to live. I was 32 and my sons were aged two and six months. My wife and I had just built a home on the water, and I had a promising career as a corporate writer. I had everything to live for. Death was not a part of my plans.

So I got to work. I researched how people who had survived terminal illnesses had managed to beat their diseases. There was a common thread--survivors used meditation and visualization to employ their minds to help stimulate their immune systems. So for six months, while my oncologist administered double doses of CHOP chemotherapy, I meditated and visualized four or five times a day.

At the time, people who visualized were using techniques such as imagining knights piercing their tumors with lances, or tiny Pac-Men gobbling up their cancer cells. These were violent images, and I found them at odds with a calm, meditative state. So I used my own visualization: my diseased hip and pelvis was a sandy beach littered with weak jellyfish eggs (cancer cells). As I inhaled, a wave crashed onto the beach and covered the eggs. As I exhaled, the waves carried off the eggs to be filtered away by the ocean.

At the end of six months, to my doctor's amazement, I was cancer-free. To celebrate, my wife and I went to Cancun, toured Chichen Itza, and drank cerveza. I thought I was cured.

A year later the cancer returned in my left hip, and my oncologists recommended a stem cell transplant. Normal chemotherapy hadn't beaten the disease, and this particular lymphoma cells was aggressive. I agreed, and decided I had to go deeper into the meditative arts to survive the transplant.

I discovered that the Chinese had utilizing the mind/body connection for thousands of years. They called this art "qigong" or energy work. Qigong had literally thousands of exercises--standing, sitting, moving and lying down postures. Qigong was based on the same theory as acupuncture: That you have invisible meridians and channels of energy that lead to your organ systems. If these channels become blocked, illness ensues. Qigong could open the channels and keep energy flowing.

I contacted a local tai chi chuan teacher and she taught me several moving sets she had learned at a seminar by Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming of Boston, world-renowned kung fu, tai chi chuan and qigong master.

I practiced these sets several times a day, and sailed through the stem cell transplant, even though the chemotherapy was five times stronger than normal chemo. I got out of the transplant room in record time. I thought I was cured.

A year or so later the lymphoma returned in my right shoulder. My oncologist had a concerned look on her face as she told me that the only way to beat this disease once-and-for-all was to undergo another stem cell transplant--a more potent one. The chemotherapy was so strong that there was a 25% mortality rate. It was several times stronger than my first transplant.

The program was a six-month process: every other month would be a four-day hospital stay in which I would receive near-transplant dose chemo to wipe out as many cancer cells as possible. It would culminate in the month-long transplant. That's when the oncolosists would give me the "hydrogen bomb" chemo that actually killed quite a few patients.

A stem-cell transplant is the most medieval of medical procedures. Burn out the infection with fire and hope you don't kill the patient. And I was facing my second one.

I decided I had to go more deeply into qigong to survive. I decided to contact Dr. Yang of Boston. Then, synchronicity. A friend handed me a flyer announcing a qigong seminar in a nearby town by Ramel Rones, top disciple of Dr. Yang, and a master in his own right. Rami had won gold medals for forms and fighting in North America, Europe and even China.

I attended the seminar, participating fully, but all the while sizing up Rami. I had practiced martial arts for years when I was younger--I had a good sense for the superior. He moved like a panther--this guy was the real deal. I approached him at the end of the seminar and gave him my pitch: "Look, I know you're a champion in fighting and forms. But do you want to take on a bigger challenge, and help me beat cancer?" I was amazed--he agreed and took me on as a personal student.

Rami taught me warm-ups, proper breathing and breathing strategies, as well as qigong sets from White Crane and Tiger Claw. But the most important thing he taught me was a posture from standing post meditation called Embrace the Tree. This posture could not only open your channels, but actually gather energy from the atmosphere into the crown of your head and from the earth into the soles of your feet--then store it in your dan tien, or field of elixer, below your navel.

Here's how it works: You stand, feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent several inches, sacrum tucked, head level, with your arms held in a wide arc in front of your chest, palms facing the heart. And you stand, and focus on your breathing. You pull energy into your body, and the arcing of the arms puts pressure on the sternum, which stimulates the thymus gland above the heart. The thymus kicks out T-cells, your body's natural cancer killers.

Qigong masters practice Embrace the Tree for an hour every day. Rami emphasized that to survive, I must do the same. At first, I could only hold the posture for five minutes. So every day I added thirty seconds or a minute, and in several months, I could stand for an hour. Every day is a drop in the bucket--and one day the bucket is full.

It was difficult to hold the posture for an hour with cancer-damaged bones and chemotherapy in my veins. But my gut told me that this was the only way I was going to survive the second transplant. I had already had high-dose chemo from the first transplant, which had suppressed my immune system and supposedly, my energy, for life. It had weakened me, and put me at risk of death from the second transplant.

Every day I practiced Embrace the Tree for an hour, unless I was in the hospital receiving chemo or for a few days after when I was too sick to stand. Then I practiced sitting or lying down qigong, focusing on my deep, abdominal breathing which pumps the lymphatic system to remove toxins and wastes from the body.

Bald, no whiskers or eyebrows, my face twice its size from prednizone--I didn't look like a qigong master when I embraced the tree. But I felt like one.

I got out of the actual transplant procedure in record time. This amazed the doctors, as I was supposedly weakened from the first transplant. And I was cancer-free. Again.

Surely after two transplants I was cured? I thought so. So I stopped practicing Embrace the Tree. In a way, it reminded me of the cancer, and I wanted to put it all behind me. Biggest mistake of my life. Nine months later the cancer relapsed, this time in my spine. This was the scariest relapse of all, as the tumor was eating its way through a disk and a vertebrae. My legs unexpectedly would collapse beneath me when a nerve was brushed, and I'd fall to the ground like an accordion. And I had tremendous difficulty urinating--I was afraid I would need a catheter, and I feared that.

My oncologist was at a loss, as I'd been given every type of chemo available and still the cancer had returned. She decided to give me one treatment of the original CHOP chemotherapy I'd had in 1991. Meanwhile, I started Embracing the Tree again with a vengeance. If my legs were unsteady, I'd sit on the edge of a chair and practice it. An hour at a time.

In a month I was out of pain. Gallium scans and MRIs showed no trace of the tumor in my spine. That was in 1996. I've been clear of cancer for 12 years. My sons have grown into men, aged 21 and 18. I achieved my goal of seeing them grow up.

And I have practiced, and continue to practice, Embrace the Tree every day.

A final note: Some people may wonder why I didn't solely practice qigong and try to beat the cancer without the horrific effects of chemotherapy. The answer is that cancer is too aggressive and dangerous a disease. Don't be swayed by the so-called masters on the Internet who say qigong cures everything--they're just trying to sell you a DVD and take your money. My teacher, Rami Rones, teaches qigong to cancer patients who are receiving chemo and/or radiation at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. He and I agree that the best course when diagnosed with cancer is to use the power of allopathic medicine complemented by the power of qigong. The qigong makes you strong and lets the Western treatment do its job.

Author's Bio: 

Bob Ellal is a four-time cancer survivor (clear 12 years)and an advanced practitioner of various types of qigong, especially standing post meditation. He is a personal student of Ramel Rones, top disciple of Dr. Yang Jwing-Ming of Boston, world-renowned kung fu, tai chi chuan, and qigong master. He has taught qigong at Hartford Hospital and to numerous private students.

Ellal is a freelance writer. He's worked as a newsletter writer/editor for a division of Simon & Schuster as well as a writer at Aetna Life & Casualty. He's freelanced for various corporations and is building his business on the Web. He's just completed a course in writing copy for home and sales pages, e-newsletters and e-mail ads.