The sound of applause is strong and steady as James Waslaski wraps up another lecture. The clapping quiets as attendees eagerly approach him for some one-on-one time. James welcomes each with a warm smile and a caring voice.
It’s a voice James had feared would be silenced by throat cancer.
James travels throughout the world some 45 weekends a year speaking to sports physicians, sports trainers, physical therapists, osteopaths, chiropractors and massage therapists. He teaches them about innovative approaches to muscle rehabilitation, pain management and holistic healing, and demonstrates pragmatic ways to treat musculoskeletal injuries that don’t involve surgery.
Trainers of professional athletes have put James’ insights and techniques into practice. Medical professionals who have completed 100 hours of training and have been certified in his orthopedic massage and pain management program have successfully treated people incapacitated for years by muscle injuries, James says.
“We’ve worked with people who haven’t been able to move their shoulders for years, for example,” he notes. “It’s a condition called frozen shoulder. People from around the world have gotten their shoulders treated nonsurgically.”
James developed and refined his musculoskeletal recovery and holistic healing techniques after many years of working as a paramedic. “I thought if we combined preventative medicine and nonsurgical rehabilitation, we’d have better outcomes,” he says.
For 20 years, James has taught these techniques to health care practitioners in the United States, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica, Australia, Europe and Asia. During his travels, James sustains the daily hour-long workout regimen he practices at the gym near his North Richland Hills, Texas, home to keep him fit and trim.
But the diagnosis of cancer in James’ throat upended the comfort and routine of his life. He had to undergo surgery to remove an enlarged lymph node first discovered by his massage therapist.
James remembers the day in July 2014: “When I woke up from surgery, I saw my wife praying with tears in her eyes. ‘You’ve got cancer,’ she said.”
James was stunned. He dwelled on the damage to his throat that the cancer — or cancer treatment — could cause.
“I thought my career was over,” he says. “I didn’t have a fear of dying — I’m close to God — but I did fear losing my livelihood and my ability to provide for my family.”
Doctors at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in Houston, Texas, put him at ease. They explained in detail how his vocal cords would be protected during treatments using proton beam radiation. “I was pleasantly surprised by the reassurance,” James says.
James waited until December 2014 to begin his treatments at MD Anderson. “I wanted to be sure my body and mind were in the right place,” he says. A longtime mentor reminded James of his own words that he often uses in his lectures: “Embrace the healing that you believe will heal your body, mind and spirit.”
James moved in with a friend in Houston for his two months of proton treatments. He worked out at the gym every day. “Every other weekend, I would travel and teach,” says James. “I would have a 4 a.m. proton session on Friday, take a 7 a.m. flight out and be back in Houston for another session Monday morning.”
He followed his doctors’ instructions and gargled with water and baking soda before and after each treatment. He said he drank about eight to ten bottles of high-pH water every day. And he stuck to the swallowing exercises he was taught by a speech therapist at MD Anderson.
“I’m sure that helped my esophagus,” he says. “There was no loss of taste, no inability to swallow. Some people had told me, ‘You might be on a feeding tube. You might lose your taste buds. You might lose 25 pounds.’ I gained weight in the end!”
His athletic frame filling out his jersey, James says, “At 60 years young, I am in the best emotional, energetic, spiritual and physical shape in my life.”