Needles Like Noodles

It is common knowledge that health care in America is controlled by robber baron corporations of one stripe or another. Every time I sit down for a chemotherapy session, it costs my insurance company nearly $20,000, mostly due to high drug costs. Certain pills I take for nausea are $800 apiece. While the cost of complementary care (the holistic approaches we are using <i>en masse</i>) is not as stratospherically insane, it can still be prohibitive for regular working stiffs, largely because it’s not covered by insurance. For example, four intravenous Vitamin C&K treatments a month are running us right around $1000. Acupuncture, too, typically runs around $100 per treatment. The needles are not what hurts in conventional acupuncture.

That’s why the community acupuncture movement in this country is such a godsend. Community acupuncture centers charge only $20-40 per treatment, according to a person’s ability to pay. No questions asked, just offer what you can and sit down in a comfortable chair for some Chinese medicine TLC. For the first time in my life, I can afford to have acupuncture at least once a week. And unlike some of my other therapy encounters, my experiences at Sarana Community Acupuncture in Albany are always nurturing, tranquil immersions into the essence of true healing.

Sarana has retrofitted a nondescript strip mall office space, replete with acoustic tile ceilings and fluorescent lights. But of course those lights are never turned on. The space is always softly lit by full-spectrum bulbs enclosed in paper lanterns. The patient is seated in a Lazy Boy-type reclining chair or cot (about 4 to a room) surrounded by batik wall hangings and bamboo or rice paper room dividers. Relaxing music from all over the world floats in the background – everything from shakuhachi flutes backed by didgeridoos to spare solo piano pieces and selections from the Amelie soundtrack – all selected to sooth and smooth the senses.

The acupuncturist on duty enters, crouches down by your side, and asks what you need. Maybe you’d like support for your immune system or liver detox. You tell her, she touches your wrists to take your “pulses”, consults your chart, then inserts the needles just beneath the skin in the appropriate points.

Doctor-patient confidentiality in the well-peopled room is not a problem; just whisper. All the communication in the facility is conducted in hushed tones, as if you were in a sacred space. And even though the practitioner tends to from three to ten patients at a time, I’ve always received the utmost attention to my condition. The center feels like a safe and tranquil health haven, and I’ve always managed to drift into peaceful sleep even with several needles in place.

Sarana employs four fully trained physicians, all women. Tatania, glowing serene earth goddess; Pam, focused and deeply empathetic; Ellie, sparkly and insightful, with infectious vitality; Mari, youthful yet with a quiet grace and confidence that belie her age. All these sisters of mercy bring great compassion and expertise to what they do. They are much more than excellent healers; they feel like good friends.

The Sarana experience illustrates how even in health care, big benefits can come in small price packages. The book about this movement, <i>Acupuncture is Like Noodles,</i> proposes that acupuncture centers, “needle houses” if you will, should be like noodle houses – inexpensive, accessible everywhere, and highly nourishing, while providing a sustainable, not lavish, living for the practitioner. An excellent example of how good values can generate good value. Visualize the rest of the health care industry following suit.

For more info, or to find a community acupuncture center near you, consult the list of clinics at this website: www.communityacupuncturenetwork.org.

From A(poptosis) to Z(ofran)

Cancer comes with its own tongue-twisting jargon, mostly consisting of long, brain-numbing words coined by drug companies and other lords of modern medicine. I swear, they must let out an evil cackle every time they name a new discovery. Even a dedicated word nerd like me can barely summon the energy to make it through all those syllables.

Here are some examples of of the strange vocabulary cancer patients (and their support people) are  compelled to learn.

APOPTOSIS.The programmed death of cancer cells, this is the intended purpose of all chemotherapy. In short, a VERY good thing.

ANGIOGENESIS. Creation of new blood supply lines, to feed tumors in the case of cancer, a VERY bad thing.

CACHEXIA. Wasting disease sometimes present in advanced cancer patients — loss of appetite, etc. Not a problem for Tad, thank goodness!

CARCINOEMBRYONIC ANTIGEN (CEA). Protein deposited in the blood by cancer cells, which can be measured with a simple blood test. Monitoring CEA is one (admittedly imperfect) way of monitoring cancer activity.

CETUXEMAB. A chemotherapy drug that targets a type of protein (EGFR) present on the surface of colorectal cancer cells. This is part of Tad’s new cocktail. It is sold under the brand name Erbitux, also not a lovely word but it does roll off the tongue a little easier…

5-FLUOROURACIL. Another anti-cancer chemo drug commonly used against colon cancer.

MYELOSUPPRESSION. Suppression of the bone marrow’s production of blood cells and platelets, a virtually universal side effect of chemotherapy, hence the nadir period about a week after treatment when the immune system reaches its lowest point in the cycle.

NEUTROPENIA. Abnormally low level of neutrophils, bacteria-eating white blood cells, another common side effect of chemotherapy that makes patients vulnerable to various infections.

PERIPHERAL NEUROPATHY. A problem with the nervous system also caused by some chemotherapy drugs, which can produce pain, tingling, and numbness, especially in the feet and hands. Tad has been experiencing this for some time and is taking Alpha Lipoic Acid to counteract the effect. If we don’t see improvement soon, he may ask for the pharmaceutical fix.

ZOFRAN, A drug used to treat the nausea and vomiting caused by chemotherapy. Hmmm. The same folks make it as make the drugs that make you sick in the first place – now there’s a profitable business model. Tad was glad to have it in the aftermath of his first treatment with the new chemo cocktail. Now they are using a different drug for nausea that is part of his pre-med infusion. It’s brand name is Emend and it targets the brain in a different way than all other anti-nausea meds. Because it’s the first and there are no generics available, the 4 pills Tad takes right after treatments cost our insurance company $800 each. Yes, EIGHT HUNDRED DOLLARS. Now there’s a bitter pill to swallow…

Siezing the good days

Prowling the streets of Paris (in our dreams)

There are four days per fortnight that I bite the magic bullet of chemotherapy. One full day at the clinic next to a Christmas tree of plastic bags full of pre-meds (meds that counter the side effects of the main meds) and chemo chems, plus iron supplements, etc. Then two days at home during which a small pump that can be hidden in a fanny pack continues to infuse more chemo into my bloodstream. And finally, Sunday, during which I am usually crashed in front of a string of televised sports events with a chemo hangover. It’s a period of low energy and low-grade nausea, no fun but tolerable.

So, needless to say, I am determined to make up for lost time during the rest of my days. Mindy and I have been doing a pretty good job of having fun lately. In August we drove down to San Diego County with my sister Claire to visit my parents, aunt and uncle, and a few friends. While we were there, my dad put the 26-foot trimaran he built a number of years ago into the water and we had a couple of days of great sailing: blue water, sweeping coastline, and plenty of dolphins to guide our way. It was inspiring, though a bit nerve-wracking at moments, watching my 86-year-old dad shuffling around the deck, setting up and breaking down the boat, and skippering to boot. Pretty amazing, actually, that he’s still up for it.

At night my mom put together jigsaw puzzles with Claire and Mindy as Dad and I watched baseball: San Diego, his team, and San Francisco, my team, have been battling for first place in the division for months. We managed to get my mom, also sprightly in her eighties, to go to a chick flick with us: Eat, Pray, Love. She was reluctant at first – the endless string of pearly whites in Julia Roberts’ mouth is off-putting to her. I enjoyed the movie, and especially liked the Balinese healer’s advice to smile from your liver. It’s my new practice.

A few nights ago, we went to a restaurant in Berkeley and 16 of our friends showed up to celebrate my birthday. I felt very blessed looking around that table at all those cherished faces toasting to my health. I’m surrounded by angels wherever I go. Talking to these pals all at once was like wading into a wonderful cross-sampling of cultural creatives: authors, concert musicians, athletes, opera singers, photographers, and designers. One friend in his seventies is suddenly determined to become a jazz pianist and just passed an audition to take an ensemble class at a Berkeley jazz school. Another, in his mid forties, just participating in his first Pro-Am slalom water skiing event. A woman violinist is just back from England where she runs an annual music camp for aspiring young classical players. Hanging around with these people makes me want to increase my IQ – illustriousness quotient. I started writing a new song the very next day.

Last Thursday, Mindy and Ben and I went to the Palace of the Legion of Honor to see the City of Lights exhibit. It was a gorgeous sunny day in our own City of Light, San Francisco. For a couple of hours, we immersed ourselves in the charms of the artistic community of gaslit Paris in the 1890s. The painters, poster makers, and photographers of the time whisked us off into another world. Afterward, M. and I hikes the sun-drenched trail along the bluffs overlooking the Golden Gate. (Note the photo of us wandering the narrow streets of the Left Bank, at least in spirit.)

When old man chemo comes a-courtin’ again, I’ll be amply fortified with memories of good times to help me smile with my liver despite my discomforts.

September 22, 2010

People have said it’s time for another post in this particular category. They want to know the facts and figures on Tad’s state of health. I know that what they long to hear is that the cancer is gone and this past seven months was all a bad dream. We certainly wish for that! The truth is that cancer still exists in Tad’s body, but we don’t let ourselves dwell on that fact. We see the his CEA count (tumor marker, in his blood) and liver enzyme figures and CT scan images as important factors in our decisions, not as immutable facts. The truth is that cancer cells are dying in his body every day!

Since my last status report around six weeks ago, Tad has had a couple of blood transfusions and iron IVs to build his red blood and thereby cure his anemia, and he feels better than ever in that regard. Shortness of breath is very rare now. He has lost some weight, mainly because the chemo treatments make him feel ill a few days a month, plus he had an outpatient surgery (not cancer related) a few weeks back  and the pain meds during recovery were hard on his digestive system. Still, his weight is holding steady in the 170-175 range (I think he would say his ideal weight is 185-190). His appetite is strong and he has gone back to teaching 10 hours a week, mostly adult ESL with an adult guitar class thrown in for good measure. If you met him on the street, your first comment would be, “You’re looking well!”

We get out to enjoy the environs on a regular basis, even had a nice week-long trip down to see his folks in late August. Life goes on and gives us pleasure every day. We feel lucky to have each other and so many great friends who pray for us, wish us well, offer financial support, even clean the house on occasion. How great is that?

The current plan is for Tad to continue every-other-week treatments with Folfiri plus Erbutux (use Google if you want the details on those drugs), plus he has begun very high-dose Vitamin C intravenously at the integrative oncology clinic in Sebastopol, which will happen weekly for a couple of months. See my post called “Linus Pauling Was Right” for more on that front.

Thanks for your love and support and be of good cheer. Tad is doing great!

Linus Pauling was right

Truthfully, I haven’t read the work of Linus Pauling, but I know he was a big advocate of Vitamin C as a powerful human health enhancer. We’ve all heard about the importance of anti-oxidants like Vitamin C: they scavenge for free radicals in the body and convert them into normal molecules. Well, turns out that in high doses, much higher than one could ever consume orally, Vitamin C becomes a pro-oxidant, effectively creating small amounts of hydrogen peroxide, which cause abnormal cells like cancer cells to die. Here is an article that discusses the sciences in some detail (and there are MANY others as a Google search will reveal): http://orthomolecular.org/library/ivccancerpt.shtml. Others of interest: www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago009857.html, www.foodconsumer.org/newsite/Nutrition/Vitamins/vitamin_c_fights_prostate_cancer_1806100912.html, www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/non-toxic-vitamin-c-inhibits-formation-of-new-blood-vessel-growth-to-tumors-85543947.html

This unique ability of intravenous Vitamin C to cause apoptosis (the death of cancer cells) was first mentioned to us by the folks at Amitabha Clinic in Sebastopol, an integrative oncology center where we went for a consult on the recommendation of Ed Bauman. This past Monday Tad had his first treatment, 25 grams of C in a “cocktail” that also included some trace minerals. The dose will build gradually to 50 grams of C with Vitamin K1 included in the mix.

Tad will have a treatment every Monday for several weeks ($240 a pop with no help from Blue Shield, ouch!). The purpose is to super-charge the effect of his conventional chemotherapy, and we will monitor the impact by following his tumor marker (CEA) and liver enzyme numbers.

It always feels good to add something new and potentially potent to the program — every proactive step in this journey increases the possibility of a complete cure for Tad’s cancer. We are keeping the faith that it can happen!

Queasy cuisine?

Simple Miso Soup

A friend called me up today to get some advice on what to give her neighbor with advanced cancer who can’t keep any food down. Not wanting to watch him waste away, she hoped to provide some kind of nourishment he might be able to stomach. From my recent experience with Tad when chemo left him queasy, I was able to offer a few ideas. Any of the nutritious options mentioned below can be sipped through a straw, if desired. The key when someone is sick is to go slowly, timing sips a minute or two apart, until it’s obvious he or she can handle it.

1) COCONUT WATER (also called coconut juice) is an isotonic beverage that is great for restoring electrolytes and generally feeding the blood. It is suddenly available all over the place, in some regular supermarkets (here in the Bay Area, at least) as well as healthy food markets. There are organic brands available, and all brands that I’ve run across are unsweetened. It’s a light and tasty beverage that Tad has used to good advantage when eating solid food doesn’t seem wise. (Can be mixed with other juices, if desired, for taste.) We’re not talking about coconut milk here, which is made by blending up coconut meat and water; it’s generally too fatty for sensitive stomachs. Look for coconut water or coconut juice, and ask your favorite grocery store to start stocking it if it’s not there yet.

2) MISO SOUP A tub of light miso from your healthy food market or an Asian specialty store will last you a long time. It is good for so many things (miso tahini sauce, anyone?), but for someone who’s nauseated the best bet is a simple broth made by stirring a teaspoon of miso into a big mug of steaming hot  (not boiling) vegetable or chicken stock, or plain water. That’s it; couldn’t be simpler. Miso is a fermented seasoning paste made from soybeans, and because it’s fermented it is alive with healthy  microorganisms that can help repopulate the gut with beneficial flora when nausea and/or diarrhea have wiped them out. (Another way to describe this type of food is probiotic.) The paste is salty, so it’s a savory alternative to sweet drinks, and that provides a welcome bit of variety to the person on a liquid diet.

3) KEFIR is another food alive with probiotics. It is akin to yogurt but  less sour in taste and more liquid in consistency. Lowfat is probably best to avoid problems with digestion. Add fruit juice as desired to make the taste more interesting. Good choices are unsweetened papaya, pear, or grape. They are low in acid so good for upset stomachs. By the way, probiotics are available in capsules. If the kefir is not well tolerated, you can open the capsule and dissolve the contents in a glass of water. This will help the gut get back in balance.

Herb teas offer micro-doses of health-promoting plant compounds, so make them part of the daily regimen. As a person gets more interested in food, try fresh vegetable juices, thin soups made of well-cooked veggies and grains, and smoothies made of yogurt/kefir with fruit and protein powder added.

People with cancer have a tendency to lose weight and this can become an overall failure to thrive. It’s important to resist this trend as best you can.

Curcumin & Capsaicin

Two of the most potent spices I have run across in my cancer cure research are curcumin and capsaicin. Actually, I have been cooking with them for years but only recently starting reading about their awesome healing powers. Cucumin is the active ingredient in turmeric (the spice that makes curry powder bright yellow) and capsaicin is the active ingredient in cayenne pepper. (By active in that last sentence I mean “biologically active” – that these substances have an  impact on the biological activity of living cells.)

From D-Day (diagnosis day) on, Tad and I have been consuming large quantities of these two easy-to-find

Curcumin does it’s healing work largely by reducing inflammation, which is a factor in many chronic diseases. In addition to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s occur, in part, due to out-of -control inflammation. (Read about a major study on the benefits of turmeric HERE.) Cayenne

You can find curcumin in capsules at most health food stores, but it’s easy to get your daily dose without them. Most herb shops (I love Lhasa Karnak in Berkeley) and ethnic grocery stores sell turmeric for a reasonable price. Yuu could also buy the brightest yellow curry powder you can find, and you may even be lucky enough to locate the fresh root at a well-stocked produce market (I also love Monterey Market in Berkeley).

Once you have turmeric root or powder on hand, you can add it to soups, stir-fries, hummus, scrambled eggs, salad dressing, etc. etc. For a super potent dose, make turmeric tea. Dr. Andrew Weil reports on his website that the famously long-lived Okanawans make a habit of drinking turmeric tea. Below is the recipe he provides. I would add that if you have found the fresh root, you can finely chop or grate a 3-inch hunk into the water instead of using the powder. And as a big health booster, add sliced fresh ginger to this brew.

  • Bring four cups of water to a boil.
  • Add one teaspoon of ground turmeric and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Strain the tea through a fine sieve into a cup, add honey and/or lemon to taste.

Does turmeric prevent cancer? Sure looks like it. The authors of a study published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the International Epidemiological Association in 2007 reported thusly:

“We observed the lowest total cancer in cidence rates in India (111 and 116 per 100 000 among males and females, respectively, age-standardized to the 1960 world population) and the highest among US whites (362 and 296).” (See more on this study HERE.) Stop for a moment and take that in: Americans have roughly triple the cancer that East Indians do.

Wow.

As for cayenne, it’s healing properties are legend. I won’t go into detail here, because you can learn more than you ever wanted to know at a THIS WEBSITE.

It so happens that the beneficial effect of curcumin is super-charged when cayenne is also part of the menu. Indian cuisine can be pretty fiery, as you may know. If you can’t stand the spice sizzle on your tongue, you can opt for cayenne capsules instead.

32 Years and Counting!

Megan and Julian goofing around

Tad and Jeremy (February 2009)

Lovebirds, February 2009 (photo by Jeremy)

Last Sunday (August 1) we dashed off to Sonoma County for some proper celebrating of our 32nd anniversary. Amazing to ponder it! That’s a lot of time together, so how come we still enjoy each other’s company so much? It’s just part of the mystery…

Eleven years ago (I think it was) we created a wedding ceremony for our friends Jeremy Beck and Megan Knazek, performed on July 25 (I think it was, again). They have been on sabbatical in Argentina for a year, just returned to rent a house in Windsor with their charming 5-year-old son, Julian a couple of weeks ago. What better way to celebrate than to visit them there and enjoy some great food under the leafy branches on a warm summer day?

And so we did, and it was a wonderful respite. Sorry you couldn’t all have joined us, but how about toasting Tad and me right now and affirming our many more years together?

Magic Words

MINDY WRITES: Our words have power, or so say the sages. What we speak about (or even think about) will increase in our lives.  So deliberately choosing words that contribute to happy outcomes is a powerful thing. Along these lines, Tad and I have always spoken positive incantations and affirmations as part of our spiritual practice, and we’re doing it much more frequently and intently than ever these days.

Tad has written two great songs on the subject: “Speak Peace” and “Affirm.” We plan to post some audio files on this website soon so you can have a listen. Meanwhile, you can hear “Speak Peace” by checking out a Youtube video made at Unity of Berkeley, which prominently features Tad and the Unity House Band.

Below are some of the phrases we repeat frequently – sometimes while walking, sometimes before falling asleep or on waking, sometimes while sitting in meditation – anytime and anywhere the feeling moves us. Just a few minutes a day of this practice can increase your inner peace, whether you speak the words in your mind or out loud. Feel free to use these or make up some that resonate with you.

Walking chants:
“Every step, healing grace. Everything breath, healing grace.”
“All is well, here and now. All is well, here and now.”

Affirmations:
“All things work together for my good.”
“I open to receive my miraculous healing.”
“I release all obstacles to my perfect health.”

Bedtime words:
“I am grateful for another day of living.”
“I love and am loved beyond measure.”
“I am radiantly healthy, strong, and vibrant.”

August 5, 2010

Tad started a new chemotherapy cocktail on Monday, August 2. It’s FOLFIRI plus Erbitux – stronger brew to zap away the cancer in his liver. This was the first of 12 prescribed treatments, and it’s an open question whether he will take them all. As with all chemotherapy, the stats aren’t all that impressive, and we keep searching for something in the alternative world that could do a better job in his specific case. He experienced nausea and malaise for the first couple days, but is better as I write this on August 5.

Tad is not in pain of any kind, thank goodness. His biggest complaint is frequent bouts of low energy. Could be due to the cancer, but our hunch is that it’s his ongoing anemia – he has been running on low hemoglobin for many months now, and the doc says he cannot justify transfusions if the level is above 10 grams per deciliter of blood. Since the normal range for men is 14-18 and since Tad (a big man) has been in the 10-11 range for most of the last few months, it makes sense that he would experience symptoms of anemia. We are getting on board with a new oncologist, since the old one is retiring, and she is taking this concern seriously. On her orders, Tad received a transfusion of two units on August 3 (his HGB level the day before was 10.2) and she will monitor carefully and advocate for more as needed. This is a very good turn of events, as the previous doc seemed to consider the issue unimportant.

Of course, Tad will keep taking all the pills and potions that helped him weather the chemo so well the first time ’round, as well as imbibing the finest quality foods and beverages imaginable while avoiding the no-no’s like high-fat foods and alcohol. This includes foods and supplements that build the blood.

We are enjoying life to the fullest and continue to claim and proclaim Tad’s complete healing… Please keep holding that positive vision of clouds dissolving in a vast sunlit sky!