Monday, July 29, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Week 27


This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. 

Today is Day 224 living with cancer. 





Body, Heal Thyself 


Healthy Red Raspberries: “Recent studies suggest that the anti-cancer benefits of raspberries
may extend beyond their basic antioxidant and anti-inflammatory aspects. Phytonutrients in
raspberries may also be able to change the signals that are sent to potential or existing cancer cells.
In the case of existing cancer cells, phytonutrients like ellagitannins in raspberries may be able to
decrease cancer cell numbers by sending signals that encourage the cancer cells to being a cycle 

of programmed cell death (apoptosis). This signaling is likely to involve activity of the p53 protein
that is typically classified as a tumor suppressor protein,” says WH Foods.
Photo Credit & Source: Wikipedia

One of the side-effects from chemotherapy, particularly from the chemo drug oxaliplatin, is chemo-induced peripheral neuropathy, or CIPN; this is essentially nerve damage. Some of my symptoms include tingling of fingers and toes, increased sensitivity to temperature, loss of feeling, or numbness, difficulty picking up small objects, and loss of sensitivity in my mouth, which includes loss of taste. I often have a constant numbness and intermittent buzzing sensation on the soles of my feet and my fingertips. Needless to say, it’s not pleasant. I have had it since my last chemo treatment three weeks ago.

Although there is current research being done, there is not much that the medical community can offer in terms of immediate help. So, now I am looking to investigate alternative ways to help my body repair itself. Much of these deal with eating certain foods rich in anti-oxidants and taking vitamin supplements that help repair the body.

As one site says: 
Deeply Pigmented Fruits and Vegetables Rich in Anti-Oxidants The deep rich colors present in plant foods signals the presence of anti-oxidants. Some examples of anti-oxidant rich foods include blueberries, raspberries, kale, broccoli, spinach, carrots, yams, pomegranates, tomatoes, and tumeric to name a few. By including 8-12 servings of a rainbow of richly colored fruits and vegetables in your diet daily you will be increasing anti-oxidant protection for your cells. Diabetic patients should limit fruits and focus on vegetables. All cancer patients should limit concentrated sweets and sugars in the diet as cancer cells preferentially use sugars for growth. 
One of my favourite fruits are raspberries, which has many health benefits:
Anti-cancer benefits of raspberries have long been attributed to their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory phytonutrients. In animal studies involving breast, cervical, colon, esophageal, and prostate cancers, raspberry phytonutrients have been shown to play an important role in lowering oxidative stress, reducing inflammation, and thereby altering the development or reproduction of cancer cells. But new research in this area has shown that the anti-cancer benefits of raspberries may extend beyond their basic antioxidant and anti-inflammatory aspects. Phytonutrients in raspberries may also be able to change the signals that are sent to potential or existing cancer cells. In the case of existing cancer cells, phytonutrients like ellagitannins in raspberries may be able to decrease cancer cell numbers by sending signals that encourage the cancer cells to being a cycle of programmed cell death (apoptosis). In the case of potentially but not yet cancerous cells, phytonutrients in raspberries may be able to trigger signals that encourage the non-cancerous cells to remain non-cancerous.
There is no doubt that eating well, which includes having a diet of plenty of fruits and vegetables, is good for the body. All the more so when you are recovering from a disease like cancer. I have started on this program two weeks ago when the symptoms became more pronounced. Now, it is time to repair my body from the necessary toxins that have become part of my life since my first chemo treatment on February 12th—almost six months ago.

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Today marks my first day of entering the next phase of my cancer journey; Phase 2 will be devoted to complete recovery and wellness. This also means that The Cancer Blog, which has appeared weekly on Mondays will now appear monthly on the first Monday of the month. The first installment will post next Monday August 5th.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Week 26

My Health


This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. 
        Today is Day 217 living with cancer; today chemo session no. 11 has been scheduled, but I have decided to not continue with the last two chemos, chiefly because the side-effects, most notably chemotherapy-induced peripheral neuropathy (CIPN), have become too hard to bear and are affecting my quality of life, my well-being.

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How Do You Feel?


“The goal is to live a full, productive life even with all that ambiguity. No matter what happens, whether the cancer never flares up again or whether you die, the important thing is that the days that you have had you will have lived.”
Gilda Radner


It is said that appearances are often deceiving; this is often true when it comes to the appearance of individuals who have cancer.  Many people who have cancer do not have the wasted, hollow or emaciated facial look that some have come to expect; in many cases you would not be able to tell who has cancer. That is, the cancer patient is indistinguishable from the rest of society in the way he appears.

And, yet, how he feels is another matter altogether; the treatment regime of chemo drugs, although becoming better in its targeted accuracy, still results in many side-effects, most notably in my case general fatigue, nausea, loss of appetite, loss of taste buds, loss of sensitivity of both fingers and toes, mood swings and a shift in sleeping patterns. The combined effect is what many cancer patients call the “new normal.”

Now, this state of health leaves me wondering whether I will ever return to my “old self.” In truth, I have forgotten what this old self is, having become in many ways a person who has become someone else—a direct result of having been diagnosed with colon cancer and the treatment to eradicate said cancer.

I am thankful for all the efforts made on my behalf by the medical and health-care team at Sunnybrook’s Odette Cancer Centre. In particular, I hold to high-esteem the chemo nurses who have been with me since my first treatment on February 12th, a day that seems so long ago. The highest regard is for my medical oncologist, Dr. Kelvin Chan, a doctor’s doctor and a man who has all the necessary qualities that one would expect in a doctor, including a high degree of medical competence and intelligence, sensitivity and compassion.  I am fortunate to have him as my oncologist.

As to my over-all general appearance, my expectation is that my interior physical health will eventually catch up with my exterior projections, to a full and complete recovery, that is, that I will become in some sense a wholly integrated human being. After all, such is what many human beings desire, and in some ways cancer and its treatment has challenged me to view myself and the world in which I move and operate in new ways, challenging some long-held beliefs and truths.  This is a good thing and forms a great part of my recovery.

Monday, July 15, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Week 25

My Health


This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. 

Today is Day 210 living with cancer.




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“Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” 
― Maya Angelou



Act Of Freedom: “What is a rebel? A man who says no.”
Image Credit & Source: Etsystatic.com

Is anger allowed?; not freely, and any outward expression of it might soon become illegal. Perhaps an exaggeration on my part, but not one without merit. There are members of society who want to criminalize anger, most being women and those in the “helping” professions. It’s important here to make a distinction between anger and abuse, and anger and rage, an uncontrolled emotion, a distinction often not understood well by such policy-makers. Not all anger leads to physical abuse and violence; most does not, and the argument made that it does fails to follow the facts of human nature.

What I want to raise here is the issue of good and necessary anger, what the biblical narrative refers to as “righteous anger,” one which is cause-directed to bettering both the place of the individual and humanity in general. This differs from unspecified anger, or rage, which has no higher purpose and leads to harm and destructive tendencies. The latter is detrimental to society; the former a positive force of change.

Yet, such important distinctions are lost and not well-understood by the majority of social workers and other “do-gooders,” who say they have “the best of intentions” to engineer society according to their limited and restrictive ideas of morality and social norms. For such people all anger is bad, and all individuals who display anger either need behavior medication or anger-management courses or both—as if a human emotion can and ought to be managed. (Beware of those who say they have such good intentions and protest the “need” of such programs.)

That they lack understanding, compassion and the intellectual ability to effect such changes in a human fashion does not deter such individuals, certain of their rightness, certain of their convictions and unwavering in their views.

Let’s face it: social workers, and the education they receive, generally conspire to move society in inhumane directions. Yet they remain convinced, dogmatic in their views, that they are generally bettering society. So did the policy-makers of the Soviet Union in their views on the New Soviet Man. Believing something is true is not the same as actually doing good. Often, it’s the opposite. Consider the following, by Igor Kon, on the dangers of creating an Utopian Society based on the New Soviet Man:
The lack of individual responsibility is a product of decades of living under limited freedom. People get used to oppression. This has always happened with totalitarian regimes. I remember, I was greatly surprised to meet people with a similar mentality in East Germany, a country that has always been very different from Russia. This happened during the unification of the East and West Germany. I saw fright in the eyes of the East Germans, the same reaction as I see here in Russia–people do not know what to do. There is a psychological term for this – the acquired helplessness syndrome. The syndrome is usually manifested in social pessimism and lack of self-confidence. The acquired helplessness syndrome is the main feature of Soviet mentality and unfortunately it is prevalent among senior citizens.”
Note that Kon writes that it leads to “acquired helplessness syndrome,” which is very much evident today in the West among the younger generation. For such policy-makers, diminishing humans and their ability to make decisions and act human are part of their goals to fashion a society based on the New Western Man, a clone of the Soviet Union’s failed policies. Theirs in a clear black-and-white view, and much like the old cowboy movies, the good wear white hats and the bad wear black hats. Subtly and sophistication escapes them, like much of everything else human. They fear anger as they fear everything human. 

 The dictum to never allow emotions to lead you or ever guide you, including love and anger, is their raison d’être, their defense; and yet although this argument has merit in some cases, such an universal application to an idea hardly ought to apply for all cases—by doing so, it becomes an inflexible, unbending rule applied without thought or understanding, let alone wisdom.

Surprisingly, some people are dimly aware of their lack of understanding, always protesting that “we have your best interest,” or “we are there to help you.” Such is what such individuals say but hardly what they do. Their actions belie their words. What such people do is damage the soul of individual freedom, autonomy and self-expression. These are the fundamentalist little minds of censorship. Their view is a small circumscribed view where every person ought to think similar thoughts and hold similar views. And which views? Their views.

Governments like such people—the social workers—who enact their authoritarian and controlling views on society, doing the work of eliminating a necessary human emotion, namely Anger. If you criminalize anger— and that is essentially what is beginning to take shape today—then you give consent to governments and their various public and para-public agencies to lock up, narcotize and institutionalize individuals who are angry at social injustice, angry at government and corporate abuse and angry at personal injury and insults— and thus criminalize any and all dissent. 

This brings about a fearful society of conformists and collectivists, where the individual is made small, insignificant and unthinking. It’s happening already. Erich Fromm [1900-1980], the noted psychologist and humanistic philosopher warned about this danger decades ago: “The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that man may become robots.”

Here is something else to consider. As much as some fear anger, it is hard to forget that such a powerful emotion has shaped and influenced much of our great literary tradition, including most notably some of the world’s greatest tragedies. To deny anger is to deny human emotion, and thus humanity in general. The question here is whether you think that such is a good thing. 

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Week 24

My Health


This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. 

Today is Day 203 living with cancer; today is chemo no 10, since last week’s session was cancelled due to a low platelet count.




Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot
Photo Credit & Source: PossumPointPlayers

One of the tiring aspects of chemotherapy, apart from the drug’s many side-effects, is waiting for treatment. In effect, many patients are tired before even entering the treatment bed or chair, which is comfortable enough. 

Such waiting likely reflects both an increase in the number of individuals receiving treatment and the fixed number of treatment “stations” available.  At my hospital cancer centre, one day they treated 123 patients; such was a high-water mark, it seems.

The longest I waited was six hours; the least one hour, which was for the last treatment. All this waiting reminds me that humans have a hard time doing so, more so if we don't know how long the wait will be; this is always one of the exasperating aspects of waiting: lack of knowledge of when you will be called in. 

Such reminds me of Samuel Beckett’s 1953 play, Waiting for Godot, a tragi-comedy in two acts, where two characters, Vladimir and Estragon, wait for Godot, who never appears.The play, an absurdest drama, has induced any number of psychological, religious and philosophical interpretations; Beckett never admitted if the play had any meaning, saying the play was symbolic.  That it is. In my estimation, the play is precisely about what Beckett wrote; it’s about waiting, the tiring game of waiting for something, somebody or nothing.

Waiting in itself becomes the central object, the central theme. We spend much our lives waiting; and since humans have a conscious understanding of time, we find the process of waiting a drain of our energies—a paradox of sorts in action—since time is being used, and in our minds, not always in the best way. Waiting defeats the idea of action, of doing something productive. When we wait we are powerless to act in accordance with our full desires, and the power is shifted to the person who can end the waiting.

Perhaps we resent that such individuals have some control over us. Not intentionally, but practically. Or perhaps we are tired of waiting for something to happen. Something good.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Cancer Blog: Week 23

My Health


This blog within a blog will discuss cancer and all of my fears, hopes and expectations for a positive outcome—full and complete recovery. In addition, I plan to throw in some latest medical research. All cancer patients are interested, to some degree, in research and the latest medical findings; I am no exception. 

Today is Day 196 living with cancer; on Wednesday is chemo session no. 10.  Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians.



Let’s talk about a few complementary and alternate therapies:

Vitamin C: In a research study published in 2006 in CMAJ, Dr. Mark Levine of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) writes about the efficacy of high doses of Vitamin C given intravenously to cancer patients deemed “terminal”:
Early clinical studies showed that high-dose vitamin C, given by intravenous and oral routes, may improve symptoms and prolong life in patients with terminal cancer. Double-blind placebo-controlled studies of oral vitamin C therapy showed no benefit.
Recent evidence shows that oral administration of the maximum tolerated dose of vitamin C (18 g/d) produces peak plasma concentrations of only 220 μmol/L, whereas intravenous administration of the same dose produces plasma concentrations about 25-fold higher. Larger doses (50–100 g) given intravenously may result in plasma concentrations of about 14 000 μmol/L.
At concentrations above 1000 μmol/L, vitamin C is toxic to some cancer cells but not to normal cells in vitro. We found 3 well-documented cases of advanced cancers, confirmed by histopathologic review, where patients had unexpectedly long survival times after receiving high-dose intravenous vitamin C therapy.
This shows that cancer is a disease of the individual and one therapy might be better than another. for some individuals but not enough to say that Vitamin C, in any form, is a cancer therapy. Some individuals say that taking Vitamin C supplements reduces the risk of many diseases, including cancer. Yet, recent studies on the link between Vitamin C and cancer show that taking Vitamin C supplements does not in a way prevent cancer.The American Cancer Society writes on its website:
However, studies that observed large groups or people and clinical trials of vitamin C supplements have not shown the same strong protective effects against cancer. Apparently, vitamin C is most helpful when it comes from fruits and vegetables, because of the other active ingredients in the food. A 2007 review of 68 clinical studies of antioxidant vitamin supplements concluded that taking vitamin C supplements had no detectable effect on lifespan.
Medical Marijuana: Marijuana, or Cannabis, is a plant from central Asia and is a controlled substance in Canada, the United States and many other nations. In Canada, cancer patients can get a medical certificate from their doctor (usually an oncologist) to use “medical marijuana” as a way to relive the symptoms of nausea.

There have also been clinical studies on animals that show that marijuana has some curative effects on cancer; there have been no large-scale human clinical trials thus far. There has been one small clinical trial in Spain, published in the British Journal of Cancer (2006), which you can read about here.

The National Cancer Institute writes on its web-site the following known facts about its use and potential benefits:
Cannabis may be taken by mouth or may be inhaled. When taken by mouth (in baked products or as an herbal tea), the main psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis (delta-9-THC) is processed by the liver, making an additional psychoactive chemical (a substance that acts on the brain and changes mood or consciousness).
When Cannabis is smoked and inhaled, cannabinoids quickly enter the bloodstream. The additional psychoactive chemical is produced in smaller amounts than when taken by mouth.
A growing number of clinical trials are studying a medicine made from a whole-plant extract of Cannabis that contains specific amounts of cannabinoids. This medicine is sprayed under the tongue.
Have any preclinical (laboratory or animal) studies been conducted using Cannabis or cannabinoids?
Preclinical studies of cannabinoids have investigated the following activities:
Antitumor activity
  • Studies in mice and rats have shown that cannabinoids may inhibit tumor growth by causing cell death, blocking cell growth, and blocking the development of blood vessels needed by tumors to grow. Laboratory and animal studies have shown that cannabinoids may be able to kill cancer cells while protecting normal cells.
  • A study in mice showed that cannabinoids may protect against inflammation of the colon and may have potential in reducing the risk of colon cancer, and possibly in its treatment.
  • A laboratory study of delta-9-THC in hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer) cells showed that it damaged or killed the cancer cells. The same study of delta-9-THC in mouse modelsof liver cancer showed that it had antitumor effects. Delta-9-THC has been shown to cause these effects by acting on molecules that may also be found in non-small cell lung cancercells and breast cancer cells.
  • A laboratory study of cannabidiol in estrogen receptor positive and estrogen receptor negative breast cancer cells showed that it caused cancer cell death while having little effect on normal breast cells.
The next rational and scientific step is to conduct clinical trials. If marijuana can indeed have curative effects on cancer, it would be both irresponsible and immoral for governments to stop or stymie its research—especially if ideological reasons are at the root of decision-making. [There is an interpreting article from Cancer Research UK on cancer research as it relates to cannabis in Europe that is worth reading.]

Ginger Tea: Ginger, or Zingiber officinale, is native to Asia and has been used for at least 4,000 years for medicinal purposes among Asian, Native and Arabic peoples.

While many sites focused on non-traditional medicines say that ginger has curative effects, I view the use of ginger as more of a treatment against nausea, induced by chemotherapy; there is not yet any scientific evidence that ginger is an effective treatment against cancer, although it is an important part of many individuals’ approach to feeling better.  

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The end goal of any treatment or therapy is to restore the individual to a healthy state of well-being without inducing excessive side effects or other risks. Chemotherapy is neither ideal nor perfect as a treatment of choice, but it is effective and its risks well studied and well known. Whether alternative therapies become widely used will ultimately depend on how well they work for a large percentage of patients. Such is how science works today.

For cancer patients, as is the case for all individuals suffering some disease, illness or condition, well-being is important. After all, when you feel better, you are more inclined to have a good appetite and eat and, most important, enjoy what you eat. Such contributes greatly to our lives.