June 1, 2010


I had an epiphany this weekend when a dear friend emailed me.  She wrote…Hey Dr. Zen…and BOOM! There it was!

I had been searching for a year...for a direction, for a passion, for a clear and simple message to start blogging about. And when I read my nickname, Dr. Zen, given to me while I was working as a series regular Briefcase Model (18) on the hit NBC game show, DEAL OR NO DEAL, it all became crystal clear.

I am a cancer survivor.

I was diagnosed with Stage II Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare childhood cancer, just a few weeks shy of my nineteenth birthday, while I was attending my first semester at Rutgers University in New Jersey. I was in my dorm room one morning, putting my hair into a ponytail in the mirror...and noticed a lump on my right forearm.

M Y...L I F E...C A M E...T O...A...S T A N D S T I L L.

Where other students were deciding what their majors would be and what their careers would look like, I was facing a much DIFFERENT DECISION. My life was front and center in a whole new way.

Looking in that mirror, not only did I see the tumor, I saw the tears and fears of a young woman afraid of what tomorrow would bring…or if there would even be a tomorrow.

I was faced with a DECISION…to embrace the adversity or to give in. I chose to EMBRACE those 365 days of chemotherapy. I chose LIFE. I chose to keep a smile on my face while receiving radiation for over 40 days. I chose to keep my thoughts and energy flowing forward in a positive mind set after going through several painful surgeries, numerous CAT scans, MRIs...and only God remembers all the other medical tests I had done on me. I survived it. ONE DAY AT A TIME.

My wonderful oncologist, Dr. Michael Harris, at The Tomorrows Children's Fund (which is connected to Hackensack Medical Center) in New Jersey, gave me a black marker and a calendar. He said this is going to be a long journey but you are going to get through it…ONE DAY AT A TIME. He told me to X off each day on that calendar with that black marker. And that’s what I did. Each evening, the big, fat X carved the calendar. And each evening, I could breathe a little better than the night before. Of course some days were harder than others but I could breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the end of chemo was one day closer.

ONE DAY AT A TIME. That is how I have been living my life ever since that life-altering adventure.

That adventure, as I like to call it these days, taught me how important it is to remain positive in adversity. Keeping a clear and positive outlook on life heals the mind, body and spirit. I call it life-altering, not because it magically made me a better a person, but because it truly taught me, in the purest form, what mattered most.

A warm smile, a gentle touch to the skin, music that touched my soul, music that made me sing, my sweet dog who always showed me such unconditional love. Family, friends, loved ones and even strangers who went out of their way to make sure that I was taken care of, that I was happy, that I was laughing, that I was fed, that I had water and ice chips and a bucket nearby, that I had a shoulder to cry on, a hand to squeeze when I was in pain and most importantly...that I was warm enough. Anyone who knows me, knows how miserable I get when I am cold.

I am grateful for my journey with cancer as it has kept me grounded in my acting career. Hollywood, at times, can get so materialistic, so cut-throat, so childish and so ego-driven that sometimes people forget to treat each other like human beings. When things get crazy in my life, I always make a conscious choice to take a step back and meditate on how good my life is because I survived...when others did not.

I believe that everything happens for a reason and I would never change a single moment of my life. We are here on earth to teach each other, to learn from each other, to love each other, to make each other laugh and to encourage each other to grow. It's the support we give one another that allows us to live and laugh and love.

I believe in paying forward my experiences with those who can learn from it and do it better than I did. I adore listening and learning from people who have wonderful ideas and stories to share with me. Ever since I moved to Los Angeles, over 10 years ago, I have been obsessed with alternative, natural ways of healing and living. I will try almost anything geared in that direction. I can't wait to start sharing my stories of what I have learned and experienced with all of you!

Hence, the idea for my new blog.

Each week I will share inspiring stories from speakers, survivors, products and companies that are all helping to change the world. Be on the look out for my next post where I will share that special video I spoke about earlier.

In the meantime, a question to ponder...DO YOU THINK WE CAN STARVE CANCER? I have some interesting news to share on this topic and I’d love to hear from you. Always feel free to send me questions and ideas on how I can encourage us all to live a healthy, natural and zen life.


  1. What a gorgeous post Marissa! This helps explain for me that beautiful and grounded energy I sense from you -- so rare in Hollywood.

    To answer your question... I am not sure we can starve cancer. I believe that illness is our body's way of sending us a message. For people who hear this message it is the beginning of profound life healing (not just of the physical body). So for some people it is part of their journey (not a pleasant part but an important one). Think how different your life would be if it were not for this "adventure"?

  2. i know about strength under pressure, marisa (you know about my injury). it wasn't life-threatening as your ordeal was, but the event was and is still trying. from knowing you while living in Los Angeles, i will testify to your inner strength and determination and the wisdom you have gained from your ordeal. and your wisdom will be a learning tool for your readers who feel they need to share or gain some perspective into the trials and tribulation in their own lives. enjoy this journey....love, jeff

  3. Thank you, Monick and Jeff, for your kind words. They mean a lot to me. Proud to join you both in this engaging world of blogging. I have received so many wonderful words of encouragement from loved ones, acquaintances and even strangers. Feels good to move through the fear of sharing personal stories with a mass audience.

    Monick...I appreciate your thoughts to my question. However, I have found some studies that say you can heal yourself with eating natural whole foods. More to come on my next post.

    Monick Halm's Blog: http://www.equilawbrium.com/Equilawbrium/Blog/Blog.html

    Jeff Ircink's Blog:

  4. Marisa,
    Having known you all these years and been the recipient of your grace, resilience and generosity of spirit both in work and our friendship it is inspiring to see you write about your cancer survival directly.
    Yes, I believe cancer can be starved.
    Each individual physiology is of course inherently variant, but I have been vegan now for some five plus years and from the many sources I have read in exploring my journey of eating natural whole foods in their pristine state
    I would say it could be done by starving cancer of the susceptibility upon which it thrives in the stressed out bodies of so many people who run around sleep deprived ingesting processsed foods and high sugar and caffeine energy drinks.The result being a free radical rich environment where cancer thrives.
    We all have demanding schedules and it is not always easy to properly nurture our bodies for optimum health, but as actors, artists, writers, musicians, poets ... I believe maintaining as optimum a level of health as possible is part of our creative responsibility to our art.
    A combination of daily meditation, healthy consumption of natural raw foods, exercise and of course laughter goes a long way I have found towards actually allowing the abundant energy that exists to be accessed with an ease and clarity that can otherwise be impeded from the external stresses generated by our minds in compulsively telling us we need more of this that and the other for materialistic gain.
    When in actuality, we need only the truth of the inherent beauty and joy that lies with in each of us and which you exemplify in beginning this brave and purposeful blog.
    Good Thoughts.
    Much Love, Todd