He had an MRI two days after the Seder: brain cancer.
It took a moment for the doctor's words to settle in. He was 25 and in the midst of producing a new recording of Ira and George Gershwin's music. George Gershwin was diagnosed with the same type of malignant tumor -- Glioblastoma Multiforme -- and died within a year. Statistically, most patients with this tumor type survive 12-18 months after diagnosis.
But, Ross remained hopeful. "I knew deep inside that this was something I could conquer," he said. "I realized this would be my own personal Exodus."
Ross was one of about 100,000 people in the US diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1995. The incidence of brain tumors has increased by 25 percent since 1975. No one is sure why.
"I had cancer when I was a child and lost my eye," said Ross. "I had been afraid my whole life that this would happen again." His parents made his treatment decisions when he was a boy. "This time," he said, "I didn't know if I harbored enough strength to get through this on my own."
Ross began aggressive treatment that included an experimental procedure called stem cell rescue, combined with heavy doses of chemotherapy and surgery. He ate a macrobiotic diet, took herbal supplements prescribed by a non-Western doctor, and learned to reduce the pain of his headaches by meditating twice a day. He practiced guided imagery during chemotherapy. "My image was a Ziplock bag wrapped around my organs to protect them from the chemotherapy."
The Passover story became a metaphor for Ross' intense spiritual journey. Working with a shaman, he traced the emotional source of his illness, "like a hunter tracks an animal," he said. "The shaman said I held two choices in my hands. I could follow my mind and continue along the path I was on, or I could follow my heart and alter my beliefs. I chose the latter."
He also began studying Kabbalah at the University of Judaism. "Before the tumor, I had no idea what I was on this earth to do. I went from a religious understanding of G-d to a spiritual understanding of G-d -- and my place in the universe," Ross recalled.
With that knowledge, he began to pursue an education in Eastern healing, which paralleled the recovery of his own health. Today, Evan Ross has beaten the statistics and shows no sign of tumor reoccurrence.
As Pesach approaches this year, the memory of his illness guides his practice. "I can remember what it was like in a visceral way and it enables me to have greater compassion for the person I'm helping, and hopefully, to be more effective," he said.
Ross will be speaking this weekend at the National Brain Tumor Conference at the LA Airport Hilton. Geared toward brain tumor patients and their loved ones, the conference will also include special programs for children ages 7-15 who have brain tumors or who have a sibling or parent with a brain tumor. There will also be a track presented completely in Spanish.
"The Power of Help, Hope & Healing" runs from March 31 - April 2 at the LA Airport Hilton. Contact the National Brain Tumor Foundation: 800-934-CURE (2873); www.braintumor.org.
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