Nov 132015

One of my staple meals after starting my doctor’s alternative treatment program was black rice.

You may be thinking: Just rice? How is that a recipe?

That’s the whole point: It was simple. I came home from work late, so I’d cook and eat a bowl of black rice around 8 or 9 p.m. I ate it almost every day for the first three months of my program. It was easy to prepare, easy to digest, and healthy.

In fact, research shows black rice is even healthier than brown rice. It’s packed with antioxidants and has almost as much anthocyanin as blueberries. It’s also tasty — chewy with a nutty flavor — and makes a satisfying meal.

Here’s how I made it, with Lotus Foods’ Organic Forbidden Rice:

Ingredients (to make 1 serving):

  • 1/4 cup black rice
  • 3/4 cup water (the package recommends 1/2 cup, but I found the rice burned at the bottom of the pot when I used that amount, so I increased it)
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • Sea salt
  • Cayenne pepper (optional)


Pour the water into a small pot (I used an old Corningware pot that I bought on eBay) and add the black rice. Bring to a boil over medium heat, which takes about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat to Low, stir, and cover the pot with a lid. Simmer about 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and remove the pot from the burner to cool, still covered, for another 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and serve onto a plate. Drizzle 1 Tbsp coconut oil over rice and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. If desired, sprinkle with cayenne pepper to add a dash of heat.


Nov 102015

When I started my doctor’s alternative treatment program four years ago, I was prescribed a diet, supplements and detox routines. I did everything to the best of my ability. I didn’t cheat on my diet once in the first three months of my program. Before that, I hadn’t eaten sugar for a year, and I’d already been juicing and eating organic, so in all, about 18 months went by before I cheated.

Forbidden Fruits?

The first cheat on an anti-cancer diet feels forbidden. Whether it’s eating something at a restaurant that arrives with an unexpected topping of cream sauce or binging on a pint of organic ice cream, it does not feel good.

I remember wondering if my first cheat — a restaurant dessert of milk pudding — would derail all of my progress.

It didn’t. A few cheats, after a long period of compliance, cannot derail a diet and supplement program.

It’s frequent or daily cheats, built up over time, that can derail the program. Returning to a “normal” American lifestyle of fast food, barbecued ribs and Skittles is a recipe for eventual disaster.

But I struggled to adjust after I got well. I wondered what I could eat, and how often, whether I could relax a little.

When to Relax

I recently talked with a great health coach about this, who reassured me that after four years, it’s okay to relax a little. It’s okay to eat a slice of pizza with friends, enjoy a piece of cake at a birthday party, or drink a glass of wine at a celebration. The key is that these things aren’t daily habits — they’re occasional. My daily habits remain organic foods, clean water, and great supplements.

I am even looking to dial down the supplements, slowly and methodically, with my doctor’s help. My diet has been relaxed already, so I now eat more things. I’m edging my way toward a maintenance program.

But it’s also important not to feel guilt — and I struggle with this. Sometimes, when I eat too much dark chocolate, I worry. I wonder if I should counterbalance it with more dandelion greens or beet juice or supplements.

The worry itself is probably more damaging than the sugar at this point. I need to take a deep breath, continue to eat my organic, balanced anti-cancer diet, and occasionally give myself permission to enjoy food as part of enjoying life.

Giving Thanks and Giving Up Guilt

I’m trying a new habit this week: I’m giving thanks for all of my food. Even the food I don’t think I should be eating. The vast majority of my food is healthy and on-plan, so if I have a brownie I will just accept it and move on. I’ll see how this goes.

My main diet, the diet that is the core of my program, is a mostly vegetarian, Mediterranean-style one. I’m finally reading the great book The Blue Zones, and my diet is not far off from those diets. I feel I am on the right track in eating well and giving my body what it needs to support itself and stay healthy.

If I’m not perfect, then I’m human, and I don’t want to feel bad about that anymore.

Nov 062015

Relative versus absolute risk is a vital concept for you to understand in a discussion with your doctor.

Any recommendation from your doctor will probably have some expected benefit. Usually, expected benefit is framed as a percentage. For example, “This Wonder Pill will reduce your risk of cancer recurrence by 50%.”

That sounds awesome.

(Cool tip: You know what else can reduce your risk of breast cancer recurrence by 50%? Exercise! Specifically, three to five hours of moderate exercise such as walking per week. More info from Dana Farber at this link.)

It’s easy to hear this and imagine 100 people who have had breast cancer, 50 of whom will be saved by taking the Wonder Pill (or by exercising). That would be a 50% absolute risk reduction.

But that’s not true. It’s a trick your brain plays on you when it hears the words, “50 percent.”

The Idea of Relative Risk

What does that 50% risk reduction really mean? Well, it depends on your starting point — what your risk of recurrence is to begin with, at the moment before you begin taking the Wonder Pill (or exercising!).

For cancer patients, that varies based a huge number of variables, including the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, the aggressiveness of the cancer, what prior therapy you’ve had (e.g., surgery), and so on. So you need to know your current starting point in order to understand what that 50% means for you.

The Key Is Absolute Risk

Let’s look at two examples.

Patient A has an aggressive cancer. Therefore, Patient A has a 30% risk of recurrence even after surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. This is called the residual risk. The Wonder Pill will reduce Patient A’s risk of recurrence by 50%. That means after taking the Wonder Pill, Patient A will have a 15% risk of recurrence.

Fifty percent is the relative benefit (the relative risk reduction) that Patient A will get from taking the Wonder Pill. The absolute benefit to Patient A is 15% (30% – 15%).

Now let’s turn to Patient B.

Patient B has a less aggressive cancer. Therefore, Patient B has a 10% risk of recurrence after surgery and radiation (no chemotherapy was prescribed, due to the cancer’s low aggressiveness). This is Patient B’s residual risk. The Wonder Pill will reduce Patient B’s risk of recurrence by 50% — the same relative benefit Patient A received. However, the absolute benefit is very different.

After taking the Wonder Pill, Patient B will have a 5% risk of recurrence. The absolute benefit to Patient B is 5% (10% – 5%).

As you can see, the difference between relative risk (or relative benefit) and absolute risk (or absolute benefit) is very important.

Make sure you understand which one you’re talking about when your doctor presents risk reduction figures.

Case Study: Absolute Benefit of Statins

For a real-life discussion of relative versus absolute risk, you can read this article about statins for heart disease:

This article focuses on a medium-risk population (with a 25% risk of heart attack, stroke or death in the next 10 years). Even given those risk factors, the authors question the absolute benefits of statins. Here’s a key quote from the article (the 1.6% and 0.37% risk reductions referenced below are absolute risk reductions):

“It takes 5 years of daily statin therapy to achieve a 1.6% chance of avoiding a heart attack, and a 0.37% chance of avoiding a stroke. Most disappointing, statins seem unable to prevent death in this group. And most concerning, the drugs may increase diabetes, a serious and life-altering disease.”

How to Ask Your Doctor About Relative vs Absolute Risk

The complexities of relative versus absolute risk can get intricate. But you can understand the basics enough to have an informed discussion with your doctor. In fact, it’s vital that you understand what you are actually gaining from any medical (or lifestyle!) decision.

Here’s how to phrase the question:

“Is that a relative or absolute risk reduction?” or, “Is that a relative or absolute benefit?”

If you don’t understand the implications of the answer you hear right away, don’t worry. Write it down, research it later, and then ask any follow-up questions to your doctor. You have time to become informed, and you deserve to understand the decisions you’re making.

Nov 032015

First, the good news: Consumers’ demand for organic food is getting recognized by food companies! Chipotle has removed GMOs from its food, so even fast food can be real food. Juice bars abound. Regular supermarkets often have organic produce racks and aisles dedicated to healthier food. That’s awesome! It makes life so much easier.

Now the bad news: More food than ever before sounds healthy and great for you, but isn’t. It’s a war of labeling.

One of the words most often used to make a food sound healthy is “natural.” Food packaging also may use varieties like, “All Natural.”

The truth is, natural means (almost) nothing in the U.S.

The Definition of ‘Natural’ in Food Labeling

To be exact, there is a definition for “Natural,” at least for U.S. meat and poultry products. The USDA states that “Natural” means: “A product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. Minimal processing means that the product was processed in a manner that does not fundamentally alter the product. The label must include a statement explaining the meaning of the term natural (such as ‘no artificial ingredients; minimally processed’).”

This definition applies only to meat and poultry. It also says nothing about antibiotics, GMO feed (which is not considered an artificial ingredient), or hormones.

Antibiotics, Hormones and Free Range?

So what really means “no antibiotics”? The answer is, “No antibiotics.” Here’s the USDA on that: “The terms ‘no antibiotics added’ may be used on labels for meat or poultry products if sufficient documentation is provided by the producer to the Agency demonstrating that the animals were raised without antibiotics.”

Similarly, “no hormones” means no hormones (but only for beef, since hormones are prohibited in pork and chicken). And “free range”? All that means is that the animal had access to the outside. It doesn’t necessarily mean happy cows wandering around a pasture.

“Natural” doesn’t mean any of these things. To cut through the jargon, essentially, natural means very little.

It’s Not Just Meat and Poultry

The FDA, too, tap-dances around the issue: “….FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.”

So, all “natural” seems to mean is a lack of artificial colors and flavors — and I’m not sure who enforces that stricture. An animal product labeled “natural” can be treated routinely with antibiotics and hormones, caged indoors for most of its life, and given genetically modified feed. A processed food product can contain byproducts from these animals or genetically modified ingredients that were originally sprayed with dangerous pesticides.

That doesn’t sound very natural, does it?

Organic for the Win: Definitions, Standards, Inspections

What does mean something?


Organic means:

  • A lack of most synthetic pesticides and fertilizers
  • Animals raised in more humane conditions and often allowed to graze
  • Animals that ate 100% organic feed (which is not genetically modified)
  • No antibiotics or hormones
  • Documented processes and annual inspections to confirm compliance (actual enforcement!)

More detail is available from the USDA. Notably, they state that products labeled as “made with organic” ingredients can contain about 30% non-organic ingredients — but can’t carry the USDA organic seal. So the USDA organic seal is really the quality marker that means a product is truly organic. (For fruits and vegetables, look for a “9” in front of the four-digit product ID number on the sticker.)

(Note: There’s a controversy about whether sick animals should be permitted to receive antibiotics. I believe they should be permitted to receive them, although under current organic guidelines, they are not. But I do NOT believe routine antibiotic use should be permitted, in either conventional or organic animals. I do buy organic animal products, because I believe it’s the lesser of two evils.)

So keep an eye out when shopping, and remember that “natural” food can be pretty far from the idyllic image that word evokes.

Go organic!

Oct 302015

One of the detox routines recommended by my doctor is Salt and Soda Baths. I take these baths up to twice per week, always using filtered water (for that, I recommend an Aquasana shower filter).

To do a salt and soda bath, I need two ingredients, which cost almost nothing: fine sea salt and baking soda. I use Diamond Crystal sea salt (which is cheap in grocery stores but sadly expensive on Amazon) and plain old Arm & Hammer baking soda (which does NOT contain aluminum, counter to popular misconception).

Simple Procedure, Big Benefits

I simply run water from the shower into the tub until it’s almost full, pour in a cup of sea salt and a cup of baking soda, stir it around until it’s mostly dissolved, and then soak for 25 minutes. Then I shower off. That’s it. Because 25 minutes is a long time to soak in a tub, I start off with pretty hot, but not scaldingly hot, water.

I find that I sweat a lot in the bath, and — how can I put this? — stuff comes out of my skin pores.  The combination of baking soda and sea salt pulls out toxins through the skin. Afterward, I feel refreshed, and my skin looks great. An absolutely HUGE potential benefit: detoxing from radiation exposure.


One caveat: My doctor recommended salt and soda baths because I tend to be too acidic. If I were too alkaline, or if I had high blood pressure or cardiovascular issues, I’d probably be doing different detox routines. Also, the bath is pretty draining, especially when the water is really hot to start with, so I always stand up carefully afterward and then shower off briefly with cool water.

I like to listen to soothing music while I float in the detox bath, although sometimes soaking in silence is golden. If you’re looking for music to accompany a detox bath, my absolute favorite tunes are from Miracle of Dolphins by Paul Lloyd Warner. 

Oct 272015

I don’t have my “original 32” teeth. I have 31. A holistic dentist extracted the 32nd — molar number 2, to be exact — about a year after I was diagnosed.

I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

Root Cause

The tooth gave me trouble for years. The root cause (sorry, sorry) was damage inflicted by an impacted wisdom tooth growing sideways into my molar. It left a large hole and a tooth that was sensitive to touch. Still, I resisted filling it, because I was afraid I’d need a root canal.

Finally, I visited my dentist and asked him to fill the tooth if he could do it without a root canal. So he placed a large mercury filling (this was in 2000, before the move away from amalgam picked up).

The tooth never entirely calmed down. It always hurt a little when I pressed against it, and when I drank hot tea, I’d notice a metallic taste. No dentist ever agreed to extract it, though, despite my questions about whether that might be a good idea.

It Gets Worse

When the big filling eventually fell out, I had it replaced with an even bigger one. I was preparing for grad-school finals and didn’t have time to do anything else. And then a few years later, I had a crown placed, but the dentist left a small piece of the filling inside the crown, since it was so close to the nerve.

Pain exploded inside my mouth after the dentist placed the temporary crown. I took constant Advil and waited in misery for the permanent crown. A few weeks later, when my boyfriend found a lump in my breast, one of my first impulses was to finally have that tooth pulled. But I didn’t. It seemed like a lot of hassle, and I’d just gone through a procedure to save the tooth, so why pull it now?

A few months later, during the cancer diagnosis whirl, I thought again about ripping that tooth out of my mouth. It was a visceral feeling, but I felt overwhelmed with biopsy surgery and a lumpectomy and then local radiation. I also didn’t know where to find a dentist who’d agree to remove the tooth, since it wasn’t dead.

Finding a Holistic Dentist

After radiation ended, when I was experimenting with supplements and diet to help me recover, I spoke with Bill Henderson, the author of the book Cancer-Free. He said he felt that until I addressed my dental issues, I would not heal from cancer. I wasn’t sure about this, but I started researching holistic dentists.

Later that year, when I’d found my alternative doctor and his program had started working, I asked him about holistic dentists. He encouraged me to let his program finish working first, but I was eager and said I’d rather do it now. I wanted the tooth out, and I believed that only a holistic dentist would agree to extract my tooth. So he gave me the name of a nearby dentist.

Instantly upon meeting the dentist, I felt at ease with the decision. He listened to my complaints about the prior 15 years of tooth trouble and agreed to remove the periodontal ligament along with the tooth. I decided against getting an implant, because that area of my mouth had been a problem for so long I felt it needed to relax and heal, not adjust to a titanium post in the bone.

Peace with the Decision

The procedure took place in October 2012 and took about an hour. Some of my bone had deteriorated near the tooth (which was drilled away), and my gums were deep blue from the mercury and silver leaching out of the filling.

After a few days of recovery, I felt better. I’d felt low-level pain from that tooth for so long that I’d forgotten what it was like not to feel dimly aware of it at all times. Now I felt stronger and healthier — just a general sense of well-being. When I told my regular dentist, who’d always been opposed to removing it, he said to my surprise that sometimes a bad tooth is worse than no tooth.

It was a big step for me to remove a living tooth with no implant replacement, no assurance of benefit, and a risk of possibly making things worse, but I felt deeply that it was the right choice for me. If you’re considering something similar, hopefully my story will help in that process.

Oct 232015

I had breast cancer, but I don’t get mammograms. In fact, throughout the entire diagnostic process, I never had a mammogram.

How is this possible?

When I first noticed a breast lump, my ob-gyn recommended an ultrasound because of my age. I was only 34. She said it was almost certain to be benign. The image on ultrasound didn’t look benign to me, but the doctor doing the biopsy told me it probably was.

When the biopsy came back suspicious, I had an MRI to try to rule out cancer. The MRI involved use of a contrast agent that can cause kidney failure and death in a tiny percentage of cases, so that was a little nerve-wracking. But I figured that if it meant I didn’t have to have surgery, it would reduce more risk than it created.

Unfortunately, the MRI didn’t rule out cancer. So I had an excisional biopsy and later a lumpectomy and radiation.

My No-Mammogram Rationale

Afterward, I told my oncologist that I was no fan of mammograms and wasn’t going to do them. Radiation risks aside, I’d read a study and an article that indicated simply massaging the breast during sentinel lymph node biopsy surgery could increase the rate of micrometastases (isolated cancer cells or cell clusters in the sentinel lymph node or nodes).

My common-sense danger detector went off. If massage could cause micrometastases, what about heavily compressing my breast in a machine?

I decided not to do that.

Ultrasound Follow-Ups

Instead, I told my oncologist I was open to ultrasounds, so that’s what I’ve been doing since then. They are painless, non-invasive, and more accurate than mammograms for younger women with dense breasts.

Seven months after radiation ended, my first follow-up ultrasound showed something troubling, but the doctors at the imaging center said my original pre-biopsy ultrasound was of such poor quality that they couldn’t be sure if what they saw was new. I ignored their recommendations for an MRI (you get harassing letters when you do that!) and decided to follow up with thermography. When thermography showed no issues, I waited a few months and then had another ultrasound. Nothing had changed, so it was labeled benign, and it has stayed that way for many years — with one exception: The nodule they labeled “particularly concerning” has entirely disappeared.

Don’t Panic

A key part of this follow-up process, for me, has been not to panic. I’m on a best-in-class alternative treatment program to prevent recurrence, and it’s worked wonderfully for me, so I know I have time, knowledge, allies and weapons. Mammograms, however, are not part of my arsenal.

Oct 232015

After my tumor removal surgery and before I found my way to my wonderful doctor’s alternative cancer program, I did three weeks of short-course radiation. To get the radiation, I had to visit the hospital’s cancer center. It was one of the most traumatic parts of my experience.

Walking through those doors — just the act of going in there — made me feel sick. I felt labeled. Stigmatized. It might have been irrational, but if I could have just gone to the regular hospital, to get treated there like regular people do, I’d have felt a lot better about the whole situation. Having to go to a special building, with giant letters on it proclaiming that everyone in there had cancer, felt invasive. It felt as emotionally invasive as surgery was physically invasive.

Intangible Costs of Labeling Patients

Why this deep aversion?

In a normal hospital, people are sick but in all sorts of different ways. Most of them are expected to recover. Also, no one knows why you in particular are there, so you have some semblance of privacy.

In a cancer hospital, everyone knows why you are there, and there’s an aura of pity, suffering and despair that’s hard to explain or escape. It’s an invisible mental pressure that takes a toll.

One of the reasons I didn’t mind office visits with my surgeon and oncologist was that they WEREN’T based out of the cancer center. I loved the relative anonymity and normality of entering their offices. (Important Note: The PRIMARY reason I chose my surgeon and oncologist was that they were the best in their field. Even if they had been based out of the cancer center, I would have chosen them. I’m just extremely glad they were elsewhere.)

No such luck with the radiation oncologist. I had to visit the cancer center every day for weeks. I felt like I was wearing a scarlet letter C.

Lingering Trauma

To this day, when I walk past the cancer center, I cross the street. I try never to go near it. I feel traumatized by the idea that people might associate me with such sickness when I’ve worked so hard to get healthy. I feel exposed and stressed near there, like every nerve ending is raw and electrified. It’s all in my head, but my feelings are quite real.

My oncologist recently moved into the cancer center, and I’m actually putting off my appointment. I hate admitting that my distaste for re-entering that building is a major factor. But it is.

What Could We Do?

It would help a lot if cancer centers were more generically named. Maybe just tagged with a donor’s name, like, “The Smith Center.” Or a doctor’s name, like the Block Center in Illinois run by Dr. Keith Block. Those names don’t trigger stress and fear. They don’t label the people who walk through the doors. They allow some preservation of anonymity and therefore dignity, especially in a city where throngs of people stream past the entrance every day.

Re-naming cancer centers is something people without cancer might never even think about, because they have no idea it could be a problem. I’m writing this to tell you: It’s a problem, at least for me, and I suspect for some other patients, too. In a population that often develops PTSD as a result of treatment, one easy change could have significant benefit to patients’ well-being during and after treatment.

We know we have cancer. Don’t tell the world, too.

Oct 202015

One of the cornerstones of my metabolic anti-cancer diet is 14-Grain Cereal. Originally formulated by Dr. William Donald Kelley as “Multi-Grain Porridge,” with the recipe modified later by Dr. Nicholas Gonzalez, this cereal is a combination of 14 raw grains, nuts and seeds, ground in a coffee grinder and then soaked overnight. With my metabolic type, I’m told this cereal provides almost everything I need (though I certainly eat lots of other foods as well).

The main idea is to get as many grains as possible into the cereal bowl. The recipe I follow includes an equal mix by volume of these organic whole grains, nuts and seeds:

  • Hulled barley
  • Long grain brown rice
  • Millet grain
  • Whole oat groats
  • Buckwheat groats
  • Rye grain
  • Mung beans
  • Alfalfa seeds
  • Flaxseeds
  • Hulled sesame seeds
  • Hard red winter wheat
  • Green lentils
  • Whole kernel corn
  • Raw whole almonds

Where the Heck Do I Get These Grains?

I usually buy most of these ingredients directly from Shiloh Farms or through LuckyVitamin (I’ve done both). The alfalfa seeds I’m using are from NOW Foods, also via LuckyVitamin. I couldn’t find a small bag of organic whole kernel corn, so I decided to use Shiloh Farms raw whole-kernel popcorn, but if you’re looking to stock up, Amazon has a 25-pound bag of regular corn from Great River Organic Milling. (Yes, I bought this giant bag of corn once! It was great corn and it lasted almost forever, unsurprisingly.)

To make the cereal:

  • Put about 3 tablespoons of each ingredient in a quart-size Ziploc bag, seal the bag, and then gently shake it to mix the grains.
  • Each time you want to prepare a serving of cereal, put 3 or 4 tablespoons of grain mix into a small coffee grinder (I use a no-frills $18 Mr. Coffee grinder that works brilliantly) and grind for a few seconds.
  • Pour the ground cereal into a small bowl and add enough distilled or filtered water to mix it into a thin porridge with a spoon. (Don’t worry, it will absorb some of the water during soaking!)
  • Cover the bowl and put it in the fridge to soak the grains for at least seven hours and preferably twelve.
  • Eat with organic raw honey, organic cream and/or berries.

Dr. Kelley’s Original Recipe

I think this cereal tastes great, but if you don’t like the taste, you can experiment with the mix of grains to find something you do like. Maybe you’d like to use chia seeds or pumpkin seeds, or try Dr. Kelley’s original recipe? All of the sources I can find have formatting that makes it difficult for me to read that recipe, so here’s the original list of Dr. Kelley’s organic grains:

  • Amaranth
  • Barley
  • Barley flakes
  • Buckwheat groats
  • Blue corn meal
  • Yellow corn meal
  • Kamut
  • Millet
  • Oat groats
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Long grain brown rice
  • Short grain brown rice
  • Rye berries
  • Spelt berries
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Triticale flakes
  • Hard red spring wheat
  • Soft pastry wheat

You can see that whichever mix you choose, the main point is to get a wide variety of organic grains, nuts and seeds. Dr. Kelley put it this way:

Objective: to obtain as many different nutrients as possible from as many different seed and grain gene pools as possible from as many different sources (fields) as possible.

That’s my plan and I’m sticking to it.

Oct 162015

Note: Apologies for the site downtime on Wednesday and Thursday morning. My credit card number changed, and I didn’t realize my web host charges were due. I’m still here! That was terrible timing, though :-) Sorry about that.

The good news is, I had my doctor appointment and all appears relatively well. I’m iodine deficient, which hasn’t happened in a while, and my autonomic nervous system is a little more stressed than it was last year, but it’s still balanced and everything else appears to be under control. My hormones aren’t out of whack either. My liver and blood cells both are functioning at optimal levels, and my cancer markers are normal. Relief and gratitude are my main emotions.

A New Era

I was nervous about this appointment for several reasons, not just the ones I detailed in my 2015 self-assessment. I also was nervous because I was switching doctors by necessity, since my doctor passed away. I’ll write more about this someday, but not today.

I’m happy to say my new doctor and I got along well, we agreed on a path forward for my program, and we’re on the same page with my preference for a largely vegetarian diet. I’ll still eat fish, eggs, yogurt and organic raw cheese, but I’ll cut the weekly serving of red meat and lean back toward organic liver powder. I was allowed to replace the liver powder with organic grass-fed beef last year, but allowed or not, it often makes me feel terrible. I CRAVE the liver, despite its lack of tastiness, and miss it when I don’t take it. We also amped up my dose of Atlantic kelp once again to try to address the iodine deficiency.

One thing that was so comforting was knowing I had somewhere to go and someone I can trust to pick up the reins as my doctor-ally in this journey. I know what to do, but my doctor has seen about 5000 more situations than I have, and can give better advice as a result.

Sitting in a cafe before my appointment, I made a list of what I think makes a great doctor. I think both my late doctor and my new doctor embody these principles, and I wanted to share them with you.

A Great Doctor

A great doctor listens. When a great doctor’s patients say something is wrong, a great doctor believes them and looks for answers.

A great doctor offers advice in a way that doesn’t patronize and doesn’t lecture but draws on years of experience and gently guides.

A great doctor follows the truth wherever it leads, without regard to whether the truth is a plant, a patent medicine, a practice or a supplement.

A great doctor accepts that the truth can come from unlikely sources, and is willing to investigate it.

A great doctor never stops learning and never stops looking for the truth. When the great doctor finds truth, money and politics cannot divert the great doctor’s interest and application.

A great doctor knows when patients need reassurance and when they need the harsh truth, and delivers both in a non-offensive way.

A great doctor leaves room for miracles while minimizing the need for them.

A great doctor understands the tangible (what is learned in medical school and in practice) and the intangible (what cannot be learned but can only be observed and learned from).

A great doctor understands that people are infinitely different, with common threads.

A great doctor understands that a doctor is more of a guide than a healer. The patient’s body and spirit are the healers.

A great doctor maintains distance, but not too much.

A great doctor does not seek the limelight except when doing so could help heal more people.

A great doctor will go to great lengths for patients. The great doctor will be as patient with them as they are with the great doctor.

What would you add to this list? Who have your great doctors been?

Oct 132015

I’m nervous about my upcoming doctor appointment. I’ve been lazier in the past year, despite still taking the majority of my supplements and eating mainly organic. Even though I’ve made a major course correction in the past few months, I still worry about the prior nine months. I also froze my eggs, with my doctor’s knowledge and approval, but am aware I may take a hit from that, too. I may need to build back up and get back on my original program with a vengeance.

I say my original program because at my prior appointment last year, I was told I could eat meat again. My diet was broadened and relaxed a bit. But I still don’t like meat, and when I eat it, I don’t feel good. I prefer fish by a long shot. I also miss the 14-Grain cereal I used to eat every morning. So a few months ago, I bought all of the ingredients (raw grains) online and have started making it again.

I feel like my diet and supplement program is my armor, in a way, so when I don’t adhere to it as well as I could, I get nervous.

I know I’m fortunate in that I know what to do. Figuratively speaking, I’m sitting next to the stereo with my hand on the volume, ready to turn it up to maximum if needed.

Just waiting.

Oct 092015

To achieve extreme health, some people don’t have to do much. Others need to climb a mountain every day before breakfast.

This is a bear of a truth, because it’s totally unfair and there’s nothing you can do about it. Some people can smoke and eat barbecue and drink liters of alcohol with few bad effects. They may live to be 95. Genetics simply predisposes some people to be centenarians, which is awesome for them.

Most people aren’t destined to be centenarians, though, barring major biotech breakthroughs. To varying degrees, we have weak points. Our genes may be prone to errors and not repaired efficiently. We may be sensitive to chemicals in our environment. We may be prone to digestive upset or allergic reactions.

The thing to do is NOT to think about how your cousin can eat raw raccoon with no ill effects. That has no bearing on your own ability to do the same thing, and thinking about it will only make you jealous.

Own Your Baseline

Each person is different. The good news is that each person, from their own baseline, has the capability to build extreme health. Extreme health is nothing more than the sum total of a series of small decisions made every day.

It may take a few weeks, a few months, or a few years to get there, and it may be something you need to do every day for the rest of your life. A practice, like a martial art. That may feel unfair when you see your cousin enjoying his raw raccoon steak with barbecue sauce and vodka. But you are not your cousin, and pretending to be won’t get you anywhere good.

Drive Toward Health

Raymond Francis, author of Never Fear Cancer Again, uses a highway analogy that I like. Essentially, if you envision a multi-lane highway with health at one end and disease at the other, if all of the cars on the highway are driving toward health, your body will probably get healthy, driven by that momentum.

In contrast, if some of the cars are driving toward health and others are driving the other way toward disease, the momentum toward health won’t reach a critical point and you won’t get there.

The real 1% that it’s most important to be part of is the 1% of healthiest lifestyles on the planet. The Blue Zone-level lifestyles (update: I’m finally reading this book after just reading articles about it in the past!). Which way are you driving on the highway?

Oct 062015

A recent article on got me thinking about the Buteyko breathing method.

I first read about the Buteyko method in 2010, when I was diagnosed with cancer. I made a short-term effort to learn it based on Internet tutorials and then abandoned it in favor of other tactics.

But I’m reconsidering it as a long-term, sustainable therapy. Not only does Mercola cite general health benefits like lower blood pressure and reduced stress, but a study showed the Buteyko method reduced three-year breast cancer mortality from 24.5% to 4.5%. That’s amazing for an hour or two of breathing per day!

I strongly encourage you to read the original study here (translated from Russian):

In addition — and this is really awe-inspiring — the study seems to state that Buteyko breathing also eliminated lymphedema in the test group. Almost nothing works for lymphedema! (Caveat: I’ve found a few things that helped me).

So if the Buteyko method helps lymphedema, then it shouldn’t matter that the study was originally published in Russian: Therapists should look into it!

Here’s the source from the study:

“Seven (13.2%) of the patients in the control group suffered from edema in their upper extremities. The same symptoms were present in 9 (13.4%) patients of the main group. However, unlike the control group, their edema disappeared with the elimination of deep breathing.”

If this is true, it could be a revolution for lymphedema patients worldwide. If I had lymphedema (I don’t, but I struggle with high altitudes and believe I’m at risk for it), I’d be trying this right now, today, starting this second.

Have you tried the Buteyko method? Let me know in the comments or via private message.

Oct 022015

I read a lot of blogs. I enjoy reading blogs by cancer survivors of all stripes, conventional and alternative.

I hate the moment when a blog slowly trails off, followed by a post from family or friends announcing the blogger’s death.

I hate that moment even though it’s worth it to read the blogger’s posts, thoughts and experiences. Fortunately, that moment doesn’t always happen. Sometimes the blogger doesn’t die but instead triumphs and writes for many years, inspiring others faced with similar challenges.

What’s the difference between the two? I’m sure there are too many factors to count, but regardless of other factors, there is one trend I don’t like to see in cancer blogs. I call it treatment-shopping: skipping from one treatment to another, seeing a series of doctors, and never sticking with one treatment and giving it time to work. Conventional or alternative, this is rarely a good sign.

Adventures in Treatment-Shopping

I totally understand the panic that can spur treatment-shopping. After I finished radiation, I did some treatment-shopping of my own.

I’d decided to build up my body using organic food and great supplements. I started off using Cellect, a nutrient powder, but almost immediately I felt like the effect was too strong for me.

I switched to the Bill Henderson protocol. Initially, it seemed like a good fit for me, but I wasn’t feeling well after a couple of months, so I made an appointment with the doctor who became my doctor. His tests identified several mineral, enzyme and hormone deficiencies, and his program was designed to address those specifically and bring my body back into balance. It felt great to have actual test results instead of guessing and attempting to apply a one-size-fits-all program to my situation.

Even during the first few months on my doctor’s program, I wasn’t sure it would work yet, so I was still treatment-shopping. I saw a well-known Chinese herbalist in New York and started taking his herbs.

Knowing When to Stop

At my first follow-up appointment with my doctor, I learned that his protocol was working extremely well — better than expected. Then I did something very good: I told him about the herbs and other supplements I was taking.

He discouraged me from taking the herbs, not because they were ineffective, but because he’d seen herbs interfere with his program in the past. He allowed me to continue taking most of my other supplements.

What do you think happened next? Did I keep treatment-shopping?

No way. I’d found something that seemed to be working, so although there might have been several other things out there that also would have worked, I stopped rushing around. I stopped taking the herbs. I stopped taking them even though I felt they were working for me. Even though I thought I could possibly choose the herbs over my doctor’s program and be okay.

Key words: Felt. Possibly.

My doctor’s program was definitely working.

I stopped treatment-shopping right there and never started again. And his program kept working for me.

Maybe the herbs would have worked, too. Maybe they wouldn’t have. But it would have been a gamble, a shot in the dark, more fumbling around when I already had preliminary success and just needed PERSISTENCE at that point, not scattershot grenades.

Two Plus Two = Zero?

I know it’s hard to stop. It’s hard to think that “one more treatment” might hurt instead of helping. I like picturing treatments as being additive, so X + Y is better than just X.

But that is not necessarily how supplements and herbs work. (It’s not how medicines work either: Two antibiotics can actually hurt each other’s effectiveness, if their mechanisms of action are in conflict.)

Once I found something that was working, treatment-shopping could have harmed me far more than it helped. So whenever I read blogs that seem to be an endless stream of treatment-shopping, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. I pray they’ll find a doctor and a treatment they can trust. I pray they’ll trust themselves enough to make a decision about which path to take. I pray they’ll be successful and have peace about their decision.

Because success with any treatment, conventional or alternative, is more like a martial arts practice than like exploring a new town. Consistency, discipline, adaptability — but never haphazardness.

Sep 292015

I hate Pinktober.

I’m relieved to learn I’m not alone in this feeling. When I was diagnosed with cancer, September was spinning into October, and Pinktober was much bigger and more widely accepted than it is now. I felt like I was supposed to get behind “the cause” when all I wanted was to get as far away from “the cause” and anything having to do with cancer as possible.

I painted my room pink when I was a child. I loved pink – flowers for my mother, shirts and toys and my bike.

During and after my diagnosis, I had a visceral reaction to the color. I felt like wearing it would remind me of cancer. I felt like I would be supporting companies that slap a pink ribbon on products that are unhealthy. I chose to wear black, because that’s how I was feeling. Later, as I recovered, I chose to wear bright colors – blue and green and orange – but never pink.

Finally, I calmed down a little and bought a pink sweater. I wore it. It didn’t change me. It didn’t make me get cancer again. It made me feel soft, feminine. And that was progress.

As October comes around again, the month of autumn and falling leaves, the juggernaut of sponsorship and races and pink and fundraising still feels like something I’d rather shut out. I want nothing to do with it, because I don’t believe they have the answer. I wish cancer were a non-factor in the world, something no one worried about and no one had to worry about. I wish it never tore apart another family.

But throwing money down a hole that isn’t getting smaller isn’t the way to go. And supporting companies that make unhealthy products as they “stand behind” cancer patients seems hypocritical and self-defeating. If they took all that money and invested it into removing unhealthy ingredients from their products, that would be progress. If everyone took a little step toward making everyone else a little healthier, that would be progress.

But Pinktober? No. It’s not for me.