For Dia de los Muertos, I extended the “crack” in my forehead and tried to show something hopeful coming from it.
Last time I told you about the existential crisis I had over a small skin cancer that led to a larger surgery than I was expecting and the threat of more slicing and dicing to come. What I thought would be, as my primary care doctor had suggested, a “cure” was no such thing. A real cure would have to involve much more than simply cutting out an individual piece of tissue.
The first order of business was to clean out the inside of my head. I needed to get past the pernicious suggestion that the surgeon had implanted, and believe with as much certainty as possible that I did not have to have any more cancer anywhere. I’ve made good progress on that, I think, but it may be a while before I completely stop hearing his words. As I write, it’s been about three and a half weeks, not really very long to heal either physically or psychologically.
The wound itself is improving steadily. The paresthesia from the damaged nerves has already diminished quite a bit. The worst part now is the lumpy “dart” at each end of the incision. One is at the hairline so less obvious, but the other is very prominent on my forehead. It will most likely look better later on when I can massage the scar and soften it, as I was told to do by the surgeon’s assistant. The repair job does seem to have been well done in technical terms. At the moment I still feel disfigured, though.
I honestly didn’t realize that I cared that much about my face. I’ve never been particularly beautiful and I never relied on my looks to get me anything, so I wouldn’t have expected to react so strongly, but a facial wound feels like a scar on one’s very identity.
It’s interesting; I almost feel more willing to lose my entire body than to have individual parts chopped away. When I was threatened with a hysterectomy many years ago because of nascent cervical cancer, I fought that idea and insisted on keeping as much of my original equipment as I could, while being told I was crazy by the PCP I had at the time. And miraculously enough, even after two conizations (yet another example of not getting it all the first time) and stitches tearing out and needing an extra repair, my cervix eventually filled itself back in. All that’s left of the damage is a very thin, clean scar with healthy tissue around it. That is what the female body can do. I am holding on to the idea that every body has far more ability to regenerate than we give it credit for.
I was only in my first year of acupuncture school when that intimate surgery was done, and my understanding was more limited than it is now. Although the tissue that was removed was not yet invasive cancer and might never have become so, it was already making me ill. I had unusual, severe, long-lasting infections that year; it seemed that my immune system just couldn’t keep up with holding cancer at bay and fighting microbes as well. I knew something wasn’t right. When the carcinoma in situ was found, I just wanted it to be taken out as soon as possible and give my body a chance to catch up. I remember feeling icky about having that diseased mass inside me, unclean, which was probably not very helpful to the healing process in itself. That part I was willing to lose.
After the second conization, I landed in the ER with heavy bleeding, and lost over a liter of blood by the time the repair was done. I was the pale tongue model in my class for many months after that! The blood loss, combined with the stress and fatigue of school, led to some long-term problems that have not entirely resolved. If I could have known all that would happen, I would probably have tried to avoid the surgery. There might have been another way to reverse the condition. However, at that point it seemed that my body was unable to manage the job on its own. And indeed, I did stop getting sick.
As you most likely realize, cancer starts somewhere in your body over and over throughout your life, triggered by a host of possible factors, but your immune system destroys the errant cells before they can cause trouble. It stands to reason that anything that can increase the efficiency of the immune system is good for preventing cancer, while anything that decreases it— including emotional and psychological issues— can help cancerous cells get a foothold. Not that making use of the immune system is necessarily simple to accomplish. Mainstream medicine is doing a lot with immunotherapy for established cancers, but as people go along years after their treatment, autoimmune conditions like diabetes are showing up, because the immune system went over and above what was necessary to get rid of the cancer. So far we can’t control this treatment very precisely. However, I expect that eventually immunotherapy, using the body’s own methods but amping them up, is going to be the main way we deal with cancer. And that’s what I would consider a real cure, rather than just cutting out the lesion we can see without doing anything about the underlying process.
Let’s think for a minute about what that underlying process is. Most cells undergo apoptosis— after a predetermined number of divisions, they die and make room for new cells. You might think of immortality as a good thing, but cancer is immortality run amok. Cancer cells don’t die when they’re supposed to, but keep reproducing and invading healthy tissue, using up resources without performing necessary functions, and causing obstruction and pressure on other structures. So we need to either kill them or somehow cause them to revert to healthy cells that die as they’re supposed to after a full, productive life.
The thing that we often forget, with our violent rhetoric of “fighting” cancer, is that cancer is no more nor less than our own cells. It is not some horrific, alien invading force. It’s our own cells that for some reason are operating under incorrect instructions. Really, that’s all. All that suffering caused by parts of us.
Which brings me back to cleaning out the inside of one’s head. Ultimately, every disease is psychosomatic, because we are constructing the reality of our bodies from moment to moment. It’s crucial to examine whatever is going on psychologically and emotionally and deal with it as best we can. There is no substitute for that. However, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, a toxic exposure is just a toxic exposure, and solar radiation is just solar radiation. So many issues can be involved in cancer, and there is no sense indulging in victim-blaming, including blaming ourselves. Our bodies are subjected to the various insults and influences of the physical world, and sometimes, it seems to me, stuff just happens for reasons we can’t understand, and it may not be worth analyzing it to the nth degree, to the point where we start doing ourselves more harm by obsessing. We can go forward and figure out what to do next instead.
I haven’t heard anything from dermatologists about preventing skin cancer other than staying out of the sun and/or using sunscreen. The guy who took out my stitches went as far as to say something like, “Even if you’re only exposed for a short time, like getting into your car, the damage builds up with every drop of sun.”
OK. Let’s just stop right there. I don’t see where paranoia is going to help any aspect of our health. Believing we are being harmed every time light hits the surface of our bodies is incredibly counterproductive. We also have evidence that when everyone started religiously dousing themselves with sunscreen, the rate of colon cancer went up, likely because of depletion of vitamin D. We need sunlight. We just need to be careful with it.
It’s well established that low blood levels of vitamin D are associated with a range of health problems, including a greater risk of cancer and a worse outlook for more severe disease and for recurrence. What is not so clear is whether supplementing vitamin D in established cases of cancer will help cure them. I advise my patients to keep their vitamin D level up, since as far as we know that’s best, and I take it in supplement form myself. Even in sunny New Mexico, blood tests show that a lot of us are seriously deficient, and of course that’s more likely in the winter.
For years I have been referring patients to this website from the UK:
The originator, Chris Woollams, collects every piece of information he can find about cancer treatment and prevention. I don’t always find every bit credible or useful, but overall this is the most comprehensive source of cancer knowledge I’ve seen. It’s also a source of hope. A major recommendation given at this site is the “Rainbow Diet,” the concept of basing one’s diet on colorful vegetables and fruits. Although there are conflicting recommendations about diet for treating and preventing cancer (as for everything else), there is broad agreement about eating whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods, including lots of vegetables. You can’t go too far wrong that way.
At our house we’ve been breakfasting on green smoothies to get our intake of phytonutrients up, and they are yum. I bet my husband, not a big vegetable fan, would never have expected that he’d enjoy snarfing down blenderized kale and spinach, even with fruit added, but he’s loving it. I’ve noticed a small improvement in my vision, which I think is remarkable after just a week or two of extra carotenoids and such.
There are so many substances that have shown activity against a particular cancer or against cancer in general, and many of them are found in those colorful plant foods. Others are herbs or components of animal-based foods. Each one could be a post or series in itself. Here is a partial list of substances that as far as I know are well-researched:
medicinal mushrooms (reishi etc.)
DIM, indole-3 carbinol, and sulphoraphanes, all found in cruciferous vegetables
green tea catechins
modified citrus pectin
vitamin C (including topically as a sunscreen ingredient)
astaxanthin (from algae, the pigment that makes flamingoes pink)
A simple and surprisingly effective measure is to take aspirin daily. Even a low dose has been shown to reduce the risk of getting cancer in the first place and of having tumors spread if they have already occurred.
Melatonin seems to have a number of useful effects for cancer patients, including reducing damage from chemotherapy and radiation and helping tamoxifen to work better for breast cancer survivors. It has been shown to lower excess levels of estrogen and IGF-1. Here is a worthwhile discussion of it:
Cannabis is often touted as a cancer cure, but from what I’ve read, the situation is muddled and complex. For some types of cancer, it seems to help, but for others it may make things worse. More research is needed, and if the US government would stop making it so hard to do research with marijuana, we’d likely get it faster! I am using a CBD salve around my incision at the moment because it seems that it may help, and at any rate keeping the scar tissue moist and softened is a good thing.
Dairy is another controversial subject. Some authorities state that it encourages the growth of cancer and forbid it. Yet, in the form of cottage cheese, milk protein is a major part of the Budwig diet for cancer patients, which apparently has been of help to some. If I had to give advice on this issue, I would say to use only organic dairy with no hormones given to the cows, grass-fed if possible, and as with any food to pay attention to how you feel when you eat it. Don’t eat anything that you don’t tolerate well. I don’t have any clearer information than that at this moment.
While I was in my first week or so of recovery, the film Cancer Can Be Killed showed up online. It tells the story of the filmmaker’s wife, who had bladder cancer and was given no hope except to have her bladder entirely removed. A relative of hers had gone to Germany and been treated with hyperthermia, and had recovered completely, so she did the same, with an excellent outcome. Hyperthermia is not available in the US except in combination with chemo and radiation, they said. It seems like it ought to be.
The hyperthermia was combined with nutrition and other naturopathic treatment. I don’t think we can argue with the concept of helping the body to be as healthy as possible while trying to get rid of the cancer, no matter how we go about the cancer treatment itself. Mainstream oncology hasn’t tended to do that, to say the least. There were a number of statements made in the film that made my BS meter go off, though. One issue was the insistence that eating sugar feeds cancer. I’d heard that many times, and hadn’t really questioned it, but it’s become clear to me that it’s misleading.
Cancer cells do take up more glucose than others, because they are dividing rapidly, and that fact can be used in PET scanning. However, it does not follow that sugar in the diet increases the growth of cancer. In fact, check this out:
This does not mean that a cancer patient or anyone else should be eating a lot of concentrated sugar. Insulin resistance and diabetes contribute to cancer as well as other health problems, and excess weight is associated with cancer too. Sensibly reducing or eliminating processed sugar from your diet is healthy. Living in fear that eating a molecule of sugar is going to make your cancer grow, though, not so much. Here’s a good overview:
I don’t want to do anything, or avoid anything, out of fear. That cannot possibly be the way to health. This afternoon I spent a few minutes standing in the yard with the sun on my face. It felt sooo good— just comfortably warm at this time of year, not overwhelming. I let it sink in and told myself that the sun’s energy was healing my body and soul.
On the website of the clinic that treats with the Budwig diet, I saw a lot of questionable ideas and products, but I also saw this, which seems like the perfect thought to leave you with: “As I emphasize to my patients that come to the Budwig Cancer Center, forgiveness and ‘counting your blessings’ are two of the most important emotional states you need to stay strong. Forgive absolutely everyone that has disappointed you at some time in your life because holding a grudge is too heavy for you to carry and especially at this moment in your life.”