Told her odds of survival were less than one percent, 31 year-old Alyssa Phillips took up the challenge and set out to beat those odds. Diagnosed with stage IV cervical neuroendocrine cancer, the prognosis was bleak, but her spirit was strong.
Young and married, her hopes of starting a family were dashed in an instant, but there would be no time for self pity. New hopes and dreams would take hold. Now 34, she is not only surviving, but thriving and sharing her inspirational story with the world. She’s gutsy, energetic, and relentlessly upbeat. And she’s a person you should know.
What is neuroendocrine cancer?
One of the most aggressive types of cancer, there have been less than 30 cases of cervical neuroendocrine cancer ever documented, and precious few successful outcomes. Information is scarce on this rare disease, but the cancer’s aggressiveness is well documented. Most patients die within two to three years of diagnosis. (Hong Kong Med J 2009;15:69-72)
Battling the Cancer
The diagnosis came as a shock. Having just completed a half-marathon in her best time ever, Alyssa had never felt better.
With stage IV cancer ravaging her body, there was no doubt in Alyssa’s mind that she was in the midst of a medical emergency of enormous proportions. The trained Physician Assistant underwent a hysterectomy, followed by high-dose chemotherapy, and two bone marrow transplants that required eight months of what she calls “house arrest,” as her immune system went through the process of rebooting.
It was a grueling treatment plan, but one she would endure because giving up was simply not an option she could accept.
Modern medicine would play a large role in saving her life, but she knew that she needed to do more, to learn more about the “other” side of medicine. She began learning about emotional healing techniques, affirmations, meditations, visualizations, and prayers. She practiced yoga, acupuncture, juicing, energy medicine, ancient healing disciplines, and worked with a nutritionist. In her quest for life, she utilized a blend of modern medicine and complementary therapies. As she put it, “No stone was left unturned.”
“All of these things I still do today and each of these were no doubt “difference makers” that turned a less than one percent chance of survival into the life of my dreams now. Medicine has its place but, in the end, all true healing begins within.”
As for those odds of survival, she fell squarely into that less than one percent, and says she’s happier and healthier than ever before.
Next: The Bucket List Trot Around the Globe / The Amazing Life That’s Unfolded
The Bucket List Trot Around the Globe
During those long eight months of “house arrest,” Alyssa and her husband began thinking about what they wanted to do when it was all over. “Where can I take you?” he asked. “You name it. Anywhere.” Not knowing if she would even survive the transplant treatments, they needed a goal, a plan for the future, something to hold on to and work toward. “Santorini,” came the reply.
Thoughts of the trip to Greece kept Alyssa’s spirits up. Even in the darkness of night, she would whisper, “I’m coming … I’m coming … I’m coming …” Something to hold on to.
In 2010, while recovering from the final transplant, a friend invited her to Spain. After redoing all the vaccinations that had been effectively wiped out by the transplants, it was off to Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid. When friends held their wedding in Costa Rica, she wasn’t about to miss that either. And she threw in a little extra action of her own there, repelling down a waterfall, zip lining through the jungle, and relaxing in the natural hot springs of an active volcano.
Then it was off to the magical Maldives … Santorini, Greece … and Istanbul, Turkey, rounding out eight months of travel. Eight months of “house arrest” followed by eight months of travel. Now that’s balance. And that’s how you go through a bucket list … and when you get through it, you start a new one.
“There’s nothing like thinking you might die to really want to live, and I’ve been so blessed to be able to really do that,” says Alyssa. “The gift of something like this is that you no longer say “well, maybe one day.” Instead you say, “how about now?” I joke that I truly am the luckiest girl alive, for so many reasons.”
Next: The Amazing Life That’s Unfolded
The Amazing Life That’s Unfolded
Still traveling and living life to the fullest, Alyssa shares her story through her writing and speaking engagements. “This has always been bigger than me,” she says. With all she’s survived, she wants others to know that they are not alone.
Alyssa likes to embrace a new mantra at the beginning of each year. Last year it was, “full circle,” and 2010 certainly lived up to that theme in a big way. The mantra for 2011 is, “We are what we have the courage to become.” Make no mistake about it. This young woman of courage is already an inspiration to a great many people. There’s no telling what she can accomplish once she sets her mind to it.
Currently working on a book about her experiences, she hopes to have it completed by early 2012. “Something beautiful is happeningTM” is her tagline, and it’s easy to see why. “The challenges, and even the tragedies, of our lives are veiled lessons and gifts used to break us in beautiful ways into the people we were always meant to become (and the life of our dreams) if we let them. I never would have chosen this path, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, and yet I wouldn’t change one single thing because it has made me who I am today and I am grateful.”
Keep an eye out for that book because there’s so much more to her story. Indeed, “something beautiful is happening.TM”
For more information, visit: AlyssaPhillipsInc.com
Images courtesy of Alyssa Phillips
Ann Pietrangelo is the author of “No More Secs! Living, Laughing & Loving Despite Multiple Sclerosis,” a memoir. She is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and The Author’s Guild, and a regular contributor to Care2 Healthy & Green Living and Care2 Causes. Follow on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo