by Chaya Malika

Pills.  I am now up to—let’s see:  seven upon awakening, fifteen at breakfast, four at lunch, five in the afternoon on an empty stomach, fifteen at dinner, six small capsules before bed—I am now up to fifty-two pills per day.  Plus a powder dissolved in water twice a day.  Plus homeopathy dosed one teaspoon every fifteen minutes for one and a quarter hours daily, except for one day a week when it’s every fifteen minutes for two and a half hours.

That’s a lot.

Most of the pills are supplements I get from various mail order sources and local health food stores.  It seems like I spend a frustratingly lot of time inventorying, purchasing, reordering, and doling out pills. Chastising myself if I run out.  Well, I don’t let myself run out of the prescription drugs—thyroid hormone, antidepressant, pill for sleeping—because I know I’d feel it.  And I don’t let myself run out of magnesium, because I don’t want the muscle pain and the charley horses to return. Magnesium is a miracle drug, as far as I’m concerned.  Taking it, I can dance again.

But I’ve been out of my green tea extract for a few days.  It’s an antioxidant, good for warding off cancer, which I have.  The oncologists want me to “watch and wait” instead of treat it, so I’m doing everything I can do to strengthen my immune system and, I hope, avoid chemotherapy.

I haven’t mentioned all the different practitioners I see, nor have I listed my exercise classes or described my pristine diet.

“You’re doing all that alternative stuff?” my friend Beverly asked one day when I met her in the women’s room at the Berkeley Y and we got to talking cancer.    Beverly has breast cancer that’s metastasized to her liver.  Her doctors predicted she’d be dead awhile back.

“Yeah,” I said.  “I’m seeing a guy in Marin who was trained by shamans in the Philippines.  He places his hands on me and they get warm.  One of my tumors went away.”

“My doctors don’t know why I’m still around,” Beverly said.  “I don’t do any alternative stuff.  I just do diet Coke.”

I laughed and said, “Maybe I should try it.  Maybe diet Coke has some miraculous cancer-killing ingredient.  Maybe scientists should start doing clinical trials with diet Coke.”

Beverly smiled.  She said, “It’s good to be alive.”

I think of this conversation while I’m downing my fifteen capsules with breakfast, wondering if perhaps doing diet Coke instead would save me money and especially time, time to dance and play—strengthening my immune system, raising endorphins, improving my quality of life.

Bio: Chaya Malika has non-Hodgkin lymphoma on and off and on again.  She considers writing more nutritious than vitamins.