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…

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?

The Scoop on Soup

Here in the SF Bay Area, we’re having a cold snap right in the middle of summer. Mark Twain’s comment contains a kernel of truth (“The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in San Francisco”), but generally things stay a bit warmer on the east side of the Bay. Whatever the month, cold is cold, so the super-spouse and I decided to huddle together, watching a good movie (Who Killed The Electric Car?) and slurping bowls of steaming, spicy soup.

Some of the visitors to my cooking blog (http://mindycooks.blogspot.com)  have observed that I cook an awful lot of soup. Yes, as a matter of fact I do. It’s very warming and easy to digest, plus I love making it, plus it’s one of my favorite things to eat. So yes, soup again, and soup almost all the time in the colder months (even if it’s summer).

And also brown rice again, because it’s on my top 5 list of nutritious and versatile ingredients that are so convenient to keep on hand. I cook a pot of brown rice a couple of times a week and we eat it as breakfast gruel, wrap it in chapatis with veggies and sauteed tofu for lunch, and serve it under roasted veggies with miso tahini sauce for dinner.

But today it was soup, with cooked brown rice and cabbage and cauliflower and chickpeas and tomato and coconut milk and curry powder and lots of garlic and ginger. All those spices have specific anti-cancer benefits so it fits the current bill of fare perfectly.

And BTW, the movie IS entertaining, important, and infuriating. Let’s all go out and buy electric or at least partially electric cars tomorrow, okay? Because if we do, the global warming problem will be taken care of and the urban air quality problem will be taken care of and the foreign war problem will be largely taken care of. And then let’s all put solar panels on our roofs (or walls, those bulky panels are evolving) we can charge our cars without burning coal or building more nuclear power plants!

Or at least let’s make delicious vegetarian soups for ourselves and our loved ones…

Whole-istic

When I was a bright-eyed, fired-up new vegetarian cook — seems not all that long ago, actually, though it’s been more than three decades — I loved dreaming up and then cooking elaborate menus and spent countless hours in a good many kitchens over the years, learning the art of flavor.

Somewhere around ten years ago, simplicity settled in. There were (and will always be) special occasion extravaganzas, but brown rice or pasta or quinoa or polenta with a good pesto or curry paste or tomato sauce and lots of veggies became the everyday favorites. Fish and legumes and soy foods alternated as protein. Eggs and cheese, too, on occasion.

Now, despite a lifetime of health-promoting meals, there is cancer in Tad’s body. Who knows why… the causes and triggers and DNA “mistakes” involved in this disease are better understood today than ever before, but there’s still no way to know all the factors that contribute in an individual case.

We know that with Tad there is a genetic piece in the puzzle — paternal grandmother and maternal uncle have both had colon cancer, though we didn’t realize this until after Tad’s diagnosis. Tad’s enjoyment of alcoholic beverages didn’t help, although his intake was always moderate by most people’s standards. Many of the chemicals we encounter in our air, food, and water are known to be carcinogenic, and pharmaceutical drugs can be toxic, too. Decades of allergy and asthma meds perhaps played a part.

Then there are the emotional and psychological and spiritual influences that impact our health day in and day out. Stress is a biggie. Even mainstream doctors are well aware of this  and many cancer treatment centers (Tad’s included) offer classes in guided imagery, yoga, and qigong, not to mention support groups and individual counseling, if desired.

Knowing what causes cancer can help guide one’s decisions about how to heal, so we keep looking within and without for possible answers…

Research and Reality

Tad’s diagnosis was a clear call to action and we immediately began combing bookstores and the Internet for information about his condition, the mainstream approach to treatment, and alternative paths of healing. We knew what the oncologist recommended — chemo, chemo, and more chemo. Tad decided to go with this “shock-and-awe” approach, at least for a while. His first treatment started the day after diagnosis, while he was still in the hospital receiving transfusions to treat the severe anemia caused by bleeding in his colon.

I have a life-long interest in nutrition, self-care, and natural healing and Tad has long been on that path with me. Both of us have eaten well, used herbs for healing, and received countless acupuncture “tune-ups” over the years. Obviously, Tad wasn’t going to go through conventional cancer treatment without also using therapeutic supplements and “complementary” healing modalities. And so the research adventure began…

Anyone who has done Internet research is aware of all the “rough” one has to slog through in order to find the diamonds. In the realm of natural healing, there are many self-proclaimed gurus who want to sell you their miraculous products, not to mention plenty of hysterical ranting against doctors and drugs. Tad and I are skeptical regarding both camps, so our BS detectors were in full operation. When reviewing online information, we kept these questions in mind:

1) Does the website make unsubstantiated claims about products it wants you to buy? If so, never mind.

2) Is there a religious fervor evident in the “voice” of the website? If so, never mind. (Which is not to say we are not open to Spirit; more on that elsewhere).

3) Are there any scientific studies showing the efficacy of a particular compound? If so, YES! If not, well… maybe.

Plenty of beneficial “medicines” have not been studied using standard Western research methods because such studies cost millions of dollars. Who can afford that but the big pharmaceutical corporations, who won’t study a substance unless it can be patented by them and has the potential of earning billions of dollars. Such things as humble backyard herbs and “foreign” healing approaches are not likely to meet that criteria. Fortunately, this is beginning to change. Many mainstream doctors and institutions are studying promising anti-cancer food compounds, but that’s another discussion…

Check out the Natural Healing posts on this site for more specifics on what we learned and how Tad’s various pills, powder, and potions were chosen.

Breakfast Ideas

Quick and easy breakfasts with high nutrient value are not so hard to come by. What doesn’t make the cut? Bagels, pastries, Pop Tarts and their ilk. And if you think eating a “breakfast bar” is a good way to go, forget it! What your body craves after several hours of fasting is fresh, unprocessed foods with easy-to-digest protein, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

My favorite breakfast these days is as simple as they come. Combine equal parts plain yogurt and applesauce (organic on both counts) in a bowl and add a tablespoon or two of ground flax seed and a sprinkling of cinnamon. That’s it! Tad and I both enjoy it’s sweet/tangy taste and smooth pudding texture. Try it and see if you agree.

Some other quick and nourishing breakfast ideas:

1) Sprouted grain toast with a thin smear of almond butter and mashed banana or thin-sliced fresh apples or pears
2) Poached or scrambled egg on sprouted grain toast with a slab of roasted red bell pepper and a sprinkle of paprika
3) Smoothie made with fresh or frozen berries, banana, and ground flax seed blended in a base of unsweetened soymilk or plain lowfat yogurt.

And if you don’t have time to sit down, grab a FEW pieces of dried fruit (prunes, apricots) and a SMALL handful of nuts on the run. Whole fresh fruit is fine, too. The nuts deliver some protein, fiber, and healthy carbs to slow the uptake of fruit sugar and keep your energy chugging.

P.S. It may appear that my favorite breakfast is floating somehow in the sky, but of course it isn’t. Without realizing the effect it might have, I placed the bowl on a blue-topped outdoor table strewn with pine needles...

Beyond “As Before”

One of Mindy's healing soups -- yum!

When Tad was discharged from the hospital after his cancer diagnosis, he was given a form that spelled out the medical system’s dietary recommendations thusly: “as before.” How can this be, when there is so much information available about foods and supplements that have anti-tumor, anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory, pro-immunity effects — foods that have been studied using standard research methodology, the reports readily available for anyone to read? Why aren’t health-promoting foods enthusiastically recommended to people who are ill?

I got busy doing research on anti-cancer nutrition immediately, of course, and right away upped Tad’s intake of garlic, ginger, green tea, and turmeric (the Indian spice that makes curry powder yellow) — four known cancer fighters. I also began researching  “phytonutrients” that had proven effect against tumors, particularly those of the colon. (A phytonutrient is a compound found in plants that has therapeutic powers; also sometimes called a phytochemical.)

My current list of most effective foods for cancer prevention and healing includes: Avocados, berries (especially raspberries and blueberries), carrots, cruciferous veggies (broccoli, cabbage, kale, etc.), flax seed and flax oil, garlic, ginger, green tea, herbs like rosemary and cilantro, exotic mushrooms (especially shiitake, maitake, and reishi), and sea vegetables (often called seaweeds).

We’re also eating lots of dark green leafy things, along with whole grains, vegetables of all kinds, lots of different spices. Protein comes from legumes (lots of lentils), soy foods like tofu and tempeh, yogurt and kefir (the healthy flora they provide are great for the gut), eggs, plus fresh fish and/or poultry in small amounts a few times a week. All super-fresh and organic as much as possible, so Tad’s liver is spared the effort of detoxing pesticide residues.

We are juicing at least a few days a week and Tad and I both enjoy our carrot/beet/celery/apple/ginger tonic, with green powder added. The latter provides chlorophyll, which is good for blood building. Coconuts have a new level of respect in our kitchen, since now we know that the water of young coconuts is an amazing food for keeping electrolytes in balance and otherwise tending to the blood. For a look at some of the research on this, look HERE.

Funny thing is, this is pretty much how we have always eaten. What is different is what Tad isn’t eating. White flour products and desserts are off the list, except for a bit of Italian-style semolina pasta a few times a month. Alcohol, formerly a daily habit, is only occasional now. If we are with friends and there is a good wine or champagne in the offing, he will drink a few sips. High-fat foods like most cheeses and deep-fried stuff are out of the picture, too. When in healing mode, the liver needs less to do, and fat metabolism and detox use up too much of its energy.

Empty-calorie foods are a no-no. Tad was fond of chowing down on tortilla chips and salsa, now no more of that. Salsa is fine, but it’s mixed with brown rice and vegetables these days, or spooned onto scrambled eggs. To support Tad’s healing, all calories need to be dense with high-quality nutritive power. And there need to plenty of them. Tumors are like little aliens in the body, stealing calories and nutrients from the blood for their own use/growth. We discourage that by eating anti-angiogenic foods like blueberries and garlic and green tea.

So there you have it, a brief overview of Tad’s dietary regimen. I’ll write much more about it all in the weeks and months to come, and those writings will always be categorized as “Anti-Cancer Nutrition” under Mindy Posts. If you want to read other posts on the topic, click on that part of the category menu on the home page.