What I Gained From My Journey Through Cancer

January 4, 2015

This January 5th will be my sixteenth cancer-versary. That’s almost as many years as I was old when I first heard the words “cancer” and “aggressive” spoken about me at the age of 18. It’s been sixteen years since I went from being a teenager with cancer to an entrepreneur and survivor. What seemed like a painful derailing of my life plans at the time would become one of the best things that ever happened to me. Getting cancer changed my lifestyle, my diet, my thinking, and my life’s work.

My journey started back in January 1999. It was my senior year of high school and I was healthy and active. I was on the varsity tennis team. School was going well and I was getting ready to apply to college.

Then one day, I was taking a shower and I felt a bump in my lower abdomen. I didn’t think anything of it, and I wasn’t worried, but I told my dad who was a pediatrician. He called one of his physician friends who wanted to biopsy it, the sooner the better. I got the biopsy and then went about my usual business, back to school.

The doctor called us back in and said to me and my parents: “the sample that we took is a type of cancer”. That was the first major shock. I said, “What do you mean its cancer?” “Rhabdomyosarcoma. It’s a cancer of the connective tissue and muscle tissue and it’s very aggressive”, he said.

Instead of suiting up for tennis practice, I was suiting up for exploratory surgery. After opening up from my sternum down my lower abdomen and creating a zipper on my chest, they discovered that the cancer wasn’t localized. It had spread and I would have to undergo twelve months of chemotherapy treatment.

I had to go to the hospital every three weeks and get IV chemotherapy. I didn’t think it was a big deal at first but it literally wiped me out. I lost hair. I felt awful. I experienced nausea and vomiting and I couldn’t eat.

The first week was hardest and the second week was a little better and the third week I would start to come back to life a little more, just as it was time to repeat the chemo again. The cycle of treatments really took a toll on me.

One of the biggest challenges for me was nutrition. My friends and family were bringing me food but I couldn’t eat. I was repulsed by the smell of food. I was losing too much weight, and so my doctor handed me a bottle of nutrition drink and said this is what you need to buy. My mom went to store and came home with four cases. I was drinking six to seven a day because it was my only source of nutrition but it tasted awful.

At this same time, my immune system was down and since I wasn’t able to get out like a normal teenager, I passed the time by reading. I read 120 books on diet, nutrition and wellness, hoping to educate myself and dig out of the hole I was in.

One day, I came across a list of ingredients you should never put in your body. I held the bottle of drink my doctor had recommended for me up next to the book so the ingredients were side-by-side. The bottle was exactly like the page, with nearly every bad ingredient in there.

That was the eye opening moment for me. My doctor came in and I asked him about the drink. You recommended this to me and it’s the worst thing in the world. He said, you’re right, but this is what we have in the form of liquid nutrition. If you find something better, let me know.

From that day on I made a radical change. My mom went to the store for things you should be putting in your body — organic carbohydrates, protein, vegetables. I got a Vitamix blender and started blending my own shakes daily, replacing all the bad ingredients with good ones.

A few weeks into it, I started to notice I was feeling a bit better. The only thing that I had changed was my shakes. I ended up gaining about 20 pounds and my energy and strength slowly returned. It was all from nutrient dense foods.

I finished my year of treatment and was a year behind in college but I was determined that I didn’t want this disease to set me back or slow me down, so I finished college in three years instead of four. Then I went on to medical school.

While there, something resonated with me. We only received two weeks of nutrition training — about the same as if you were to take a weekend nutrition course — and that felt backwards. Why was the medical practice focusing on the treatment of disease not the prevention?

I couldn’t in good conscience tell the patients asking me about weight gain to buy the current off-the-shelf shakes, so I gave them a list of ingredients and instructed them to make their own. But compliance was low because it wasn’t convenient enough. I was in residency and I felt that at that moment, more than ever, I needed to start a business to offer an alternative.

So with the blessing — and help — of my wife, who has a Masters in holistic nutrition, I started Orgain. I set off to create a truly nutritious shake that tasted good. Diet and nutrition are one of the most important parts of treatment, and yet the greatest obstacle. I created Orgain to help alleviate one major obstacle in the journey to recovery.

My experience with cancer was deflating for sure. At the time, I felt there was nothing worse that could be happening to me. But now, 16 years later, I’m helping others with cancer. I’m offering something that is good for people at a time when they need it most.

I know I gained something extraordinary from my cancer journey. While I could help 30-40 patients on a busy day in the clinic as a doctor, I’m now helping tens of thousands of people reach their nutritional goals. It has been a rewarding and motivating journey with an exciting future ahead.


  • Sandra Browning
    June 24, 2017 4:10 pm

    I really enjoyed your article. Since being diagnosed with Breast Cancer Stage 2, I have been researching for the best nutrients and shakes to use. Since I can no longer ever use progesterone or estrogen to balance out my body since I am in menopause.

    However I need nutritional information in order not to gain weight since I will never even be able to take Estroven. But I believe that the key is in finding the best nutrients , protein, etc that could offer me the quality of life I had being in menopause , but having estrogen and progesterone to combat hot flashes , nite eating, and just taking me from a whole life of being a size 6 , not 4 sizes larger and feeling miserable.

    I had 2 hours of nutritional education and it was very sparse with no details or other options at all.

    If you have worked with women going through this and wanting to beat the cancer while getting back their quality of life please let me know. I would be very interested in your suggestions.

    • Joni
      March 3, 2019 7:34 pm

      I am stage 2 also. My go to websites are: Cancertutor.com and thetruthaboutcancer.com. Hope these help.

  • Cecelia
    January 8, 2018 7:15 pm

    I’d swear you were telling my story. I’m going thru the same thing. Breast cancer survivor, estrogen positive, hot flashes. night sweats, weight gain. Menopause sucks! I too, need to know about the nutritional information in this protein powder so I don’t gain weight. Please help!

    • alexm
      January 23, 2018 12:32 am

      Hi Cecilia & thanks for your comment. Nutritional Info for each Orgain product can be viewed on its product page at shop.Orgain.com. When you select a product, as if to purchase, you’ll find “Ingredients” below the product info. If you click the next tab for “Nutritional Facts”, it’ll show the complete Nutrition Facts Panel. Hope this helps!

  • Michelle twitchell
    May 9, 2018 12:11 pm

    Just learn about your product. I have late stage 2 colon cancer. I will be doing 6 months of chemo. My weight is 84 I was told to get supplements to drink in addition to eating. The current supplement is awful and loafs of chemical why in the heck do I want this in my body. I eat organic foods so I want a supplement that is organic and healthy.

  • Parul Sharma
    May 29, 2018 7:59 am

    Hi my mother is a cancer survivor. She is still fighting it. It’s been 3 years. The stage is 4 endometrium uterine cancer.
    Please suggest nutritional shakes and diet

    • Ritika Malhotra
      September 11, 2018 7:37 am

      Hey my mother is also suffering from stage 4 uterine cancer…please let me know what treatment you are doing for your mother…you can contact me on ritikalily@gmail.com…..waiting for your response ..wish your mother a healthy life…

  • anne
    October 9, 2018 5:55 pm

    Your story is so similar to my 21 year old grandson’s. He is a senior in college and has just been diagnosed with a reoccurring brain tumor and will have to soon start chemotherapeutic, followed by radiation treatment. His appetite has already been impacted by the cancer so I feel ir’s really important to find supplements that will appeal to him. thanks for your inspiration.

    • alexm
      October 23, 2018 7:56 am

      Thanks so much for sharing your story with us. We know Andrew’s case is not an isolated one and comments like yours keep us firm in our mission. Thank you again. Good luck and good health to you and your grandson.

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