Jacob Boger of New Albany, Ind., believes he's living proof that beating cancer sometimes takes more than medicine.
Boger was diagnosed in 2002 at age 26 with stage 4 cancer that was spreading from the upper part of his throat to part of his skull, but he's now cancer-free.
He underwent an aggressive regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, which shrank his tumor, but Boger believes modern medicine wasn't the only thing that came into play.
"I woke up in the middle of the night and felt like God told me to stop taking the treatments," he said.
He listened to the divine advice and when he went for his next MRI, he learned his cancer was gone.
Dr. Renato LaRocca, Boger's doctor and director of the Kentuckiana Cancer Institute in Louisville, Ky., said the odds were against Boger's surviving.
"The probability that he was going to be dead in three to four years was 60 to 70 percent," he said.
LaRocca counseled Boger about the risks of stopping his treatments, but Boger was determined to leave his fate in God's hands.
"I had confidence that my prayers were going to be answered, and that God was a healer and was going to take care of me."
"He understood the risks, but he approached it from the perspective that it was going to be OK," said LaRocca. "Ultimately, it's the patient's choice."
Faith Turned Life Around
Boger lost his mother, father and younger sister to cancer. In addition to the deaths of close family members, LaRocca said when he first met Boger, Boger was a young man living a turbulent life.
After his cancer diagnosis, Boger turned things around and devoted his life to God.
"I had two choices -- give in to this illness or fight the good fight of faith, and I chose to fight the good fight of faith," he said.
The chemotherapy treatments made him very sick, ravaged his immune system and left him sterile, but he pointed out that further evidence of God's will were his children -- he has two sons and a third child on the way.
Although Boger believes divine intervention worked for him, he would never recommend that anyone stop their treatments.
"I've personally ministered to people with cancer and told them don't refuse what doctors are saying -- don't just be ignorant and not go to the doctor," he said. "I tell them to let them confirm that God is moving in their life."
LaRocca said while the four treatments Boger received certainly played a part in his recovery, he can't explain why Boger is still cancer-free nine years later.
"Maybe his immune system woke up, maybe there was a lot of mental and spiritual depression, and once he got that focus, that's what helped, but I never underestimate the power of the mind."
"This guy seems to have struck a great balance between listening to the recommendations of his providers and listening to his inner voice," said Dr. Ashwin Mehta, an assistant professor at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. Mehta specializes in integrative medicine, a specialty that focuses on treating the body, mind and spirit. He was not involved in Boger's treatment.
Mehta stresses that despite Boger's incredible recovery, patients should not ignore medical advice.
End-Stage Treatment Focused on Comfort, Not Cure
Health care providers give end-stage cancer patients like Boger therapies that focus on either providing symptom relief or a bit more time. They are generally very effective, but they are not designed to cure their cancer.
"By stopping that therapy, patients may be forfeiting some time and some symptom management, but they are typically not giving up a cure because oncologists have already deemed that it's an incurable illness," said Dr. Tammie Quest, interim director at the Emory Palliative Care Center in Atlanta.
While it's generally not recommended that patients stop therapy unless they can't tolerate it, Quest said the ultimate decision is left to them.
"We always want to respect patient autonomy," she said. "There are no right or wrong decisions from the physician's perspective."
Judging by the fact that he's cancer-free and dedicated to a higher purpose, Boger believes he made the right choice. But was his survival medicine or miracle?
"It was absolutely a miracle," he said.