Astrophysics student with lymphoma makes epic trek

Andy Lyon, an astrophysics student at UC Berkeley, was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2008. He went through chemotherapy, and returned to school, but his cancer returned. He did a stem cell transplant, but remission only lasted a few months. Faced with a now more limited range of options, he chose to forgo medical treatment and instead try and hike the entire 2,600 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail. His cancer returned in the form of a tumor on his spinal cord. He is off the trail and back in treatment. It may be hard for people without cancer to get why he'd make the decisions he did, but I get it. And I hope he's back on the trail soon. UPDATE: Oh hey, he's back on the trail. (thanks, Kit Mitchell)


  1. Good for him!

    It’s fortunate that he can make that decision for himself. I read somewhere that doctors tend to forgo treatment for terminal cancer, so maybe this trend will catch on and there will be more dignity in letting go when the treatment options are worse than nothing.

    1. Good for him!

      My thoughts exactly, I’m rooting for Andy and will you just look at that picture, what a magnificent place.
      I’d be scared, though, at camping at night in the middle of nowhere, alone with my thoughts… and cancer.

      Oh, one more thing:  FUCK. CANCER.

  2. From the website you linked to:
    “Right around this time Andy was beginning to seek out alternative and complementary methods to heal his body and bring it back into balance after all the toxins and chemicals that he had been given and exposed to. He began to educate himself on ancient traditions of natural health and well-being and learn how he could begin to incorporate those into his life through diet, nutrition, exercise and spiritual practices. He began to work with an Auyervedic Practitioner and a Naturopath.

    He began to question his oncologists remedies and regimes — his studies and his tactics. So far western medicine hadn’t brought him any cures, and could he really rely on it? NO he couldn’t. So Andy took his care and his life into his own hands and despite what western medicine advised, he decided that there was only one thing that would truly cure him and that was NATURE.”

    Xeni, haven’t you criticized non-tested alternative “medicine” in other posts?

    1. There’s a difference between criticizing woo-woo and letting a terminal patient just do whatever makes them happy.

      1.  and in my experience, most western oncologists and radiation oncologists will encourage exactly that.  if they don’t, one should find a better doctor, if at all possible…

        go for it, andy!
        fuck cancer!

    2. Science is the only thing you can rely on. Naturopaths are quacks who pretend to be doctors — homeopathy is a required subject in naturopathy.

      This isn’t to say that you can’t search for possible treatments based on scientific research and plausible methods of action. I didn’t see anywhere where it says what kind of lymphoma he has, but I myself was diagnosed with a slow-growing B-cell lymphoma less than 2 years ago. I started treating myself with cannabis (edibles) every evening and my lymph nodes have shrunk by 50% after less than a year of self-treatment, and my doctor has now been unable to feel any enlarged nodes through palpation. I expect that my next CT scan will show further improvement. I hesitate to offer myself as an example, since these are only my experiences, but they are definitely backed up by mouse models. It’s very disappointing that there hasn’t been more research with humans on something so promising. And no, I’m not a nut who thinks cannabis cures all cancer, but it does happen that lymphoma tends to cause overexpression of CB1 and CB2 receptors, and it does promote apoptosis in many lymphomas.*

      Other compounds which have been shown in studies to promote apoptosis include EGCG (green tea extract) and curcumin.

      * I am just a person who’s seen results, but I cannot guarantee results for anyone else. Hell, I can’t even prove that this has been the reason for my improvement, but my oncologist says that my results are highly unusual. I have not informed them of my treatment, but their words were “whatever you’re doing, keep doing it”.

      I can provide links to relevant peer-reviewed journal articles, but google scholar is your friend.

  3. I am Andy’s stepdad and have been on every step of his more than heroic journey.  I think Xeni did a fair job in summarizing what Andy has been through but it is much more complicated than a single paragraph and links to his blog.  Andy has had three rounds of chemo that was killing him probably fast than any cancer would.  Then the stem-cell transplant and radiation and the cancer was back again.  The Western Medical Model was more chemo, even more toxic than the previous chemo therapies, that would slowly destroy his organs in its attempt to kill the cancer.  Andy’s spiritual journey included much work with holistic health practioners, meditation, yoga, a completely organic diet working with an Ayrurvedi practioner, living in a spiritual community, etc.  His decision to challenge the  Pacific Crest Trail came out of a 10-day silent meditation retreat wherein he was called to this journey.  I have walked many miles with Andy and I cannot fathom how any person, even without the cancer, can solo walk 2,668 miles from Mexico to Canada, carrying a backpack, sleeping outside every night, dealing with bears, bugs, lack of water, crazy climbs through the Sierras and now the Cascades, blisters, aches and pains that will not go away, lonliness and boredom, heat and cold…need I go on.  And for a grand finale, he gets a new chemo drug that didn’t exist three years ago, and a l ittle more than 24 hours after the infusion he is back on the trail to finish what he started back in April.  The message here is that he is living his life with the certain knowledge that the universe has a plan for him and that the Pacific Crest Trail is part of that plan.  I wish I could live my life the way he has chosen to live his.

    1. Death is terrifying.  And it is understandable that most people will go to great lengths to hold it off.  Our society is particularly bad at handling it, and at a terrible cost.  The truth is that none of us know how long we have to live.  Your stepson’s decision to live the life he has in a meaningful way is beautiful, and I only wish that our society were more supportive of such a healthy, and wise, attitude. 

    2. FYI, see my reply to Nikodemos.  It’s good to hear that he’s not completely shunning evidence-based treatment.  In my case, the standard first-line treatment is anti-CD20 monoclonal antibodies with the possible addition of chemo (rituximab or R-CHOP), which is good that it works, but it has the side effect of destroying your immune system and it introduces evolutionary selection pressures to the lymphoma cells to become resistant to such treatment.  That is, it only works for a few times, and each time the progression-free survival interval shrinks; you have to do heavier chemo after that.  So, I’m trying to stave off the need for such treatments as long as possible, and that’s my reason for investigating “natural” treatments.  But he shouldn’t engage in magical thinking.

    3. I read in the Yakima newspaper that his backpack, tent and sleeping bag weigh a total of only 5 lbs.  Wow!  That certainly helps “lighten the load”. What equipment is he carrying, do I dare ask?

  4. “the certain knowledge that the universe has a plan for him”  Sadly, that plan is to kill him slowly and painfully with cancer.

    Meanwhile:  Rock on!  He is living out his life as he chooses, I just hope the fakes and frauds that haunt “alternative medicine” don’t suck him and his family dry.

    The only purpose in life is what you give it, don’t expect the universe or the nonexistent gods to hand one to you, go and make your own purpose.

    “Do not go gently into that good night but rage! Rage, against the dying of the light.”

  5. Andy has a plan for the universe. He is heroic and makes me proud to be one of his fellow human beings.

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