Sunday, July 17, 2011

my recovery

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.


Greg said...

excellent mike. Bookmarked. First place i'll be sending people in my life who have cancer from now on.

Jonathan said...

Excellent Mike! Glad that you are getting this information out there and that the ball is rolling!

Pamela said...

You're an inspiration! So proud of you for never giving up. Miss you :>

bad jff said...

You are a true bad ass!! Proud to call you a friend. This should be given to all..

maire said...

you're back! 'nuf said!

Jessica Anthony said...

This is brilliant. You should write a book about this: "One Man's Might: A Guide to Beating Cancer." It would help thousands of people. I am not even remotely kidding.

mike said...

Thanks for all the support! Very much appreciated! We can talk about the book in the States, Jess - I'll be there soon. So, you won't be missing me for long, Pamela, and I'll see you, Mary, on the 9th in Denver. Sorry, I'm coming late, but I'm marrying Tom Parker (who's marrying Pauline) on Lake Mono on the 7th.

Get Tased! said...


Say more about Diet. What can one eat, then, if your reducing protein to such an extent that one isn't even getting Soy.

I mean I'm all for going Vegan, but at some point, one needs to get protein, right?

And what are you doing to replace the carbs, if you're exercising?


Get Tased! said...

Actually, here it is from Livestrong:

Nuts, fish, everything. You can't cut it out, right?

mike said...

Good question. No, it's not easy. Most importantly, I stopped taking supplemental phenylalanine - I had been taking between 500 and 1000mg per day on and off for about twenty years. I met a Spanish dude the other day who was taking 2000mg (from Solgar - same as me) a day in supplemental phenylalanine for vitiligo. I told him to stop and do a little research.

I stopped eating nuts all together. If 10 almonds (and who can eat just 10) contain 980mg, that's worse than meat or fish. Just cutting nuts out of your diet significantly reduces the amount of phenylalanine you're getting. I cut down on milk and cheese for other reasons as well - excess fat and their tendency to produce mucus.

I ate *a lot* of fruits and vegetables - that's where I got my carbs, mostly. I didn't go vegan or veggie, I just ate meat more rarely - about twice a week, which is very infrequent for the Czech Rep. People generally consume more protein than they need anyway. Everything in moderation, nothing in excess.

Again, this info is most relevant to melanoma. If you just stopped consuming Aspartame, that would go a long way (probably far enough) to normalize your phenylalanine levels.

Get Tased! said...

Thanks, Mike. I'm thinking though in terms of that Book, which I mentioned elsewhere, called _The China Study_, which Clinton, Bill, has made famous. The author says that his research very much leads towards finding high protein diets lead to all forms of cancers. In fact, he says milk is the worst because of the Casein in it.

He says, then, that 20% meat protein is the threshold. Give the body more than that and the foci get hopping. Less than 20%, they either don't form or regress or stagnate.

To keep it simple for us, then, he says very simply: Eat plants. He shows where they are more efficient protein sources, and you can eat all you want.

I jumped to Almond Milk, for example, and cut out milk (I used to only drink non-homogenized whole a la Michal Pollen),and cheese, unless I'm in Paris . . .

However, I would eat nuts, like sunflower seeds, almonds, whatever. Good healthy snacks. I thought.

As an aside, I think _China Study_ recommends eating only plants because for most of us it would be too difficult to not make a complete cognitive shift. In other words, we'd be too weak to hold up denying ourselves what we really want, but--the logic goes--if we don't desire it anymore then we won't eat it, etc.

In sum, then, if you were to go vegan but you cut out the nuts and you cut out soy (for example, I'm eating soy yogurt for the active cultures) and the almond milk, you're really not left with much.

BTW: I cut out fast food over a year ago. I don't drink soft drinks anymore.

And, yes, I found Prague still very difficult for vegetarians still, and almost impossible for Vegans. In the STates now in most places with even a touch of culture, it's not so difficult anymore.

I've rambled, oh boy.

So, then, and I realize your argument mostly pertains to melanoma, but we just need a regular amount, rather than overdoing it, correct?

And since you're melanoma specific, you'd say even less than normal amounts for you?


Anonymous said...

Good to see you're writing again Mike. It's been a while since i checked the blog, and was happy to see you promoting it on Facebook. Particularly liked the living in the moment post (...gotta get better at that). Funny, off-beat, and true. Have a great summer man. Hope to see you around soon. Andy F.

Bill Pixley said...

love ya man

Damien said...

nice one Mike ;)

Anonymous said...

Write more- good stuff.

mike said...

@Hunter: the vegetables I ate most or turned into smoothie material were: spinach, broccoli, carrots, and beets. I also ate a fair amount of cabbage (and it's diminutive cousin, the brussel sprout - which I actually like), as it's ubiquitous in Prague.

Fruit: I ate a lot of berries of all kinds and manner. They're great and incredibly healthy, especially the blue variety. Also oranges, grapes and grapefruit. Choice in Prague was and is a bit limited or cost prohibitive. I'd toss in the occasional banana as a thickener.

@Andy: I just picked up (actually stole from my friend Christine in NY) a copy of _The Wisdom of Insecurity_ by Alan W. Watts. He says a lot about 'living in the moment' and does a much better job of explaining why and how to do it than I do. Really amazing and progressive thinking for something published in 1951. I'm about half way through it and will lend it to you when I get back.

I'm working on the MMJ post - hoping for a visit to a dispensary to see what they're all about from whence I'm writing. More soon.

Privatdozent said...

Hi Mike, I have read your post and largely agree with your “top 10”. I think most of what you wrote could be applied to a depression.

Bob in Prague said...

Hi Mike, We met on Petrin on May 1st - I'm the guy who was dying of ALS. I was just then starting the intensive, gram-a-day oil treatment phase, which I just completed. I have started to slowly gain weight (after bottoming out at 125) and regain a little range and motion in my extremities. And my swallowing difficulties are easing. I feel as if we were riding on the crest of an enormous wave that is about to crash on our culture. Thank you for your courage and contributions - all together, we can make this a kinder, less painful world.

mike said...

Thank you, Bob, keep it up!

Anonymous said...

How are you?

I have just seen your interesting blog.

I am very busy working and trying to do things in the correct order but I am very, very worried and overwhemlmed about my mother, I love her with all my heart and she is the most important person in my life.

She has got an advanced plum cancer (advanced III stadium) and she has carcinogenic cells in the clavicle gland. The diagnosis is really bad.

Yesterday she started with a strong and radical treatment of chemotherapy and in a couple of weeks she is going to start with radiotherapy.

Please, I would like to ask you in which hospital did you be treated, the name of your doctor and if you followed some kind of medical or spiritual philosophy that helped you.

I am going to read all your blog step by step but it is going to take me long time (anyway I am going to read it and I am going to translate it to my mother). This is why I am asking you now this questions. I know time is very important.

Thank you very much for everything and sorry if I disturb you. Sorry about my limited English as well. I supouse you undertand that I am going to do every possible thing to help my mother.

Big hug from Spain,

Elsa Villalba

mike said...

Hola Elsa,

Te escribí un mail. Mucha suerte y coraje. Llámame si quieres hablar.


juliuscesarsalad said...

So what info did you find on phenylalanine y thyrosine? Cancer food?

mike said...

Phenylalanine is the amino acid expressed on the surface of melanoma tumors. It's how they determine a melanoma histology / diagnosis. Aspartame is half phenylalanine and known to cause cancer. Tyrosine converts to phenylalanine and vice versa depending on its need / use. So, yes, cancer food, like sugar.