Experience

The “Roar of a Lion” Knows No Bounds

How Alex Edwards gained deeper joy and confidence in life through his battle with leukemia.

Photo by YVONNE NG.


by Alex Edwards
Jersey City, New Jersey

My grandmother, who joined the SGI in 1982, worked two jobs to support me, my younger sister and my deaf parents. We grew up in a neighborhood surrounded by drug activity, and my house was even shot at once.

The stress at home, my introverted nature and the bullying I faced at school made me feel trapped. Not knowing another way out, I attempted suicide at 9 years old.

With the constant support of my SGI family, I made it through those difficult times. A major turning point in my faith came in January 2012, when I was diagnosed with a relatively rare disease, Philadelphia chromosomepositive acute lymphoblastic leukemia. I was just 20.

I needed a bone marrow transplant and was told that it could take three years to get a donor match—time I didn’t have.

I deepened my faith in the Gohonzon and chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo more abundantly day by day. In “Reply to Kyo’o,” Nichiren Daishonin writes: “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo is like the roar of a lion. What sickness can therefore be an obstacle?” (The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 412). I would return to this quote for strength again and again.

Through chanting and all the faith encouragement I received, I began to see the preciousness of my life, and I developed a desire to live fully. My family and I soon learned that my sister, Reyna, who was 16 at the time, was a match for the transplant. Due to her courage and support, I underwent a successful surgery on April 17, 2012, and began my path to recovery with chemotherapy.

For the next two-and-a-half years in remission, I made all-out efforts in my SGI activities and to advance my dream of becoming a hip-hop artist. I started attending school at SAE Institute for audio engineering and performed with notable underground artists in community festivals around New York.

My life-or-death experience gave me the confidence and desire to share Buddhism with others,
and in 2015, I helped five people receive the Gohonzon, including my childhood friend who attempted suicide around the same time that I did. Today, he is an SGI-USA young men’s unit leader and a member of Soka Group (a young men’s behind-the-scenes training group).

On Christmas Day in 2015, I fell very ill and went to see the doctor. That’s when I learned that my cancer had returned. This meant putting my dreams and schooling on hold, once again. Even with these challenges, I was stronger than ever. Because I had overcome leukemia once, I knew I could do it again. I went to the hospital with a positive attitude and even brought my music equipment to produce beats while undergoing treatment.

With the support of my family, I had my second transplant in April 2016 (my sister was once again my donor) and began chemotherapy. Like the first time I was in the hospital, I chanted and read Nichiren’s writings and SGI President Ikeda’s guidance. I worked hard to make music as much as my strength would allow, and joyfully held dialogues with hospital staff and other patients. I also focused on encouraging my friends and helped one receive the Gohonzon while I was in the hospital! Even when my family was threathened with losing our home, I resisted giving in to my doubt and negativity, and my friends and SGI leaders would visit me as I strove to win in my life even more.

In early 2017, I had many breakthroughs. First, my grandmother found a housing contractor who created a new contract that allowed us to stay in our place! Then, one of the beats that I made while in the hospital during chemotherapy was picked up and recorded by an independent artist. And soon after that, I was appointed the Jersey City Chapter young men’s leader. I also returned to school and, last August, I walked across the stage to receive my diploma in audio engineering, while my family watched me with tears of joy shining in their eyes.

Today, I work as a sound engineer in a bar/music venue in Manhattan and continue to pursue my goal of creating music that acts as an expedient means for kosen-rufu.

Through battling my illness based on faith, I’ve gained a deeper joy and confidence in the power of my own life. I have been imparting this same message to all the youth I talk to about the 50,000 Lions of Justice Festival, the seed of change for our time. Today, I’ve helped 30 friends register for the festival, and nine friends have received the Gohonzon.

As a result of all my causes for kosen-rufu, I went from taking 25 medications daily last year to just two. I’m in good health and have been in remission for over two years. To repay my debt of gratitude to my family, especially my sister, I will continue to work on my human revolution to cherish my obstacles, believe in myself and make the impossible possible. The roar of a lion knows no bounds.