D. Anthony Evans knows what it takes to face down life’s biggest challenges and beat them. A child of a single mom, he was born with Neurofibromatosis (NF) a rare genetic condition where dangerous tumors grow on nerve tissue. Often benign, they can become malignant, resulting in Malignant Peripheral Nerve Sheath Tumors (MPNST), an aggressive form of cancer. In 2012, D. was diagnosed with MPNST. Nine life-or-death surgeries risking paralysis within eleven months followed as doctors removed 325 tumors, one of them over two pounds. D. was given six months to live. Survival rates are low, but there are those who survive. It has been over four years.
The day after this interview D. Anthony had a speaking engagement on Chicago’s Southside. He spoke to 150 students from the UNO Charter School Network following the nutrition section in the Freshman health class!
Caryn Hartglass: Hello everybody. I’m Caryn Hartglass and it’s time for It’s All About Food.
I was just thinking about time, and how we got an extra day on February 29th, Leap Year. That’s musical leaping for you. And I was just thinking how silly our calendars are. They’re helpful, aren’t they? But as some spiritual guides once told me, in their way of communicating, “there is no time”, even though it’s time right now for It’s All About Food, whatever that means. I’m glad you’re here, joining me. And we’re going to be tuning in so much love in this hour, so thanks for being there, to share in this information.
And speaking of sharing, I hope that you share this program with other people. I do this for the love of it. I do it because there’s so much information out there that needs to be shared, and I’m sharing it with you and I hope you share it with others.
We have this incredible digital library that’s exploding at Responsible Eating and Living.com of seven years, almost, I’m going to be celebrating my 7th year of this program at the end of the month. I just realized that. And we’ve got all of the programs, all seven years, most of them transcribed, for you to check out and review.
I like to say that even though some of the programs are six years old, seven years old, fortunately the material is still quite valid. There are many people out there that haven’t heard the latest and greatest, like many of you have. So it’s all really valuable and it’s all worth sharing.
I just came back from Costa Rica. I missed my show last week. Because I was out in the travel. It’s always amazing, travel is so amazing. We can learn so much about ourselves, our culture, by seeing other civilizations, other cultures, other peoples. And I find the contrast so amazing. When I go to Costa Rica, not just contrast with the United States, but contrast within that country itself. Because I’ve spent some time in their cities, San Jose and San Isidro. And I head out into the jungle and spend some time there. I stay on a friend’s farm. It’s profound. I always learn so much and it always gives me so much pause.
What I really love about it is being out in nature. It’s so stunningly beautiful. And instantly I can de-stress and relax and feel that feeling that there really is no time. At least, the time is marked by the sun rising and sun setting. I typically wake up at 4:00 in the morning and I go to bed at 8:00. Because I stay in these open air places and you really don’t want to have the electricity on at night, because the bugs come in.
And it’s a beautiful thing to let nature kind of form your days.
Anyway, I’m back in New York. And I’ll be talking more about my experiences there, because I’m sure lots of things will be reminding me of that experience.
But meanwhile, if you haven’t been to the What Vegans Eat daily blog that I put up at Responsible Eating and Living.com, you can see my past week in Costa Rica, in terms of the foods that I was eating while I was there. And there are some other nice pretty pictures that I put up on the blog as well.
Let me know what you think. I’m at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I always want to hear from you.
Cool, let’s move on.
My first is D. Anthony Evans, and he knows what it takes to face down life’s biggest challenges and beat them. A child of a single mom, he was born with neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic condition where dangerous tumours grow on nerve tissue. Often benign, they can become malignant, resulting in malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours. An aggressive form of cancer. And in 2012, D. was diagnosed with this aggressive form of cancer. Nine live or death surgeries, risking paralysis within 11 months, followed, as doctors removed 325 tumours, one of them over two pounds. He was given six months to live. Survival rates are low. But there are those who survive. It has been over four years.
Caryn Hartglass: Congratulations, D. Anthony Evans and thank you for joining me today.
D. Anthony Evans: Thank you so much for having me, Caryn. It is truly an honor and a blessing. Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: I agree, and I’m glad you’re alive. We only have a short amount of time on this program, and there’s so much to learn from you. And be inspired by you. You have this incredible essence for life and I wish we could bottle it and share it with people.
D. Anthony Evans: When you go through what I’ve been through, and this is one of my quotes that I hold dear to my heart. I never thought that facing death would show me how to live. Meaning that I don’t even think I was living until my life was on the line. Now when I get up, it’s about air, oxygen and love and light, and things that I took for granted. I’m not bitter, by any stretch of the imagination. And this was kind of the best thing that ever happened to me, in some type of weird way. And I’m just blessed and encouraged to be alive, Caryn, I really am.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m going to say that I agree. That it’s kind of a weird way. You know that we haven’t really talked, but I think you know that I’m a survivor of advanced ovarian cancer. I’m not going to say I’m glad it happened to me. I’m not. I don’t wish that kind of thing on anybody, ever.
D. Anthony Evans: I congratulate you. You didn’t survive. You are clearly thriving, there’s a difference. You are a thriver. So congratulations on that note.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you. So anyway, you have survived not only an aggressive form of cancer, but you’ve survived all kinds of challenges in life. Maybe you could just give us a little brief summary of that?
D. Anthony Evans: Okay. As you said, I was born with neurofibromatosis. Again, which is a rare, neurological disorder that causes tumours to spontaneously form on your peripheral nerves anywhere in your body without notice.
Most MF patients are on a number of medications, but I kind of found my solace and my way of dealing with the pain through fitness and exercise. This is at a young age. And it really made sense to me when I was about eight, of what I really had. I knew I had tumours. We used to call them birthmarks. And then the doctor made it very clear what my condition meant to me.
And to be perfectly honest, for thirty-five years, it was my secret. People that have known me my entire life did not know that I was fighting a disease that’s basically the conduit for cancer.
I had this amazing basketball career ahead of me. Been jumping roughly five feet since I was in 7th grade. Everybody from where I was from knew that if I stayed out of trouble, kept my grades up, kept working at my craft, that I had a very, very good chance of going far with basketball.
But all of this was happening at one of the roughest times in my life. Because I was not only fighting my battle, with my disease, and keeping it a secret, I was watching my mother. And my mother was my mother and my father. And I was watching her lose her battle to AIDS and HIV. Which literally, when she died, transformed my life into that of an orphan overnight. It was the second week of junior year, and it really devastated me. I had lost the two things that meant anything to me: and that was basketball and my mother.
I lost the basketball because, many people don’t know that neurofibromatosis, prior to the President changing the law, was a pre-existing condition. And up until 2010, my whole community, the insurance company had been getting away with deeming our tumours cosmetic, even though they are a conduit to a sarcoma that is almost certain death in every case. When you have MPNST. I mean, we’re very expensive patients. I’m at $4M in 29 months. I get it. On the capitalism side, on the moral side, it’s horrible. Because a whole lot of people have perished simply because they couldn’t be covered.
But what I’m getting at is, the University of Chicago was doing a study in 1993, that my guidance counsellor at high school and my mother were very excited about, because I’m finally going to get covered. For my likeness and my pictures, I would actually get an operation.
There was a tumour on my left knee that was bothering me, but I had been dealing with it. But then again they were excited that somebody was finally going to do the surgery for free. But I specifically had asked my doctor, “If I do this surgery, will I be able to play basketball, and suit up by August 1?” Where I’m from, no matter what, you have to be suited up and ready to go to secure your spot on the team. And there are no exceptions.
And my doctor kind of minimized…I was 16, I didn’t really get the gravity of what neuro meant, nerves, and how important your neuro, your nerves are to jumping, and just movement in general. And I went ahead and let him do the operation. And in a nutshell I just wasn’t who I needed to be by August 1st. I had to forfeit my spot on the team.
And then, September 13th, the second week of junior year, I lost my mother.
So the two things I had been getting up in the morning for had been taken from me in less than 90 days.
Hit the street. Got recruited by street gangs. Very dark eight or nine years. I would use alcohol and drugs. Because I was D. And D. didn’t have problems and D. didn’t share problems, because I had pride and my ego.
And I would have these times of the year where I would fall apart. But I do it away from everybody. My mother’s death date, September 13th – I would fall apart, get submerged in drugs and alcohol. Then I’d be okay until our birthday, which is December 21st. I was born on her birthday and I fall apart again. And get through those three days. Then I’d be good until Mother’s Day. And then it would be this vicious spiral; I could never get in front of the year. Because every time I had my stuff together, another one of these target dates would present themselves.
In 2000, I woke up in Alexia Brothers Behavioral Heath Center for trying to kill myself.
Caryn Hartglass: What turned everything around? Clearly you’re not that person anymore.
D. Anthony Evans: That hospital stay, actually. That hospital stay. I don’t know what the doctor saw in me. I know he sees people who come in, combative, and want to end their lives, that are abusing drugs and alcohol all the time. But he made it very clear to me, that because I was a harm to myself and I was combative, meaning I was a harm to others, that he would take my rights away if I didn’t participate in group.
So he broke me at about three weeks. And that’s only because he put me on the side of the hospital with the people who were talking to napkin holders. It became very lonely, and I raised my hand for help. And it was through some amazing counselling session and one-on-ones that we got to the root of all of my pain.
It was real simple; I had never grieved for my mother. I had never grieved. There was never a grieving period, and I compartmentalized and compartmentalized and then I exploded.
And then life was looking good for quite some time. But I had not returned to my doctor even when I got my act together, because I was still holding onto the resentment that he lied to me about the severity of the operation when I was 16. Contingent upon me graduating and keeping my grades and continuing to play. I had opportunities. I felt like if I could have just leaned on basketball, and not lost basketball and my mother at the same time, I might not have had the same hard time. And it might not have taken me nine years to get my stuff together. It might have only taken three. Because I would have been submerged in school with a support system.
But I say all that to say I did not see this man until 2012 when my neurofibromatosis had brought me to my knees in the form of extreme back pain. Got me to the hospital. I know you want to ask me something.
Caryn Hartglass: You’ve got an incredible story. And we can’t hear it all. I think you’ve given a really great background of where you’re coming from. And you had nine surgeries, high risk, and you were given six months to live. Here it is, four years later, and you’re alive. And what do you attribute that to?
D. Anthony Evans: I attribute that to my positive mindset. My plant-based revolution within myself. And ramping up my fitness and exercise regimen.
I have a plant-based aunt that kind of introduced me. Her name is Lisa Mitchell and she introduced me to the plant-based way of life early in 2012. Because she had cured herself of some life or death ailments as well, and made it very clear to me that if I continued on my typical body building, strength man diet: Whey protein and 40 pounds of chicken breast a month, 10,000 calories a day, it would expedite my death. Very fast.
And I’m not going to lie to you. I was paranoid. And this was the first time I’d ever really listened to her as it pertained to food. She was that aunt who would come at Thanksgiving and tell everybody that they’re eating dead birds. You’d get your plate and run to the basement, because, “Here she comes.”
She also saved my life and painted the picture that I needed to see in relation to disease and the things you put in your mouth. So I attribute the beginning transformation to my aunt Lisa.
And then I got introduced to Master vegan plant-based Chef David Choi. And then he kind of wrapped his arms around me, adopted me as a third son, and just really made an agreement, “I will feed you and I will push your stars up.” He was a Buddhist monk. “I’m going to push you up. I just need you to spread this message and do a 360. And when you do that, I need you to help everybody in your periphery”.
So I have dedicated the entire rest of my life to advocacy, awareness and the promotion of plant-based living. And Master Chef David Choi’s teachings are real simple. That everyone has cancerous cells. Every single one of us. But they activate in certain people’s bodies for whatever reason. But the common denominator is, cancer cells love acidity. And if you can manage to withstand the discipline it takes to remove wheat, dairy, yeast and sugar from your diet, you will not kill your cancer. Because he does not believe in killing anything. If it’s in you, it’s a part of you. So you need to love it too. You are simply making an agreement with it. And he said, “This is a mind thing as well, D. Because you can stop eating all the meat. But cortisol acid is just as bad as a pork chop.”
Now I didn’t really get that until I got it. And all I know is if you type in my cancer, MPNST, malignant peripheral neurological sheath tumor, all you have to do is type in the acronym, and the word ‘survivor.’ My face pops up in the entire galaxy. There are a few people alive, but they’re on life support and in a hospital on chemo.
I do 200 pull-ups a day. I train for six hours. I’m in the best shape of my life. And the only thing I’ve done is ramp up my fitness, double-up on my plant-based intake, and promote this positive mindset. That’s it. That is my secret.
Caryn Hartglass: Isn’t that crazy? So simple. So beautiful.
D. Anthony Evans: But I am here. And I’m not just surviving and hanging on. I’m thriving. And my mission, I believe, is to not diss modern medicine. But it’s to let people know, even if you’re on chemo, that it’s very important that you strengthen your white blood cell, your immune system. And the only way to do that is through earth-grounded food. You’re not going to synthetically build your immune system. And it’s sustained.
So I’m not the chemo basher. I didn’t do it myself. I don’t really agree with it personally. But to each his own. But if you do it, you especially need to get on a plant-based lifestyle, more than anybody else. To not only flush the toxins out, but to work on re-establishing the immune system until the chemo is wiped out. Because the cancer’s gone, it’s dead, but now you’re going to die from a cold! I mean, somebody sneezed on you; you caught something at the gym. You’re walking around… And that’s really what an AIDS patient is, they don’t have an immune system.
And that’s what chemo kind of reduces you to. And that’s just my message, Caryn, in a nutshell.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s a beautiful message. And your story is incredible. And the fact that you’re alive when most people who have this malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours don’t live. If that doesn’t blow people away about the power of plants. Plus a positive attitude. Because that’s really important. You have to have that will to live, and you clearly have it.
You know you mentioned earlier that this original ailment that you had, neurofibromatosis, because of pre-existing conditions. And I’m so glad you brought that up, because for people who think that Obamacare, the affordable health care act, is problematic, one of the greatest things it did is eliminate this awful, pre-existing condition, nightmare.
D. Anthony Evans: Yes, yes. I think we can all agree, we might have got some doctors to do three surgeries pro-bono, but not nine. Not nine, nine-hour operations. It’s just too much money. Everybody has their opinion about the president. But this is the fact. It they had not changed that little clause in the law, I wouldn’t be here. There’s no question about that, no question at all in my mind.
Caryn Hartglass: This is something. It may sound a little trivial. You said the doctors or the insurance people considered this neurofibromatosis, the symptoms, these spots and tumours that you had, to remove them was cosmetic. And I’m just wondering, here you were a young boy, and you had them, and we’re a very vain society, where image is very important. So you must have had a lot of esteem issues to begin with because you had these problems?
D. Anthony Evans: Yes, I’m tumour boy. And this is why…So you wake up every day knowing you’re tumour boy, but you don’t even feel comfortable enough to own it and share it.
So for the first 10 years of your life they’re moles. And then just more of them come. And then they’re not looking like moles anymore; they’re looking like tumours.
And my mother just happened to instil in me that I’m beautiful, no matter what. But it’s funny you say that, because I have an organization I’m founding, called “Sheree Inspired,” named after my mother. Because she was my inspiration. And while she was dying from AIDS, she was in front of my high school with condoms, HIV prevention literature and a megaphone, trying to save the entire world. In ’93, when AIDS was the worst thing you want to say you have.
And so what my organization is going to do is grant wishes for my tumour kids. My introverts. My kids that often kill themselves. Our suicide rates are upward to the 26th percentile, just because by the time… These kids live in the Google era. And if you Google what we have, it says no one is actively looking for a cure. It doesn’t affect a high enough proportion and amount of people. There’s pain, there’s cancer and there’s more drugs.
I’ve gotten so many Inboxes, emails and people reaching out in general. I was really going to hurt myself, because I don’t wish this on anybody. To wake up and feel like bees are stinging you all day, because that’s what this feels like. Every tumour is on a nerve. Every morning you get up it’s like you’re being shot. Every morning of your life. And to a child, who doesn’t have a support system like I had, there’s no point to go forward.
So for this community, I am their Superman. I am their hero. I am the guy doing what all of the doctors have told us is not possible for people with this condition. And what my organization aims to do is grant wishes to these children. We don’t even qualify for most of these programs until our tumours become malignant. I’m not going to say any names or badmouth any organizations, but it’s a lot of pre-requisites to doing something for a sick child. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think you need to have one foot in the grave to qualify, to make you feel special for a day.
So that’s what I aim to do. That’s why I believe I’m here, specifically for this group of people who have to die so everybody else can get the funding. We get that. But I just refuse to quit there. I got a little platform, I got a little momentum. I’ve got a little sting and Caryn I’m trying to take it wherever I can go to be that light for this group of people. And everyone else I inspire is a bonus.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay so I have a couple of questions. One is you mentioned you’re starting an organization called “Sheree Inspires.” Is there a website or a way we can find out more about it?
D. Anthony Evans: We have just got the okay from the state and we’re waiting for the federal tax exemption. But yes, “D. Anthony Inspires.” That’s d-a-n-t-h-o-n-y-inspires.com. If you check in periodically, they’re re-vamping that site, but that’s where all the information will be there, will direct you to “Sheree Inspires” once we’re fully up and running. But we’ve already got the state exemption, we’re just waiting for the federal exemption, and then we’ll be in full…
Caryn Hartglass: That’s great. Well maybe we’ll have to resume this conversation another time when you’ve got that going and things are more active there.
But the other thing I wanted to mention is, here it is, you are one data point that shows the power of plant-based eating on a very aggressive form of cancer. People like to qualify different cancers as different. They like to describe all diseases as different, and identify them. I think the things that plague humanity in terms of chronic diseases, they are all the same disease, people just express them differently. And you must know that plant-based foods are our first line of defense for prevention and for staying strong during whatever treatment you may need or choose.
D. Anthony Evans: Yes, ma’am. I wholeheartedly agree with you. It was the beginning of nutrition and it’s either going to sustain us or end us. We continue to contaminate the grain hemisphere. It’s over. We continue to go back to the plants. I just hope everybody wakes up before it’s too late. Everything goes back to the plants. Everything.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s right. Well, D. I am so impressed and so in awe. I say this from time to time but they come up with these percentages in terms of survival rates for certain diseases. And I think there are things in those numbers that aren’t related to the disease itself. Whether you have the love surrounding you or not and how much stress is in your life. Whether you’re affluent or poor. And there are so many things that affect your ability to survive a disease that we don’t even realize. And you mentioned that you have a great support system. That’s huge. Plant-based foods and love.
D. Anthony Evans: It is. And it wasn’t much. It was a single mother. But it was enough, she knew what to say. I thought I was handsome and I had tumour all over my body. That’s just the power of her words. She was amazing. She was an amazing woman.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, D. Anthony Evans, you are Superman. You are awesome. I’m so glad you are out there. The world needs you and all those children that have that unfortunate rare genetic condition. They definitely need to hear from you. So thank you. And all the best with your future company.
D. Anthony Evans: I appreciate it, Caryn. And anybody who’s looking to get in touch with me, I’m on Facebook at “D. Anthony Trains” or just type in D. Anthony Evans in the Search bar on Twitter. I’m D. Anthony Trains on Instagram, and the email is email@example.com.
Caryn Hartglass: Thank you D. Anthony Evans so much, all the best to you. Live long and prosper.
D. Anthony Evans: Thank you so much. You have an absolutely amazing day and continue to be the amazing you.
Caryn Hartglass: All right. Take care, bye bye. That was amazing, was it not? If you think you’ve got problems… This man went through an incredible journey. And through the power of plant foods he is so strong. 200 pull ups! Did you hear that? Amazing.
Transcribed by Cindy Goldberg, 3/28/2016