This past Thursday, Dr. Inhorn called with the official pathologist's report: clean marrow! The funny thing is, I hesitate with the exclamation point. This whole process has become part of my life and my story; any news he had would be "good" news to me. It is true that I expected this result and so did he; both my doctor and another oncologist on the team had said they were confident that we would see remission, and I don't think of oncologists as being overly sanguine in their outlook.
Does that mean this experience with cancer is over? Well, yes and no. I am finished with chemotherapy and blood transfusions; there will be follow-up blood counts and office visits but no more treatment. The leukemia is gone, or at least all its symptoms are. My immune system, on the other hand, is skewed beyond recognition. My body had tremendous reserves, and I tried to give it the best tools available, to get through the toxic assault, but now it is used up. I have had two bad colds in the past month, the second of which appears to be turning into a sinus infection. Some nights I hardly sleep at all. This is the part of the nourishing path on which I now embark, to heal myself and corral resources to help others do the same.
During my hospitalizations, the nurses and doctors would comment on how well I was tolerating the chemo. My hair never completely fell out, and grew back quite quickly. My menstrual cycle has started again, which can take up to a year. The many side effects of chemotherapy were not an issue for me, except in a few minor cases. After my initial treatment, I never got any further infections. I credit this to factors both beyond and within my influence. As to my genetic makeup and good fortune, I can only be grateful. But when I first found out I was sick, before I decided to undertake chemo, I took immediate and drastic action to give my body some tools to fight the illness.
My interest in fundamental health and genuine nutrition (as opposed to what I think passes for both from a conventional medical point of view) began long before my diagnosis. During my first pregnancy I had a lot of metabolic issues, and after my son was born I felt I had a responsibility to build my knowledge of how to keep my family healthy. That's when I discovered traditional diets and the healing power of food. I know that "we are what we eat," but I had never thought very hard about it before. What we ingest, intentionally or environmentally, is the primary material for building our bodies. If those building materials are full of toxins, and devoid of nutritional compounds, our bodies won't work.
Over the past several years I have read quite a bit about building baseline health and healing illness with food. It is something I plan to delve into in many future posts. For the remainder of this post, I want to write about what I think got me through my treatment.
When I found out I was sick I started looking up nutritional treatments for cancer and leukemia. While I was unable to find anyone who could testify to managing acute leukemia without chemotherapy, I did find a lot of discussions about other (tumor) types of cancer. Based on the work of Dr. Kelly, The Gerson Institute and the research available at Green Med Info, I eliminated caffeine, sugar, alcohol, processed carbohydrates and other processed foods, and embarked on a raw diet that included liver and eggs. When I entered the hospital, I was still trying to maintain this diet, but that was impossible in that environment. Furthermore, I was losing weight and finding it challenging to meet my caloric needs. Nonetheless, the diet acted as a cleansing fast and I know that my ability to tolerate the intense induction chemotherapy was related to this detoxification of my body. As the tumor cancers behave differently than the blood cancers (with any illness I believe it is important that the patient learn about the science of the disease, and there are numerous reputable sources of this information on the web and in libraries), they seem to respond to a different type of diet. Once I learned about the work of Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez and his recommendations for blood cancers, I shifted my diet to incorporate elements that would balance my overactive parasympathetic nervous system, rather than treating an overactive sympathetic nervous system, a key feature of tumor cancers. I also began working with a classical homeopath in Portland, Maine, Dr. Nancy Frederick.
I noticed immediate improvement. As soon as I started a diet heavy in meat and light in potassium, my body felt stronger and more balanced. When coupled with the key traditional food recommendations of fermented foods and bone broths or stocks, my immune system was able to overcome serious bacterial and viral challenges, despite my extremely low white blood counts (this is a condition called neutropenia; due to the risk of infection, neutropenic patients are not supposed to eat ANY raw foods. Fortunately my doctor was supportive of my dietary choices and did not insist on this diet!). By avoiding sugar and caffeine, as well as most refined carbohydrates, I was able to keep the mouth and intestinal irritation to a minimum, and avoid some of the most unpleasant of the chemo side-effects. Once I began the homeopathic remedy, my metabolism shifted again, into more normal nutritional demands, and I was able to cut back drastically on meat intake (I like meat, don't misunderstand me, but red meat three times a day is a bit intense).
There are other factors that led to my recovery, and there is much more to discuss on the nutritional front. This post is probably long enough for today, however. I hope that others who have experience with nutrition and illness will comment here and help me develop this blog as an emotional and physical resource for people dealing with serious diseases. Fresh air and exercise are also important, so now it is time to leave the computer...