Diagnosed with cancer followed by failed chemotherapy Anton Kuraia was given only weeks to live. He started planning his funeral. Then he tried intensive infusions of vitamin C. Ten months on and he's alive with the cancer in remission. The Whangarei policeman's journey has given him a new sense of purpose and appreciation for life. He talks to reporter Kristin Edge.
THE MEDICAL experts described it as "wall to wall" cancer and after two months of intensive chemotherapy there was little improvement.
Anton Kuraia was sent home from hospital with weeks to live and told he would slip into a coma and die.
The 43-year-old Whangarei policeman and father of three was left shattered and broken.
"I remember asking my oncology doctor if there was anything I could do, anything at all. But it was made clear that there were no other options and that certain death would be upon me."
He went to senior police bosses and broke down in tears explaining his situation.
"I asked if I could be buried in my police uniform and whether I should resign."
Then, with his wife Louise, he made one of the hardest decisions of his life; to share the dire prognosis with their three sons, Sebastian, Julius and Luca.
"Although our boys suspected something was wrong, my news was met with the worst grief imaginable. It felt like the worst moment of my life, especially when my youngest said 'Dad I have only known you for 10 years of my life'."
"I was a complete mess until I looked over my wife's shoulder and watched Sebastian embrace Julius, who in turn embraced Luca. Seb said to his brothers 'We'll be all right, we'll be okay'."
Anton says as they held and comforted each other he felt a deep peace in the realisation that his sons would indeed be okay without him. "They all seemed to grow in purpose. My wife and I looked at each other and felt a quiet relief. In retrospect, that moment will always make my heart smile and opened my eyes to a different way of thinking."
Sitting on the couch at his home in Kamo Anton, now looking healthy, explains how he reached the lowest point and decided to look for alternatives.
The terrifying rollercoaster ride that is cancer began for the Kuraia family in May last year when Anton was diagnosed with acute myloid leukaemia (AML), a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
Looking back he said there were signs - the blood noses, the major bruises - but at the time he was training intensively for a charity boxing match organised by the police. Then he suffered a serious neck injury and pulled out of the event.
"I guess they were all little signs. I just kept pushing myself to the limit training twice a day seven days a week."
It was son Seb who noticed Anton was not well one day and raised his concerns with mum Louise.
An immediate trip to the doctor involved a blood test, and more the following morning.
Then the doctor rang and told Anton to get to the emergency department at Whangarei Hospital - and pack a bag.
"That's when I got a bit worried and in my gut I had a feeling something was seriously wrong," he recalls.
It was an ambulance trip to Auckland Hospital where more blood tests confirmed their worst fears.
Within 48 hours of signing official papers he was undergoing a first course of chemotherapy which was to continue for six months.
"For the first few weeks I couldn't do anything," Anton says.
"Louise did everything and kept the family together. She was the one talking to people at work and keeping everyone informed."
The intensive chemotherapy took its toll and Anton dropped from 96kg to 74kg.
"They pushed the envelope as hard as they could. I was so sick I lay on my hospital bed and I couldn't open my eyes to see my family."
Then there was nothing they could do.
After 10 weeks in hospital and two cycles of chemotherapy Anton was discharged on July 31 with the news his cancer was too aggressive and he had eight weeks to live, tops.
"It was a couple of days of hell. We got all the tears out for the rest of the year."
It was then Anton considered other options.
The role of alternative therapies in cancer treatments has always been controversial. Doctors very rarely endorse them, instead they might cautiously say they're happy for patients to seek other options, but when you have no options left you'll try anything.
Two days after Anton was sent home Sebastian came home from school and mentioned a friend's uncle had used high dose vitamin C to help combat his cancer. The uncle had seen Dr Wojcik at the Northland Environmental Health Clinic. Anton got on the internet and googled vitamin C.
"I naturally looked into high dose vitamin C, therapies and supplements on the other side of the pharmaceutical fence.
"Why is it that we call everything that isn't conventional medicine 'alternative'?
"When you reflect on the simple methodology of alternatives you soon discover that the term 'naturals' is a clearer description," he said.
"Naturals support, detoxify and gently encourage the body to create an environment in which cancer struggles to survive."
Anton's diet was given a major overhaul, with sugar being a definite no-go food. Fresh vegetable and fruit smoothies became the order of the day as he followed a blood type diet.
The high dose liquid form of vitamin C is 90g of clear liquid taken intravenously to bypass the gut: "It takes 2-4 hours and you feel a bit groggy afterwards."
The sessions cost $200 each.
After 10 weeks of healthy eating and infusions - two weeks longer than experts had predicted he would live - Anton was feeling better and agreed to have a bone marrow biopsy.
The results revealed the cancer had dwindled to less than one per cent. The cancer was in complete remission.
Anton describes that moment as "extraordinary and surreal".
At the end of November he agreed to undergo preparations for a Haploid (bone marrow) transplant at Auckland Hospital as doctors said he should undergo the procedure during this window of opportunity. He was deemed an ideal candidate with a 40 to 45 per cent chance of success.
"After a course of pre-transplant chemotherapy I decided to pull out of the programme because it became difficult to believe in a programme that hindered the use of any adjunctive therapies like vitamin C or cater to my dietary needs.
"Because a team of oncology doctors had at first sent me home to die, then dismiss the contribution of unconventional therapies used by me after my unusual recovery and then predict the inevitable onset of cancer without the transplant, it became difficult to trust in the programme."
As he left hospital in early December oncologists guaranteed a relapse within six months without the transplant.
It's now April and Anton's journey continues.
Return to work
Just a few weeks ago he returned to work for three half days a week.
"What a special moment it was. There were tears and hugs throughout the entire day which at times left me a little speechless."
While he is not back on the front line yet that's where he wants to be by the end of the year.
"To be that custodian of peace, jack of all trades and sucker for punishment once again suits my persona. I can't wait to wear my uniform again, even if it's two sizes too large."
Anton said the support from his police mates - who he has walked the beat with for six years - has been amazing.
"From the compassionate and gentle words of encouragement from our recently retired commissioner Peter Marshall to the tongue-and-cheek humour of close colleagues, my journey so far has been breathtaking and gratefully appreciated.
"From the moment I was diagnosed with leukaemia the police, as an organisation and in particular the Northland Police, have rallied to support my cause and continue to be an invaluable extension of my family. I am truly lucky and will forever appreciate their love and ongoing support."
Anton doubts he would still be alive if it hadn't been for the financial support through the police sick leave scheme which has funded the vitamin C doses.
While 2013 wasn't the kindest year, Anton says he has been able to share and touch the hearts of many. He's more clear-headed than he's ever been.
"I have had the privilege of speaking with a number of cancer sufferers who are either looking for other options to complement their conventional therapies or the heroic few that were released from hospital without hope.
"It's busy but it's a privilege to be able to talk to these people and give them advice. I think about what I would have wanted information on and the other options that are out there."
Anton reckons his journey and remission has provided him with a new sense of purpose and appreciation of life.
"I hope my experiences can inspire and comfort those who are affected by cancer.
"I understand the fragile nature of my situation but I choose to focus on enjoying every moment of every day rather than worry about what time I have left."