Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. - Neale Donand Walsch
For the past 4 months I have been training for a seven-day, 545-mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles. Previous to this, the longest bike ride I had ever taken was about 18 miles when I was 14. Athletic is probably not the first word most people would use to describe me, so this whole experience has been a challenge to say the least, not only physically, but even more so mentally.
Deciding to participate in ride is part of a story that begins two years ago in client’s bathroom. I needed to pee, so I went to the urinal and started but to my shock, there was no pee, but blood. I immediately called my doctor who asked me to come in immediately. He was convinced for someone my age that this was kidney stones, but after 10 long and agonizing days of numerous tests, scans, pokes, and prods, I was diagnosed with stage 3 renal cell chromophobe carcinoma, a very rare form of kidney cancer. Its characteristics are that it’s slow growing, non-aggressive, and rarely metastasizes. As my oncologist put it, if you are going to get kidney cancer, “this is the one to get.” Based on the size of the tumor, I had been living with cancer for over 10 years without knowing it. At the time I was 36 years old, so I had been living with cancer since my mid-twenties. The average age for kidney cancer diagnosis is 76 years old. The tumor was quite large at 10cm, which would require that my entire left kidney to be removed. The good news was that the cancer was fully contained in the kidney, so once my kidney was removed, I did not need chemo, radiation, or any other treatment. I spent two and half months recovering from the surgery.
While I was physically recovering from the surgery, my mental health was collapsing. The deepest, darkest depression set in and my anxiety was at levels I didn’t even know were possible. The post-surgery morphine, Percocet, and Vicodin helped to not only dull my physical pain but also numb my mind. Reality would hit me when the doctors stopped refilling my painkillers. I was desperate for relief, turning to my therapist and doctor for something else to numb me. They both agreed that I needed to go on an anti-depressant and an anti-anxiety medication. I quickly filled the prescription and came home to tell Mark that I was going to start taking the prescription. He agreed, but on one condition: that before I start the medication, I attended one more Ayahuasca ceremony. If I didn’t get anything out of it, then I could start taking the prescription. Ayahuasca is a tea made of two plants from the Amazon. Individually these plants do nothing on their own, but when combined they produce a powerful medicine whose healing powers is still not fully understood.
A little back story — I had attended an Ayahuasca ceremony about a month before I was diagnosed with cancer. I am a very pragmatic person, and this was too esoteric and mystical for me, so I entered into this ceremony extremely skeptical and not really open to it. As expected, I didn’t experience anything during the ceremony and thus my prophecy was self-fulfilling. When Mark asked me to go back one more time, I agreed, thinking it would be the same experience as the first time. I arrived at the ceremony with the same skepticism as my first one, but I failed to realize that I was so mentally weak that there were so many cracks for the Ayahuasca to seep into. My ego couldn’t fight it and the Ayahuasca quickly went to work on me, taking me on the most intensely terrifying/beautiful journey that there are no words for. It was as if I had done 10 years of therapy in the span of 6 hours. I came to terms with not only my cancer, but baggage around shame, fear, regret, and guilt that I had been carrying my whole life. These massive weights were lifted off of me like a feather in the wind. It’s still boggling me how easily my fear, shame, and guilt were wiped away and replaced with gratitude and love. I was no longer depressed about the past or worried about the future. I could just be here now, something that had always been so incredibly difficult for me to do. It was truly astonishing, and I still have a very hard time articulating the experience as there are no words that do it justice.
I have since then attended 25 more Ayahuasca ceremonies. I have done more personal growth in the past two years than I have my entire adult life. I now see my cancer as the greatest gift I have ever received. It’s given me exponentially more than it’s taken away. I took me a level of darkness that allows me to appreciate even the smallest of light — light that didn’t even register before as there wasn’t enough darkness. It showed me that I have the choice between being the victim or the victor. I now want to challenge myself in ways that I avoided in the past. I want to do things I always thought I couldn’t. I have come to place in my life where I am not led by fear anymore, but acknowledge it, honor it, and face it head on.
Which leads me to the Aids Lifecycle Ride -- this isn't something old me would have done as it's so far outside of my comfort zone, but that's exactly why I am doing it now. I have done so much work on myself in the past two years, but I also recognize that this is only the beginning of this journey for me and I can’t wait to keep pushing myself. I believe this is the best way to grow.
One of the greatest lesson’s cancer and Ayahuasca gave me is that without darkness, there would be no light. As a gay man, my community has been ravaged by the darkness of HIV and AIDS, but AIDS Lifecycle is a beacon of light. It’s a way to celebrate the lives of those lost, to support those who are fighting it now, and push forward to a cure. By making a donation, you are helping those who are living with HIV and AIDS to receive the care they need and also helping to reduce the spread of this disease. It’s my immense honor to be participating.
Thank you for listening to my story.