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Lenny's Story: Cancer and the Quality of Life
Lenny Zakim

Lenny Zakim's 45th birthday in November 1998 was one he wasn't sure he would live to see, because three years earlier he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable malignancy of the bone marrow. At the time Body & Soul began filming his journey, Zakim had undergone a harrowing stem cell transplant and full-body radiation, but still had cancer. He was certain, however, that the complementary therapies he had incorporated into his battle with the disease had improved the quality of his days. An activist by vocation, Zakim found the energy to wage his own public awareness campaign so that more people could know of the full range of choices they have when faced with a diagnosis of cancer.

"I had a really good life. And the diagnosis of cancer was the end of that life as I knew it. Being told you have cancer is still, I think, the three worst words you can hear in your entire life. When you're diagnosed with cancer, you are stripped of titles, you're stripped of previous power, ideas of power, illusions of control. Cancer is a disease that doesn't just affect your body, it affects your mind, it affects your soul, it affects your heart. It affects every relationship you have.

"I think the biggest key to combinant therapies is that it's something you can do to get back your life. You can't just rely on the doctors. You can't just rely on your caregivers. You can't operate like that.

"The problem was that I had not been given a menu of all the available choices. I had certain friends who said, you should try acupuncture or you should do this, and I wasn't close-minded to it. I just didn't do it. Then I went to see David Eisenberg at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. What David told me to do were very basic things. Exercise. Drink more water. Meditation. Acupuncture. Guided imagery. Massage therapy.

"Nutrition I knew nothing about. No one told me that there are certain foods you should eat when you're on chemotherapy that will help you, that will make you less sick or less nauseous. There are lots of things you can do nutritionally to help you deal with the effects of hyperactivity you get from steroids and other things.

"A support group. It's at least a critical part of what I call complementary therapy. The ability to talk to people who have been through what you have been through is a major boost. It doesn't alleviate your pain and it doesn't change your anxieties, but it makes you feel like you're not crazy.

"The tendency of people who are in pain is to lay there, take pain killers, drugs, and wait for it to go away, and the tendency of many doctors is to give you all those pills and tell you to go to bed. What you learn through complementary therapies is that's not the best thing to do, and I learned that in dealing with this terrible disease and the feelings of depression and exhaustion and pain that you have, that exercise and meditation and acupuncture makes a significant difference. It doesn't make the cancer go away. It doesn't cure you from the cancer, but it helps you deal with the other stuff you're going through.

"At all levels, I think the complementary therapy piece is your first real grab back at self-determination and empowerment. It gives you at least some sense that you can do stuff for yourself. You're not totally helpless. It doesn't change the emphasis or the reliance on your doctors and on the care, but it does improve and enhance your reliance on yourself.

"To be told you have an incurable cancer means you've got to pull whatever strings you have. Some of it's prayer and faith. Some of it's very practical things like exercise and meditation and acupuncture. Certainly some of it's in the chemotherapy and radiation. I really believe it's a failure of Western medicine not to integrate all of this. We patients are doing it on our own, and we're lost out there. I really do want the day to come where I'm going to walk in there [the hospital] and they're going to give me that book that says, 'Okay, here's the resources of this hospital, and it includes yoga, meditation, etcetera,' because that's what they owe us."

Lenny Zakim lived long enough to see one more birthday with his wife Joyce, and their three children, Josh, Deena and Shari. He died on December 2, 1999 at the age of 46.

Program Description
Lenny Zakim
David Eisenberg, MD
Ken Anderson, MD
Michael Lerner, PhD
Peter Churchill, LMT
Help YourSelf
Tell Me More

Body & Soul is currently airing Monday-Friday at 7:00pm and 8:30pm on PBS YOU.

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