Sore tonsils led 44-year-old Danilo Ramirez's doctor to suspect he had more than just a sore throat.
"He did surgery and a week later, 'Mr. Ramirez you got lymphoma,'" said Ramirez.
Stage Two Lymphoma. Those words sent the Burbank father of two into a tailspin. But the specialized radiation treatment he faced scared him even more. Danilo is claustrophobic. Even though his life depended on it, he refused to wear the required mask.
"Mentally it was really hard on me," said Ramirez. "There were nights I couldn't sleep at all knowing I had to face that."
"So he almost was willing to refuse treatment for a potentially curable cancer," said Dr. Rex Hoffman. "Without treatment he would die."
Sedatives didn't help, so his doctor recommended visual guided imagery.
Raking in a zen garden is one form of relaxation, but visual guided imagery is a specialized form of meditation that teaches a patient to focus on their breath and different muscle groups.
"Even learning for a short period of time could teach you how to reduce stress, reduce anxiety in different situations," said clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Harden.
After a few weeks, Ramirez gained the skills to undergo treatment.
"The body didn't control me," said Ramirez. "My mind was strong enough to deal with it, and say you know what? I'm going to be all right."
"It can be really helpful for people in terms of increasing immune functioning, helping to deal with daily stress levels," said Dr. Harden.
"Now he knows to take deep breaths," said Dr. Hoffman. "And practice stress relaxation in other parts of his life, that really helped him to be a much happier person."
"I'm using all this to an advantage to fight cancer," said Ramirez.
Danilo finished his radiation treatments in December. Tests show he is cancer free. He said the calming effects of meditation continue to help him in all aspects of his life, including dealing with Los Angeles traffic.
Meditation and yoga are regular programs offered to patients at the Disney Family Cancer Center.
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