Georgia doctor who treats cancer patients says horses helped him beat cancer

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At 71, Michael Pinell has found his "happy" place on a horse farm.

"The thing is, horses want to be loved just like everybody else does," Pinell says. "They will form a tight bond with someone who is their owner or someone who takes good care of them."

And the story of how the emergency physician ended up on a ranch just south of Atlanta begins 50 years ago during the Vietnam War.

"I was first an x-ray tech in Vietnam, actually, in 1967-68," Pinell says.  "I was exposed to Agent Orange over at Cam Ranh Bay, Republic of Vietnam."

More than 40 years later, in 2010, Pinell was stung by a bee on his neck while out playing golf.

The sting left a lump that was still there months later, when Pinell's wife urged him to go to the doctor.

He was diagnosed with a combination of small and large cell lymphoma, which has been linked to his exposure to the toxic chemical during his military service.

He was stunned; the cancer was advanced.

"When I was given the diagnosis of cancer, and told I had 6 months to live, it truly brought me to my knees," Pinell remembers.

Dr. Pinell decided to use his medical training to treat himself, turning to a series of alternative cancer therapies.

His approach worked.

"And, I can't tell you what actually did it, but something killed off all of that small cell lymphoma," he says.

Pinell still had a large lump on his neck, and tests showed the large cell lymphoma still had a strong foothold in his body.

Hoping to kill the remaining cancer, Pinell and his wife moved to Newnan, to begin chemotherapy at Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Each day, in between his infusions, Pinell would walk about a mile from his home to a horse farm.  

"Over time, as I would go up, feed them carrots, pet them, you could feel a bonding that was starting," Pinell says.  "Then, as you'd walk down the road, they'd come running right up to you from their pasture."

He had no horse experience.

But, with the horses, Pinell felt a sense of peace.

"It's helping your mind adjust, that you're going to get through this," Pinell says.  "It gives you hope."

Today, Dr. Pinell is still at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Newnan, but not as a patient.

He is now the lead physician for urgent care at the hospital, treating cancer patients going through medical complications.

"I've sat in that chemotherapy for 13 hours, sometimes. I can relate to exactly what they're going through," Pinell says.

Three or 4 times a day, he says, he'll share his own cancer journey with the patients he's treating. 

"I really convey to them that they are going to be angry they have got cancer, they are going to be depressed," Pinell says. "All of these things are very common side effects, but (I tell them) not to give up hope."

Hope is why Pinnell and his wife bought a Griffin horse ranch last year. 

Their dream is to offer equine therapy to people going through cancer treatment.

"We want to try and bring patients, and try to give them that positive experience, when they're going through this really tough journey," Pinell says.

The Pinells have purchased 10 horses and hired a trainer to start up their equine therapy program.

One day, they hope to include not just cancer patients but children on the autism spectrum and people living with PTSD and other health challenges.

He believes these horses helped him heal.

"And I want to pay it forward," Pinell says.  "I want to help people experience the same thing, if they're interested."