Here's my own personal 'top 10 list' of what I believe led to my eventual recovery. I'll write more on each topic in upcoming posts, but here's a summary. Remember that all cancers, cases and 'cures' are entirely unique to each individual. This was me:
1. attitude / approach - I wasn't in denial, but I wasn't going to die. I was and am pretty stubborn. My state of shock actually helped give me some detachment. I studied as much as I could and asked a lot of questions, taking (often very) disappointing answers with a grain of salt, a wince and a whatever. I trusted my doctors, but was aware of their limitations, as luckily most of them were too and I respected that honesty. I kept a very open mind (as to options) while being fairly skeptical – of the good and the bad news. I maintained a sense of humor and tried to spread as much cheer as I could. My late-night non-alcoholic beer parties are still the talk of the hospital.
There is absolutely nothing to be gained from a negative and hopeless attitude – in fact, there’s everything to lose. Nothing has more impact on your life (or death) than your approach to it, your attitude, your worldview, the way you express and internalize it – your two-way filter. If you think you’re going to die, you probably will. If you have to constantly convince others that you’re going to live, you’ll eventually convince yourself. One rises surprisingly to new challenges, you find the strength – there isn’t much choice. That said, a positive attitude can’t be forced, acted or pretended, it has to be real. You need to have a brave mind and not just a brave face.
2. the love and support of friends and family - was really overwhelming and I spent as much of my time consoling them as the other way around. It really helps, if you let it. People came out of the woodwork in Prague, from all over the world and from my distant past. I was showered with ‘good vibes’, ‘positive energy’ and the odd prayer. Even my cat took more interest in me and literally wouldn’t leave my shoulder whenever I was home – a ‘laying on of the paws’, as it were. I had many more and much better friends than I’d ever imagined – it was a real revelation and a huge and much needed boost. Very simply, I couldn’t have made it without their support – I wouldn’t have had the ‘attitude’ that I did without it. I am eternally grateful to the point of shame. I love you all and will never forget what you did for me.
3. reduction of phenylalanine (and tyrosine) in my diet - it's an essential amino acid (a building block of protein) and so not entirely unavoidable. Run from the artificial sweetener, Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, etc.) - it's cancer food, especially for any pre-existing melanoma. I cut down on meats, eggs and soy (not that I ever ate much soy), but had also been taking supplements of that crap for years – even after the operation. Finding out it promotes tumor metastasis, was a bit of a shocker.
4. Elimination of all avoidable sugar except the odd (and often even) beer, although I drank nealko (non-alcoholic) for several months. Sugar is cancer fuel (as it is for other cells). As radioactive glucose is used in PET scans to detect cancer, it should come as no surprise that cancer ‘likes’ sugar and lots of it. Starving tumors (and yourself) of sugars and carbohydrates reduces their rate of growth.
5. medical marijuana - a friend first made ‘pot milk’ for me when I was trying to quit smoking (anything) in order to get through chemo. In retrospect, I can’t see how anyone can go through chemotherapy without some form of cannabis - except maybe by taking multiple pharmaceuticals (with mixed and limited results) for each side effect (nausea, appetite loss, insomnia, pain, anxiety and depression, etc.) that further stress the liver. It’s no secret that smoking cannabis alleviates many of the unpleasant side effects of chemo, but ingesting it is by far a better option. I’ll expand and expound on this subject in the next post, but even the National Cancer Institute of all institutes apparently now agrees with me:
"The potential benefits of medicinal Cannabis for people living with cancer include antiemetic effects, appetite stimulation, pain relief, and improved sleep." and:
"Cannabinoids may cause antitumor effects by various mechanisms, including induction of cell death, inhibition of cell growth, and inhibition of tumor angiogenesis and metastasis. Cannabinoids appear to kill tumor cells but do not affect their nontransformed counterparts and may even protect them from cell death. These compounds have been shown to induce apoptosis in glioma cells in culture and induce regression of glioma tumors in mice and rats. Cannabinoids protect normal glial cells of astroglial and oligodendroglial lineages from apoptosis mediated by the CB1 receptor."
6. Many excellent doctors and nurses – the care I received in Prague was of the highest standard most of the time. Doctors were very blunt and for that I was grateful. The nurses were kind, but firm and often hilarious. I donated all of my flowers to the nurses' station, which endeared me to them - it's a tough job and it's nice to feel appreciated. I had little trouble organizing appointments or obtaining medical records – often on the very day the tests were taken.
7. Herbs and supplements – I think I pretty much tried them all, but what I believe actually helped most were: curcumin (a powerful antioxidant I got from Ageless Cures), a good multi-vitamin (‘Mega Men’ from GNC and others), additional 'Ester C' 1000mg / day, and 'ImuFit' (beta-glucan).
Additionally, but somewhat sporadically, I took: extra zinc, kelp (for radiation exposure), milk thistle (silymarin – to prevent liver damage from chemo and from the stress of all the other supplements), shark cartilage (prevents angiogenesis in tumors), Omega 3 (fish oil), Vitamin E, Beta Carotene, Co Q-10, selenium, N-acetyl L-cysteine (NAC), as well as ginko biloba on occasion.
Antioxidants run counter to most chemotherapy regimens, as chemo works by actually creating free radicals and interfering with cell DNA / RNA. Antioxidants just pick them back up. Good thing I didn't have much faith in my chemo. Curcumin, however, can inhibit platelet production, so if your platelets fall well below normal (like mine did), hold off on it for a while.
8. Other dietary / lifestyle changes: I’ve been long-time lover of smoked and grilled meats, but gave them up in favor of salads (Homolka hospital actually has a great salad bar!). I ate lots of fruit and made crazy combo smoothies on a daily basis. I got rid of sugars and most carbs as mentioned above, eliminated fats and most dairy (milk products produce mucus - an environment in which cancer thrives). I started exercising to reverse the atrophy and regain the strength I'd lost to the extended and very sedentary hospital stay and the physical ravages of chemo. Exercise is also a great mood booster, releasing natural endorphins.
9. Chinese medicine – that’s right, I went whole hog, as it were. Dr.? Wang was very confident and comforting with his thick wizened accent in Czech, the cheesy Chinese elevator music and the wacky tree barks, roots and vetches I had to boil for hours and then drink. Lying in his office with acupuncture needles all over my face and head, while listening to the chuzak (Chinese muzak) was pretty much the only time I was able to relax and not think about cancer – I usually meditated and often slept for all of 20 minutes, which was a major accomplishment for me at the time.
10. Kombucha tea – My friend Milan made this for me from scratch. I think I drank about thirty liters of it, averaging three glasses a day. It tastes pretty foul, but you get used to it.
I'm happy to answer any questions regarding the above (or anything else for that matter!). Please feel free (and encouraged!) to question or comment. If you or someone you love has cancer, the sheer amount of (often conflicting) information can be too much to handle. Take it slowly and calmly, do your own research, examine your options and ask a lot of questions. Although easier said than done, the best thing you can do is to lower your stress level, which seriously 'stresses' your immune system. A very tall order (for someone with cancer), but a necessary step toward better health for anyone. Severe stress (although not always completely unavoidable) will inhibit your ability to achieve the 'attitude' necessary to overcome your cancer. If you can redirect and use that stress as a positive, motivating and productive force, you stand a much better chance of recovery.