Photos by Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
Cancer is not a death sentence, according to a Signal Hill nonprofit organization that seeks to provide a network of support and healing for those affected by the disease.
Local resident Edouard Knighton is a living testament to the Cancer Concierge Network’s (CCN) mantra of using mind, body and spirit to lead to prosperity.
In an interview Dec. 28, Knighton, CCN’s director of fundraising, spoke to the Signal Tribune about his cancer diagnosis two years ago.
Discovering that melanoma had developed on top of his head in December 2016, and that treatments were harsh, he learned of CCN from an acquaintance and sought out its members for support. He said the institution has reinforced his well-being and allowed him to think positively about his skin-cancer detection.
“My message is that, although I have a diagnosis of cancer, I’m a survivor,” he said. “And I am thriving, even though I have this disease. You can get a label or a diagnosis, and it is terrifying. […] It’s such a scary thing, because it’s fatal. There’s still so much unknown about cancer, and treatments, as well, can be very scary. That’s my message. It’s not, ‘Poor, poor me.’ It’s not anything like that. I’d just like people to know who are recently diagnosed and who are struggling and who are caregivers that we offer support here.”
CCN, 1965 E. 21st St., offers free monthly meetings, or retreats, at its site for cancer patients. Every meeting– the next of which is Jan. 12 starting at 3pm– has guest speakers that discuss principles of faith and support. CCN members, such as Knighton, also offer services like massages and counseling.
“The retreat is really an amazing experience to see the transformation of people who are downtrodden and depressed,” Knighton said. “[…] It just brings out the best in people.”
CCN’s intent is to develop a network of providers who provide services to cancer patients in ways that deviate from conventional medicine. For instance, members use methods involving counseling, dietary consultations and acupuncture– resources that serve to strengthen the mind, Knighton said.
He said traditional treatments, specifically chemotherapy and radiation, are the best conventional methods for cancer patients based on modern medical advancements, but they are “harsh on the body.”
Knighton said he advocates “replenishing the poison being put into your body” by reinforcing the “mind, body, soul connection.”
“The reason you have cancer is because you have an imbalance,” he said. “If we can break up that word: Dis-ease. Not at ease. That’s what’s happened with individuals who are sick. We’re bringing the mind, spirit and body back into balance here. So much research has been done on the mental aspects of your health. That’s why we have the holistic modalities. We’re not just looking at symptoms; we’re looking at the whole person.”
In addition to being a licensed massage therapist, Knighton has a master’s degree in counseling, a skill he utilizes to guide those who need consultations.
“I get calls all the time to meet with people and counsel people who, again, are surviving with cancer,” he said. “I like to say ‘surviving’ with cancer. […] When you go to the doctor, you have a sterile environment, they’re very serious, it scares the crap out of you. They’re telling you things from a very scientific point of view. Again, we’re here from a community of support that is focusing on you as the whole person– your emotions, your attitude.”
In 2017, Knighton said he had surgery to have the melanoma removed.
“I thought no big deal,” he said. “It’s skin cancer; people have it removed. Unfortunately, it had metastasized into my lymph nodes. Now, it begins to be a problem, because when it’s in your lymph nodes, it’s throughout your body. So, we don’t know if it’s going into my brain, my toes, anything.”
Knighton attempted alternative methods, such as Gerson therapy, to strengthen his immune system in anticipation of future surgery and treatments.
Knighton went to a Tijuana clinic for two weeks to transform his body, including eating organic foods, ingesting supplements and staying on the premises with 24-hour care.
With his experience testing out both traditional and unconventional methods, Knighton said he has acquired the knowledge of both disciplines to better inform those around him.
Currently, his cancer treatment is an ongoing process.
“I go for injections on the top of my head,” Knighton said. “[…] I continue to have amino therapy and these injections, that are a brand new therapy. I’m not dying; I’m thriving. […] I want to express that other people’s opinions don’t matter, because when you’re sick and you have a diagnosis, people have their own perceptions of what you should do.”
One of Knighton’s close supporters is local faith leader Michael Brown, who recently retired from his pastoral duties at St. John Missionary Baptist Church, 741 E. 10th St.
Brown told the Signal Tribune Jan. 2 that he met Knighton at the congregation. After an accident rendered him partially paralyzed years ago, Brown said he developed a closer relationship with Knighton and eventually learned about his profession as a massage therapist, the very thing his doctors told him he needed to treat his symptoms, in 2014.
Knighton said that it was Brown’s experience as a pastor and citing passages from the Bible that helped provide comfort and mental healing during his initial cancer diagnosis.
“Edouard is a go-getter,” Brown said. “He’s persistent. I encourage him daily to pray. […] An important component to that is, whether it’s chemo or radiation or injections or amino therapies, have faith enough to know that God can help him work through that. He gave man the ability and [that] skillset.”
Others impacted by cancer
Elizabeth Wise, a two-time cancer survivor, is the founder and president of CCN.
She told the Signal Tribune that she developed the CCN concept in 2005 in San Diego, where she managed a similar wellness center named Leisure.
During that year, Wise was diagnosed with cancer a second time and, as a single mom, had no one supporting her, she said. After some time, the decision was made to close down her business.
In 2011, she met her husband and moved to Signal Hill. Later that year, she got the motivation to reintroduce the wellness center formula from a local doctor.
In her experience with cancer treatments, Wise said the physical aspect of care helped her through her disease.
“What helped me was massage and facials and meditation,” she said, adding that her sister, Heide, who is a nurse, has been instrumental in facilitating the creation of CCN.
The nonprofit, in its current iteration, began August 2014, a few weeks after Wise’s brother died of bile cancer. The disease also affected Wise’s father, who died of leukemia.
“I’ve had some very upfront and personal experiences with the disease and my family,” she said. “[…] CCN has had a journey. So, for this, me and my board wanted to make sure that we had the right people giving back. The power of touch and words are so important when you’re going through a trauma.”
Alma Marenco, CCN board member and head waitress at Curley’s Cafe, 1999 E. Willow St., has known Wise for years as a customer. When Marenco received a breast-cancer diagnosis in July 2013 at the age of 31, she reached out to Wise, aware of her previous bouts with cancer, for support.
When Wise eventually opened the center, Marenco attended the meetings and became a member. During her physical struggles dealing with chemo and surgery, the emotional and physical support at the network eased her pain.
Marenco told the Signal Tribune that, although she has a few more years to totally eradicate the cancer from her body, it’s currently “under control.”
She said she has the people closest to her, who supported her during a time of need, for allowing her to survive.
“I’m moving on,” she said. “I don’t think about my cancer as much as I used to. Before, it was 24/7. […] It makes me think about those times when I thought it wasn’t going to be over, like ever. Just stay strong. Just talk to people and have hope that everything’s going to be fine.”
For more information, visit cancerconciergenetwork.org or call (562) 342-6830.