I was given six months to live – This is how my miracle revealed my purpose

To: Those who have been told they have no chance

From: Dr. James R. Alberty (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To those who have been told they have no chance,

My dad would always tell me, “You are here for a purpose.”

For years, I didn’t know my purpose. I thought it was just a miracle that I was here at all.

I grew up on the south side of Augusta, Georgia, right between the country and the city. A middle child of three boys, I was active in sports, playing in pop leagues and regularly attending church. My childhood was pretty normal. But when I was 11 years old, I developed what felt like a knot in my hand. At first, it didn’t bother me. I could still catch a football and dribble a basketball. So, I didn’t say anything to anyone. However, as time went on, it became very uncomfortable, to the point where I felt severe pain if anything even touched it. Finally, I told my dad, and he brought me to a doctor.

The doctor did a small biopsy, which revealed I had a rare adolescent cancer called epithelioid sarcoma, which is a soft tissue cancer.

At first, I couldn’t fully process the severity of the situation.

I thought to myself, “Not me. I am a kid. I am not supposed to die.”

I thought to myself, “Not me. I am a kid. I am not supposed to die.”

However, my dad was very much a stone-faced guy, and on that day, I saw him cry for the first time. He didn’t want me to see it, but he was crying. It was raw emotion, and that’s how I knew this must be serious.

I was very scared.

Blunt and cold, the doctor told me I had about six months to live. He strongly suggested I amputate my right hand. I asked him what chance I had to survive if I amputated my hand.

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He responded, “You might have a few more months, but if you make it to 16, it will be a miracle.”

The conversation was cut short, and he didn’t share any other options with me.

I told my dad that I didn’t want to amputate my hand if I had no chance of surviving cancer. I wanted to live the remainder of my life as normal as possible, playing sports and having fun with my brothers. Thankfully, my dad listened to me, an 11-year-old kid. And instead of amputating my hand, doctors cut out, hollowed, and burned the tips of my fingers, severely diminishing my sense of touch. Even so, the cancer was in my lymph nodes, so the doctors didn’t think I had a chance to survive.

James was diagnosed with cancer at 11 years old.

But from day one, my parents told me, “You are going to beat this.”

They refused to accept what the doctors told us. My dad took me to a bunch of different doctors. A doctor in Florida put me on a strict diet, no meat or sugar – just lots of raw fruits, shakes, and supplements.  

Battling cancer made me so sick, my skin became discolored. There were days I struggled to walk and control my bladder. Also, I lost a lot of weight – 30 pounds off my somewhat chubby 5’4 frame. Constantly, I was weak and tired, unable to play sports and run around with my friends. I had to learn how to write with my left hand.

There were some very weak moments where I thought about giving up.

Every day, I felt drained. It was a chore to get out of bed. I hated my diet and all the pills. The shakes were absolutely disgusting. And I couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep because I was afraid to go to bed. I was afraid if I closed my eyes, they would never open back up.

None of my friends knew what was going on because I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I didn’t want to be treated differently.

People always asked me, “Why don’t you eat meat? Why can’t you come outside and play?”

Part of me wanted to say, “Screw it all. I am going to do what I want and eat what I want and whatever happens, happens.”

No matter what I did, the doctors weren’t giving me much hope anyway. But then, I used to think about this bible verse I heard. To summarize, it said if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.

So, I took a tiny mustard seed, and I taped it inside of my wallet. Every time I opened my wallet up, it reminded me that I could push through this if I had a little bit of faith. And so, I didn’t give up.

Instead, I had the attitude, “If this takes me out, I’m going out swinging.”

I had the attitude, “If this takes me out, I am going out swinging.”

Then, I hit the six-month mark, then a year. I started to gain some weight and regain my energy.  Doctors told me not to get my hopes up, as the cancer was still in my body. But I kept going, and at 15, my blood work came back normal. A year later, I turned 16. It was the most emotional birthday I’ve ever had because the doctor initially told me it would be a miracle if I made it to 16.

I was a walking miracle.

Not only did I make it, but I was back to playing sports, applying for my first job, and trying to get my driver’s license.

While I never felt like I was entirely in the clear with cancer, getting regular checkups, I was able to return to a normal life.  

I went to a health, science, and engineering school before studying biology at Fort Valley State. At first, I wanted to go into sports medicine or orthopedic surgery. But after scoring well on my exit exams, a recruiter reached out to me and asked me if I ever thought about being a chiropractor. It never crossed my mind.

I told the recruiter that I had surgery on my right hand and lost some of my sense of touch.

After all, “chiro” means hands, and “practic” means the use of.

Chiropractor literally means the use of hands.

The recruiter told me I’d be fine and to come check out the school. So, I did, and I decided to attend. The technical classes came so naturally to me, and I excelled in school. I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I knew this path was meant for me. One of my professors even taught me how to regain most of my sense of touch.

A few years after school, I moved to Cleveland to work for a large practice, where I hit another roadblock. Doctors found and removed a benign tumor from my brain. It reminded me of that mustard seed, the importance of faith, and that nothing in life is guaranteed.

After getting better and starting my new job, I began to feel unfulfilled. There were times I wouldn’t be able to help people because they didn’t have an insurance policy that the practice accepted. So, with a partner, we created our own practice offering affordable health care. No matter your income status or insurance, we provide quality care for everyone.

Dr. James R. Alberty is a chiropractor in Cleveland, Ohio

For the first three years, I went from making guaranteed money to not knowing exactly where I would get my next meal. But as the years went on, we grew, and it has all been worth it.

When I meet with patients, I try to speak and listen with compassion, learning not just about their ailment but paying attention to what’s going on in their lives. I want to know how your son’s football game went or whether or not you accepted that job offer.  My goal is to provide patients with the grace and compassion that many doctors failed to give me.

I have helped a pro athlete with a dislocated shoulder get back in the game. I’ve helped patients who had severe migraines, to the point where they couldn’t work or play with their children, restore their quality of life. A couple brought in their four-month-old baby because the baby was suffering from constipation. Before they even got home from our appointment, the mother called and said they had to change their baby’s diaper twice. Another patient had severe scoliosis. He used a wheelchair. I worked on him repeatedly, and while he will never be 100%, I did get him out of that chair.

The Kleenex on my desk gets a lot of use, as many people come to me after nothing else worked.  

I am truly making a difference in people’s lives, and I am using my hands, including the one I wasn’t supposed to have still, to do so.

So, for anyone who has been told they don’t have a chance to live or reach a goal, I want you to know there is always a chance. Don’t settle for what people tell you. Follow your gut and your heart because nothing is final.  And always have faith, even if it’s only as much faith as the size of a mustard seed.

When I was a child, I didn’t know why I got to live and keep my hand or why I had to battle cancer in the first place.

I didn’t know the purpose of my journey or my life. But now, I do.

It is to not just be a miracle, but to also have a hand in creating them as well. 

Don’t give up. 

With faith and gratitude, 

Dr. James R. Alberty
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