For Tom Proctor, running in the New York City Marathon 18 days ago was a personal triumph--even though he didn't finish the event.
Proctor, an AIDS patient since August, 1984, completed 6.2 miles of the 26.2-mile marathon and decided to stop because he noticed his legs were swelling a bit.
"I could have finished the race, but for me it was not worth it," Proctor said when he returned to his Los Angeles home this week. "I decided I wasn't going to be a martyr. I started thinking about it and just running at all is a big deal."
The other five members of Proctor's running club, Run for Your Life, who do not have AIDS, finished the race. Proctor, 35, had planned a trip to Paris immediately after the race and said he didn't want to jeopardize that opportunity.
"The New York race turned out to be a real emotional experience," said Proctor, a longtime runner. "Then I went to Paris and rode my 10-speed around the city for two weeks. The whole thing was a very positive time."
The key word for Tom Proctor is positive.
He and a growing number of Southern Californians who have been diagnosed as having AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) are out to tell people that there are alternative approaches to dealing with the deadly disease, ones that so far have been successful for a number of persons who are surviving AIDS.
These are the people, like Tom Proctor, who have beaten the odds against AIDS to date. Scientists estimate that the average life span after a person is first hospitalized with AIDS and the related diseases it causes is 224 days.
But Tom Proctor and his friends are not talking about dying. They are talking about living.
"We're doing all this education about alternative healing with a combination of medicine," said Louie Nassaney, who was diagnosed as having AIDS in May of 1983. "Not everybody with AIDS has died. Some of us are here to prove it."
'Nothing to Lose'
Los Angeles physician Dr. Robert Brooks, who dedicates his practice to the care and well-being of gays, heartily agrees with the concept of combining alternative healing with traditional medicine.
"There is nothing to lose in this approach," said Brooks. "Modern medicine has a lot to offer. It's a tool. But we also have some power within us. We try to create a model of holism. There is a distinction between treatment and healing. Healing is something that the body does, that starts with what we do. It's not an either/or thing. You try to incorporate both metaphysical and medical treatment."
Brooks runs monthly AIDS Update seminars entitled "Being-Well-Being-Gay." They are AIDS programs that incorporate news of the latest medical advances with the disease as well as meditation programs, nutritional advice, and testimony from support groups for AIDS patients and from those patients who are having successful remissions. Most of the 40 to 60 AIDS patients he treats are among the 125 to 150 people who attend. The number increases each month.
"A good physician understands the importance of positive thinking." Brooks added. "It's not a matter of just giving drugs, nor a matter of hocus-pocus. The patient's will and desire to be well is a very important part."
In June, 1983, Louie Nassaney, 30, began treatment at UCLA Medical Center for Kaposi's sarcoma, a form of skin cancer that strikes AIDS patients and was considered rare in the United States until AIDS was discovered in 1981. The other most common disease that afflicts patients with AIDS is Pneumocystis carinii, a rare pneumonia.
Unlike Nassaney, Tom Proctor has had no formalized medical treatment--no drugs, no radiation--for his Kaposi's sarcoma, diagnosed along with AIDS a week after he completed the San Francisco Marathon in August, 1984.
"Actually, I never really felt bad, but I had this purple spot on my face when I was running the marathon," said Proctor. Proctor was one of Brooks' first AIDS patients and later was tested at Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center.
"The doctors there decided not to treat me with drugs because I had no real serious bout with it and my T cell count (cells that assist the body in warding off disease) was fairly high," Proctor continued. "I decided on a natural approach."
Proctor changed his diet regimen--no sugar, no caffeine, no alcohol, natural carbohydrates and lots of fresh vegetables and fruits--increased his daily running program and workouts at a gym and took acupuncture treatments twice a week "to lessen stress and promote the healing process."
He also began meditating and practicing positive imagery.
"I spent time doing mirror work," he said. "You look in the mirror and just be with yourself. Not look critically, but create a positive mental set. Believe this is just a terrific day and get real firm about it. You have to be that firm and that committed.