Editors note: Anthony C. Quan, a.k.a. TEMPT, is a graffiti artist based in Los Angeles and the subject of the 2012 documentary Getting Up: The TEMPT ONE Story. He is currently in his eleventh year of living with ALS, which has rendered him almost completely paralyzed. In order to create his art, Quan uses the EyeWriter, an open-source device that allows the user to translate eye movements into pictures (he used a similar device to write this story for MUNCHIES). If you would like to see more of his art, visit his Facebook fan page or check out his blog.
I began painting graffiti art in inner-city Los Angeles in the early 1980s. I'm down with the K2S, STN, LOD, 213, WTM, and FB crews in LA, as well as WILDSTYLE and NCW in NYC. I've also been a drummer in various punk bands in East LA, curated graffiti shows, painted across the US, Mexico, and Canada. My work has been shown in galleries and museums around the world, and I've done work for clients such as Lollapalooza, Tribal Gear, B Boy Summit and the Black Eyed Peas, and published BIGTIME, an international publication on graffiti and street art. I've been lucky enough to be published in the seminal book about LA graffiti, called Graffiti LA. I even have a documentary film about my life.
This is why February 2003 particularly sucked. That month, I was diagnosed with ALS.
I was told that the cause is unknown and a cure is nonexistent, and that I had about a year to live. I was also told that what was left of my time on Earth would be spent completely conscious, but trapped inside a body that is 100-percent paralyzed. A body that wouldn't be able to move, communicate, take a piss on its own, be able to swallow or chew, or even breathe without a machine to do it for me.
The medical term for this is known as "locked-in syndrome." The street term for it is "you're totally fucked, bro." But I wasn't going down without a fight. If I was going to die, I was going to go down swinging, and veganism had my back.
Going back as far as I can remember, I've always been a fan of bean and cheese burritos. I don't mean the allergic-to-wheat, cooked-in-veggie-oil type of burritos synonymous with modern-day Los Angeles, either. To me, the definition of a good bean and cheese burrito was one that was cooked in tons of creamy lard and had so much yellow cheese that when you took a bite, all the oil from the cheese would ooze out to the opposite end and run down your arm like lava; anything less and I couldn't get my party on. I grew up on these torpedoes of molten joy.
I was your typical American boy in terms of my food choices and dietary habits, eating double chili cheeseburgers and huge orders of carne asada nachos, stuffing myself with fettuccine alfredo until I got dizzy trying to stand up, gorging on deep-fried chicken or fish, getting my money's worth at an all-you-can-eat buffet, or 3 AM runs to the best taco trucks in the 'hood. This is Southern California after al, the land – where fast food and drive-ins were invented and where the warm glow of Hollywood fantasies means you never had to think about tomorrow.
Suffice to say that, for three weeks, my entire world came crashing down in flames and ashes. But after those three weeks, I pulled myself back together and regained my composure. I was able to think and I began asking questions.
I had read somewhere that ALS was virtually nonexistent a hundred years ago. Why? Did people still die of ALS in proportionate numbers back then? Was it misdiagnosed or was there no understanding of ALS before the 20th century? And, if ALS didn't exist a hundred years ago, then what's happened in the last hundred years to bring it about? Common sense alone tells you that things don't "just happen."
I decided to get mad and apply everything that my punk rock upbringing taught me. I began researching everything on health and diet and the correlations with ALS. I knew that I had little productive time left, because every day my body was deteriorating and losing movement. So I spent countless hours at the library and stayed up all night on the internet, endlessly scrolling down pages. People in my immediate circle thought I was going crazy, and that I should conserve what little energy I had left. But conserve it for what? My drive was not coming from a place of fear; it was coming from a place of conviction, resolve, and determination to whoop the hell out of this shitty ALS that would slowly overcome my entire body.
I went vegan first; then, strictly organic. I decided early on to flood my body with all of the nutritious food and vitamins it needed to return to a natural state of health and balance. And the easiest way to do that for me–and my digestive system that was slowly shutting down–was through a daily regimen of raw smoothies and juices.
For the past 11 years, I have stuck to a simple vegan diet. Breakfast and lunch consists of raw, organic fruits, nuts, seeds, coconut milk, and a grain (usually quinoa, millet, or flax). Dinner is a variety of leafy greens like kale, chard, and bok choi, along with a tomato, avocado, mushroom, some sprouted legumes, and the occasional broccoli or cauliflower, and a bit more nuts and seeds. I have absolutely no cooked or heated food except for the grains. They need to be boiled. Other than that, it has been totally raw diet. In my experience, as long as you maintain a variety within each of those food groups, you're good to go. Everything is thrown into the blender and whipped until it's smooth enough to pass through my gastric tube. This is the only way that I can eat now and I am perfectly fine with it.
I'm a pretty hardcore juicer, too.
Every morning, my caregiver whips up a big batch of green juice consisting of cucumbers, lemons, parsley, green apples, celery, kale, and chard. If I'm feeling especially crazy one day, I'll add some garlic, ginger, and cayenne. Green juices help detoxify and cleanse the body and my body absorbs them almost immediately, getting the nutrition to every cell in my body within minutes. One big batch is enough to get my swerve on all day.
So where has all this gotten me? Well, to be honest, for the first eight years there was no reversal of paralysis. However, in the ninth year, I began feeling different. That's the only way to describe it.
Outwardly, I was still completely paralyzed, but something inside my body began trying to wake up. You know that sound your car makes when the battery's dead and you try to start up the engine? CLICK. CLICK. CLICK. That was my body the first eight years. But in the ninth year, it went from a car with a dead battery to a car with a good battery, but with no gas.
When you turn the key now, you can hear the engine trying to start. "Finally! A ray of hope!" I said to myself. Hell yes. In the tenth year, my toes on both feet began twitching to my command after years of disobeying my orders. Toward the end of that same year, the big toe on my right foot began to regain a tiny bit of movement. It was so hard to notice it moving that you wouldn't even think it counted, but I'll take that over a motionless toe anyday.
Nevertheless, something was happening. In the face of all the medical literature that said ALS is irreversible, I had just reversed it in my big toe. It's currently the eleventh year of me being laid up, and not only has that same big toe continued to regain more movement every month, but a few other random toes have regained some movement as well. Hell, even my right calf has regained some movement, as well as my bottom lip, my tongue, and my jaw. And I'm not planning to stop.
The prayers and hard work are finally beginning to show results. I don't know how much improvement is possible, but the little progress I've received so far is a huge blessing and I am excited to explore more of it as I chug along life. I'm now working twice as hard as back then, when I was able to move.
As my graffiti colleagues would say, CAN'T STOP, WON'T STOP.
DISCLAIMER: This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and does not constitute medical or other professional advice. Munchies does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, physicians, products, procedures, opinions, or other information that may be mentioned in this article. Reliance on any information provided herein is solely at your own risk.