Rather than give up after learning last August that her adrenal cancer had returned and that she likely had only a few months to live, Sigi Nissimov used the opportunity to regain control of her life.
With radiation out of the question due to the extent of her tumors, specialists suggested Nissimov consider exploratory surgery and more rounds of chemotherapy -- although neither option was considered curative. At best, the treatments might extend her life by a few months, doctors told her.
“At that point I decided I won’t do any more Western medicine,” Nissimov said. “I decided to take control and do research. I discovered a world that offered me so many alternative ways.”
For the past eight months, the 42-year-old professional belly dancer and owner of has adopted an alternative lifestyle that involves eating only organic foods, having a biochemist monitor her blood levels, consulting with a Chinese doctor on her intake of herbal medicines and spending an hour each day in an infrared sauna.
“Maybe I’m brave, maybe I’m stupid, but it doesn’t matter,” said Nissimov, who has two young children. “It was my decision to take control and I think now it’s working. The doctor told me three months and I’m already eight months after and feeling good, and that means a lot.”
While Nissimov believes the alternative treatments have been uplifting to both her body and spirit, they don’t come cheaply and they aren’t covered by her insurance.
When the cost of the treatments combined with the daily living expenses of raising a family became too much to bear, Nissimov turned to the fundraising platform Indiegogo as a solution.
Indiegogo is an international crowd funding site that allows individuals to create a web page detailing their campaign of choice and its funding goal, and then gives visitors an easy, electronic way of donating to the campaign via PayPal.
Since Nissimov created her Indiegogo page, “Against All Odds, A Belly Dancer is Fighting for Her Life,” about three months ago, donations have flooded in from all over the world. So far she's received more than $20,000 in donations from a combination of close friends, acquaintances and even total strangers.
“It's amazing,” Nissimov said, thanking her supporters for their outpouring of donations. “The affection and the love I got from those people was unbelievable. I wasn’t ready for that. I was in shock.”
She said the infusion of money, which will go strictly to fund her experimentation with alternative therapies and treatments, will ease her mind and help stabilize her family’s financial situation.
“If I can eliminate the stress of worrying how to pay for my treatments then I can focus on actually getting better,” Nissimov explained on her Indiegogo page. “The doctors say the less stress I encounter the stronger my body will be to fight this cancer.”
Nissimov said her lone constant throughout her taxing journey has been her life's passion -- dancing.
“The dancing was keeping me alive in a sense,” she said. “Even with the chemo and losing my hair and even when my legs and hands were numb, I would keep dancing.”
In spite of her precarious physical situation, Nissimov continues dancing to this day and has even performed to raise funds for other cancer victims.
“No matter what’s going on with my life, I keep proceeding with my vision to go outside and give back to my community -- to help in any way that I can,” she said.
Fighting the disease, and growing from the challenge of it, has been Nissimov’s mission all along.
“Even when I was miserable and there was a lot of fear in the air, I decided, ‘I’m taking this to a different place,’” said Nissimov, who plans to publish a book about her journey. “I’m planning to grow with this illness, to become stronger, and my vision eventually is to bring something to other people on this journey and to tell them it can be made in a different way, in a positive way.”
A large part of her mindset, Nissimov said, is not falling into the defeatist trap of self-pity.
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I’m not feeling like something terrible happened to me and I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I do know what to do and I have a direction...I’m not a victim.”
When considering her own mortality, Nissimov said she opts for self-determination rather than helpless victimhood.
“It puts you face to face with the mirror,” she said of dealing with a terminal diagnosis. “When you’re looking at yourself and you’re looking at that dimension of your life…you have to rethink who you are and what you want from life.”
For Nissimov, that means enjoying the world around her and exuding positivity and love.
“I’m saying thank you to the world, because I have the chance to rethink how to feel and enjoy life,” she said. “Every day I’m trying to do my best to really love and have fun and pleasure in my life. It’s a big opportunity.”
While she’s opted not to continue traditional medical treatment, Nissimov does still get monthly oncological checkups. She’ll be having a scan performed soon that will shed some light on how effective her past eight months of alternative treatments have been.
Regardless of the scan's outcome, Nissimov said she's feeling much better and is at peace with her decision.
For others out there suffering from cancer, she offers the following advice:
“Take control of your life and do your own journey."
This story was chosen for the Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day feature on May 1, 2012.
If you’re interested in reading more about Sigi's story or donating to her campaign, you can visit her Indiegogo page.