After two years of chemotherapy, Lisa Craine decided to focus, instead, on nourishing her body.
A plant-based raw food diet, juices, coffee enemas, wheatgrass implants, mineral waters and mud packs to help detox her body are Craine's treatment of choice to ward off the cancer that began in her colon.
"What I'm doing now is to try and get my body back to optimal health and to create an environment where the cancer can't live," Craine said one afternoon while sitting on her back porch in East Hampton, with two of her three children still in high school, one dog on her lap, another by her side.
It's been just over two years since the initial diagnosis of Stage 4 colon cancer; a large tumor on her colon and lesions covering 90 percent of her liver. An oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering didn't know whether she'd see two weeks.
Five days after first seeing the doctor for what she thought was an ulcer, maybe hemorrhoids, the tumor was removed and a pump installed to treat the liver. Almost three weeks later, chemotherapy began. It never stopped — not until July.
Despite the chemo seemingly shrinking some, tumors started appearing on her lungs, but her doctor said not to worry about those, that they were small.
"Oncologists and doctors, they lied straight to my face," Craine said, her voice heavy, but determined. "They kept telling me we were working towards a liver resection. You only need one-third of your liver to live and the rest regrows in five months," she said. "I thought there was light at the end of the tunnel."
Then, she said she realized, "Their plan for me all along was I was going to be on chemo for the rest of my life, until I died, and probably from chemo."
Then, one of the tumor started to grow on the liver and there may have been some spreading to the lymph nodes.
The oncologists put her on yet another drug, called 5-FU. She'd travel into New York City for the treatment, then take it home with her in a bag hooked up to her body, for 48 hours. The drug smelled, she experienced incredible night sweats and painful mouth sores.
It was the last straw, she said. "It did its job and it's done now. And, it also did a lot of damage," she said.
"I just, I didn't want to die on chemo." Her voice cracks and her eyes well with tears. "I couldn't go into Sloan-Kettering anymore and see those people," she said. "I would go in there sort of bouncing and alive and I would leave there so drugged I could barely walk to the bus and then I'd spend five to seven days in bed. I just couldn't do it anymore."
It was a decision long in the making, perhaps even 12 years long. That's when her husband was first diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's, the same disease of which her mother died.
"I immediately knew. I saw it all before me. It's a very horrendous disease and there's no way out," Craine said. Her husband, who had been a triathlete, soon couldn't walk. Then he was no longer able dress himself. Finally, he was only able to blink his eyes. He succumbed in March 2003.
Craine believes that it was the stress of caregiving, becoming the sole provider for their three children, the youngest of whom was 3, and dealing with the financial stresses and changes after her husband had died that left her immune system compromised. "When he was alive, it was the first time I smoked cigarettes, drank coffee and I didn't eat. I created an environment in my body that allowed the cancer to come and grow," she said.
"I believe poor nutrition is what got me here and I believe that's what can get me out."
Like all things, the alternative diet comes at a cost. Romaine Gordon has organized a benefit for Craine and her children for Saturday, starting with a 90-minute spin class at in Amagansett from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Cost to participate in any 30 segment is $25. Afterwards, auction items will be up for bid at the from 6 to 7:30 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $20.
Organic foods alone are expensive. But Craine has also employed the help of Eric Levinson, who specializes in living foods lifestyle training, detox, therapeutic nutrition, yoga and meditation. He's hard-ressed to come up with a name for exactly what he does, but he refers to himself as a "transformation facilitator."
The past few months have been difficult and included five days in the hospital in August.
She could barely hold a conversation before Levinson's arrival for a four-day stay to handle a strategic treatment protocol, she said. "One of the hardest things is to take care of yourself and I'm a widow with three kids so the burden was on them -- and they're kids," she said.
"When I arrived here her eyes were just very cloudy and dark and yellow — very tired looking," Levinson said. "Just in two days, her eyes have brightened up."