I Nearly Died From An Incurable Disease: This Mantra Helped Me Through Recovery

Physician, Scientist, & Author By David Fajgenbaum, M.D., MBA, MS.c.
Physician, Scientist, & Author
David Fajgenbaum, M.D., MBA, MS.c., is a groundbreaking physician-scientist, disease hunter, and author of the national bestselling memoir, "Chasing My Cure: A Doctor's Race to Turn Hope Into Action".
Two arms outstretched in grassland
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Last year, immunologist David Fajgenbaum, M.D., MBA, M.Sc., FCPP, appeared on the mindbodygreen podcast to discuss his work chasing a cure for his idiopathic multicentric Castleman disease (iMCD)—a rare disorder where the immune system attacks and shuts down the body's vital organs—along with the lessons he learned about life, hope, and resilience. His inspirational national bestselling book, Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race To Turn Hope Into Action (excerpted below) is now available in paperback. 

As soon as I got to the airport back home in Raleigh, I did something I hadn't done in 10 years: I sat down at Five Guys and had a hamburger. 

I hadn't eaten any form of ground meat in a decade. I had also carefully removed the skin from every piece of chicken, and I hadn't had fried foods or any fat-filled additive like mayo or butter either. I'd been a model of clean eating, filling my plate with fruits, vegetables, fish, (skinless) chicken, and whole grains. Dried mango slices were my splurge food. In the name of good health (and some amount of vanity), I had tamped down the urge to eat for joy; "I don't eat for taste," I'd once proudly declared to my friends while itemizing the calorie count and grams of protein on the plate in front of me.

Even still, I had now nearly died several times—and it was hard to keep up the pretense that food was the culprit. Indeed, my own well-nourished body had turned on itself. I'm not sure if it was my realization that pristine nutrition can take you only so far toward the uncertain state of good health (a "stronger" immune system was actually the last thing I needed) or the fact that I'd been fed through a feeding tube for weeks, but as I walked through that airport, my carnivorism was reawakened. I no longer saw the wisdom in cutting off a channel to joy. 

I savored that hamburger. It was like a feast after a long, abstemious Lent—or that first solid meal after you have the flu. 

'Think it, do it' has developed into a guiding principle of sorts.

Sitting down and eating it also gave me a moment of quiet to think about something I'd been mulling over the past few weeks: a new orientation for a new phase in my battle for life (or my victory lap phase, as I thought of it—wrongly—then). I was envisioning a new modus operandi. Think it, do it kept reeling through my mind. The comma was important. It was not a full stop. Not thinking of some things and doing some other things haphazardly but thinking of some things, then doing those same things, and there was no stopping halfway through. 

I didn't—and still don't—see this new mantra as an excuse to be impulsive; I wasn't planning to blurt out exactly what was on my mind or manically start buying things online. Think it, do it has developed into a guiding principle of sorts. Don't just let thoughts come and go. Every thought should be broken down and evaluated to determine if it's worth doing. If so, then it's go-mode—whether or not you have all the ideal skills to do it. This has made me more scrupulous about what I really want, and which thoughts actually warrant doing. It's made me more economical about what I spend mental energy on, yet ironically it also helps me banish the doubting hobgoblin I have living in the back of my mind.

We often think of doing things or saying things that would have a material impact on our own lives or the lives of those we love but quickly talk ourselves out of them. Think it, do it helped me to cull useless thoughts and to elevate those worth doing. Eating a hamburger that day felt like the latter.

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