A love letter to our ongoing struggle with physical bodies
In these political and environmentally trying times, sometimes our most effective tool for change is simply to try and remain healthy and happy. It sounds easy, but its not. It can mean changing core beliefs and patterns and fighting cultural pressures and habits we are not even aware of. It can imply a luxury of time and/or money to actually enable health and self examination. Plus, not everyone gets to choose a reasonable baseline with which to start with in life. Nevertheless, we continue and we strive and we believe and we have hope and that makes us human.
It’s been awhile since I’ve posted here, but I felt drawn to after a close friend was diagnosed with CLL. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts on this, and cancer in general. I realize it is an emotional topic, I eat grains of salt with every opinion I have and I don’t say them out loud very often. However, perhaps these may be of help to someone. Also, don’t eat grains of salt if you think you might have cancer!
Someone once helped me turn paralyzing a fear and nervousness into excitement, by pointing out that they actually feel very similar in the body. Adrenaline, blood flow, flushing, mind racing… and our mind is what controls the positive/negative connotation of the experience. In the spirit of optimism, see if you can treat a cancer diagnosis as an opportunity to change your relationship with life, as opposed to a death sentence. The majority of cancer’s are slow acting and you have time to decide. Even when they are not, panicking only hurts you more. Try not to rush into treatments based on fear, and take the time to ask questions, get statistics, get second opinions. Most of all, don’t be afraid to trust your gut and do what is right for you, even if no one else agrees or understands. Your life is literally the only thing you have control over.
Once you have made decisions, embrace them and follow them down the rabbit hole to see what information they provide for your next steps. Don’t tune out and hand over the reigns to others, stay invested if you are able. Ask for help when you need it, ask for time and space if you need that too. As the majority of people choose conventional routes whether with natural “alternatives” or not, I have attempted to constrain this article to what natural things can be used alongside and after harder treatments such as chemotherapy and radiation.
Contemplate the difference between curing and healing. Curing is the “elimination of disease”, which is what most people chase, while healing is becoming whole and coming to terms with your life, whatever it may turn out to be, and it needs your personal involvement to improve it’s quality through nutrition, exercise, social support, stress management, and a sense of connections to the the natural world.
I spend a lot of time in the health food industry, so granted I have a skewed sample of people I talk to, however, we do tend to get ‘survivors’ or partners of non-survivors looking for new options to the standard MD recommendations. Many of them come after trying it the ‘hospital way’ or wanting to try something concurrently. The people who are the most upset are the ones who felt they were rushed or bullied into fast treatment and/or not listened to by their primary health care provider. There is no “cure” for cancer, because they still don’t know exactly why it happens. There also seems to be as many cancer types as there are new blood tests, so it makes sense to me that there would never be a one-cure-fits all. In my opinion, we need to stop treating the Big C as one giant monster and start treating people as individuals.
“Conventional medicine holds that the tumor is, in effect, the disease and, therefore, treatment is focused on combinations of protocols, such as chemotherapy and radiation, which destroy cancer cells, but can harm healthy cells as well. These protocols can buy time, but have no intrinsic healing properties. The yardstick of success is the 5-year survival rate. The biological repair approach views cancer as a systematic problem. A tumor or abnormal cells are symptoms of a biochemical breakdown which can be corrected with a comprehensive, non-toxic, metabolic program. Such a biorepair system seeks to balance and strengthen all body functions in order to produce healthy cells and restore well being. The yardstick of success is long term recovery.”
An example of what a multi-faceted approach can look like:
I favour this description because it outlines how “treatments that focus merely on killing cancer cells ignore the root cause of the problem – a breakdown in body chemistry causing abnormal cell production”. It provides a template for thinking about focusing on the host, not the tumor. I believe this holds true no matter what form your treatment takes.
Christiane Northrup, M.D wrote a book in 2010 (Women’s bodies, Women’s wisdom) that truly affected my perception of disease and how I felt about it. She laid out some nice arguments around how what organs are affected relates to what message your body is trying to tell you. For many people it is somewhere they already had a weakness, and the body is escalating its attempts to communicate. For example, the multitude of cancers around the reproductive organs in women can mirror our skewed views of our bodies, sex, reproductive rights arguments, hormonal imbalances due to environment, and maybe even mortal fear for our offspring (my words). These can range from the obvious, imbalances in the throat point to communication, to the more subtle, fear is held in the belly. For others, it can be a shock, a sudden betrayal somewhere in their body when they have acknowledged no prior weakness there.
Two stories come to mind for me personally, I’ll share one, a close family member with breast cancer. She went through all of it, the “cut it off and you won’t need chemo”. Then, “do radiation so you won’t need chemo”. Then, “oh you need chemo after all”. Then just being so sick. When asked, she said she would not follow that path ever again, and she credits her survival (20+years) to the forcible confrontation it brought to her life regarding her choices as well as the techniques they taught concurrently regarding communicating with your body on a deeper lever, including visualization, meditation and expressing instead of repressing. I also think a new term might be helpful, lets talk about thrival instead of survival, which only implies life but not quality of life.
The chemo-fairy comes at night.
Let’s move on to some actionable things! At some point a decision is made, and we are putting our hair, teeth and nails under our pillow and praying that the chemo-fairy brings us shiny quarters and not coal. I say this without irony, as the vitamin-fairy will likely get the same amount of prayers and fears in the loneliness of night when we are faced with our own mortality.
Definitions & theory:
“CLL is usually treated with chemotherapy drugs. Although the majority of patients respond to these drugs, the researchers say most patients relapse and need repeated cycles of the treatments. With each cycle, the remission periods tend to decrease. The researchers say that as a result, patients often stop responding to treatment or are forced to stop because of severe side effects. According to the investigators, these side effects are a result of the chemotherapy medication being unable to distinguish between healthy cells and cancer cells.” This is not exactly news, but sometimes it bears repeating, when the treatment is no longer killing cancer effectively, but simply killing you, you can stop. This particular cancer has a pretty harsh outlook in general, however focussing on the individual instead of the Big C can help build a foundation for healing rather than curing.
Psychological and emotional causes cannot be underestimated. Tangentially specific to CLL, in traditional Chinese medicine, blood disorders are always related to the spleen/pancreas and both are adversely affected by worry and anxiety. Cancer is also always associated with stagnancy of some sort, whether it be of the blood, mucus, qi, old emotions or repressed resentments. Taking the time to delve and clear old blockages and stress responses can be one of the key differences in people who thrive.
Cancer is considered a symptom of Dampness in Traditional Chinese Medicine, so oxygenating cells and living in dry warm climates can help. Paul Pitchford (Healing with Whole Foods) draws a parallel to the dampness theory and how all chronic disease in Western Medicine starts with edema and affects electrical potential, enzymes and cell oxidation. Fight this by avoiding salt and sugar and increasing potassium (fruits & veggies), iodine (seaweed) and enzymes (raw unsalted saurkraut). Boosting the thyroid will help internal drying by increasing cellular metabolism, and on a side note, supplements for the thyroid can go a long way to helping energy and mood.
Subsequently, herbs in all cultures used to treat cancer, tend to be bitter or aromatic which remove moisture and clear stagnation, Native American Chaparral, South American P’au D’arco and Suma, European Dandelion, etc. I wouldn’t necessarily use these herbs while on conventional treatments however, as it might be too cleansing or trying on the body. On that note, detoxification is mentioned quite a lot in alternative cancer therapies, but it does not work as an adjunct modality. They are both extreme therapy’s and they work on opposite sides of the spectrum. Either wait until after you are finished your conventional therapy such as chemo/radiation, or do it long before you start them, to see if it can be of benefit to you. It helps to do this under supervision from a willing health care practitioner.
What you can to is pay attention to whether you are displaying deficiency or excess symptoms and moderate your nutrition accordingly. Do you need to feed yourself warm easy to digest nutrition to build your blood, or cooling, cleansing, bitter foods to help clear over saturated organs? Ayurvedic and Chinese traditions can help provide concrete ways to define yourself and your needs as an individual in both normal and stressful times. Reading about them can sometimes bring insight into otherwise mysterious associations within the body.
PH and disease. There has been debate regarding the efficacy of the pH theory, however, to me it makes good sense regardless, if you simply look at the recommendations and the results in everyday life. This company provides an easy to read breakdown on the theory and my favourite pH chart regarding the foods.
“For years, doctors have linked oxygen supply with cancerous activity. Research shows acidosis (little to no oxygen) appears to allow pathogens and cancer cells to proliferate, whereas an alkaline pH (high oxygen levels) discourages cancer cell colony initiation and promotion. This explains why regular, deep belly breathing is so important – it feeds your body oxygen!” (Graci, The Path to Phenomenal Health, Wiley, 2005.)
Luckily for us, “dampenss”, anxiety, pH, etc, all tend to point in the same directions nutritionally. Yay! So holding all these things in mind at once, here is my resulting
List of Things to help:
- Acupuncture and acupressure have both been shown to reduce chemo-related nausea and vomiting.
- Massage has been proven very effective for pain relief in hospital cases (up to 60% less pain with a half hour massage)
- Consider Shirodhara, which is an Ayurvedic treatment involving a steady stream of warm oil being poured onto the forehead. I know, I know, its a fine line between health treatment and torture! It is very calming and sustaining.
- Breath deep. Just do it.
- Here are nutritional recommendations that come up again and again regarding cancer in general and CLL specifically. I have found no contraindications, but feel free to ask your health care providers if you are worried. I’ve focused on mostly nutritive and gentle action remedies.
Fish oil & Omega 3: Protects and heals, penetrates cell membranes to normalize electrical activity. This is somewhere you don’t want to tread lightly. Large amounts of fish oil are recommended, or other Omega-3 sources, however, fish is the easiest on a stressed out liver as it doesn’t have to be converted there. I’m talking 8 Tablespoons of flax oil, or 6 capsules of fish oil style large doses in some cases. Don’t start with that much, but don’t be afraid to work up to it. If fish is not going to work for you, take your flax seed in the form of biochemist Dr. Johanna Budwig’s ratio of 1:2 – flax oil: quark/cottage cheese. There is a surprisingly long line of research backing up her work for over 60 years. If you want to learn more about her cancer protocol don’t be afraid to look into it.
Mushrooms (shitake, reishi, maitake, chaga): anti-tumour and immune boosting
Fruit: Organic apples, papaya – provide enzymes and don’t add to dampness
Whole Grains: Millet and kasha are the only alkaline grains, but oats are also good because they strengthen and calm the body.
B12:larger doses, in the form of methylcolabamin
Vitamin C : (large doses )the buffered form such as Esther-C or from food, for general health and side effects: “Vitamin C in massive amounts helps the liver to neutralize the resulting enormous quantities of toxic by-products… of chemotherapy or radiation therapy” (Paul Pitchford, Healing with Whole Foods)
Feeding the body and the blood:
Vitamins might be harder to break down for compromised digestive system and weakened organs, so you might find whole food nutrients more bioavailable than vitamin tablets: Spirulina, chlorella, blue-green algae, seaweed, royal jelly, nettles, mugwort mochi (japanese sweet rice)
Helping with side and after effects
Kelp, seaweed, wheat grass, barley juice
Fennel seeds, tea or chewing
Astragalus to recover: this can be used long term!
Vitamin D, Vit A (Cod liver oil, carrots, watercress, spinach, broccoli)
Probiotics, get yourself some Bio-K or other high quality acidophilus supplements, and make sure your intestines have the bacteria to function happily as possible. (Please do not get cheap ones here)
The good news is, now is your chance to eat copious amounts of raspberries and blackberries, as they are mentioned in many places along with blueberries, bilberries, cranberries and leafy greens as being specifically helpful to cancer and autoimmune disease. Look into thyroid helpers, such as iodine from seaweed sources. L-Tyrosine, while being warned against for melanoma, seems to have no contra-indications for CLL and can have significant mood and energy benefits.
Specific to CLL with clinical trials
Below are some exciting supplements that are seeing results both with and without conventional therapy:
Tumeric and Green Tea are mentioned in many places as being used in natural treatment for CLL. The active ingredients being Curcumin and EGCG used for treating inflammation and stress respectively. There is some promising research out there:
Make sure to get the most bioavailable curcumin supplement you can or dive in and do it yourself! For those who have ever used eastern spices in cooking, the idea of needing fat and heat to release the good stuff will not be a foreign idea.
- ½ cup turmeric powder
- 1 cup spring water (+ ½ extra if necessary)
- 1.5 tsp ground black pepper
- 5 tbsp extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil
- Mix water (1 cup) with turmeric powder in a pan and slowly heat it up and stir for 6-10 minutes until you get a thick paste (add the additional ½ cup water if it is too thick).
- Add black pepper and oil and continue stirring until all the ingredients are fully mixed in together.
- Allow the paste to cool. Store in the refrigerator in a jar for up to 1-2 weeks.
Then you can make warm or cold “Golden Milk”:
- 1 teaspoon of organic coconut oil (optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric paste
- 1 cup of almond or coconut milk
- Organic, raw, unfiltered honey for taste
Here’s a site with easy to read ideas on other ways to use your paste:
We’ve been hearing about the benefits of Green Tea for years, anti-aging, antioxitant, balanced energy and more, but recently it has been proven to be anti-stress as well. Two of the most studied active ingredients include L-theanine an amino acid promoting calm and clarity, and the polyphenol EGCG for stress and also more specific to fighting cancer.
Get specific supplements or drink lots of tea*. A quality loose leaf or especially matcha will have the highest amounts of these things.
*The only caveat I’ve seen pertinent to CLL for green tea is that you need to add lemon or milk to it or drink it between meals so it doesn’t reduce your iron absorbtion.
Almost everyone has heard of the anti-oxidant benefits Green Tea. Anti-oxidants are almost always mentioned in Cancer situations, with conflicting conclusions all the way from anti-oxidants help cancer cells grow, to anti-oxidants help mop up the poisons that cancer cells cause. To be safe, you might want to stick with mostly food sources instead of high dose supplements of things like A & E, but with green tea and its derivatives there seems to be enough evidence to support using it during and after chemotherapy, both for fighting cancer and for mood improvement.
I’m interested, though still new to, Magnolia extract. There seems to be a number of studies around cancer with it and it also helps fight cortisol and establish more natural sleeping patterns. Also beginning to look into Maca as it is being studied for cancer and has a positive effect on the strength and energy of the body.
Sometimes I wonder if people survive in spite of chemotherapy as opposed to because of it. Doctors will recommend it even with no positive prognosis, assuming people need some kind of action rather than none, so people feel like they are fighting the good fight. I used to feel more anger around the perceived callousness of one-track mind medicine, but I try to keep in mind that we are all learning all the time, and if we want others to keep their minds open, we will have to do the same. Here are some random chemotherapy discussions for anyone looking to delve further. Are my spots showing?