Saturday, August 29, 2015

It's not just about what you believe, but also what your doctors and caregivers believe

I've talked a lot about the physical side of beating cancer. Now it's time to talk about the other missing ingredient - the mental component.

You can do everything right from a physical standpoint, you could eat all the right things, take all the right supplements, exercise, and do all manner of positive improvements, but still not heal. The key is to get the body, mind and soul all aligned and working together.

I've been busy re-reading several pivotal books that I discovered when I was cancering the first time in 2001. One of these is Timeless Healing - The Power and Biology of Belief by Herbert Benson. Dr. Benson is an MD, Harvard professor and pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine. I highly recommend not only this book, but everything he's written. We'll talk more about Dr. Benson when we discuss his relaxation response in a subsequent post.

A note about belief and why a positive attitude is not enough

I have always been a "glass half full" kind of girl. It is not unusual to have people comment on my positive attitude and how it would help me beat cancer. I thought it was enough. I thought a positive attitude was the same as mind-body alignment. It's not. The missing element is belief!

The first time through cancer I was 100% certain that I would beat it. So were my doctors and my support system. This time, something subtle changed. Looking back on it I can tell you exactly when it happened. It was a year ago. My CA 27-29 tumor marker numbers were at 40 (30s are normal) and my PET scan showed amazing reduction of cancer (difficult to find anything) and rejuvenated bones. I was doing the happy dance as you can imagine and I said to my oncologist. So I'm close to being done with this, right? In remission!

To which my kind and well meaning oncologist said, "Oh no sweetie. It's in your bones. You'll always have it. The meds just sort of keep a lid on it. The meds stop working after awhile and we have to give you new meds. If we stop the meds and let the lid off, you'll be right back where you were."

I didn't realize it at the time, but this was the day my life changed. Up until that point, I thought I could be cancer free. Something changed in me that day. I believed the doctor and I stopped believing I could ever be cancer free.

I had a great, positive attitude mind you and believed there would always be new drugs and I could still have a great quality of life, but deep down inside I didn't believe I could beat it. This is a subtlety, but for me a very important one. What happened that day is I turned over control of my cancer and my healing to the medical establishment. And for me, there was no way I was going to beat cancer without feeling like I had the power.

Three Components of Remembered Wellness

Doctor Benson talks a lot about the notion of expectations and beliefs. What you expect from a drug, you get. What you believe will happen, will happen. We have mountains of research on the placebo effect to back that up. What is especially interesting, however, is that it's not just what you, the patient believes, but it is also what your doctor and caregivers believe that make the difference. Benson refers to these as the Three Components of Remembered Wellness:

  1. Belief and expectancy on the part of the patient.
  2. Belief and expectancy on the part of the caregiver.
  3. Belief and expectancies generated by a relationship between the patient and caregiver. 

Think about that for a minute. Even if your doctor and your caregivers are positive, if they don't truly believe you can beat it, it will be difficult (though not impossible), for you to win. So what should you do in a situation like mine where your oncologist doesn't really believe it is a winnable war?

For me, the answer was to find another oncologist, an integrative oncologist who believed in a more holistic approach, as I did and who also believed there was a way to live cancer-free, regardless of where in your body today's cancer resides.

If you can't switch oncologists or caregivers, you can at least be aware of the power of beliefs and not let those of your doctor or caregiver infect your own personal beliefs. It's not easy, but awareness is the first step.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Natural Alternatives for Aromatase Inhibitors and Chemoprevention

Aromatase inhibitors (AIs) are a class of drugs used to treat breast cancer by reducing the amount of estrogen available that can stimulate the growth of estrogen-driven cancer cells. This class of drugs doesn't halt ovaries from making estrogen, so AIs are only used in post-menopausal women. There are 2 types of aromatase inhibitors (AIs) approved to treat breast cancer:
  • Irreversible steroidal inhibitors, such as exemestane (Aromasin), forms a permanent and deactivating bond with the aromatase enzyme.
  • Non-steroidal inhibitors, such as anastrozole (Arimidex) and letrozole (Femara), inhibit the synthesis of estrogen via reversible competition for the aromatase enzyme.

How effective are AIs?

After researching the efficacy of AIs, I discovered that although they are associated with a reduction in breast cancer recurrence, they do not result in women with breast cancer living any longer. What's more, the drugs have been found to produce a host of adverse, sometimes toxic effects, which make the benefit somewhat questionable. Researchers in Medical Oncology and Hematology at Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto suggests that the toxicity may explain the lack of overall survival benefit. See for details on this study.

Not only do we have estrogens naturally produced by our bodies, but we may also have external chemicals in our body, for example from certain pesticides, BPA, phthalates, toluene, perfumes, parabens etc which act like estrogens. They are called xenoestrogens and some of them can be just as harmful as the more aggressive natural estrogens.

Part of my protocol is replacing personal care products and home goods with natural ones that don't have the toxic chemicals listed above. I also eat organic and avoid pesticides wherever possible.

Are there safer alternatives?

The short answer is yes! There are many ways of cutting both natural and chemical estrogens. The first is to lose the fat. Being overweight is a counter-active factor as fat can provide the building blocks for estrogen, and is also an excellent solvent and so will store estrogens that you would be better to excrete. 

Having good blood levels of plant estrogens (phytoestrogens) has been shown to be protective, as has Indole3carbinol (from broccoli and greens).  Also important is the health and involvement of certain beneficial bacteria in the gut, and their ability to use whole foods like lignans to bind to estrogenic products and help excrete them.

Note: I highly recommend the website for more information on alternatives. Much of what you're reading here came from them. 

My Alternative AI Combo

Natural Phytoestrogen via greens and chickpeas - Phytoestrogens are herbs and foods that mimic the effects of estrogen in your body. Because they are weaker forms of estrogen, they provide a weaker stimulation of cell receptor sites. For those who have high amounts of estrogen, these foods competitively bind with receptor sites and decrease the overall effect of estrogen. Phytoestrogens are abundant in green vegetables, fruits and particularly pulses like chick peas and beans. I have a glass of juiced greens each day, green vegetables with every meal and I eat a lot of humus, which is made from chickpeas.

Soy is another phytoestrogen who's effects with breast cancer have mixed reviews. There are studies demonstrating both positive and negative effects. I eat edamame and tofu, but tend to limit my soy intake otherwise.

I3C - I3C contains indoles and other compounds found in cruciferous vegetables that have shown promise in supporting healthy levels of estrogens. I3C acts in a number of ways, from denaturing aggressive estrogen and its by products to rebalancing estrogen receptor sites. I3C is almost ‘the wonder compound’ it has so many beneficial effects – from being a natural Tamoxifen, without the side effects to an inhibitor of dangerous dioxins in the body. Natural supplements are available and synthetic drugs are in preparation. I take a I3C + DIM blend from Seeking Health.

Rice Bran - Emerging evidence suggests that rice bran (from brown rice) may be beneficial against several types of cancer, including breast, lung, liver, and colorectal cancer. The chemopreventive potential is related to the bioactive phytochemicals in the bran portion of the rice such as ferulic acid, tricin, β-sitosterol, γ-oryzanol, tocotrienols/tocopherols, and phytic acid. Studies have shown that the anticancer effects of the rice bran-derived bioactive components are mediated through their ability to induce apoptosis (cancer cell death), inhibit cell proliferation, and alter cell cycle progression in malignant cells. Rice bran bioactive components protect against tissue damage through the scavenging of free radicals and the blocking of chronic inflammatory responses. Rice bran phytochemicals have also been shown to activate anticancer immune responses as well as affecting the colonic tumor microenvironment in favor of enhanced colorectal cancer chemoprevention. This is accomplished through the modulation of gut microflora communities and the regulation of carcinogen-metabolizing enzymes. From I eat brown rice regularly, and I also take Beta 1,3D Glucan. 

Resveratrol is a flavenoid that is the natural protective agent in the skins of red grapes and black and red berries. Research has shown that Resveratrol has a natural anti-aromatase effect. Unfortunately you can't get the needed amount of resveratrol from a daily glass or two of red wine, so you'll need to take supplements.  Check out this study - Anti-aromatase effect of resveratrol and melatonin on hormonal positive breast cancer cells co-cultured with breast adipose fibroblasts.

Melatonin - The hormone melatonin is a powerful antioxidant and free radical scavenger that helps combat inflammation. In addition to its immune system benefits and helping you fall asleep and bestowing a feeling of overall comfort and well being, melatonin has proven to have an impressive array of anti-cancer benefits. Melatonin inhibits the proliferation of a wide range of cancer cell types, as well as triggering cancer cell apoptosis (self destruction). The hormone also interferes with the new blood supply tumors require for their rapid growth (angiogenesis). Melatonin can also boost efficacy and decrease the toxicity of cancer chemotherapy.

Quercetin is an allstar anti-cancer nutrient that is widely available in onions and apples, however it denatures rapidly in the body and so it seems that the potency comes not so much from the quercetin itself but from its breakdown by-products. Science is playing catch-up tracking their effects, but apart from the usual antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, and anti-bacterial/anti-viral factors, there is research indicating that they have AI benefits in breast cancer cells. Other sources include garlic, kale, brussel sprouts and cabbage. I eat a lot of garlic and I also take a quercetin supplement.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What cows and chickens eat and why it matters

I hadn't intended to talk about cows and chickens in this blog, but after reading about them in Anticancer, I feel like I have to. I've learned so much from author David Servan-Schreiber I don't even know where to start.  Please, if you only read one book on cancer prevention and treatment, read Anticancer.  The information in this next section is from that book.
In a natural cycle, cows give birth in spring, when the grass is most luxuriant, and produce milk for several months until summer's end. Spring grass is an especially rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, and you find these omega-3s in the milk's derivatives - butter, cream, yogurt and cheese. Omega-3s are likewise found in beef from grass-fed cattle and in eggs from free-range chickens fed with forage (rather than grain). 
Starting in the fifties, the demand for milk products and beef went up so much that farmers had to look for shortcuts. Pastures where abandoned and replaced by battery farming with corn, soy and wheat becoming the principal diet. This diet contains practically no omega-3s, but plenty of omega-6s. Omega-6s help stock fats and promote inflammation, while omega-3s make cell membranes more flexible and protect against inflammation. Our physiological wellbeing depends very much on the balance between omega-3s and omega-6s in our body and therefore in our diet.  
Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids are called essential because the human body cannot make them. The quantity of these in our bodies stems directly from the content of the food we eat. In turn, the amount in our food depends on what the cows and chickens have consumed in their feed. If they eat grass, then the meat, milk and eggs they provide are perfectly balanced in omega-3s. If they eat corn and soy, the resulting imbalance is as much as 1/15, even 1/40. Because these two fatty acids are constantly competing for control of our body functions, this balance is critical.  

How a cow's diet and subsequent "emissions" contributes to global warming
The 2006 United Nations report on food and agriculture concluded that current methods of raising animals for human consumption are one of the major causes of global warming. The contribution of animal farming to the greenhouse effect is even larger than that of transportation. Animal farming is responsible for 65% of emissions of nitrous oxide, a gas that contributes to global warming 296 times more than CO2. 

Methane emitted by cows is a by-products of their poor digestion of corn and contributes to global warming 23 times more than CO2. Thirty seven percent of methane in the world comes from cattle. One third of arable land is devoted to growing corn and soy for animal feed and there is still not enough arable land to meet demand. Forests are being cut down, resulting in further reduction of the earth's capacity to absorb CO2. The UN report also concluded that raising animals is among the activities that harm water resources the most because of the massive dumping of fertilizers, pesticides and animal excrement into rivers and streams. 

Organic doesn't necessarily mean balanced in omega-3

When shopping for meat or eggs, look for labels that specify "grass fed" or "rich in omega-3s". Organic meats or eggs contain few or no pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics, but they are not necessarily balanced in omega-3s.

Check out Jo Robinson and her fantastic website EatWild for everything you need to know about shopping and eating smart.

Foods and supplements rich in omega-3 

There are many foods that are high in omega-3, walnuts and salmon being two of my favorites. I also supplement with a daily dose of flaxseed oil and include ground flax seed in my cereal and oatmeal. 

The chart on the right from Self Nutrition Data shows the top 10 sources of omega-3. See full survey results here. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

My Anti-Cancer Anti-Disease Rx

In the last post, we talked about the importance of your internal environment or terrain. Now let's look at ways we can improve that environment to rid it of disease and keep you disease-free. This is my personal Rx and something I practice each and every day.

You'll notice that not everything on my list is about food or supplements. That's because I believe what you think, do and believe is just as important, maybe more, than what you put in your mouth. You can do all the right nutritional things and still get sick and stay sick if you forget to change your beliefs and day-to-day lifestyle. More on that in the next post.

Here are the core principles of my Anti-cancer, Anti-disease regimen. I've just briefly mentioned them here. Each one deserves its own section because there is so much to talk about. More later, I promise.
  1. As close to no sugar or white flour (i.e. foods with a high glycemic index) as you can get - because cancer feeds on sugar and these foods also promote inflammation
  2. Green, green and more green - because greens have lots of the key anti-cancer and immune system nutrients you need, plus they help balance your body's ph. Our western diet is typically very acidic (meat, coffee, alcohol) and cancer thrives in an acidic environment
  3. Limited meat - there are clear links between heavy meat consumption and cancer. I love a good cheese burger but afterward I can literally feel the inflammation it triggers. And the high fat content of meat and other animal products increases hormone production, thus increasing the risk of hormone-related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.
  4. Shore up your immune system - You can't beat cancer or any disease without a strong immune system. See earlier post Nutrition and supplements that help your immune system fight cancer. 
  5. Add cancer-fighting power foods - These super nutrients are easy to add and oh so powerful. 
    1. Green Tea - contains polyphenols called catechins, which block the receptors which trigger the formation of new blood vessels by cancerous cells.
    2. Mushrooms- Shiitake maitake, kawaratake and enokitake mushrooms stimulate the immune system and slow tumor growth
    3. Brown Rice- rice bran has been shown to induce apoptosis (cancer cell death), inhibit cell proliferation, and alter cell progression in malignant cells.
    4. Olive oil - contains secoiridoids and lignans, antioxidants linked with slower progression of cancer
    5. Soy - contains powerful phytochemical molecules that counteract the mechanisms essential to the survival and spread of cancer
    6. Tumeric - powerful anti inflammatory that also inhibits angiogenesis and forces cancer cells to die. 
  6. Detox - it is essential that you clear your system of toxins - that includes cancer drugs, food and environmental toxins, and tumor remnants. I drink 7-8 glasses of clean filtered water, drink at least one green juice per day, use my mini trampoline to get the lymph system going and take 2-3 epsom salt and baking soda baths per week. 
  7. Exercise - Exercise decreases your insulin resistance, which reduces cancer risk and creates a low sugar environment that discourages the growth and spread of cancer cells. It also improves circulation, driving more oxygen into your tissues and circulating immune cells in your blood. 
  8. Sun & Fresh Air - this is one you might not find on everyone's cancer regimen but its something I do every day and it's made a huge difference in both my mental and physical health. Sun is important because vitamin D is a proven anti-cancer agent. Fresh air is important because it helps you fully breathe and get oxygen circulating through your system. 
  9. Stress relief - Every day I do something that aids in stress relief. Yoga, meditation, walk the dog, watch a funny movie. This is just as important as what you put in your body, maybe more. We'll get into that in more detail in subsequent posts where we talk about the mind-body connection.
  10. Social connection - Studies have shown that people with strong relationships and support systems have better survival rates. I believe this is essential. It's more than just people who are there for you, it's people you feel connected to, people that "get you".
  11. Believe - I'm convinced the reason there are so many success stories about different ways people beat cancer is because belief is the most powerful drug there is. See The best treatment protocol is the one you believe in the most. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A new way to think about cancer

The more I dig into cancer, the more I struggle with traditional approaches that focus on tumors or cancerous cells rather than the overall environment that has allowed cancer to thrive in the first place.

In my work with organizational challenges, I know that removing a single problem employee will do little to improve dynamics if the environment, i.e. the culture, is less than optimal. The same thing applies to cancer. If you don't change the environment, you'll likely end up with the same problem again down the road.

I am a living breathing example of that. 2001, lop off the breasts where the cancer resided and call it good. 12 years later, we face the challenge again. The breast cancer cells found their way into my spine, sacrum, ribs and hips.

Research suggests that cancer arises only when cancer cells find fertile terrain in which to grow. Put another way, cancer cells only flourish in an individual whose immune defenses have been weakened. This notion opens up an entirely way of thinking about cancer.

As David Servan-Schreiber notes in Anticancer, "the aim of such new approaches would be not to eradicate tumors by targeting cancer cells themselves, but to "stabilize" these tumors over very long periods by strengthening and mobilizing our natural defenses."

Tumors are symptoms of a diseased organism

Josef Issels, in Cancer, A Second Opinion, notes:
The whole problem of cancer, in terms of growth, in terms of control, in terms of prolonged remission, turns on the bedrock that the disease is one of the organization as a whole. The tumor is a symptom, albeit an important one. This means that malignant tumors can only develop in a diseased organism.
These are not new ideas. In fact, the question is, where and when did we begin to focus locally rather than considering the body as a whole? Early physicians seemed to know better and treat people accordingly. Hippocrates' (460-377 B.C.) work contains numerous references to the causes ("black bile" - i.e. toxins) and treatment (detoxification) of cancer. In the Middle Ages, we find similar references to black bile, as well as "fermenting substance" and "acridity" as causes.

Arabian and pre-Renaissance medicine were also focused on detoxification with specific references to plant pharmacotherapy. The physician Parcelsus (1493-1541) believed, "it is not the physician who heals, but nature" and saw the key to cancer as reinforcement of the body's own defenses. Among the plant remedies he used were hellebore, which has medicinal actions similar to those of mistletoe, sedum, arnica and also garlic, onion and leeks (still high in our anti-cancer food list).

Parcelsus was also an alchemist and used zinc, arsenic, sulphur and various mixtures of salts. In this regard, he is sometimes referred to as the father of chemotherapy. Parcelsus approach to treating cancer also included a mind-body component. He used a form of psychotherapy, because he felt
The causes of every disease are to be found in the soul and spirit as well as in the body.
This systemic view of cancer remained in play for a thousand or more years. Generation after generation of physicians believed that cancer arose through a complex disorder of metabolism and the body's inability to eliminate toxins.

The focus began to change in the mid nineteenth century after cellular pathology gained favor and cancer become the province of surgeons. The nineteenth century saw great advances in surgery, culminating in today's sophisticated surgical and anesthetic techniques, resuscitation and post-operative care, which combined to make surgery relatively safe.

With the prominence of surgery and therefore surgeons, the localized view of cancer replaced the systemic view. Surgeons believed they could remove the disease by removing the tumor.  This view has remained steadfast since that time, and now is often accompanied by chemotherapy and radiation.

Next time I'll take a look at modern medicine's approach to cancer, and in particular chemo and radiation. But I won't spend a lot of time there, because frankly, any treatment that tears down the very thing (i.e. the immune system) that we need to beat cancer, just doesn't make sense. I'd rather spend my time focusing on cleaning up the environment, my internal environment, that is.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The best treatment protocol is the one you believe in the most

A big part of the responsibilities of being a cancer patient is being smart and aware about your treatment. If there's any place you want to do your homework and be an educated consumer, it's here. But it's often not easy.

I typically research every purchase I make and I'm the person in my circle everyone goes to find out how products, stores, companies or people compare. I'm typically not one to blindly trust a doctor and a suggested protocol, but for some strange reason that's exactly what I did this time.

As a psychologist and writer whose written about credibility and the subconscious trust of authority figures, I should know better. Combine that with my propensity to research EVERYTHING, you'd think I would have been the least likely to turn into a sheep.  So what happened?

The short answer is I'm not sure. I was stunned by the diagnosis this time and I think I remained in that stunned state for almost two years. With the death of my husband coming shortly after the diagnosis, then relocating back to Texas, taking care of my mother-in-law and then her death, I was, as they say, not in my right mind.

It was my immune system getting so low and feeling so bad that finally shook some sense into me. I'm not an expert, but I'm smart enough to know there is no way your body can survive cancer if your immune system is basically non-existent!

So, the old Pam is now back and doing her thing. I've researched each of the drugs I'm taking, including gathering info from countless other women just like me who've taken or are taking the drugs. I've also investigated a variety of alternative strategies and spoken to practitioners and users about their experiences.

In some ways we are blessed to have an abundance of great information at our disposal, but in other ways it's a curse. Its difficult to know who to trust sometimes and is especially challenging when trusted sources contradict each other.

When I had cancer the first time, I did the research. Knowing that, people would often ask, "So what's the best protocol?  Chemotherapy? Macrobotic diet? Faith healing?  The answer - all of the above. What I found was people beat cancer using every treatment protocol you can imagine. The only common denominator was their belief in that protocol. The answer to the question which protocol, is, the one you believe in the most!

Do your homework, or buddy up with someone like me who does the homework. Find some quiet stillness and reflect on the choices. Ask God or your higher self to help you choose the things that are right for you. If you learn to listen, you'll discover that the answers and the guidance you need is right there inside you.

I use muscle testing to help me determine what foods and supplements are right for me. I encourage you to give it a try.  You can read about it here:

See a variety of techniques here:

Or watch Cathy Davis do a quick demo of a common technique.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Nutritional supplements that help your immune system fight cancer

These nutritional supplements do a fabulous job keeping your immune system primed and ready for action.

Vitamin C – This vitamin is not only good for fighting colds and flu, but also boosts the activation of both T-cells and NK cells so that your immune system has extra armor to protect you against a host of diseases, including cancer. 

Vitamin D – Vitamin D protects you against flus, colds, cancer and a host of other diseases. No other supplement has been as extensively studied as vitamin D. The reason vitamin D helps with just about any kind of infection is because it stimulates the production of cathelicidin, a protein with natural antibiotic properties. I take Vitamin D supplements, but I also spend 20-30 minutes a day in the sun to collect it naturally.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids – Omega-3 is needed to help vitamin D work in an optimally and helps prevent vitamin D deficiency. Omega-3 supplementation increases the activity of white cells that gobble up dangerous bacteria. Omega-3 also protects the lungs from colds, flus and other respiratory tract infections. It is also plays a critical role as an anti-inflammatory (more on this when we talk about inflammation).

Vitamin E – In addition to boosting the production of killer cells, vitamin E also supports the making of B cells – also utilized by our immune systems to produce antibodies and kill bacteria. You can get the recommended 60 mg a day from nuts, grains, seeds and vegetable oils. 

Beta Carotene – As the name suggests, this important vitamin found in carrots can help boost killer cells as well as helper t-cells so that your immune system can fight a number of diseases. Foods full of beta carotene include sweet potatoes, kale, turnip greens, spinach, dried herbs, and mustard greens. Check out this story about how Ann Cameron cured her Stage IV colon cancer with carrot juice. 

Probiotics are friendly bacteria that usually inhabit the gut and are a very well documented optimizer of the immune system. Seventy percent or more of our immune system is controlled by what happens in the gut, and friendly bacteria are the most important component of that immune system. These bacteria modulate the immune system by increasing the numbers of t-cells. Probiotics also help improve digestion and protect the body from harmful pathogens such as candida albicans. 

Astragalus – This well-known Chinese herb stimulates white blood cells to both prevent and fight infections. Astragalus does not work as quickly as vitamin D or omega-3 fatty acids, and may take between 6 – 8 weeks to reach its full effects. Numerous studies attest to the fact that it is well worth supplementing.

Selenium – regular supplementation of this important nutrient reduces the risk of cancers of the bladder, breast, bowel, lung and prostate. 

Turkey Tail Mushroom - So called because it resembles a wild turkey's tail, turkey tail mushrooms are proven effective immune system boosters as well as one of the leading anti-cancer supplements. See Turkey tail mushrooms help immune system fight cancer. Also this NIH article

Beta Glucan - Lentinan, a type of beta glucan found in shitake mushrooms, is an immune system modulator, shown to increase neutrophils in solid tumors. Beta Glucan is not an immune system stimulant, like Echinacea and Colostrum. Vaclav Vetvicka, in his book on beta glucan notes that “there are other agents that stimulate the immune system. However, glucans are in a class apart, because those other agents can push the immune system to over stimulation. This means they can make matters worse in the case of auto-immune illnesses. Glucans however do stimulate the immune system, but never to the point where it becomes overactive. In addition glucan is one of the few natural immunomodulators for which we know not only the composition but also the mechanism of action.”

How to keep your natural born killer cells primed and ready for action

Thanks to David Servan-Schreiber in his book Anticancer for describing what happens in a way that regular folks can understand. Much of what is included here came from him.

Natural killer (NK) cells are the highly skilled special agents of the immune system. They're like other white blood cells, in that they patrol the organism looking for bacteria and cancer cells. But, they're different from other white bloods cells (WBC) in one very important way. Other WBC need previous contact to disease agents in order to recognize, then attack them. NKs don't.

NK cells don't need a prior introduction. They seem to be especially good at spotting the bad guys right away and as soon as they detect an enemy, they quickly marshal up forces and aim their chemical weapons (perforin and granzymes) directly at their target.

The granzymes activate the mechanisms of programmed self-destruction. It's as if they give the cancer cell an order to commit suicide, an order it has no choice but to obey. In response to this message, its nucleus crumbles, leading to the cancer cell's collapse. The deflated remains of the cell are then ready to be digested by macrophages, which are the garbage collectors of the immune system and are always found in the wake of NK cells.

A study of 77 women with breast cancer shows just how important these bad boys are. Samples of each woman's tumor taken at the time of diagnosis were cultivated with her own NK cells. Certain patients' NK cells simply didn't react, as though their vitality had been mysteriously zapped. With others, NKs jumped into high gear, indicating an active immune system. At the end of the study, 12 years later, 47% of the patients whose NK cells had not reacted in the lab had died. On the other hand, 95% of those whose immune systems had been active under the microscope were still alive.

So what can we do to ensure our natural born killer cells are strong and ready for action? For starters, lets take a look at what decreases NK cell activity. NK cell activity naturally decreases as we age. Since we can't do much with that, let's move along to the second one - psychological stress.  Both acute and chronic psychological stress reduce NK activity. Sleep depravation is another contributor. Social isolation, persistent anger or despair and a sedentary lifestyle also inhibit the immune system. And then there's chemotherapy and radiation therapy. And rounding out the negatives is our traditional western, very inflammatory diet.

So...there are many things in that list above we can do something about, diet and stress being two very important ones. My Rx includes daily exercise and stress relief, laughter and significant diet modifications, much is focused on keeping inflammation at bay (more on that later). I've also got some key supplements that have been proven effective in this regard. See next post for my full list of Immune System Boosters.

In closing I want to mention an interesting study I happened upon while doing my immune system research. This study (there are actually several like this), looked at the effect of a short, leisurely visit to a forest, on a person's NK activity.
Thirteen healthy nurses, age 25-43 years, professional career 4-18 years experienced a three-day/two-night trip to forest fields. On day 1, the subjects walked for two hours in the afternoon in a forest field; on day 2, they walked for two hours each in the morning and afternoon in two different forest fields. The forest bathing trip significantly increased NK activity and the numbers of NK, perforin, granulysin, and granzymes A/B-expressing cells and significantly decreased the percentage of T cells, and the concentrations of adrenaline and noradrenaline in urine.  
The increased NK activity lasted for more than 7 days after the trip. Phytoncides, such as alpha-pinene and beta-pinene were detected in forest air. These findings indicate that a forest bathing trip also increased NK activity, number of NK cells, and levels of intracellular anti-cancer proteins in female subjects, and that this effect lasted at least 7 days after the trip. Phytoncides released from trees and decreased stress hormone levels may partially contribute to the increased NK activity. 
For more info, check out

 If you've ever visited forests in Japan, you'd have no problem understanding their power. Here's a picture of one of my favorite places, the walking path to Meigi Shrine, which is amazingly right in Tokyo. After the death of Emperor Meiji in 1912 and Empress Shoken in 1914, the Japanese people decided to commemorate them by building a forest. So they donated 100,000 trees from all over Japan and oversees, and they worked to voluntarily create this forest. The shrine was established in 1920.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Hey Ibrance, stop messing with my neutrophils!

Six months ago, I had never heard of a neutrophil. In fact I had to Google everything on the blood test results. Though generally familiar with the role of the immune system in health, the specific makeup was a mystery. 

Not any more!  Now I eat and breath the numbers. First the CA 27-29 tumor marker numbers. Now the addition of the blessed neutrophils. 

A neutrophil is a type of white blood cell. White blood cells help the body fight off diseases and infections. Neutrophils are essential in this regard as they remove and destroy bacteria, wastes, foreign substances and other bad guys. They accomplish this by eating these substances. They're kind of like the pac man of blood cells. 

A side effect of the Ibrance drug (see related post for more on this bad boy), is that it tends to wreak havoc on the pac man infection fighters. Ibrance is designed to inhibit the function of a specific type of protein, CDK 4/6, that scientists believe plays a role in the proliferation of cancer cells. But here's the problem. In addition to inhibiting CDKs, it appears Ibrance also inhibits blood cell production.

As part of the Ibrance protocol, I have my blood tested every other week, sometimes every week to make sure white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets are all at safe levels. I'm on my fourth round of ibrance and each time have had to take an extra week or two for my neutrophils to build back up. Each time the counts seem to get lower and lower.

At last count, my Absolute Neutrophil Count (ANC) was barely 300. That's extremely low. Normal ANC is between 1500 and 6500. Before I started Ibrance, my ANC was in the 2500-3500 range. 

The low ANC puts me in extreme danger of getting bacterial and fungal infections. Trust me, I didn't need to read about this, I lived it. I've been struggling with every type of infection imaginable, even though I'm religious about immune boosting diets and supplements. 

So, I'm off the Ibrance for awhile to not only get my counts back up, but also to clear out my body of these nasty toxins. Kind of a chicken and egg sort of thing. I need the neutrophils to eat the bacteria and toxins, but need to get rid of the bacteria and toxins to get the neutrophils back and the immune system working effectively. 

I'll go over my detox and immune system boosting protocol in my next post. Till next time. Peace out. 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Why I started this blog

Selfish reasons primarily. I want to find like-minded people, expand my social network. I have to. I'm a social scientist and I know all too well the importance of social connections and support. Bottom line, people with a strong network are far more likely to survive cancer, regardless of treatment protocol.

Secondly, I'm a research nerd and one of those people that can never have enough data. I've done a lot of research on alternative therapies and I want a place to share what I've learned.

Thirdly, we're all in this together. Chances are you've either had cancer or someone you care about has had cancer or will have cancer at some point. The greatest gift you can give them, at least from my perspective is easy to understand, unbiased, fact-based information.

I'm not beholding to anyone. I don't sell any products or services associated with cancer treatments, alternative or otherwise. I'm just a regular person, sharing my experiences in the hopes that someone else might benefit.