Actress and New York Times best-selling author Suzanne Somers has had her fair share of experience with cancer. She was diagnosed in 2000 with breast cancer and later had another cancer scare involving a terrifying misdiagnosis. Now, in her new book, “Knockout,” she shares her story and interviews with doctors about treatment options. The following is an excerpt.
Chapter 1: A cancer story — mine
November 2008, 4:00 a.m. I wake up. I can’t breathe. I am choking, being strangled to death; it feels like there are two hands around my neck squeezing tighter and tighter. My body is covered head to toe with welts and a horrible rash: the itching and burning is unbearable.
The rash is in my ears, in my nose, in my vagina, on the bottoms of my feet, everywhere — under my arms, my scalp, the back of my neck. Every single inch of my body is covered with welts except my face. I don’t know why. I struggle to the telephone and call one of the doctors I trust. I start to tell him what is happening, and he stops me: “You are in danger. Go to the hospital right now.” I knew it. I could feel that my breath was running out.
No time to wait for an ambulance. We race to the emergency room. I am gasping, begging for yet one more breath. I am suffocating. I am running out of time. I don’t have time to think or be frightened; I can only concentrate on getting one last breath. I am dizzy ... the world is spinning. Breathing is all I can think about.
We arrive. My husband has called the hospital in advance. They are waiting for me. The emergency room workers — nurses, doctors, and other professionals — are wonderful people. They have dealt with this before. They are reassuring: “Okay, we’ll take care of her.”
As soon as I am in the emergency room they inject me with Decadron, a powerful steroid. “Why can’t you breathe?” the ER doc seems to be yelling in my ear, but I can’t answer. I am unable to get words out. They inject me with Benadryl for the welts and the rash. Now I’m inside the ER, but I still can’t breathe. I can’t even sit up. I am bent over trying to find oxygen anywhere ...
They put me on oxygen and albuterol to get me breathing, and slowly, slowly, life returns. I am still grabbing for each breath, and there are spasms in my lungs, like someone is turning a knob that pulls my lungs inside out, but unlike before, the breath is there ... labored but there.
“We have to do a CAT scan,” he says. I already know that there are large amounts of radiation inherent in CAT scans, and it bothers me to think of doing that to my body. This is the first time I have had any pharmaceutical drugs in me in eight years.
I say to the doctor, “It seems to me that I’ve either been poisoned or am having some kind of serious allergic reaction to something. I mean, doesn’t that make sense? The rash, the strangling, the asphyxiation. Sounds classic, doesn’t it?”
“We don’t know. A CAT scan will tell us. I really recommend you do this,” the doctor says. “Next time you might not be so lucky — you might not get here in time. You were almost out.”
I know that. I could feel the life going out of me in the car ride over. “Okay,” I answer meekly. I am concerned and wary. My husband is with me, holding my hands, rubbing them. His face is twisted with fear, concern. Nothing is making sense.
A week ago, I was the picture of health. I hosted a beautiful evening at my home for all the wonderful doctors who had participated in my bestseller “Breakthrough.” It was a beautiful, warm evening, and together we all celebrated health and wellness. The stars were out that night in full force, and while the air was filled with the sounds of live musicians playing my soft jazz favorites, the forty people at the table were enthusiastically conversing about the possibilities of aging without illness; aging with bones, brain, and health intact; dying healthy at a very old age. We were all turned on. We had all realized it was attainable, and we were excited to know that we had jumped on this incredible bandwagon in time.
This was an amazing group of people. These doctors were the courageous ones who stepped out of the Western “standard of care” box to declare that the present template of medicine is not working. Drugs are not the answer. Drugs and chemicals are degrading the brains of our elders and sneaking up on the unsuspecting young ones.
I looked around at this group of healthy-looking, vibrant people and was excited to bring them all together. We were all living this new approach to wellness. And before our delicious organic meal was served, everyone pulled out their little bags of supplements. We all got a laugh over that one.
It was so exciting to talk about true health enthusiastically instead of in the hushed tones that accompany talk of a loved one in a diseased state. I felt there always seemed to be a hopelessness that accompanied so many of today’s approaches to health. Even when they worked, there seemed to be an undesired reaction in the body. Somehow you weren’t the same person anymore; you became slowed down, aging faster, fragile.
Socially, in most groups I tempered my conversations on my approach to health because those who entrusted their lives to allopathic, “standard of care” Western doctors might not want to entertain the idea that they might have made the wrong choice or that their way wasn’t the best way. I respected that. Life and health are about choices. There is the old way and the new way, and each of us has to do what makes us most comfortable.
I chose the new way and I have never felt better, happier, more energetic, more hormonally balanced, and more sexually vibrant in my life.
So why am I here, in this hospital? What happened?
It’s surreal, being wheeled into the CAT scan room. I’m immediately brought back to my radiation treatments for breast cancer years earlier. I know I wouldn’t make that same choice today. The only health problems I’ve had — until tonight — have been related to radiation exposure, but thanks to the incredible doctors I had the privilege of interviewing and knowing, I was able to rectify what had been damaged — using “nature’s tools,” as Dr. Jonathan Wright says.
I am now dressed in a blue hospital gown, and so far I’ve been reinforced by three rounds of oxygen and albuterol. I’m starting to feel normal again. Drugs have been my lifesaver this time. This is what they are for. Knowing the toxicity of all chemical drugs, I’ve already started thinking about the supplement regime and detox treatments I’ll have when I get out of here, to get all the residue of pharmaceuticals out of me. I’m hopeful this will be the one and only time I have to resort to Western drugs.
“We’re going to inject you with a harmless dye,” says the radiologist. “It will make you feel warm, and like you have to pee your pants, but the feeling will pass. It won’t take long, maybe fifteen minutes, so just relax.”
I’m already on an IV of glucose, so she injects the dye into my IV. I immediately feel the warmth, a rather uncomfortable warmth, and then indeed I feel like I will pee right on the table. Click, click, click, like something mechanical that’s going wonky. Click, click, click. Again and again. I lie there still so they can get the best pictures.
“Okay, that’s it,” she says, then pauses. There is something in the radiologist’s face, but I can’t pinpoint it. It lasts only a nanosecond, but there was definitely something in her face, her tone.
“Have you had breast cancer?” she asks, seeming concerned.
“Yes,” I answer.
“Right,” she says.
I am wheeled back to the ER, and Alan and I wait. I want to get out of here. I want to go home.
The door opens and the doctor and the nurse come in and close the door behind them. The doctor stands and looks at me for a moment and then says, “I have brought her with me for courage because I hate what I have to say.” The moment feels frozen, still.
“We have very bad news,” he continued. My heart started pounding, like it was jumping out of my chest. “You have a mass in your lung; it looks like the cancer has metastasized to your liver. We don’t know what is wrong with your liver, but it is so enlarged that it is filling your entire abdomen. You have so many tumors in your chest we can’t count them, and they all have masses in them, and you have a blood clot, and you have pneumonia. So we are going to check you into the hospital and start treating the blood clot because that will kill you first.”
The air has been sucked out of the room. I look at my husband’s face and see that it is contorted with fear, pain, and confusion. My heart is pounding so hard that for the first time in my life I say, “I ... I think you need to give me something to calm me down. I’m afraid I am going to have a heart attack.”
“Absolutely,” the doctor says.
Surreal again. I am being wheeled upstairs, checked into a hospital room. There is a flurry of activity, IVs being hooked up. I hear my weak voice asking, “What are you putting in these IVs?”
“Heparin,” a nurse says, “a blood thinner for your blood clot, and in the other one is Levaquin, an antibiotic for your pneumonia, plus Ativan to calm you down.” I am grateful for the Ativan. Drugs! Me, the non-drug advocate. I’ve had so many drugs this morning, my head is spinning. What is happening to my life? To our life?
“Call Bruce,” my son, I say to Alan, trying to keep the panic from my voice. “He’s shooting in Atlanta; call him on his cell phone.” Then I tell him to call Leslie, Stephen, my sister Maureen, and my brother Danny. Both Alan and I are numb.
The oncologist comes into my room. He has the bedside manner of a moose: no compassion, no tenderness, no cautious approach. He sits in the chair with his arms folded defensively.
“You’ve got cancer. I just looked at your CAT scan and it’s everywhere,” he says matter-of-factly.
“Everywhere?” I ask, stunned. “Everywhere?”
“Everywhere,” he states, like he’s telling me he got tickets to the Lakers game. “Your lungs, your liver, tumors around your heart ... I’ve never seen so much cancer.”
He leaves the room and the sound of the machinery I am hooked up to fills the silence left by the shock and awe of this death sentence I’ve just been given. Alan lies down on the little bed with me and holds me like he’ll never let go. There are no tears from either of us. We are too stunned to cry. Nurses come and go, adjusting my equipment; we just continue to hold each other for what seems like hours.
Reprinted from “Knockout” by Suzanne Somers. Copyright © 2009. Published by Crown, a division of Random House, Inc.