On March 25th, my mother’s birthday, I got to call her with the best birthday present…EVER! I told her that my oncologist just gave me the news that the tumors in my liver were either gone or dead! The CEA protein marker used to identify cancer in my body was almost imperceptible.
I am CANCER-FREE!!!
Since it’s been a while since my last post, here’s a recap of what’s been happening….
How it All Started
It all started nearly 15 months ago, on January 10th, when I went to the hospital thinking I was constipated and wound up needing emergency surgery to remove a tumor completely blocking my colon. A couple days later, my surgeon came into my hospital room and announced to me that I had stage 4 colon cancer with secondary metastasizes in my liver. I was just recovering from radical surgery leaving me with a huge incision on my belly and a colostomy bag hanging from my abdomen. It was not a pleasant situation, so the new diagnosis was just more bad news on top of bad news.
A couple months later, after recovering completely from the surgery, my doctors suggested that I go back in and have the ostomy “taken down” because I was doing so well. This meant they wanted to reconnect my descending colon to my sigmoid colon and make my bowels work again! This is really a very good thing. Never underestimate a properly working pooper! So, in May, four months after my first surgery, I went in again for my 2nd surgery.
What I did not realize, however, was the extent to which my body chemistry for repairing my second surgery was also so encouraging to growing cancer. Repairing large incisions requires lots of angiogenesis related chemicals in the blood that encourage capillariy growth to feed new tissue with blood. But it also supplies cancerous tumors with capillaries that help them grow!
The result was a tripling in the size of my formerly smaller, more manageable liver tumors. This was really disheartening for me. It was frightening. Up until the second surgery, I had slowed their growth using my natural therapy of diet and supplements. But, could I take care of these new larger tumors? I did not know.
Over the next few months we watched the new, larger tumors. Their growth all but stopped, but a new phenomenon occurred…Pain. Every inhalation of breath let me know they were there. Several times, after a vigorous workout on the racquetball court, I irritated the tumor on top of my liver just under my rib cage and I found out how painful it could be. I had to break out the serious pain killers and chill on the couch!
I was diligent with my diet and supplements, but the tumors were not shrinking. Up to this point, I still had not yet chosen to use chemotherapy as part of my anti-cancer regimen.
Making the Tough Choices
At end of August/Early September, my considerations were simple and the risks were pretty clear. To date, and much to the surprise of my doctors, my liver function was pristine…even though almost half my liver was now tumorous material. The risk was that, if my liver somehow started functioning less than 100%, I would now have a severe health challenge in addition to the tumors that could seriously limit my ability to sustain chemotherapy if I were to choose trying it. Stated another way, it could kill me.
I had a really tough decision to make. To do chemo, or not to do chemo.
The daily pain helped make my decision a lot easier. Even thought there was a chance that, given time, a totally natural approach might have worked, if it did not, my liver did not have any more margin for error. So, I decided to do chemotherapy.
Chemotherapy, Oh My
I started chemo at the end of September. It was as shocking to my system as it was to my psyche. During the previous 9 months, I did everything I could to get my body into the best shape I’d been in since I was 30 years old. I was, and am still, 180 pounds and in great physical shape. I could run several miles, play racquetball for 1 to 2 hours at a time with no problem, and overall, I felt fantastic!
Honestly though, in my mind and emotionally, I felt like I had failed. It took me several months to reconcile my feelings with the reality of chemotherapy. To my credit, for at least the first 8 treatments over 16 months I felt good due largely to my continued exercise, diet and supplements. My oncologist was impressed that my side effects were minimal. I did not lose my hair like so many others. I did not experience nausea or diarrhea.
But I did feel like a traitor to my own convictions. I know what causes cancer and I know how to defeat it. And yet, I had trouble shrinking those tumors. I was scared of the considerable pain they were causing. I was scared that my liver could start to fail. Fear is a powerful motivator, but I felt like a coward.
My Oncologist / Healing Partner
At this point, I need to tell you a little about my oncologist. If you have read my blog, you know that I’m a huge advocate of natural methods – and still am. At the start of my cancer journey, I decided I to pursue a natural path. But the engineer in me wanted to measure and test and monitor my results. When I met my oncologist, I told him that I was not wanting to do chemo at this time. Rather, what I wanted was a partner to help me monitor my progress while I did everything I could do for myself first. I wanted him to do the blood tests, ultrasounds, MRI’s, and any other tests as needed to let me know how things were progressing. It did not seem prudent to proceed without this kind of support.
To my surprise and his credit, he agreed. Most oncologists would have sent me packing because I was not simply agreeing immediately to their recommended course of chemotherapy.
When it came down to making the decision, I did not feel pressured by my oncologist. I felt his support and his willingness to give me the help he could. My sister, a neonatal nurse practitioner, who was also incredibly supportive of my choices to date, felt that I was at a decision point as well. But she would have supported any choice I made.
Chemotherapy, the Details
Let me take a little sidebar and tell you a bit about chemotherapy. It’s not fun. I could never really tell how I would feel on any give day. Chemo went in two week cycles. Week one was a crap shoot. Mostly, I felt effected by the chemo from a mild discomfort to feeling totally crappy and wanting to live on the couch. The second week of each cycle, I felt mostly back to normal – at least the first 8 cycles. The second week, I felt up to exercise, which is great for the body.
After 8 cycles over 16 weeks, I had another MRI. The results were more than encouraging. Tumors that were the size of my index finger were now the size of my finger nail! Needless to say, I fell to my knees and cried tears of joy and emotional relief. My oncologist recommended we stay the course and do 4 more cycles over 8 weeks to try to completely eradicate the rest of the tumors. With this much progress already made, and with my enhanced ability to handle the treatments with limited side effects, I saw no reason to stop and agreed to continue.
The Cancer Cure
At the time of this writing, it’s been a month since my last chemo treatment. I just had an MRI on March 23rd and got the results on March 25th. My sister and my wife were there with me and we all heard it together. The tumors are either gone or dead with no living tumor activity in my liver. There’s a little scar tissue, but my CEA marker reading is about 1.2 in a normal range of about 1-to-4 for non-cancer patients!
In a word, I am CANCER-FREE!
I realize now that I needn’t feel like I initially failed in my mission on my own. What I did to get myself in tip-top shape and to strengthen my immune system through exercise, diet and supplementation was a KEY part of my overall recovery process. It gave me a superior ability to withstand the chemo treatments and allowed them to work that much more effectively in my system. Also, having a rejuvenated, strong immune system is the KEY to not growing cancer in your body and not having a recurrence and having to go back for any more chemo!
I am so very grateful for all the support you have given me, from my family and friends. I’m humbled by the gracious generosity shown by so many in my darkest hours of need. All these words do not even begin to express the depths of my feelings and my gratitude.
It’s good that I have two sons, because they have been and are my strongest motivation. I want to be there when they graduate from college, get married, have children, or whatever they choose to do with their lives. I want to see who they become on their journeys. The same can be said of the rest of my family and friends. Theres so much I do not want to mis on their journeys.
In addition to my family and friends, I also owe a debt of gratitude to my oncologist for his support as a healer, and to his caring pa’s and staff. While I dreaded the possibility of having to do chemo, they made the experience as tolerable as it could have been. They were there when I needed them. They responded to my concerns and questions with candor and honesty.
I owe so much to so many. Most of all, I owe my loving wife, Nanette, who has been my rock. She has been the foundation upon which I stood during my recovery. She has stood by me every step of the way without wavering. It’s been tough on her. Yet, she gave me the space and the time to heal and supported every decision I felt I needed to make on this leg of our journey together. Thank you, my dearest Nanette.
And thank you, my readers, for all the love and support you have given me. I felt the outpouring an it gave me that much more reason to stay the course.
Two more quick mentions (sorry, it would take another 2000 words to mention everyone, so please forgive me). First, thank you to my sister Doreen for her steadfast support, love, encouragement and for being there at my oncologist appointments. Second, thank you to my friend, Christine Alexander, for visiting me in the hospital way back in January 2014 and giving me the gift of a book that set me off in the right direction from day one. I can never repay that gift and it saved my life.
Thank you all so very much. I could not have done it without all of you.
As for me now, well, life is now ahead of me again! I’ve had almost 15 months to ponder and think about my life – where I’ve been and where I want to go. My journey is far from over. I just got the confirmation that my life is now full speed ahead!