Emme Aronson: From Supermodel to Cancer Survivor

Known for years simply as Emme, the first plus-sized supermodel, a TV fashion commentator and a People magazine correspondent, Emme Aronson was also a suburban mom struggling to figure out what was wrong with her. Since 2003, she had been constantly itching, coughing uncontrollably, and drained of her usually boundless energy. A licensed massage therapist with a background in holistic medicine, Aronson didn’t believe in just medicating her symptoms — she wanted to know what was at the root of the problem. For three years, she saw doctor after doctor, some telling her she had allergies or asthma, others prescribing medication for acid reflux, and some intimating that it was all in her head.

But it wasn’t in her head. Aronson had Hodgkin’s disease, a type of lymphoma, and it was growing.

“I went to a Chinese masseuse,” she says. “He stretched one side of my body with no problem, but when he did the opposite side I was in a fit of coughing. He said to me, ‘You are not well; there is something seriously wrong with you.’ So I was chasing doctors, saying, I need you to back up what’s being said.” Though a few other holistic healers would tell Aronson the same thing, Western medicine wasn’t finding anything wrong.

Finally, a diagnosis
On her first meeting with the doctor who would finally diagnose her cancer, Aronson said, “With no disrespect to you, I am livid. I am at the end of my rope. I am not being persnickety or a drama queen, like it is being insinuated in some other areas. I am letting you know that I am sick and there is something wrong with me and you have to help me.” Aronson demanded a full blood workup and a chest X-ray in the hopes of uncovering the source of her coughing. That day, says Aronson, her instincts told her to bail on a business meeting and put her health first. “I went directly and got the chest X-ray, and that’s when things started to change. It was good.”

Good in the way that, once you know your enemy, you can arm yourself to fight back. In May 2007 Aronson finally found out the source of her coughing fits: a mass the size of a banana sitting on top of her lung. “I was very lucky that it was Hodgkin’s and that it was curable,” she says. “At least that’s what I was being told. After I found out it was cancer, the doctor called me immediately and said, ‘Thank God you were persistent.’”

Chemo and complementary medicine
Fearful that radiation might cause more cancer (though a rare side effect), Aronson searched for a doctor who would treat her with just chemotherapy. She finally chose oncologist Gregory Mears at New York City’s Columbia University Medical Center. By the time Aronson started a three-month round of chemotherapy with Dr. Mears, she was drinking 32 ounces of freshly juiced greens, usually a combination of celery, parsley, broccoli and cucumbers, at least once a day. She’d started juicing during her quest for the proper diagnosis as a way to ease her mysterious symptoms.
At first, Dr. Mears wasn’t wholly supportive of Aronson’s new health regimen. While he didn’t think the juicing would hurt, he didn’t want Aronson’s holistic approach to interfere with chemotherapy, so he asked her to stop.

Wanting to beat Hodgkin’s, Aronson took Dr. Mears’ advice. After about two weeks, she says, “my intestines were all stopped up and I felt like I was stuck inside my body. It was weird. There’s something about eating purely that you gives you this feeling that it’s all going to be okay.“ She started drinking her vegetable concoctions on the sly for a few weeks until she finally came clean. Apparently the evidence convinced Dr. Mears that Aronson was doing the right thing. “I don’t think it should be a problem,” he told her. “You’re looking quite good. I’ve never seen a patient look so vibrant — ever. You’re getting a massive dose of chemo and you’re jumping all around.”

Aronson believes her daily juicing and use of essential oils such as lavender and lemon limited her need for the strong antinausea drugs typically prescribed to patients receiving chemotherapy.

Going green for a solution
Those weren’t the only changes Aronson was making. “I started thinking, I‘ve got to get my act together,” she says. She took inventory and decided to toss any cleaning products that seemed toxic.

That change to lead to others, like recycling and driving less to save gas. “When I started going greener inside of myself, I [began] realizing that maybe environmental issues or stress [had something to do with my cancer],” she says. “I started thinking how to focus not just on the cancer, but more on the solution. And that’s what led me into such a green direction.”

In addition to using nontoxic and natural cleaners, Aronson recently got rid of all her makeup and beauty products containing potentially dangerous ingredients like sodium laureth, parabens and petroleum. Instead of using lotions with long lists of ingredients, she keeps it simple by using olive oil or shea butter on her skin.

Life goes on
Cancer-free since November 2007, Aronson continues to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. “Green living for me is living consciously,” she says. “I think it’s helping my family to go slower, to be mindful, and to think things through, which is very important for growth and for life.” Besides making sure that the things you put in your home and in your body are good for you, Aronson encourages women to be their own advocates when it comes to health issues. When something is wrong, don’t stop until you find out what it is. “You know yourself,” says Aronson. “You know when there is something going on.”

Originally published on iVillage.com

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