Man claims yoga helped him beat cancer after chemotherapy failed

Man claims yoga helped him beat cancer after chemotherapy failed

At age 30, Tom Harper was as close to death as anyone can be. His chemotherapy had failed, his body was riddled with tumours, and the aggressive form of lymphoma he'd been struck with had ruined his life. He had a 15 per cent chance of living to see his next birthday, doctors warned. Yet at the last moment, Tom (a self-proclaimed 'Cancer Viking') managed to make a remarkable recovery, and now his cancer has miraculously gone into remission. What's even more amazing is that Tom claims that something unusual helped him beat his cancer; something which millions of us practice every other day.

Tom, now 32-years-old, was first diagnosed with lymphoma in October 2016, after a long bout of sickness which Tom assumed was a case of food poisoning. Tom had been an active guy all his life, but when mysterious aches and pains made it impossible for him to compete in martial arts, he knew something was wrong. Doctors eventually found a lump on his neck, and Tom was prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy at London Bridge Hospital. Doctors also discovered a number of tumours growing inside him: including a 13-centimetre-wide growth on his lung.

An image of cancer survivor Tom Harper. Credit: Press Association

But Tom's chemotherapy course failed, as doctors learned that most of the tumours hadn't shrunk at all. In April of 2017, they decided to try a two-month course of immunotherapy, a form of treatment which targets the enzymes in the tumours. By this point, Tom was a shadow of his former self: he'd lost all the hair on his head, grown a beard to compensate, and was far skinnier than before, while his skin had turned very pale. However, Tom insists that it was his decision to keep active, and in particular to keep up with his yoga, that ultimately saved his life.

Tom started calling himself the "Cancer Viking" because of his beardy appearance and made an effort to stay fit and healthy, despite the incredible toll this took on his body. Amazingly, either the yoga or the immunotherapy seemed to do the job, and he was soon declared cancer-free. In fact, his fitness regime had given him so much more physical strength, he was motivated enough to run the Hackney half-marathon in May 2018. Now he plans to volunteer for the charities Look Good Feel Better and Lymphoma Action.

Tom Harper on a boat at the beach. Credit: Press Association

Commenting on his experiences as a cancer survivor, Tom stated: "When something like that happens, you have two options – you either die or you fight it. I just developed this blind and dogged determination. In my mind I started to think of myself as a ‘cancer Viking,’ battling against the ethereal and dark forces of cancer ... All my body hair fell out apart from the hair on my face. That’s where I got the Viking idea from. I thought, ‘If I can’t grow any other hair, I’m going to grow the only part I can as much as possible! Pushing my body with yoga and exercise benefited me enormously."

He added: "One of the best pieces of advice I was given, was from a doctor who said, ‘If you act like a patient, you’ll become a patient. So, I tried to be as active as possible. Every day I’d get up, have a shower and go for a walk. I didn’t want to be lying in bed and letting the cancer bring me down.  I wanted to be up and at it and feeling like I was doing something to fight it off ... I would meditate regularly, also repeating mantras about healing and strength over and over in my head. The words would wash over and relax me. It was like having a cool, damp cloth wiped over your forehead."

Tom Harper lying in bed. Credit: Press Association

However, Sarah Porch, head of information and support services at cancer charity Bloodwise, is skeptical that the yoga is the real reason for Tom's turnaround, stating: "Although we know that staying active may help people with blood cancer, particularly with managing fatigue, there’s no evidence that any particular exercise programme can improve your condition or how you respond to treatment. It’s important to talk to your doctor about an appropriate level of exercise if you’ve been diagnosed with blood cancer."

Maybe Tom's yoga and exercise was what saved his life, maybe it was the immunotherapy, or maybe a bit of both. The important thing to note is how these things helped Tom stay positive, and in many ways that's half the battle.