We all know that life can change in a heartbeat. It can happen as fast as a car skidding on a patch of ice, a sudden tumble from a ladder, or the delivery of a shocking medical diagnosis. In that very moment, life can seem to stand still. It’s as if we are offered a micro-second of respite before we are forced to respond to the new reality that is staring us in the face.
On a day in January 2018, this is exactly what happened to Diana when her normal life was abruptly interrupted by three devastating words: metastatic malignant melanoma.
What follows is a story of ineffable love, courage, and grace—three hallmarks of Diana’s character before, during, and after her diagnosis. She, of course, is not alone in this story. She is in the company of men and women whose compassion and commitment to her healing remind us why the root of the word humaneness is human.
Diana was diagnosed with Stage 4 metastatic melanoma – an aggressive form of skin cancer – in January 2018. The extent of the disease was pretty shocking. Here, you can see Diana’s PET scan at the time of the diagnosis. (The areas that appear white are where the cancer had spread to)
“On a cold, wintry Saturday morning in January of 2018, my familiar normal was abruptly shattered and replaced by a new normal. My husband Tom and I had just finished breakfast. He was cleaning up dishes while I got ready for a hair appointment. Five minutes later, Dr. Tim Jennings, a good friend of ours who has been our family physician for over twenty years, made a personal visit to deliver some devastating news. Results from a PET scan and MRI showed that my recently diagnosed cancer had spread throughout much of my body, including my pelvis, femur, abdomen, stomach, spine, shoulders, clavicle, mandible and brain. Tim could not have been more upset by my bleak prognosis.”
The Hulings felt early on that aggressive chemotherapy and radiation with their inherent side effects were not viable options for Diana. With the cancer spreading so quickly and some pain already setting in, Tom couldn’t bear the thought of watching his wife suffer through chemo and radiation treatments.
After some fast and furious research, Tom located a cancer center in Mexico that interested him: The Immunity Therapy Center (ITC) in Tijuana, run by Dr. Carlos Bautista. ITC is 25 minutes from the San Diego Airport and 5 minutes from the U.S./Mexico border. Tom scheduled a conference call with one of the physicians that included Diana, plus some trusted friends and family. The physician was upbeat and encouraging. He answered the family’s questions and patiently addressed their concerns. He also advised them to do what felt right and best for them.
Diana: “Tom’s taking immediate charge and exploring the Mexico options kept us energized and focused. It helped, too, that we began to read and hear many stories about people’s success in beating cancer through non-traditional means. By the time we got off the phone with the ITC, we were packing our bags. We were in the ring together, ready for the fight of our lives.”
Once at ITC, Diana underwent a thorough examination and began treatment, which lasted three weeks.
Diana: “Though Dr. Bautista’s staff and other patients were very excited about my rapid and consistent progress, Tom and I made a decision to stay an additional four weeks to try and completely eliminate the cancer. In fact, we later returned to Tijuana one more time to accelerate our further effort to knock it back thoroughly. Malignant melanoma does not go down easily! However, the extra time and effort we expended was worth it.”
As of October 2018, Diana’s new PET scan saw a dramatic reduction in the cancer throughout her body. Tom shared these results with an oncologist in St. Louis:
“He pulled up the January scan to show me the comparison, which he felt was remarkable and unusual. He said that if the cancer in Diana’s spine had been a tiny bit deeper, it was likely she would have been unable to walk. She’d been told something similar by an oncologist before we went to Mexico. He said that without radiation it was likely that her pelvis would break, since it is a weight bearing bone. The September scan also confirmed that the cancerous areas in her brain and pelvis, for which Diana’s oncologist had also advised an immediate and aggressive regiment of radiation therapy, had been ‘resolved’.”
“If Diana and I learned to say thank you to these people in every language in the world, we feel that it would still not be enough. THAT is how grateful we are.” – Tom Huling, Diana’s husband
“It was a wonderful experience with very professional physicians and staff. I literally owe my life to Dr. Bautista and his staff. During my entire stay at ITC I suffered minimal to no side effects or pain. I give this clinic my highest recommendation.”
– Diana Huling