Her name is Ivelisse Page. And though her beautiful name begins with an “I”, she knows there is no “I” in team. Every dream needs a team. It can’t exist without one. Ivelisse could teach a lesson in Reach your Dream 101. And you might just say it is her destiny….
“I’m going to share one story I rarely share. My closest friends didn’t know about this. The summer after my father’s death, (Ivelisse’s father died of colon cancer when she was 13), I went to summer camp with my youth group and there was a guest preacher there. He prayed and told me that God told him I was going to play an integral role in finding a cure for cancer. I was 13. I was intrigued. I asked around at camp if anyone mentioned anything to the preacher about my Dad, the cancer or anything else. Everyone said no. For many years I didn’t tell anyone this story, not even my mom. As the years passed I thought the guy had made a mistake. But 24 years later….”
There was no mistake. In September of 2008 Ivelisse started on the path toward her destiny, but what she didn’t know was she wouldn’t be drawn to destiny, it would literally pass right through her. First stop, cancer.
“My father died just two years after being diagnosed with colon cancer. I was diagnosed the same age as my father, at 37, but I had taken precautions. My father’s mother and half of her siblings had colon cancer and all died from it. I was taking all the precautions, eating organic foods, exercising and getting colonoscopies every 5 years.” What Ivelisse knows now, but didn’t know at the time, is a small tumor can go from polyp to cancer in 36 months. “If there is a strong genetic link you should be tested every year, not every five”, says Ivelisse. And it can come without warning.
“I had no symptoms besides being tired. I was taking two-to-three hour naps every day. Raising four kids I thought I was just a tired, busy mom. My husband finally said this is just not right, something is really wrong. So I made an appointment with the doctor and he told me you are severely anemic, you need to go to the ER…right now…and get a blood transfusion. I had no one there at the moment to help me. My husband and my mom were out of town. I told the doctor I have my kids at home what am I going to do?” At the same time, Jimmy, her husband was in an airport in Georgia about to board a plane to California, but when Ivelisse called Jimmy looked up to see there was another flight to Baltimore. He ran to the ticket counter and told them they must switch his flight, the airline honored his request and within 90 minutes he was home.
But the journey was just beginning.
The doctor couldn’t figure out why Ivelisse was so anemic. He said there was no reason for it to be a colon issue, Ivelisse had just had a colonoscopy three years prior…but they elected to do another one. The colonoscopy revealed cancer in the colon, it was in the lymph nodes, stage-3. Sometimes three is a magic number, to Ivelisse it didn’t feel that way, but by doing the colonoscopy at that time, that single test probably saved her life.
“At that moment I did cry,” says Ivelisse. “Your life flashes before you, you have this diagnosis and knowing what my father and his family went through…you try to overcome the fear trying to grip you. But when I got home I had to make a decision. Am I going to live by fear, or by faith and fight? I made the choice I’m going to live by faith and fight, and that’s what I held on to.”
Ivelisse and Jimmy had the difficult conversation with their four children. Her oldest, who had done some research on the internet about colon cancer, asked his mom if she was going to die. Ivelisse told her son, “none of us knows what tomorrow will bring, if we are here, or not. I know things don’t look good when you go online and read, but God is good no matter what and I will fight as hard as I can to be here. Stay off the internet and fill your mind with things which are encouraging, not discouraging.”
The surgery to remove the cancer was a success and only 1-of-28 lymph nodes was affected, still it was recommended Ivelisse see an oncologist for follow-up. “Surely”, Ivelisse says, “with all the years since my father had passed, there must be advancements which give me a better chance of surviving. We interviewed several oncologists and found Dr. Diaz at Johns Hopkins Hospital. But when we asked Dr. Diaz about my chances of surviving with chemotherapy, he told us at that point it was a 67% survival rate, without chemo it was 57%. It only improved my chances by 10%…my husband and I looked at each other and decided we were not going to do it.” But as more testing was done it was discovered the cancer had spread to the liver, Ivelisse was now stage-4. Devastating. Her chances of survival this time around, only 8%. Chemo wouldn’t change a thing.
During this period Ivelisse and Jimmy started looking around for alternatives. There had to be a better way, a better shot at survival. They learned about mistletoe therapy. Mistletoe, the same plant which garners all the attention at holiday time bringing people together, sometimes in the tradition of a single kiss underneath the greenery. Ivelisse and Jimmy hoped this time mistletoe might help kiss cancer goodbye. The couple was introduced to Dr. Peter Hinderberger, who handles anthroposophic, (alternative),medicine. He taught them about the healing affects of mistletoe, which attacked the bad cancer cells, but left the good ones intact. Through research Ivelisse and Jimmy learned mistletoe can also stimulate bone marrow activity, help ease tumor-related pain and reduce the risk of reoccurrence of cancer. And it could be used right alongside chemotherapy to help reduce the side effects of chemo. 60% of cancer patients in Europe are on mistletoe therapy.
Ivelisse was sold and two weeks prior to the liver surgery she began mistletoe therapy treatments. During the surgery, 20% of her liver was dissected, but the margins were clear. Ivelisse went in for post-op and another scan. Before the doctor gave the results, she and Jimmy asked him what were the chances of something showing up again. The doctor asked her, “do you really want to know?” The couple said they did and the doctor told her, 75% of the time they find more tumor activity. Ivelisse says her husband Jimmy looked over at her and told her, “you are going to be part of that 25%.”
That was more than five years ago. Miracles happen and Ivelisse is living one. At the three-year mark of being cancer-free Dr. Diaz told Ivelisse, this is “monumental” to be part of the 8% who survive stage-4 colon cancer. And that was when this survivor told the doctor she wanted to do more to share her mistletoe treatment story. She wanted to raise money to fund clinical trials, but as Dr. Diaz explained to her, not only would it be a daunting dask, but there was another challenge, no pharmaceutical company could touch it because mistletoe is a natural substance, so funds must be raised privately.
Words like daunting, challenge, and the like mean little when you have the belief, you carry the faith and find your purpose. Ivelisse knew then she had to dream big, live big, believe big. It had been nearly a quarter-century since a preacher at summer camp told Ivelisse she would “play in integral role in finding a cure for cancer”, and in April of 2011, Believe Big was born. It began simply with Believe Big mugs, handed out to patients at the oncology center while Ivelisse waited for her appointments. But since that time, so much more has happened.
Through different events and Ivelisse and Jimmy’s dedication to the cause, Believe Big has raised $300,000 and Phase 1 of the clinical trials on mistletoe therapy is underway. Phases 2 and 3 will take millions to fund and years to complete, but the energy is there and the cause is worth it. Ivelisse says, “the good thing is mistletoe therapy is available now and there are 50 physicians trained across the United States to administer it with treatments. Though not covered by insurance, the treatments cost only about $100-$150 a month. Believe Big even has grant dollars available to help patients with the cost of the those treatments.
At the most recent Believe Big dinner, just last month, the non-profit foundation raised more than $196,000. The theme? Kissing Cancer Goodbye.
“My why and my passion for doing what I do each day,”says Ivelisse, “is because I don’t want anyone else to lose their mom, dad, brother, or sister. I want people to know there are complimentary things out there to help fight cancer and to bridge the gap between conventional medicine and other treatments. We want to cure the whole person, to use the strength of both practices and let people know there are other things out there to help heal. Even creating the website, (http://www.believebig.org/), as a place for people to go as a guide for what to look for, we don’t want it to be difficult for anyone to find the information. You are going through a hurricane of emotions, (when cancer is diagnosed), and so we created Believe Big, so there’s one place to go, one resource for patients to advocate for their own health.”
Face it. Fight it. Overcome it. Those are the three sentences on the foundation’s website. Sometimes three is a magic number. Ivelisse and her family are making magic and more.
Want to change the world? Just ask Ivelisse Page…sometimes you just have to Believe Big.
Until next time thanks for taking the time.
Author: The Sunday Series with Mark Brodinsky: Stories of Courage, Hope, and Inspiration. Volume I
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How can Storytelling work for your Non-Profit? Contact Mark Brodinsky: firstname.lastname@example.org /443-865-2795