Brice Royer was told four years ago that the tumour in his stomach would likely kill him.
He arrived at the doctor’s office for an update this week in a wheelchair and star-shaped sunglasses, accompanied by an entourage of four beloved friends.
He felt weak and had a migraine, he explained, as he rose shakily to greet a Vancouver Sun team, but had made the effort to come from Coquitlam to the south Granville office for an important purpose: to check on the size of his tumour.
Royer reacted to his 2012 diagnosis first with denial and then depression. He became bed-ridden, weak and contemplated suicide.
Then he read love and kindness could help people heal. Giving and receiving freely, he learned, helps people build community and recover from depression.
In 2013, Royer started a campaign of random acts of kindness.
He gave a chronically ill single mother in Pennsylvania whom he had never met $4,800 from his own savings to pay rent for the year. Late last year, he spearheaded a campaign to build a home for another single mother in Vancouver who lived in a shelter with her daughter and had offered to cook for him. That campaign raised $25,000.
He received global media recognition last year when a Craigslist ad he wrote on the site’s Vancouver real estate page offering unconditional love for $0 went viral.
Royer said his biggest lifestyle change included inviting strangers to his home for meals, to build a connection with the community. Some of those people became close friends.
One, Ruso Llanera, who was pushing his wheelchair, is now his full-time caregiver and has become “like a brother,” Royer said.
“The tumour actually gave me a gift, because if I didn’t have that, I would not have changed my lifestyle and I would not have appreciated the importance of community and belonging and being surrounded by loving kindness. I probably wouldn’t have changed much,” Royer said in the lobby of his doctor’s office.
“I think the reason I am alive today is because of the love and kindness I have received from so many people.”
Dr. Eric Cattoni, Royer’s GP, took his entourage in stride, moving the appointment to a larger office.“Brice, how are you?” he asked.
“Up and down,” answered Royer, who also suffers from two neurological disorders that make him chronically weak and highly sensitive to most foods. He has been feeling extremely tired these past few days and suffers digestive problems. This was likely related to something he ate, he said.
Then the conversation turned to the question on everyone’s mind.
“What happened to the tumour?” Royer asked.
Cattoni turned to his computer, pulling Royer’s MRI results on to the screen.
“So basically it’s saying that … the mass has not increased, but has in fact decreased in size, which favours either an unexplained improvement or possibly more of a benign or indolent type of disease,” Cattoni said.
“So it’s gotten better?” Royer asked.
“It’s gotten better,” Cattoni confirmed. “And the fact that it has, they say here, (means) that it might be more of a benign type of lesion.”
“That’s good news,” Royer said quietly, with a nervous laugh.
“That is very good news,” Cattoni said. “And to start out, they weren’t saying that. They were saying, ‘No, this is scary looking, this is bad.’ And I think the fact that that’s changed, the fact that things have gotten better, I think you’re just probably going to have a lot of doctors trained like me scratching their heads.”
“Oh my god,” Royer said, cradling his head in his hands and bursting into tears. He was quickly hugged by both Llanera and his fiancée. Royer’s sobs were audible and his shoulders shook as the three embraced and absorbed the results.
“That’s the best news I’ve heard since 2012,” Royer said, wiping away his tears. Cattoni handed him a tissue.
Asked by Royer to what extent his lifestyle changes could have affected his health, Cattoni said: “I think you’ve surrounded yourself with people that care for you and that you care for and I think that’s been very good for you. I think your mental health is very closely tied to physical health, which is no mystery to Western medicine.
“But I think a lot of the improvement you’re experiencing, you’re not going to find answers from me or most Western-trained physicians. That doesn’t make the success you’re having by surrounding yourself with love less real, right? I think you kind of have your answer there. I think what you’re doing and the way you’re approaching things is good for you and I think it is going to help you and possibly save your life. But I also think that it’s not going to be the only answer. I think there are medical interventions that, if suggested by specialists, you need to consider seriously.”
In the lobby of Cattoni’s office, Royer was still wiping away tears.
“It gives me courage to keep doing what I’m doing. It encourages me to keep giving and I’m probably going to give even more.”
The next day, Royer celebrated by helping a friend pay for a car-related expense.